Monday, May 31, 2010

Photo Essay: Solstice Canyon

It's nice to have a partner in crime sometimes, someone to help you navigate your way through trails, to point things out, to lend a hand when you need a boost. But I explore so much on my own, I sometimes get a little stressed out when there's a new person involved. I put too much pressure on myself to keep up, assuming that I'm terrible at what I do because I haven't been doing it that long.

Today I was lucky enough to be accompanied by a fellow explorer who lives in Santa Monica, who has done enough recon work nearby to know that I would love the hike through Solstice Canyon, and who was brave enough to bring me there without knowing whether I'd be able to scramble the rocks to the waterfall.

I did. I went. And I was.



There were enough rusty relics strewn about - an old bathtub, some ranching equipment - to make me ask, "What's the story with this place? What was here?" Like many national parks, including Joshua Tree, Solstice Canyon wasn't just "forever wild" land: people had lived and worked there, and the signs were everywhere.



We came across what's left of the old Keller homestead, its most recent stone and tin incarnation having burned in 2007, already rebuilt from the original wood cabin destroyed in a canyon fire in 1903.







Various fires over the years had also ravaged a lot of the surrounding tree line, especially as we climbed higher, but there were still plenty of interesting and colorful wildflowers to gaze at, some of which already crumpling in the increasingly hot summer sun.







Solstice Canyon is also infamous for the Roberts Ranch House (also called "Tropical Terrace"), built in the 1950s, designed by architect Paul Revere Williams, and burned to the ground in 1982. What remains - kitchen appliances, chimneys, and other stone structures built right into the canyon, along with a pond and some ancillary structures with even some statues - creates a kind of ghostly blueprint of the original estate that you can walk through.













Just beyond the ranch house, we started following the rocks to the waterfall, whose creek we'd already been following for a while. We stopped when we got to a vertical climb assisted only by a recently-placed log. Although a few guys passed us and shimmied up it, I was pretty confident that I would never make it.



So instead, we took off our shoes and hung out by the pools, listening to the rush of the water, lying out on the smooth rocks on our backs to stare up at the sun from behind our sunglasses, me dozing off and my companion contemplating how much rocks, in fact, do rock.



After a leisurely rest, a few folks passing us to brave the log (and making me think I should have at least tried climbing it), we put our shoes back on and headed on back down, noticing flowers we hadn't noticed on the way up.







It's rare to find someone whose pace matches yours, who just as readily waits for you to get the perfect shot as they pause to get one of their own. When you encounter a(nother) person like that, it makes you wonder what all that solitude has done for you lately...

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Photo Essay: Descanso Gardens & Trail

I think in order to spend any time out here, you have to realize that "LA" is more than just Hollywood and West Hollywood, that it's a huge, sprawling metropolis consisting of smaller, unique neighborhoods jammed together in a puzzle where the pieces don't always quite fit together.

It's like how NYC isn't just Manhattan. But there are still lots of people who don't know that either.

Yesterday I spent some time northeast of LA in the Pasadena area. Sitting in his backyard by the pool, sipping champagne and watching a Doberman and a poodle get to know each other, my friend David said, "I love this. I love inviting neighbors over. I have a great life. I sound very suburban, don't I?" And I suppose he did. But you can't argue with happiness.

Even though David's dinner party in the 'burbs wasn't until later in the day, I took the opportunity to spend the entire day "out there," meeting up with a college friend at Descanso Gardens and then taking a challenging solo hike in the surrounding trails.



Descanso Gardens isn't huge, but it has a nice rose garden...



...a lovely fountain...



...other water features...



...and paved paths, arbors, gazebos, nature trails, and a historic home / art gallery all ripe for exploring.

Outside the gardens entrance, you can find the Descanso Trail (not maintained by the gardens but by La CaƱada Flintridge Trails Council) marked by a wooden fence and three yellow posts.



After a slight wooded area, the trail almost immediately becomes vertical, with lots of switchbacks.



You get pretty high, pretty fast.





The trail turns into a fire road towards Cherry Canyon...



...past a police firing range...



...up more hills to a ridge with the freeway, a water tank, power lines and radio towers all looming in the distance.



You can even see a bit of skyline...



...and a splash of color.



The trails were mostly deserted. I saw a few brave souls rolling their bikes down the steep switchbacks as I was on my way up, and met a couple bicyclists taking a break from their exploration at the top, but otherwise, I was alone, and peaceful. It was the first time I really felt like I did when I was in Joshua Tree, and it was a welcome return of serenity, survival, and the peaceful coexistence of certainty and uncertainty.

The Cherry Canyon fire road ends at a gate and meets up with some other trails that look pretty tantalizing.



To complete the 90-minute loop, you then have to walk along the town streets (no sidewalks), past gated estates and landscaped lawns back to the Descanso Gardens parking lot.

With the nearby Angeles National Forest, there are actually lots of opportunities to hike in the area, as well as other gardens at Huntington Library and the Los Angeles Aboretum. However, Descanso Gardens provided a nice one-stop shop for both (and a lovely beet salad for lunch).

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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Photo Essay: Wilacre Park to Coldwater Canyon

I'm still not used to the fact that, unlike Manhattan, there are real hikes you can do out here in LA that are really centrally located. Although during my last trip I did get to hike up to the observatory in Griffith Park, it was really crowded and didn't provide the feeling of wilderness that I've been seeking since returning from Joshua Tree last summer. During this trip, as soon as I had a break in my meeting schedule, I took a detour into Wilacre Park, part of Fryman Canyon, on my way to the Valley.

The parking lot was full and I was greeted by an excited hiking group of well-toned, tanned men and their dogs getting ready to set off as I changed into my sneakers. I was worried that this popular park would also be too populated for my taste, but the steep climb dissipates the crowd from the get-go, everyone taking the wide, old paved road at their own (in my case, relatively leisurely) pace.







There were lots of signs of former habitation in the park, from the paved road to fences and other rusted, graffitied metal scraps. Wilacre reportedly housed the estate of a silent film star.



There was definitely a building here once.



But the winding road increasingly losing its pavement, takes you quickly out of the city, with gentle reminders along the way when a clearing reveals the skyline below.





The map made it look like there was a big loop that I could take though the park that would return me to the parking lot, but the only trail marker I ever saw was at the Betty B. Dearing trailhead, and never again. I did spot some diversions off the trail, including this steep climb to a scenic overlook, whose rope-assisted climb proved to be visited less, yet extremely gratifying.



On the way to the top, I passed by a giant beaver cactus that had been carved within an inch of its life by hikers before me.







Soon after returning from the diversion, Wilacre Park just ends, and leads into Coldwater Canyon and its pervasive propaganda from the Tree People. The color of the ground below actually changes to show the boundary between the two parks.



Having expected a loop, and not having a map with me, I retraced my steps through Wilacre to try to find a turn I may have missed. I only found unmarked, narrow clearings through thick brush that appeared to be more like washes than trails and, so, defeated, revised my hike into an out-and-back and went back the same way I came.

The wildflowers in Griffith Park had been stunning two months ago, but with the incipient summer and the rising temperatures, Wilacre Park was mostly just green (which, in LA, is better than the very flammable brown). There were a few splashes of color along the way...







Hiking Wilacre Park wasn't the most obvious choice, or the most difficult, but it was on the way to my afternoon pool party, just off Laurel Canyon (another one of my favorite drives), and so it fit the bill. Next time I'll explore some of the surrounding canyons...and will bring a map.

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