Saturday, December 17, 2011

Photo Essay: Beachwood Canyon, In Search of the Hollywood Sign

The first time I drove up through Beachwood Canyon, it was in search of Hollywoodland. I found the old gate that marked it, and lots of signs that read "No Access to Hollywood Sign," though you could see the tall, white letters peeking out from atop Mt. Lee in the distance.

My second time in Beachwood Canyon, it was for a late night tryst, and it was too dark to see the Sign.

I actually made it to the Hollywood Sign once - well, behind it - when I actually climbed Mt. Lee in Griffith Park, still one of my favorite LA area hikes.

So last weekend, when I found out there was a way to hike up under the shadow of the Sign, through Beachwood Canyon, down some public stairs, of course I printed out my directions, parked my car on the street, and set off.

Of course I got lost.

The hike technically starts at the main commercial intersection of the neighborhood known as Beachwood Canyon, and takes you through the residential streets of the Hollywood Hills. Since I don't have much interest in houses that aren't abandoned, I started taking photos upon entering Griffith Park by the Norman chateau known as Wolf's Lair.



I was looking for a T-intersection, where I was supposed to turn right down a wide path, but the only T I saw lead down a narrow path to the right. I walked down it a little bit as it narrowed through overgrown brush, and decided I hadn't gone far enough. I returned to the T, which maybe wasn't really a T, and went left, which maybe could be considered straight.



As I passed the fence on my right, I caught glimpses of the Lake Hollywood Reservoir, surrounded by water tanks and cell phone towers instead of the Hollywood Sign, which I was supposed to be approaching...



When I kept approaching the reservoir instead of the Hollywood Sign, I decided I'd gone in the wrong direction and went back to the T.



But upon second glance, going right still seemed wrong to me, so I decided I hadn't given my prior path enough of a chance, so I went back, this time all the way down to a locked gate, with the reservoir on the  other side.

So I went back again, this time the fence on my left, with the Hollywood Sign peeking out in the distance.



Back at the T, as wrong as right seemed, I went down that narrow path, looking for signs of the old Mulholland Highway. It was so overgrown, I couldn't imagine even a dirt road passing through there, until I found telltale crumbling remnants of asphalt on either side of the path.





Soon, the trail opened up, revealing the Hollywood Sign tucked behind Castillo del Lago, a Mediterranean villa once home to both Bugsy Siegel and Madonna (though not at the same time).



From the driveway of Castillo del Lago, I exited Griffith Park onto Canyon Lake Drive, where lots of tourists have figured out you can get a great view of the Hollywood Sign (much better than from Beachwood Canyon Drive).


Down Canyon Lake Drive, past all the tourists, I looped back into the park...



...and hiked right under Mount Lee and the Hollywood Sign...



...winding through the park and back out through basically a private backyard, onto Mullholland Drive (whose asphalt is very much intact right now).



From there, the hike took me through more neighborhood streets, to the first public staircase off Durand Drive...



...which leads down to Belden Drive, near where the hike begins.

Except apparently there's another staircase that takes you from Belden to Beachwood (where my car was parked), but for the life of me I couldn't find it. Instead of pacing back and forth as I'd done in the park, I just kept walking, knowing that Belden would eventually hit Beachwood again, but there's something mysterious and confusing about those Hollywood Hills, whose streets look like driveways and aren't always marked and whose house numbers don't seem to go in chronological order.

Even with my GPS in hand (which was confused by me walking on the left side of the street instead of the right), I could not figure out how to get back to my car, though I had a general sense of the direction it was in. The light of day was waning, the chill of the air was advancing and I was wondering if I once again had to consider calling a cab.

But somehow I found my way, without having to trace my steps all the way back through the park, ask for help, or call a cab.

I'm not sure how.

But I always seem to find my way in LA, no matter how often I get lost.

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