Thursday, June 30, 2016

Photo Essay: The Flora and Fauna of a Secret Native Garden

I've been fortunate enough to experience incredible hospitality since I first started coming to California. I've been welcomed into people's homes, holiday dinners, swimming pools, family celebrations, and more.

And it's not just the invitations that are extended—which are more than I've ever experienced in my life.

It's also the willingness of strangers to agree to let me come visit their studio or workshop or—in the case of Quail Hollow—their home garden.

And all I had to do was ask.



Quail Hollow is a wildlife and bird habitat near the Verdugo Mountains, but it's not a park.



It's literally Ken and Rhonda Gilliland's backyard.



In an attempt to stave off encroaching urbanity, they've amassed three houses on six lots (the garden taking up three of them).



As a garden, it's both wild and manicured—with wooden bridges softly arching over rock-walled water features...



...and stone pathways winding through native plants and trees that harbor likewise native birds and other wildlife.



Sure, a few birdbaths and feeders with seed are put out to attract some feathered friends...



...but some of them would probably end up here anyway, in this rare patch of nature in an important flyover zone, just five miles southeast of Hansen Dam.



But Quail Hollow manages to attract over 100 species of birds, including California quail (of course), mourning doves, turkey vultures, hawks, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, scrub jays, and band-tailed pigeons (a close relative of the extinct passenger pigeon, and California's only native). It may even get a visit from a rarity like the Least Bell's Vireo.



But I guess that's what happens when you've got enough trees, bushes, and plants for them to nest in, perch upon, and snack on...



...from California sage, manzanita, and toyon to the lilies that were about to bloom despite the hot weather.



Since they're native to California, though, they're used to our weather.



They can survive without a lot of rain.



They will fruit and seed and root and bloom against all odds.



And when they do, they'll attract the butterflies, the bees, the dragonflies, and, of course, the birds.



You might even see a Great Blue Heron stopping by.



The entire property is outfitted with scopes, and Ken tries to photograph as many of the winged creatures as he can spot, keeping detailed records of all of his sightings.



He's an accomplished birder, but he's also somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades.



He renovated the main residence to have a Queen Anne-style porch...



...for which he carved all the wood himself, on a jigsaw.



He's also a 3D digital artist (modeling birds, of course), a painter, and the proud papa of a Lesser Citron Cockatoo named Elsa.

I walked away from Quail Hollow thinking, "That's so LA"—but it's the LA that I know, and not the one that other people think they know.

It's so LA to love birds and flowers, to learn how to do everything yourself, to document what you've seen, and to want to share it with others—without receiving anything in return.

Ken only opens Quail Hollow up to outsiders once or twice a year, so I consider it a privilege to have been welcomed into his inner sanctum. It's the kind of place where you could easily overstay your welcome—so you either have to drag yourself away, or let someone else to do it for you.

Because there are certain flowers that won't bloom—and birds that won't emerge from the brush—until after you leave.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Moore Laboratory of Zoology, Closed to Public
Photo Essay: The Japanese Garden That Almost Became a Freeway
Photo Essay: Invasive Plants, Parasitic Birds, and Giant Stinging Nettle at Prado Wetlands
Photo Essay: The Native Groves of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
More Than Apples: Oak Glen's Native Garden

Photo Essay: The Secret Street Legal Collection at Vic's Garage

In LA, every celebrity probably has their own secret car collection.

The question isn't so much, "What kind of car do you have?" but, "How many cars do you have?"

And unless you're friends with Jay Leno, you'll probably never get to see them in person.

Fortunately, we've got access to some fabulous car museums that are open to the public (the Petersen, Automobile Driving Museum, Nethercutt, and Mullin, just off the top of my head)—even if some of them are hiding in secret, and take some finagling to get in.

The Petersen Vault is considered a "hidden" collection, but all you really need to get in is an advance reservation and a paid ticket. (And don't even try to take photos.)

But what about the Honda Museum in Torrance? Or its neighbor, the Toyota USA Automobile Museum?

Once again, the secret to getting in seems to be knowing the right people.



But there's another private car collection in Torrance that's not allowed to be called a "museum"...



...because all of its cars are gassed up and ready to roll at any given time.



And it's not that the public isn't welcome at Vic's Garage—you just have to figure out how to get in.



The Vic we're talking about here is Vic Edelbrock, Sr.—and Vic's Garage functions as both storage of the family vehicles and a tribute to Vic's early career working on cars...



...including a display of his very own box of tools.



While the factory tour focuses on the performance parts that are designed and manufactured by Edelbrock, and its Toy Barn contains a rotating cast of cars that they're supercharging (or otherwise souping up)...



...Vic's Garage is more or less a permanent collection that includes such gems as the 1940 Ford Sedan Delivery, outfitted with Edelbrock shocks.



And while they all can be taken out on the road, like the 1969 Boss Mustang...



...they aren't as often as you'd think.



They've all been beautifully restored, from the 1969 (and 1/2) Dodge Super Bee to the 1932 Ford "Rides" Roadster, with its Edelbrock induction, carburetor, cam, rocker arms, and cylinder heads.



Some of them are racing roadsters that were used, at least in part, to promote Edelbrock...



...while others were personally owned and driven by members of the Edelbrock family (like the heirloom 1973 Mercedes 450 SEL), which was driven nearly 90,000 miles.



Some of them might still be able to win races today.



Vic Jr. didn't start racing his 1964 Split Window Corvette Stingray (#614) until the 1980s—and it looks as though it's ready to start its engine at any minute.



Hot rods come in all shapes and sizes, which is clear when you see a car like the "Bolero" red 1967 Chevy Camaro SS 350 (a test car for Hot Rod Magazine that Vic bought in 1997 and placed an Edelbrock crate engine into) in the same room as a 1932 Ford 5-Window Coupe and a 1946 Ford Woody Wagon Maze.



Though, at Vic's Garage, the vast majority of them are red.



The real pride and joy of the collection may be the 1946 #27 Ford V8-60 Kurtis Kraft midget racer. Reaching a speed as high as 125 mph, it won the Gilmore track championship.



Vic Sr. had sold it in the 1950s, but Vic Jr. managed to buy it back and get it fully restored.



But the real pièce de résistance of Vic's Garage is the car that began the collection: the 1932 Ford black roadster #3. This is the car that got Vic to tinkering around under the hood in 1938. This is the Flathead-powered car that took Vic to the dry lake races and inspired the development of his now-infamous "Slingshot" intake manifold.

And it's probably one of the most iconic hot rods out there... ever.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Under the Hood at a Hot Rod Shop
Photo Essay: A Haven for Hotrodders
Photo Essay: Cruisin' Glendale
Photo Essay: Automobile Driving Museum's Ridealong Sunday

Looking for a Sign

I don't always see the signs.



I'm always looking, but I'm always missing out on something.



And such was the case when I was driving through Los Padres National Forest through Frazier Park, about two hours north of LA.



The first time I drove through that way, I met up with a friend who asked me if I'd seen the sign for a fire lookout. I hadn't, so on my way home, I looked for it—and couldn't find it.



But when I returned to Frazier Park, this time I refused to leave until I found the lookout—even if I never actually found the sign for it.



I've never visited a fire lookout tower that was actually occupied.



And that seems like a shame.



I suppose technology has supplanted the need for a human being to actually keep watch over the forest for wildfires...



...but sometimes, you need a warning that something might be amiss...



...before things really go wrong...



...and computers delay, until they detect a verified disaster-in-the-making.



Is that a cloud, or is it smoke?



Better safe than sorry.



We spend so much of our time on the ground, in the weeds, that it can be tough to gain some perspective over things.



And somehow, it seems like the only way to do that is to get up high somewhere...



...be it in a plane, from a skyscraper, on a wire, or atop a mountain.



It feels safe up there, where you can see everyone and everything—but they can't see you.



But this lookout, on top of Frazier Mountain, isn't protected anymore.



No one spends their days there, sleeps there, eats there, or washes their hands there.



There's hardly anything left there. The scavengers have taken everything out of there, leaving only an empty shell.



So who's keeping watch over us, now?

Maybe it's a good thing to not always be looking out for trouble. If you expect it, it's sure to come.

And even if you see it coming, you can't always do something to stop it.

Maybe sometimes, it's better to be taken by surprise.

For more of the Frazier Mountain Fire Lookout history (and additional photos), visit StrayngerRanger.com.

Related Posts:
Threat Assessment
Sound Horn
Photo Essay: Henninger Flats Hike
Photo Essay: Point Fermin, Keeping Watch Over the San Pedro Bay
Photo Essay: The Island That Prisoners Pioneered