May 31, 2010

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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