June 28, 2010

Photo Essay: Along the Unmarked Trail

My gracious host, for whom I'm housesitting in LA for almost two weeks, suggested I go to nearby Debs Park for some good local hiking along nature trails and hiking trailheads originating from the neighboring Audubon Center.

But when I drove up to its entrance today, a pack of firemen were closing the gate after having inspected the fire roads above.

"The center's closed. Are you meeting someone here?" The eldest of the firemen waved me onto the driveway.

"No, I'm alone," I said automatically, unceremoniously.

"Well, it's pretty rural up there, you don't want to go up there by yourself."

"Well," I said, laughing sarcastically, and gesturing as if to say, "What else is new?"

By now, more firemen had collected around the driver's side of my rental car. One of them chimed in, "Unless you want to go hiking alone..."

And then they all laughed. I frowned.

They directed me to the other side of the park, where I could have "a nice little walk around a duck pond" and some picnic grounds. I examined their map of color-coded fire roads and parking areas, nodded, and agreed with everything they said, as though I had been so naive as to think I could hike this myself.


But I kept my word, and drove around to the other side of Ernest Debs Regional Park, to the parking lot by the picnic area, and passed through the gate on foot to see what I could find.

I'm not that experienced of a hiker yet. I get uncomfortable without a map or markers. I had neither today, so I was haphazardly wandering down paths to see where they'd go, and then backtracking and taking a different path, only to find out it went to the same place as the first.

I like having a route plotted out - something to follow - so that my decisions moving forward aren't random, even if I decide not to follow it. I like to know what the rules are, so that I can break them.

Nevertheless, without the normal hiking guides I prefer, today I scaled pretty high, pretty fast, and got some good views of the surrounding area and of LA's distant skyline.

Debs Park, an urban neighborhood park enjoyed by mostly local residents, has seen better days. Its rocks and rails and even trees along its main pathways are heavily graffitied.

There are some buildings around - picnic pavilions, comfort stations and the like - as well as a strange arrangement of stone benches on a dias, both facing...nothing.

But it's an interesting place where palms coexist with evergreen and deciduous trees...

...and color leaps out in intermittent bursts as you walk along...

I was even brave enough to follow a very narrow, but well-cleared trail diversion that led me through a thicket and then a clearing, with some of the most rewarding sights of the hike.

I don't even know how far I went, or how far I could have gone, or what I could have seen. But after a little over an hour, with a couple very steep climbs conquered, I felt satisfied, and happy enough to move onto the next adventure...

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