Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The great outdoors

There is this ill-perceived notion that Los Angeles is a vast wasteland of development, dictated by the zoning laws implemented more than half a century ago. One of the things I discovered while in college was the great outdoors in the Los Angeles area.

One of the largest areas for camping and hiking is the Angeles National Forest, an area of 650,000 square-miles spanning from the Tejon Pass all the way out to the border of Los Angeles and San Bernardino county lines. Another overlooked area for outdoor recreational activities is the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area run by the National Park Service (this branch is headquartered in Ventura County). The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is the largest urban recreational park in the world, comprised of 153,075-acres of land. Together, both these open space areas make up more than 800,000-acres of land in the greater Los Angeles area. I find it hard to believe that there are still Angelenos that do not realize how much open space we have to explore.

My personal favorite area to explore are the San Gabriel Mountains, particularly any trail located along Angeles Crest Highway 2. I used to hike more often when I was going to community college, and very rarely did I explore while I was at UCLA. Though the environment is much drier in the San Gabriel Mountains, I love reaching my destination point (which is often times above the smog line), and looking across the City of Los Angeles and the communities surrounding it. My relationship with the city I have grown up and matured in (I should note that the term "mature" is used loosely here) has helped me discover the outdoors, and my love for hiking blossomed here in a City that is often portrayed as overly-developed, smog ridden, congested and superficial.

I have hiked well over 500-miles in the San Gabriel Mountains. The trail I used to use on a weekly basis was at the north end of Lake Avenue, Alta-Dena California. I would explore the ruins of a hotel and tavern, trekking my way up to Inspiration Point. The waterfalls off of Switzer Trail are not a particular favorite of mine, but the dense vegetation provides shade (and plenty of flying insects) for many to enjoy. Eventually though you will encounter an incline and be pushed out to the chaparral environment. Chilao Flats is a beautiful, untouched area I was lucky enough to explore while interning for the National Forest Service - Angeles National Forest division. A great hike I enjoyed was Mount Islip Trail, taking me through Little Jimmy Camp, bringing me to about 8,000 feet at the summit, with a 360 degree view of Los Angeles County (to my north was Antelope Valley, to my south was the San Gabriel Valley). The reverse trail of Mount Wilson - Devore Campground loop (going down, and then up) was slightly enjoyable. All the trails I have ever done in the San Gabriel Mountains were at least 5 miles (which in my book, is easy). My favorite though, is the Devil's Punchbowl Park, located in Pearblossom, California. Situated at the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains along a fault zone, the Devil's Punchbowl park is breath-taking. The variation in the desert ecosystem simply from Pearblossom Hwy (138) to the park is astounding, going from basically dry and sparse to Joshua infested woodland. The Devil's Punchbowl park is on the north slope of the San Gabriel Mountains, harboring the beginnings of Big Rock Wash, and supports a lovely conifer forest. Hiking round-trip from the Devil's Chair back to the parking lot is only 7 miles. A wonderful detour, and the primary attraction, is the Devil's Punchbowl and its rock formations that is an additional 1-mile loop. I spotted some rock climbers down in the depths of the rocks. The photo I posted is looking down at the Punchbowl, as I was about to trek past the trail head.

I haven't given as much attention to the Santa Monica Mountains as I probably should, considering that I work for a care-taker agency for the SMMNRA. The few hikes I have done in the National Recreation Area just don't inspire me the same way the San Gabriels do. Temescal Canyon trail, Will Rogers, and Malibu Creek State Park are a few areas I have explored. I was not particularly pleased with the hike on the fire road leading up to Calabasas Peak, but that's just me.

Los Angeles has plenty to offer for an outdoors enthusiast. You just have to know where to look, and be willing to embrace the expansive spaces that are our backyards.


helena said...

I agree about Switzer Falls, it's not that impressive. The Devil's Punchbowl is cool. Have you hiked Chantry Flat where Sturtevant Falls is? My family loves that trail. I've only hiked in the Santa Monica Mountains once but would like to go back. Oh and I finally went to Yosemite this year for the first time!

pjsanch said...

I personally prefer hiking in the San Gabriel mountains as well. I would say though that the the Santa Monica mountain range does have its charms. There's nothing like hiking 1000 feet up and being rewarded with a 360 degree view of ocean, mountains, and city.

Zug zug said...

Good for you Helena! I love Yosemite, but I rarely camp in the valley. Most of the time we end up getting site reservations at Crane Flats. Did you get a chance to explore Hetch-Hetchy or Tuloumne Meadows?