Nature Walks


Nature Walks01 Oct 2008 02:21 pm

How far out do you have to drive to feel that you are far out? It turns out, not very far. If you go out on a Sunday, taking the 10 E. to the 110 N. and exiting at Avenue 43, would you believe about 20 minutes?

Jut when you thought you’d been to all the parks in the area, another one appears, tucked in the hills just off the highway, behind the craftsman houses and soccer fields. And this isn’t a grassy play area with a jungle gym and some trash cans. No, this is a real Audubon Society hiking area which contains within it steep trails climbing up to walnut tress, willows, really forest-y pine trees and one of the most spectacular views of the city and tiny houses below.

Now that the weather is cooler, it is absolutely wonderful making the hike up the hill with its switchback curves and mysterious offshoot trails. And the payoff, after a long hike to the top, just past the picnic gazebo and the bristly branches of a lone fir tree, is a little pond complete with turtles and an unbelievable view. Truly an oasis, it was chilly at this pond on top of the hill the day we hiked there, with a biting wind blowing as if we had reached the pinnacle of a mountain miles up.

On the way back down the trail, we took a trail that branched off to the left, suspecting it was a short cut. It was. This small side trail was the shoot to the many ladders we took to get up the hill. It cut right over the top of the hill and what took us about one hour to climb up, this trail covered within five minutes.

So if you do not want to take a long hike, but would like to get to the pond, start at the base of the main trail and keep going upward until you reach a point where you can see the city skyscrapers of downtown to the south, little houses of Highland Park and Pasadena and its hills to the north. There, to the east on the trail, is a narrow, steep path that will take you right up and over to the pond.

Debs Park has an Audubon Nature Center on the grounds, and I am a big fan of nature centers, but this one happens to be closed on Sundays, as is the main gate to enter the park. The walking path is open and so it is okay to park on Griffin Avenue, across from the soccer field, and enter through the walking gate. The current director of the nature center says it is their goal to be open on Sundays, so keep your eye out.

If, after the hike, you might enjoy something cool to drink, there is another gem hidden in the Highland Park area called Galco’s Soda Pop Stop. Just go north a bit on the 110 and then west on York Avenue. The Soda Pop Stop has old fashioned and hard to find sodas from around the country, plus some old time candies. Make sure to bring Rabbi Eidlitz’s hechsher list with you so you’ll know what’s what.

Notes:

Please note that Debs Park is near Heritage Square, Southwest Museum, and the Lummis House, all interesting historic sites and museums.

Debs Park: 4700 N. Griffin Ave., LA, 90031, tel: 323-221-2255. Hours: Tues. – Fri. 9am – 5pm. http://www.audubon-ca.org/debs_park.php

Galco’s Soda Pop Stop: 5702 York Blvd, LA 90042, tel: (323) 255-7115. Store hours: weekday: 9am-6:30pm, Sunday: 9am – 4pm. http://www.sodapopstop.com/

Nature Walks&Outdoors01 May 2008 12:00 pm

Once there were stagecoaches, rumbling over the hills of Simi Valley. The hills were alive with the sound of stagecoaches. But now, the hills are the quiet province of wildflowers and an occasional lizard. Were it not for the signs, the significance of the rugged, rocky trail cutting down the hill toward the railroad tracks below might have remained a mystery. Fortunately, as far back as 1939, some folks saw fit to mark the trail as the “Old Stagecoach Road.”

There are a few ways to find the trail—I strongly recommend coming at it from the top, on Lilac Road. This way is simple and straightforward and is located in a very rural neighborhood. The official park sign was burnt black in the Chatsworth fire a few years back, but if you walk up to it you’ll see some postings inside a glass case to let you know you’re in the right place. Plus, there’s a chain link fence cutting across what looks like an old dirt road. The road runs past an old house, well kept and clearly occupied, but from the windows of that old house the residents once saw stagecoaches roll by.

When first we ventured forth on what we thought was the stagecoach road, we climbed up and down small hills, appreciating the breathtaking view of the valley below (and when I say breathtaking, I mean breathtaking.) I’m curious to know what it looks like at different times of the year, but in the spring, it is exquisite. It was so beautiful, in fact, that it was a wonder we had never been here before. The sky, the breeze, the wildflowers—and did I mention the view? The thing is, after a little while on this beautiful trail, it became more and more implausible that it could be a stagecoach road– with all it’s ups and downs and twists and turns, not to mention the fact that there were no signs of wheel ruts. So we greets some fellow hikers and asked them if this was the Old Stagecoach road, and, sure enough, it wasn’t. They told us to go back to the beginning of the trail and take the path that branched off to the right when we first entered. In retrospect, it seemed the more obvious choice, but that’s retrospect for you.

In retrospect I’m glad we took the wrong trail at first because it was far more colorful than the Old Stagecoach trail. But this adventure was about the real stagecoach route, preserved in the hills of Chatsworth and if we hadn’t bothered to find it, I surely would have left Chatsworth wondering about the road not taken.

And what a road it is. Probably heavily eroded by years of rain and flooding, it is an incredibly rough and tumble route. It is a bit of a challenge to walk down, let alone ride on the brittle wheels of a stagecoach. This trail is straight and cuts into the side of a hill, but were it not for the tile sign set into the stone along the trail declaring “Old Santa Susana Stage Road 1859-90, Marked March 17, 1939, Native Daughters of the Golden West” one might still wonder aloud, repeatedly, ‘how could stagecoaches ride this road?’

I cannot say for sure that I saw wheel ruts, but there were some strong possibilities along the way. And there definitely was a snake that went from one side of the stage road to the other, but it looked like a baby snake, and there did not appear to be a rattle on its tail (but please note that most hiking areas around us have warnings for rattlesnakes.) To top off this whole hike into the past, there is even a railroad track near the bottom of the trail with a tunnel though one of the hills for the trains to come through.

Going back up the stage road, there is a small divergence to the left where a pond is tucked away, out of sight, but pretty. I could imagine horses being led away from the main road for a drink of water, but that may just be my imagination.

On the way back to our car, a resident of one of the homes on Lilac Road waved us over to take a look at a nest tucked deep inside a thorny cactus next to his mailbox. Crowded into the nest were a handful of very new baby birds waiting for their dinner.

Notes:

If there’s an “old” stagecoach road, there must be a “new” stagecoach road, because at some point folks had to have said enough is enough with regard to that rocky ride. By going left from the offramp onto Santa Susana Pass Road there is access to the new stagecoach road. It is most definitely a smoother ride, however, I do not recommend it for a hike. This road is also cut into the side of a hill, but is has a sharp drop off into a deep revine where several abandoned cars can be spotted, not to mention lots of litter.

The best way to reach this hike is by taking the 405 North to 118 West. Exit at Rocky Peak, take a right on Suzanna pass, then a left onto Lilac Road. Drive up this road until you see a dirt turn-out on the left with some burnt posts. Park off the road and walk into the opening of the old metal fence.

Nature Walks&Outdoors01 Apr 2008 12:00 pm

We had actually taken a hike here once before. It was a hot, humid August afternoon, and while we were equipped with hats, sunscreen, and water bottles, there was only so much walking that was going to get done on that smoldering, end of summer day. Even with a reprieve from the heat in the air conditioned Visitors Center, complete with taxidermed rodents and models of indigenous tribal villages, we still couldn’t see fit to drag ourselves beyond Century Lake, a reservoir of water atop a steep hill.

This time, however, things were different. It was a cool, windy day, lunch was eaten in the car before we started out, and the goal was set: the far end of the main trail, to a place known as the “MASH site.” This seemed to be a goal for a lot of people hiking that day, although for different motivations than us. We had heard that it was a good hike. And indeed it was.

Starting out, the terrain looks pretty typical for the area—rolly hills, willowy trees here and there—that’s about the way it is up until the lake. After the steep, dusty climb to the top of the hill, the backup plan to turn around and go home kicks in. But keep going; it’s worth it. The path slopes downward into a small valley, sheltered on one side by a wall of stratified rock. Being that it’s springtime, the earth is green and buzzing. Orange poppies and other wildflowers dot the meadow grass like confetti.

After crossing a bridge over the creek, the path changes flavor dramatically. It becomes rocky and rough as it follows alongside the water. Interesting stones are strewn about, waiting to be studied. I happened upon a small rock with a clearly discernable clam shell fossil on its surface. This was especially exciting to me as I used to collect rocks and fossils when I was a kid and had always wanted to find a fossil myself. I took a picture of it, but then put it back on the path (for you to find.) There was also rose quartz, volcanic rock, and composite rock. As my daughter declared: “this place is full of wonders.”

The focal point of the trail, where everyone pauses a moment to admire the landscape before heading back, opens out into another valley, this time surrounded by imposing ridges reaching into the sky. Two rusted vehicles, a jeep and an old army ambulance sit along the path, remnants of the t.v. show that was once filmed here. We sat down at the picnic table by the jeep and watched a group of mountain bikers challenge each other to bike up a very steep dirt mound. Another group of hikers settled inside the jeep like little birds and ate their sandwiches. The wind started kicking up sand, so we decided to head back, finding the return hike much faster.

The full hike does require a few hours to do at a comfortable pace. It’s about 4 ½ miles of walking. Driving time really depends on traffic, but should take about 35 minutes from West LA when taking the 10 to the PCH to Malibu Canyon Road (it’s a right turn at Pepperdine.) Folks from the Valley come from the Calabasas side on Las Virgenes Road.

Ghost Towns&Museums&Nature Walks&Outdoors01 Mar 2008 12:00 pm

There are a lot of towns in the middle of nowhere in this giant state we live in. Some more nowhere than others. Why this intrigues me, I couldn’t exactly tell you. Or what it is about the world of old trains that draws me, I’m not sure. But there is a forgotten town in the Mojave National Preserve, that piqued my curiosity on several counts.

The Kelso Depot was built in 1923 to provide a full service stop for railroad workers and passengers on the Union Pacific railroad. The key ingredient to Kelso, which began in 1905, was the nearby spring water, required for running the steam engines that came through. At one point Kelso had up to 2000 residents as folks interested in working in the various mining operations in the area (including boron, iron, gold and silver) moved into the desert town.

Abandoned back in the 1980’s, the train depot was recently fixed up and turned into a museum, with national park rangers running the facilities. The most prominent feature of the building is the restaurant (no longer in use) for train passengers to have a meal or cup of coffee and slice of pie from one of the pie cabinets. There is also, within the building, a ticket counter and telegraph office, the storage area for luggage of those just passing through, and upstairs, the boarding rooms for Union Pacific workers. Here, in this distant desert depot, men who worked the railroads could live for a time, sleeping in sparsely furnished bedrooms and even reading the newspaper in the small but adequate lounge. While there are a few bedrooms to view, most of the upstairs has been turned into museum exhibit areas and office space for the rangers. The lounge is still available to sit and read books about railroads or the history of the Mojave area. There are little biographies within the exhibits, and stories about some of the towns in the area.

The ranger at the front desk will show you a short film about all the natural attractions within the Mojave preserve if you ask. Everything is spread out, though, and would require a greater time commitment than a day to visit.

Within the tiny town of Kelso there still remains the old post office, now boarded up, a rickety wooden schoolhouse, now boarded up, and, by the train tracks, a two cell iron jail. This was an endless source of entertainment for any children saw it and probably ended up in as many photographs as the depot itself. It seems that if there were any troublemakers of a criminal sort on the trains coming through, they were put in this holding cell until other arrangements could be made.

Noticing that there was a modest collection of trailer homes on the other side of the tracks, I asked one of the rangers if people lived there. After all, as far as I could tell, there were no functioning buildings for miles around besides the depot museum. The ranger told me that, in fact, there were eighteen Union Pacific railroad workers living in the town. I ventured that real estate is probably more reasonable out there than in Los Angeles.

Back down the sun baked old road we drove up is the Kelso Dunes. This truly is a wonder of the desert, a gathering of sand, blown mostly from the Baker area (which is 35 miles north of Kelso) and planted in a soft heap in the Mojave. The general floor plan of the Mojave is a dry, tan, dirt with small forms of plant life like yuccas and sagebrush. The dunes are pure soft sand. We began the trek out to the highest peaks of the dunes, hoping to hear them sing the weird rolling melody I had read about. These dunes are called “booming dunes” because, when one runs down the dunes, causing the sand to slide like a small avalanche, a sound can be heard. We walked and walked, passing people along with pieces of cardboard in their hands to use for sleds. The dunes were farther away than they appeared. Realizing we would have to walk all the way back at some point, we stopped on one of the lower dunes and began running along the ridge, hoping to hear the “booming.” The conditions apparently weren’t right that day. No one else hiking in the sand claimed to hear the mysterious dune sounds. Some reports say it has to be windy. Some say it has to be very dry. It was a fun experience just to walk on these dunes, which had been deposited in the middle of this nowhere. My husband said to my daughter that this must be like the sand that hid the Mitzri for Moshe Rebbeinu.

It is out of the question to visit this place in the summer. The temperature was lovely and mild for our winter day trip, but still so dry that carrying water is necessary even for a short walk. And then there’s that one teeny tiny factor that might make this a less than ideal road trip… it’s 226 miles to Kelso from Los Angeles.
Perhaps, if this sounds a bit much for a day trip, you might consider driving through Kelso on your way somewhere else. Kelso is, after all, on a wavy two-lane stretch, aptly named Kelbaker Road because it leads from highway 40, through Kelso, up to Baker. Baker is on the 15 freeway. Also, there are some other sites in the preserve like the “Hole-in-the-Wall” which is a hiking and camping area of volcanic rock that has been turned into swiss cheese by the wind, and Mitchell Caverns, which offers guided tours of the region’s limestone caves. Both are for experienced hikers.

So if you are on your way to somewhere in Arizona, or on your way back from Las Vegas, you could take a slight detour into this national preserve and have a stop at a train depot from yesteryear, before continuing on past the Joshua trees toward home.

Notes: Bring hats, sneakers, sunscreen, food and water. There is a gift shop in the depot with water in case you run out.

For more information on Kelso Depot and the Kelso Dunes see: Mojave National Reserve: http://www.nps.gov/moja/

Nature Walks&Outdoors01 Feb 2008 12:00 pm

Somewhere between the 405 and the Pacific Ocean, up on a vibrant green hill dotted with fir and eucalyptus and willow trees, is the home of a man from America’s past.

The Will Rogers State Historic Park in Pacific Palisades is 186 acres of grassy yards and walking paths that line the hills and ridges around the house. The Sunday we went, the parking lots were full, and yet there were no big crowds anywhere. Families were spread about the area having picnics, playing Frisbee, taking a stroll.
After our picnic, we queued up for the tour of Will Rogers’ ranch house, recently renovated and furnished almost entirely with the famous owner’s belongings.

I wasn’t really familiar with Will Rogers prior to the tour, but the outstanding state park ranger who gave the tour of Rogers’ house was a fount of information and told us quite a lot in his short introduction.

Will Rogers was the most popular entertainer in America back in the 1930’s. He was a performer and a writer, with many quotes to his credit, including: “Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip.” It was in the 1920’s that he purchased this beautiful property on a hill and build a modest ranch to retreat to with his wife and children. The main room of the house is filled with Rogers’ collection of now quite valuable western art and artifacts, and here was Ranger Tim, equipped with a firearm and walkie talkie, discussing the origins of the furniture and rugs. It’s so enjoyable to hear someone talk about a subject they are clearly enthusiastic about.

We toured the other furnished rooms in the house before taking a short hike along a path that went above the main grounds, and looped around the hills leading toward the ocean and Inspiration Point. An expansive view of Los Angeles, from the snowy peaks beyond downtown to the shoreline of Marina Del Rey and Malibu await those who venture up this dusty trail.

The front yard of Will Rogers’ house was at one time a three hole golf course, so it is wide and clear. At one end is an old horse stable, which visitors can wander through. Although there are no horses there now, the structure holds the aura of its 1930’s past with a carefully crafted rotunda and even an old truck to climb on. In the blacksmith/carpenter shop nearby is a very old, broken down car that you can get up close to and look inside. At the other end of the property is a polo field which Rogers built to enjoy playing polo with other celebrities of his day. Polo tournaments are still played here in the spring.

There are meadows reaching up the sides of the hills as well as more paths, for walking and bike riding, that wind through the tall grass and disappear around corners.

It may have been extra crowded the day we visited the park because, unbeknownst to us, it was announced that the Governor was considering closing this park for budgetary reasons. I hope something can be worked out.

Notes:

Will Rogers State Historic Park 1501 Will Rogers Park Road Pacific Palisades, CA 90272, phone: 310-454-8212, http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=626 , park open during daylight hours, tours of ranch house Tues. – Sunday 11am, 1pm, 2pm. $7 parking fee.

Nature Walks&Outdoors01 Dec 2007 12:00 pm

The question I am most often asked on the topic of kosher road trips is: what’s a good hike nearby? My first inclination when the winter months come is to get out to the desert, but that isn’t a short drive away. There is, however, the Angeles National Forest, and that’s quite close. Part of it is close, that is. The Angeles National Forest is huge and sprawling, and apparently has lots of waterfalls. By taking the 110 to the 210, we found a stunning little gem called Monrovia Canyon Falls about 40 minutes away.

We drove out one Sunday morning in an attempt to get in a hike before an afternoon birthday party. Wending our way through the neighborhood streets in Monrovia, we wondered what we were in store for. We drove up the hill of the forest service park and stopped near the nature center. From that vantage point we could look at the towns in the valley below, cast in a soft morning gray, like the distant landscape of a Thomas Cole painting.

Depending upon where you park, the hike to the falls can go from two miles round trip down to a mile and a half if you start by the nature center as we did. Right from the entrance gate I knew I was going to like this park, and I couldn’t get over the fact that such a green forest-y place was so close to home. There were a lot of pine trees around, and when added to chilly sweater weather and the earthy smell of fallen leaves, it was simply dazzling.

Something I’ve noticed when hiking trails in the woods: people say ‘hi.’ On this particular occasion, people even said, ‘good morning.’ This can be a little surprising at first, as this certainly isn’t the standard in the city. There seems to be a hiking etiquette, a recognition that we all have something in common if we are walking along these trails: we must really like it.

This hike is just one beautiful scene after the next as it follows alongside a small creek on its way to the small waterfall. It is a fairly easy walk, with opportunities to branch off and explore here and there and the chance to cross the creek a few times via some well-placed stepping-stones.

We enjoyed lunch in a serene picnic area and then headed back down the hill and through “Old Town Monrovia,” where we stopped for a bit to check out some of the small shops and old fashioned storefronts.

I look forward to returning to Monrovia, hiking to the falls, and exploring the town some more. It was unusually appealing… especially considering how close it is.

Notes:

Bring a sweater, water, (and lunch if you like)

Monrovia Canyon Falls, Monrovia Canyon Park Nature Center, tel: (626) 256-8282, www.fs.fed.us/r5/angeles. $5 parking fee in the park.

Old Town Monrovia is located on Myrtle Ave, which is the street to exit off the 210.

Botanical Gardens&Nature Walks01 Jul 2007 12:00 pm

The flavors of the major cities in California are so amazingly different. San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco—all unique in appearance. Santa Barbara, only two hours from Los Angeles, showcases not only the appealing variety of architecture in California: Spanish, craftsman, Victorian—but the best of land and sea as well. An exit off the 101 will take you winding up the hills, past a dazzling array of beautiful homes on your way to what would be a dream of a back yard: The Santa Barbara Botanical Garden.

Santa Barbara Butterfly

What a place this is, tucked away in the hills, far from the bustle of the city yet nestled safely within reach of civilization. We have happily visited the botanical garden several times over the years, enjoying the fresh air, the cold shadows of the grand redwoods, and the quiet hum of nature. This year we managed to be at the front gate in time for an official tour of the gardens, lead by an Englishman who shared his enthusiasm for the horticultural variety in the gardens and took our group across the street to a part of the garden we never knew existed. We hiked up a small hill through all sorts of flowers and plants, carefully labeled with little placards and commented upon as we passed by. The view from the top was breathtaking.

“Stand and contemplate the wondrous works of G-d.” (Job 37:14) Everywhere one looks is the beauty of the Creation. It isn’t hard to take pretty pictures in this garden. While I don’t think we’ve visited in the winter, the colors in the spring and summer are delightful, especially against the backdrop of the distant hills and the clear blue sky above. There are long and short paths around the gardens, to saunter along and drink in the delicious, exulted, vibrant green beverage of life. And there is much to experience, from the “fried egg flowers” (matilija poppy), to the beavertail cactus, to the hummingbirds diving and dashing between the blossoms.

It certainly isn’t necessary to have a background in horticulture to appreciate the environment, but the gardens are very informative for those who are interested in learning more. There are different themes within the garden including the Redwood forest (the oldest trees were planted in 1926 and are already quite big), the meadow section, and even a home demonstration garden. There are also some extensive paths along the creek and through the woods for those in search of a hearty nature walk.

When evaluating the feasibility of this outing, please note that there are a few options which make it more accessible than you might think. Some of the paths through the gardens are paved for visitors in wheelchairs or strollers. We carried the baby in a baby backpack, which is a piece of hiking equipment that is sure coming in handy for the kind of off-roading I’m willing to do (especially when I’m not the one wearing the backpack.) Also, there is a nice arrangement of picnic tables and chairs next to the retail nursery where we ate our bag lunches.

On our way out, we stopped in the gift shop and found some nice nature oriented gifts, then wended our way back down the hill, past the beautiful homes and onto the highway.

It was a good day trip.

Notes:

Santa Barbara Botanical Garden: 1212 Mission Canyon Road, Santa Barbara, phone: 805-682-4726, www.sbbg.org

P.S. Don’t forget: your scavenger hunt entry (Jewish Life, June 2007) must be received by Aug. 1, 2007.

Museums&Nature Walks&Outdoors&Uncategorized01 Jun 2006 12:00 pm

Summer is coming. Summer means different things to different people. For some it means a few weeks in another country, or visiting relatives in another state, or exploring a national park far away. But not everybody can leave work for a week or more during the summer to travel. So should that mean the only difference between summer and winter is the weather? No way. There are adventures to be had during the weekday, after work, and on Sundays. Just look around.

The LA County Museum has free art projects for children on Sundays from 12:30pm-3:15pm. This is part of what the museum calls the “NexGen” program, which entitles children who have signed up to visit the museum any time for free (with free entry for one adult as well.) For the Sunday art program, a few different tables are set up with an assortment of craft ideas that share a common theme. When the masterpieces are completed, enjoy a picnic in the grassy park between the LACMA and the Tar Pit Museum.

A little known fact about the LACMA is that it is FREE for everyone after 5pm on weekdays. “Let’s meet at the LACMA after work,” is practically all the planning it takes to stroll into this enormous museum and explore as much or as little of it as you want. My particular favorites are the American art collection and the ancient glass. Even my daughter was in awe when we studied a whisper thin goblet of completely chip free glass and contemplated the fact that nobody had dropped it for over a thousands years. Amazing.

Another Sunday special is the merry-go-round in Griffith Park. It’s one of those little gems tucked away from the main road that many people miss on the way to the zoo. Built in 1926, the merry-go-round lives in another time and seems to attract people who love the sweetness of a simpler day. Organ pipes beckon with tunes from “The Sound of Music” and other well-known melodies. The horses are elaborately decorated and bob past detailed murals on the inner walls. It’s definitely worth a stop for a ride on your way to one of the many other places in Griffith Park.

Speaking of nostalgia for another time, the Fun Zone on the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach makes for a nice day trip. The best way to get to the peninsula is via a small ferry that shuttles back and forth between Balboa Island and the peninsula all day long. (You can drive directly onto the peninsula but the ferry is more fun.) If you don’t need to take your car on the ferry, then stay off of Marine Road, park on a side street, and walk to the ferry. Right along the water’s edge, on Balboa Peninsula is an old amusement park with old fashioned arcade games as well as some small rides like a Ferris wheel, bumper cars, and of course a merry-go-round. Sure, there are lots of shops along the streets, but it’s the old arcade games that drew us. By “old” I mean really old; games like skeeball, aiming a ball to knock over pins, or attempting to roll balls into different slots (I don’t know the names of these games, but I like them.) Originally used in “Penny Arcades” these games of skill, with hardly any electronics at all, send out streams of tickets to winners, so the other fun part is collecting up tickets and then heading to the prize counter to select from an array of prizes you could buy in packs of three at the 99Cent Store. If you are seven years old, making these prize selections can take up to half an hour. But that is part of the fun of the whole experience. There are actually two arcades; in one the games take quarters, in the other, tokens. So either way, bring your dollars—and a budget. Boat rentals are available near the ferry, and on the other side of the peninsula (across the street), a long peer reaches out across the water for a beautiful view of the sailboats and the blue sea.

A little further south, in Laguna Beach, is Crystal Cove State Park. This really is a nature reserve for land and sea animals. From the parking lot to the right of the entrance gate, the meadows along the ocean are filled with an amazing variety of birds, and the pathways through the grassy areas are fully paved, so it might be fun to explore on wheels with a pair of binoculars and some crayons or markers to sketch the colorful birds. The main feature of Crystal Cove is the tide pools. Tide pools are pockets of water between rocks along the shore that contain lots of different sea animals. It is easy to find anemones, snails, hermit crabs and shore crabs as well as other tiny creatures. According to the park website, it is possible at times to find starfish (sea stars) and even octopuses in the tide pools. A fun game would be to write up a list of animals to locate for a scavenger hunt and point them out to everyone as they are discovered.

Enjoy your summer with family and friends. I’d write out directions to all the places mentioned, but there just isn’t space, so please call or check the websites.

Notes:

LACMA: 5905 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036
323-857-6000 (general information)
323-857-0098 (TDD)
http://www.lacma.org (see NextGen calendar for programming)
Open every day except Wednesday.

Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round in Park Center, open weekends throughout the year and weekdays in the summer, 11am-5pm, 323-665-3051.

Balboa Fun Zone
Located on the Balboa Peninsula
in Newport Beach
600 E. Bay Ave. Balboa, CA 92661
(949) 673-0408
Ferry ride: 60cents for adults, 30cents for children.

Crystal Cove State Park, located off Pacific Coast Highway between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach, CA with easy access from I-5, 405 and 73.
http://www.crystalcovestatepark.com, bring $10 cash for parking.

Nature Walks&Outdoors01 Apr 2006 12:00 pm

Where can you find a park that offers paths for biking, nature walks into a wildlife reserve, and even paved paths through the woods for wheelchairs and strollers? That would be the El Dorado Nature Reserve and Regional Park in Long Beach. Half an hour away, off the Bellflower exit, El Dorado is a two part park. On one side is a very big grassy park with ponds and trees and areas for camping and barbecues. It also has a section for archery, and one pond has miniature buoys in it for the miniature remote controlled sailboat enthusiasts to race in their weekend regattas. But wait, there’s more: the piece de resistance is the four miles of paved bike paths, mostly surrounded by grass. I mention this because it is ideal for children who are learning how to ride a bike. With no traffic or driveways or rocky spots to interfere with the acquiring of biking skills, children can feel free to focus on balancing, with soft grass nearby for the occasional tip over.

Finding a good place for a beginning biker isn’t such an easy thing. There is a long bike path along the beach in Santa Monica, but it is a wide path with skaters and bikers speeding by and a small drop to the sand. At El Dorado, the bike paths, and in fact the whole park is family friendly and easygoing.

Across the street from the Regional Park is the Nature Reserve. Paying a $6 car entrance fee to either side gets you into everything. The nature reserve is different from other reserves or state parks I’ve been to around Los Angeles. It’s more lush and green and there are some unusual birds to spot in and around the pond. A rustic cabin houses the nature center, which includes some hands on displays for children like snake skins and turtle shells, plus a reading corner and a puppet theater. It’s a small place, meant to be explored at one’s own pace. The large pond at the center of the reserve has lots of turtles swimming and sitting in the sun. Signs direct visitors to a few different pathways through the woods. The shortest one, which winds through the trees, is completely paved smooth. The other paths loop over a creek and up hills and past berry bushes filled with birds. There really is something for everyone who seeks to be in the thick of nature.

To the north, also about half an hour away, is Millard Canyon Falls, one of many hiking trails in the Pasadena area. The first trail we headed for was actually Eaton Canyon Falls, but after driving in circles looking for the entrance to the trail, and calling the rangers’ office to ask where it was, we discovered that the fence we’d noticed with the chains and padlocks, was the beginning of the trail.

So we moved on to Millard Canyon Falls and discovered for ourselves a place worth visiting again. Now this is a trail for people who enjoy climbing over and around the piles of boulders that have filled this dried creek. We saw plenty of little kids relishing the search for a path from stone to stone and it’s easily doable in sneakers and a skirt.

The air is spicy with the scent of eucalyptus trees and every once in a while the remnants of the creek make an appearance, requiring some balancing skills and careful maneuvering over the rocks to avoid getting wet. The trail ends at a waterfall, shooting water between precariously balanced boulders wedged at the top of a cliff. There’s something dramatic about water rushing over a steep stone ledge into a crystal clear pool below. The hike is only a mile, and well worth doing again.

Another thing we learned along the way is that a parking permit is required to park in the park. There was no entrance gate anywhere to purchase this permit. Apparently, we were supposed to have known that we have to buy one at a sporting good store beforehand, I guess. A ranger at Millard Canyon told us that rangers drive around to check cars for permits and if they don’t have a permit, they get a ticket—-for the cost of the permit ($5). So you don’t need to pre-purchase a permit after all. We never did get a ticket, but just know that you can still park without a permit and work it out later if need be.

Enjoy the outdoors during Chol Hamoed and be back home in good time for a matzah lasagna dinner.

Notes:
El Dorado Nature Center, Regional Park: 7550 E. Spring St., Long Beach, www.longbeach.gov/park/facilities/parks/el_dorado_nature_center.asp,
tel. #: 570-1745, Trails: Tu-Su, 8am – 5pm Museum: Tu-F, 10am – 4pm, Sun, 8:30am – 4pm, $6 for parking.

Millard Canyon Falls: Angeles National Forest near Pasadena, exit Lake Ave. off the 210, tel: 818-899-1900, www.pasadenacal.com/sports/hiking.html, $5 parking if ticketed or order at: www.fs.fed.us/r5/sanbernardino/ap/

Museums&Nature Walks&Outdoors01 Dec 2005 12:00 pm

It’s good to have some activities up your sleeve that don’t require a full day commitment or a mall. Everybody has a few. The neighborhood park or the local library is always nice. But what about the park just a little way down the road or the library that’s so big it could fit all of our neighborhood libraries inside it? And even though Los Angeles is a city, a very big city, it still contains wildlife and swaths of green nature, tucked away from the main roads and found in the most unlikely places.

Take for example, Franklin Canyon Park, which can be found in North Beverly Hills off Beverly Drive, but which you would never have seen from the road, and yet it’s very big (605 acres.) It’s the kind of place that people don’t find unless someone else shows them. The park has different sections to it, but the main point of interest is a large pond (referred to as a ‘lake’) surrounded by trees and cattails and wildflowers and another smaller pond next to it with ducks and turtles. Of course there are trails to walk all around and explore. During this colder time of year, a chill settles into the park and you can almost smell winter in the fir trees.

Further up, off Coldwater Canyon Rd. is Tree People, another free park with trails winding over hills and through woods. It’s ideal for a long brisk walk and some fresh air.

Also in Beverly Hills, off of Foothill Rd., is Greystone Mansion, a castle-like estate built in 1928 by Edward Doheny, and eventually given to the city to be used as a public park. It has a big parking lot, an elaborate system of gardens, as well as fish and turtle ponds, and a house out of a storybook with a slate roof, and a veranda that looks out across the city. There are places to sit and read or enjoy a quiet conversation.

Then there’s the downtown area. If you haven’t been downtown lately, you are in for a surprise. When I first came out to LA, the downtown area was a faded and unwelcoming shell of its former self. But now, the sparkle and bustle of city life has returned since art deco buildings have been polished, the Disney Music Hall has opened, and real estate prices have skyrocketed. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Public Library, a huge architectural wonder, has continued to expand its appeal with a dazzling array of art exhibits and programs (not to mention a really cute gift shop.) The building is attractive inside and out with wall murals, carvings, fountains and tile work, it’s enjoyable just to look around. But then there are the books, the floors and floors of books. For people who love books, and I know there are a lot of us out there, the downtown library is a treasure trove of comprehensive collections and hard to find publications. Just think of a subject you’d like to learn more about and a bounty of books is likely to be available to check out or to reference. Once, my husband and I found a small white jar in the woods near my Grandmother’s house in Massachusetts. We went down to the patents floor of the library and actually found a picture of the jar and description of it, made in 1898, in the patents records.
The children’s section is absolutely dreamy with an enormous collection of books to choose from and chairs and couches to settle into for hours of reading.
A slight snag to the downtown library is the parking. In order to get a discount rate with validation, library patrons must park in the garage at 524. S. Flower Street, otherwise downtown parking can be a fortune.

One of my favorite places in Los Angeles is just a little south of downtown, where a family can find hours and hours and summers and late afternoons of enjoyment, for a small fee. A $60 family membership opens the doors to unlimited admission to the Natural History Museum, (which includes admission to the La Brea Tar Pit Museum on Wilshire Blvd., and the William S. Hart Park & Museum in Newhall.) The Natural History Museum comes in handy for “home nursery school” “camp Ema” and “after school play dates,” not to mention “relatives in town who want to go somewhere with the family on a Sunday.” Right next door to the free Science Museum, the Natural History Museum is huge and it is easy to visit it again and again for years and still have sections yet to explore. The Discovery Center, within the museum, is a two story children’s section with live insects and reptiles that are taken out of their tanks on a regular basis for educational (and petting) purposes. A whole section of the main museum is transformed a few times a year for special exhibits, and in the summer an outdoor garden pavilion is filled with a variety of fluttering butterflies to study up close. While it’s difficult to park on the street during the school year because of the USC students needing the spaces, during the summer and on Sundays street parking is easy to come by; just bring quarters (and save yourself the $6 parking lot fee.) The benefit of membership at such a big place is that you don’t feel compelled to see the whole thing in one day and can visit for short outings of an hour or two at a time, also members are sent schedules of events at all three museums throughout the year.
More local activity suggestions to come…

Notes: Franklin Canyon Park, 2600 Franklin Canyon Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210, www.lamountains.com
Tree People, 12601 Mulholland Drive Beverly Hills, CA 90210, (818)753-4600, www.treepeople.org
Greystone Park, 905 Loma Vista Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210. (310) 550-4654, www.beverlyhills.org
Los Angeles Public Library, Central Library 630 W. 5th St., Los Angeles, CA 90071 – (213) 228-7000, Mon. 10-8, Tue. 10-8, Wed. 10-8, Thu. 10-8, Fri. 10-6, Sat. 10-6, Sun. 1-5, www.lapl.org
The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
900 Exposition Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90007, (213) 763-DIN0, www.nhm.org

Nature Walks&Outdoors&Restaurants01 Nov 2005 12:00 pm

Kosher Road Trip to the Herzog Winery

When friends and family come into town for a visit, the first place they want to go is Oxnard…

Okay… so maybe Oxnard isn’t even in the top ten on the list of vacation destinations in Southern California, but it soon could be.

Until very recently, the only thing I knew about Oxnard was that the strawberries I bought at the farmer’s market were grown there and that it was a place we drove through on the way to Santa Barbara. But now, less than an hour up Pacific Coast Highway (Route 1), tucked into an industrial park, is the new Herzog Winery and restaurant in Oxnard, California.

Oxnard is an ocean side town with beach houses, lots of farm land, Point Magu Navel Base, and the NAS Point Mugu Air Show, which recently has included the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels. Oxnard can be reached not only via the scenic Pacific Coast Highway, but also by taking the 101 North. I recommend PCH for two reasons: 1. because it’s a pleasant drive along the ocean and 2. because it affords access to some nice hiking spots if you’d like to enjoy an outdoor activity before lunch. Coming from the valley, there is the option of taking Las Virgenes from the 101 over to PCH in Malibu and continuing north.

Just down the hill going north past Pepperdine University is Corral Canyon, a bite size park (known as Solstice Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains park system). Just turn right on Corral Canyon Road and take a left into the park. There is free parking and maps of the trails posted in a roofed structure by the parking lot. The main trail is about two miles round trip and is really a leisurely nature walk on a smooth path. It runs along a small creek, through the woods and to the foundations of a curious estate that once stood against a hill and by a rocky waterfall. For the more athletically inclined, another trail goes winding up a steep hill from the waterfall and continues to the top for an amazing view of the surrounding Malibu “mountains.” This trail is more demanding and adds another half a mile to the hike, but it’s well worth the effort. Otherwise, enjoy the waterfall and return the way you came; there are always new things to see.

Besides getting out for some exercise and fresh air, the Corral Canyon hike is a wonderful option for children who may get a little antsy having to sit through lunch in a nice restaurant after a road trip. A two mile (or even one mile) walk can get a lot of that energy out, and along the way there is so much to see: wild flowers and frogs and trees arching over the creek.

Continuing up PCH, the waves roll and crash in shades of blue to the left of the highway, and to the right there are signs for more parks to stop at and explore. And then, in the sun’s quiet sparkle, Malibu slips into Oxnard and then into the driveway of the Herzog Winery. ***

A winery, it should be noted, is not a vineyard and so there are not rows of grape vines to explore, but rather a facility in which the wine is processed, stored in casks, and bottled. Herzog Wine Cellars does not have any of its own vineyards, in fact, but selects grapes from existing vineyards grown by other wine producers. The labels on the bottles– “Russian River,” “Napa Valley,” “Monterey County” tell where the grapes are grown. The self guided tour of the Herzog Winery includes a very brief video explaining the history of the Herzog family’s company, and what it means for wine to be kosher.

Everything about this new place is done elegantly and with a clean contemporary polish, most notably, the restaurant, called Tierra Sur. With hardwood floors, warm earth tones and an open kitchen, this is a kosher restaurant like no other I’ve been to. It’s the kind of restaurant I’d only seen in the pages of Gourmet Magazine. Our waitress said they are well attended during the week. I was glad to hear this because I found the place quite appealing, from the ambiance, to the wait staff, to the chef and his staff working efficiently in the kitchen.

When I go to a restaurant, I tend to order something that would be difficult or time consuming for me to prepare, so after perusing the lunch menu, I selected “homemade organic corn tortillas filled with birria, chili braised lamb with salsa cruda.” Thinking that our six year old would like something simpler, we ordered her the lemon and garlic marinated chicken. She not only enjoyed her food, but declared that she loved my entrée and my husband’s as well, having tasted them all. Everything was very good, especially the tortillas with braised lamb. We asked for wine recommendations from the restaurant manager, Michael Caeton, who even brought out two dessert wines for us to try with the molten chocolate cake and caramel ice cream (a big hit.)

With regard to the wines, just as the words “hiking” and “trail” shouldn’t make you think you need special equipment and training to take what is essentially a nature walk at Corral Canyon, “wine tasting” and “late harvest chenin blanc” shouldn’t make you think that you need to know something about wine in order to go to the Herzog Winery. First of all, wine is an ancient and precious part of our heritage, to be elevated in Shabbos Kiddush, Yom Tov, and all of our simchas, and ultimately, Herzog Winery is making kosher wine for Jews to use in celebration throughout the world. Second, all the wine at the Herzog Winery is Herzog wine, so wine tasting in this case is about trying different kinds of reds or different kinds of whites, and it’s really just a matter of personal taste.

The wine tasting bar is located in a big airy room with an array of wine serving and storing items for purchase, as well as colorful rows of the many Herzog wines, including some eino mevushal and hard to find ones at discount prices. The wine tastings are $5 to $7 (free for restaurant customers) and there are a few tasting lists to choose from.

We bought a few bottles of wine for gifts and headed back down PCH, getting home well in time for mincha at shul. We all look forward to more opportunities to go to Oxnard to eat at Tierra Sur, whether it be as a stop along the way to Santa Barbara, or on an excursion to see the Point Mugu Air Show, or perhaps soon for an evening out to try the dinner menu which is scheduled to debut in November. We could eat at one of the outdoor tables, beneath the twinkling stars in the Oxnard night sky, while the chef tends the wild Pacific king salmon at the outdoor grill.

Oxnard is now on my list.

Notes: besides the regular car supplies of bottled water, hats and sunscreen, a change of shoes would be a good idea so you can take off your dusty sneakers after the hike if you stop at Corral Canyon. Also, if you’d like to take a walk on the beach in Oxnard after lunch, bring towels to clean up sandy feet.

Herzog Wine Cellars, 3201 Camino Del Sol Oxnard, CA 93030
Tel: 805-983-1560
Tasting Room Hours: 11am – 6pm Sun – Friday

Restaurant open 11:30am – 3pm M-F Sunday 12pm – 5pm (call for dinner hours)
www.herzogwinecellars.com

Corral Canyon, 25623 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu
For directions see: www.lamountains.com or www.nps.gov/samo/maps/solstice.htm