Posts by Jessica Roberts

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This Saturday I took a bike ride from Silver Lake to Long Beach via the Los Angeles River Bicycle Path. It was about a 30 mile journey, one way, with many memorable sights, sounds, and characters along the way. These images above reflect my experience and show a side of Los Angeles you don’t always get a chance to see.

All photos by Jessica Roberts

Creative Commons photo by Accord14 (CC BY-SA 4.0)

This past weekend was dedicated to Echo Park with friends. As we walked the loop around the lake, and even took a pedal boat out, we saw many interactions between people and animals. My high school friend who was visiting from out-of-town commented about the comfort between people, geese, ducks, and dogs – perhaps alarmingly so – a symptom of close quarters, I guess.

I thought back to our ragtag lunch table, which represented a similarly odd assemblage of individuals. A couple in a hammock swinging between palms traded feeding Cheetos to one another and a friendly goose (in my opinion, an example of misdirected but true romance). Arguably the cutest patrons of the park were the baby geese and turtles. We just couldn’t get enough.

Young red eared slider turtles poked their heads up out of the water while pursuing their algae-covered elders. Individuals that make it through their first year or two can be expected to live around 30+ years. They are the most popular pet turtle in the United Sates and are often considered an invasive species. However at Echo Park, these turtles are considered beloved members of the highly social ecosystem.

Photo by Jim, the Photographer (CC BY 2.0)

The resident turtles are all decedents of pets released into Echo Park Lake. I wondered how the shelled inhabitants handled/survived the park renovation four years ago. After some quick searches online I was unable to find what actually happened to the original turtles. Most articles point to the turtles being dispersed into other lakes in Los Angeles, such as MacArthur Park, to keep locals appeased.

One resident of Echo Park noted that she had been told that the turtles had been adopted, but she had found a number of dead turtles on the site during construction. These amphibians are not always thought of so fondly. In some states like Florida it is illegal to sell the red-eared slider, stemming from concerns about interbreeding with local turtle populations – a courtship frowned frowned upon by many ecologists.

My searches online led me to another odd couple of Echo Park: a gray Toulouse goose named Maria, and a retired salesman named Dominic. Their relationship blossomed prior to the renovation of the park back in 2010. The article mentions that Maria was to be temporarily relocated.

Odd ecologies and odd couples. I do hope Maria and Dominic found each other again.



All photos by Jessica Roberts

I recently participated in the pilgrimage to view the incredible spectacle of California poppies. It was around this time last year when I had just moved to California;  I was immediately awestruck by the California poppies and giant coreopsis along the coast. I couldn’t wait to see more this year, especially with the super bloom hype in the air.

A coworker of mine had posted an image of poppies at Lake Elsinore on Instagram. I quickly copy and pasted the name into Google maps, noticing that it was on the way to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. And just like that my pilgrimage journey was mapped. The display of flowers did not disappoint, but what was perhaps as spectacular was the number of visitors at the parks. Tour buses, traffic jams, and selfie-hunters were ever-present. How was the prevalence of social media and the construction of self-image impacting the landscape?

Last year a University of Vermont research team used geo-tagged social media images to measure the use and value of outdoor recreation on public lands. The study analyzed more than 7,000 images, calculating that conserved lands contributed $1.8 billion to Vermont’s tourism industry between 2007-2014. The team developed criteria that drives the use of conserved lands and they discovered that there were differences in use between in-state and out-of-state visitors. For example out-of-state tourists preferred locations with easy access to clean water and swimming. The study indicates how important it is to understand the dynamics of ecosystems in conservation.

Although the idea of using this kind of research to collect data on the value of outdoor recreation is exciting, what’s even more fascinating are the ways social media can impact the public’s perception of any landscape and its perceived value worth visiting and protecting.

The poppy covered hillsides of Lake Elsinore were populated as one might expect. The entrances and even the slopes directly adjacent to the interstate were filled with tourists from all over the world. You had to hike further to see the pro hiking gear and safari hat wearing local nature lovers in their element. Temporary accommodations were set up and there were volunteers everywhere. Clearly these parks do not usually see this kind of traffic.

Photo by Alex Reed

A friend of mine in Illinois uses Instagram to track seasonal morel mushroom sightings as they creep up from the south. Similarly, based on the tagged location and time of posted images on Instagram, I could predict when the poppies were fully opened and the quality of light I could expect to see. A quick #californiapoppy and #superbloom search had led me to all the hot spots. As overwhelming as the crowds were, I was pleased to see the masses appreciating the beauty of the landscape (with a little selfie-love in the mix). It will be interesting to continue to observe the intersection of social media and landscape value as the two continue to weave together.

A few related links for your superbloom flower expeditions:
• How to Shoot Epic Landscape Selfies – 6 Top Tips
• 10 Tips For Stunning iPhone Flower Photography
• 7 times selfies and nature didn’t mix
• Spatial and Temporal Dynamics and Value of Nature-Based Recreation, Estimated via Social Media

During a trip to Sequoia National Park a few months ago, I spent some time in Exeter, a small Californian town located in the San Joaquin Valley at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in Tulare County. The changing landscapes surrounding the town already inspired thoughts about the area in pre and post European settlement times, the history of the railroad in the west, commercial agricultural practices, and water use. But Exeter’s 28 murals downtown – each illustrating the changing relationships with the landscape from the town’s settlement to the present – really underlined this relationship between land and community. These murals are worth checking out: curated historical California fun for the whole family. The past follows visitors everywhere, literally around every corner in the town of Exeter.

All photos by Jessica Roberts.

All photos by Jessica Roberts.

The mural above depicts the Visalia Electric Railroad in Exeter in 1915 and 1945; it was painted in 2001 by artists Michael Stanford, Yuri Somov, and Matt Hemsworth. The Visalia Railroad Company was incorporated in 1874, and by 1898 the rails had been extended south from Visalia to Southern Pacific’s East Side Line at Exeter.

In the early 1880’s hydroelectric power from the Kaweah River – about 15 miles north of Exeter – was being promoted, and an electric inter-urban railroad was proposed for Tulare County. In 1904 the Visalia Electric Railroad Company was incorporated. The rail transported mostly oranges but also plums, peaches, lemons, grapes, and dairy. With the convenience of shipping and the accessibility to water resources, more land was converted from natural planes to cattle, dairy, and fruit tree production.


A mural around the corner painted by Colleen Mitchell-Veyna and Morgan McCall in 1996, depicting a scene of orange pickers in the 1930s. As I drove out of the town center I thought about this image, about the character of the landscape that had taken on for over a century. An overlay of past and present was easy to imagine.


With the increase of automobiles the railway lines popularity declined, and passenger use was discontinued by 1924. By the 1940’s freight service was in decline, even with the increase of produce production in the area, and continued to do so with the increasing use of trucks for moving goods. The last shipment was in 1990 and the rail was abandoned 1992, 9 years before the mural to commemorate the history of the rail was painted.

A 20 minute drive northeast brought us to Kaweah Lake, the source of the hydroelectric power that once transported and connected passengers and goods in Tulare Country. The water levels were noticeably low, and there was a light mist in the air. I wish I had an image of the lake now, after a few months with heavy and historic winter rain, for comparison.


I returned from this trip wondering how high-speed rail and long-term drought conditions might transform the use of the land and the interurban connections of goods and people today. When will future developments of Exeter be archived and interpreted on the streets of the downtown (hopefully in mural form too), and what version of the past will be deemed worthy of capturing for posterity?



This past weekend I had some friends visiting from Chicago who put me in charge of planning our weekend travels. If you want to fly halfway across the country to see a massive ecological and engineering disaster, I’m your woman. A few Airbnb searches later and our exotic vacation on the beach of the Salton Sea was booked. Welcome to the neighborhood.


The Salton Sea is an endorheic lake and drainage basin in the Imperial and Coachella Valleys of Southern California. This vast inland lake, the largest in the state, is the lowest elevation of the Salton Sink and receives water from the New, Whitewater, and Alamo Rivers. The Sea is also a retention basin for surrounding drainage systems and agricultural runoff. A perfect setting for a weekend getaway.


The inland sea has a long history and has served as home to different inhabitants along the way. Deposits from the Colorado River created fertile farmland in the Imperial Valley and cycles of water flow and evaporation have historically happened every half century. Native American fish traps can still be found which were moved around in relationship to the changing character of the water.

From the 1850’s on the Sea has taken on a number of names including The Valley of the Ancient Lake, Cahuilla Valley, Salt Creek, and Salton Station to name a few. The Salton Sink was the site of a major salt mining operation until 1905 when an accident led to the seas current state. Today the sea is most famous for its infill from a California Development Company engineering mishap. Irrigation canals were dug from the Colorado River to increase water flow into the valley. The canal overflowed and over the course of two years the historic dry lake bed was filled.

In the 1950s and ’60s the area was transformed into a hip resort town with swimming, water-skiing, yacht clubs, and golf courses. The California Department of Fish and Game stocked the lake with fish from the Gulf of California and the sea soon became a popular fishing spot for humans and migratory birds alike. Over time increasing saline levels and pollution from agricultural runoff saturated the sea and the freshwater began to evaporate. Algae blooms, fed by agricultural run-off, resulted in a foul smelling shoreline. By the 1980’s the cities surrounding the sea were close to abandoned, and mass numbers of fish began to die due to lack of oxygen in the water. The good times were over. (more…)