Posts tagged hiking


In an attempt to maintain some semblance of a psychogeographic tradition, ritual, or mechanism for postponing overwhelming urban banality that develops when I become complacent and comfortable, I decided to go for a bit of a stroll. The original intention was to find a soft patch of Elysian grass and settle into a new book, but the short trek from home to ridge got enough blood moving to motivate a full on exploration.

I have always been keen on a line of Washingtonia robusta that punctuate the eastern ridge of Elysian Park. I had been admiring them from afar for far too long, and before I knew it a mission had been set*. I had been deployed and the derive was underway.

*Note: This is an activity I like to call, “find the tallest thing you can see and then get to know it well”. During the activity I seek to answer: Is it as far as it looks? How far is far? Is the space between interesting? Does the space between become part of the object? How does your perspective change from point A to point B?


I started to walk along the fire road trail that I walk regularly – at least on the western side of the park. In an attempt to honor the meandering nature of the derive I tried to keep to the roads less traveled, attempting to go against my guttural inclinations and follow the paths that were new, foreign, and unpredictable. I didn’t know where I was going so it didn’t really matter either way. I had all day to get there, and in the worst case scenario I still had my book and could easily justify calling off the mission to pretend to read for a bit.

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Elysian Park’s trail system is interesting, a network of mostly dirt fire roads (I’d assume) in varying states of use and decay. I quickly became intrigued by the rock outcroppings flanking the trail, especially after crossing Stadium Way and into uncharted terrain. Most, if not every rock, had some strange geologic striations, anthropocentric tellings of the culture clash between unmonitored urban surfaces, Krylon, and quartzite. A psychogeology of sorts. I pondered this observation as I continued my walk, photographing these features like a rather pathetic Ansel Adams, with dusty boots and shattered iPhone.


An arboreal destination in the distance.

Halfway through the trip I discovered a new tree perched on an even farther ridge. I knew I had to change trajectory. What good is a mission if you are aren’t afraid to break off in favor of a new one?

The beauty of personal ritual is you can do whatever you please – a healthy practice of the wanderer. I passed many more graffiti-covered outcroppings and countless vistas, looking out over the Los Angeles River, the interstates, and across to the mountains. I finally came upon a paved road, its sighting soon accompanied with people, sports fields, litter, and laughing. I hopped onto the road for a bit, walking its hardened path until I saw my destination. I skirted off the road, back into the dusty dirt, and scrambled up a small footpath.


Upon seeing the tree I was surprised and shocked that it actually had surpassed my expectations. A lone giant perched on a hill. Covered from roots to canopy in spray paint scribble and adorned with a tattered rope swing. I was obviously not the first person to play this game. This was a destination for many. But there was not a soul in sight as I climbed the trunk to take in the view.


I found a praying mantis making her way up the trunk as well. Universal appeal. I hung around a bit, took some photographs, and then made my way to the next ridgeline to find those Mexican Fan Palms, so that I could finally make my way home satisfied.

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Photos by Wendy Chan

Photos by Wendy Chan

We are fortunate to enjoy great weather year around in Los Angeles, and our close proximity to the local mountains, desert, and coast makes hiking one of the  favorite activities for many Angelenos. I find hiking a regenerative escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, and an opportunity to immerse myself in the native landscape. Luckily for us, even when we can’t get out far from the city, there’s nature to be found nearby.

Phacelia spp

One of my favorite hiking trails in Los Angeles to satiate this desire to commune with nature is the Parker Mesa Overlook in Topanga Canyon State Park. It’s a 7 miles round trip with about a 1,200’ of elevation gain, and less than a half hour drive from Downtown Los Angeles on weekend mornings. At the top of the overlook, hikers are rewarded with amazing panoramic views out and across the Pacific Ocean. On a clear day, you can even see Catalina Island! It’s also a great Saturday morning workout to get your heart pumping, as the trail isn’t usually too crowded.

Eriogonum spp._California Buckwheat_Late Summer Fall

The first part of the trail is the Los Liones Trail, a 1.3 mile uphill route through a lush riparian canyon with shade. The trail eventually meets up with a fire road in Topanga State Park, which is the start of the hike to the Parker Mesa Overlook trail. You can also start the hike at this point and bypass the Los Liones Trail altogether. There is only a little shade along the trail, so it’s best to bring a hat and apply sunscreen. There also quite of bit of wildlife along the trail to observe, especially at dusk when animals become more active: birds chirping, rabbits hopping across the trail, butterflies fluttering about, lizards basking, and even deer! It’s also a great trail to observe the seasonal change of California native plants.

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How to get there: The trail starts off at Los Liones Canyon Trailhead, which can be reached from PCH heading northbound from Santa Monica. Turn east onto Sunset Blvd, then left onto Los Liones Drive. There is ample street parking and a free small parking lot.

For more information about this favorite trail just 30 minutes away from Downtown Los Angeles (without traffic, of course), check out Modern Hiker’s detailed guide and photos.


According to the Audubon Field Guide the Brown-headed Cowbird  is "known to have laid eggs in nests of over 220 species of birds, and over 140 of those are known to have raised young cowbirds."

According to the Audubon Field Guide the Brown-headed Cowbird is “known to have laid eggs in nests of over 220 species of birds, and over 140 of those are known to have raised young cowbirds.” – Photo: Rob & Ann Simpson/Vireo

While taking a leisurely walk down the San Gabrielino Trail in the Angeles Forest one might come across a variety of native wildlife. There are sunny patches of light pinks and whites from the freshly blooming California Buckwheat and the soothing sound of a watery creek bed with slender green arroyo willow leaves rustling in the wind along this trail.

Photo: Roxana Marashi

Photo: Roxana Marashi

A particular bird catches your eye as it briskly flies from one tree branch to another. It has a brown feathered body with a small black beak, and it appears to be nesting on one of the branches of an Arroyo Willow tree. You take a closer look, and you soon realize that nest does not belong to that bird; it actually belongs to a Least Bell’s Vireo, an endangered species who thrives off of riparian habitat in the Los Angeles basin. The imposter is a Brown-headed Cowbird, and it is known as a brood parasite: a bird that lays its eggs in the nest of others.

Photo: Roxana Marashi

Photo: Roxana Marashi

Oddly enough, this bird is a protected native species, even though it is hurting other native bird populations. With a state permit, agencies can set up traps to capture and remove cowbirds from certain areas such as the Upper Buck Gully in the Newport Beach area. Biologists and conservancies have been keeping an eye on these native opportunists and how they behave. It turns out that their method of survival is very successful for them since they used to mix with bison herds when they roamed across the Midwest.

Today, the Brown-headed Cowbird is often seen near cows grabbing a bite of tasty insects off of their backs. Since bison herds always migrate, these birds were unable to survive by building a stationary nest to incubate their eggs, then nurse their chicks for weeks on end until they are strong enough to survive on their own. That is why the Cowbird evolved its brood parasitism strategy, because it was the only way to ensure their species survival.