Friday, September 28, 2012

Hike 2012.067 -- East Observatory Trail

This hike seems like a long time ago--and it was. Over a week ago. I hiked it a week ago Sunday, as a sort of recon of possible places to shoot Endeavour's flyby of the Observatory.

Started from the Observa-tory, around 5pm. Headed out on Mt. Hollywood Road, first. I wanted to check out a short "point of the mountain" trail that heads south from the road to an overlook. I thought maybe it would provide a city hall backdrop. After verifying that the view here was not better than the view I was considering further up on the Charlie Turner Trail, I returned down Mt. Hollywood Road, then began up West Observatory Road. However, shortly after passing Western Canyon Road, I headed down on the West Trail.

As I walked down West Trail, I passed several check dams on my right, where the canyon bottom was. These short, stone and mortar walls, perhaps three feet in height, occurred repeatedly along the "V" of the canyon, spaced as little as 50 yards apart from each other.

After about 1/3 of a mile, the trail split as it reached Western Canyon Road and a picnic area.

I walked to the left of the picnic area and followed what I believed to be the main trail. It paralleled the road for about 1/2 mile before reaching a junction. Apparently (judging by the map), this junction would have been at the top of the Ferndell Nature Area.

From there, I made a left turn, then stayed on the right fork that headed back up the canyon. This was the East Observatory Trail. It's shorter and seemed less steep than the West Observatory Trail. The two trails merged about 1/3 of a mile up from the split.

There were several nice views of the Observa-tory building as I climbed. The last bit cut more or less due east, reaching a three-way junction, which was the same junction I reached when i headed down from the Observatory a few weeks previous.

Headed up that last stretch, then continued in to the observatory.

I was still getting acquainted with my camera, and I wanted to get additional informa-tion on its performance capabilities. So I headed down to the lower portion of the Observatory (the part that was added during the 2002-2006 renovation). They call the middle level (with the info desk) the Edge of Space, and the lowest level is called the Depths of Space.

Scale models of the planets (including dwarf planet Pluto) are attached to the side of the Edge of Space and overlook the Depths of Space. I took several shots of earth, Mars, Saturn, and the outer gas giants.

Earth looks kinda weird. Or, more precisely, Alaska is oddly shaped.

Saturn looks very pretty. I like that it provides a sense of scale of the ring system, too.

Meanwhile, I am heading into the end of a week without having taken any hikes. I'm feeling restless and fat. However, I ran out of time on the relatively cool days, and now we're heading into another phase of oppressive heat. Also, I have to work on the weekend. May be able to fit something short on Sunday after work, but that's about it.

Yes, I'm sure you're all getting tired of pictures of Griffith Park. Just turns out that's the only place I've had time to fit hikes in recently!

I'll call it three miles for the day.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Hike 2012.067A -- Mt. Hollywood and Endeavour Flybys

Only hiked up about 1/2 mile on this one, so it definitely doesn't count as a hike in itself. However, there's another hike (067) that I have not yet posted, also in the Griffith Park area. So my short hike on Friday would have been 067A for the year.

Great view of space shuttle Endeavour "victory lap." It made three passes over the Griffith Observatory area.

Headed up here with some friends who wanted to be a part of yet another "once in a lifetime" events. We all headed up towards Mt. Hollywood, and settled in our respective locations.

Suffice to say the view was great. Pictures posted here are nearly all full-frame shots, so you get an idea of how close we were to the shuttle. I used a 55-200mm zoom lens with my new Nikon D3200. I shot aperture priority because that's what my SLR used to do (it was a Canon AL1). Most are also unedited--just presented the way the camera recorded the sight.

We arrived early at Griffith Observatory, because we were expecting traffic to be crazy. Pulled into the parking area at 7am, by which time the regular parking spots were already all taken. Fortunately, I had a staff parking permit, so we did find a spot up near the top.

It was already sunny and warming up. And, unfortu-nately, once you leave the parking area, there wasn't any more water, no significant shade, and no restroom facilities (which discouraged the consumption of water or coffee if you had them!).

This trail is really pretty desolate. With the exception of a few rock outcroppings, and perhaps if you head up to Dante's View, you have essentially no shade. Meanwhile, the flyby was not scheduled until about 11:30am. So, with people arriving by 8am or earlier, that was a long time to spend in the sun.

The crowds at the Observa-tory were crazy, but the crowds even 1/2 mile up the trail were not bad, at all. At 8am, we had our choice of spots, and picked one that would allow us to frame the Observatory and the downtown skyline. If the flyover altitude was not too great, I anticipated getting some nice context shots.

The first flyover was (if my camera clock is to be believed) about 11:50am. We saw it in the distance, coming almost from due west. It headed apparently directly towards us, but was actually heading towards downtown. It looped around downtown, then backed to the left, eventually flying from left to right in front of us, though still probably a mile to our south. Out view was not bad, and I figured I did get at least a reasonable facsimile of the shot I wanted.

Yet, rumor was they would return. And indeed, after apparently visiting Santa Monica, it slowly made its way back towards us.

This time, it really was heading right for us. Or at least, right for the Observa-tory. From the Observatory grounds, the flight was directly above. From our perspective, perhaps 1/4 or 1/3 of a mile to the north, we got a nice profile view.

It then banked to the left, and swept to the north, towards JPL.

From our perspective, it disappeared behind Mt. Hollywood.

However, with the supposed itinerary saying that, in addition to JPL, a flyby of Universal Studios was on tap, I was confident the shuttle would soon reappear on the west side of the peak. I made my way across the wide dirt path that is Mt. Hollywood Road. And, sure enough, the shuttle soon emerged, flying probably right over the Ventura Freeway (CA 134).

It almost appeared to skim the top of Mt. Lee (though it was definitely well north of that peak), providing a chance to photograph the shuttle with the Hollywood Sign in the foreground.

Then it banked to the left, flying over Universal Studios, and just west of Burbank and Cahuenga Peaks. Earlier, I had pointed my telephoto lens at Burbank Peak, so I know at least a few people got an up-close, eye-level view of the shuttle as it made that flight segment.

After clearing Cahuenga Pass, the shuttle-topped 747 banked left, making another nearby pass, somewhat to our south, but over Hollywood, again. It continued to our east, eventually disappearing behind the ridge that runs up towards Mt. Hollywood. The time stamp on my last photo says this would be around 12:11pm.

From Griffith Observatory, the aerial show headed towards Disneyland, with a low flight over the Downey plant where the shuttle was built. A co-worker in Norwalk, who did not take the day off, reported it flew right over our work place there (near the Registrar-Recorder's building).

So we got one out-standing and two very nice nearby passes of the space shuttle on Friday. I took 174 photos, though probably half were before the shuttle arrived. Most were of the growing crowd on the lawn and terraces of Griffith Observatory, and atop Mt. Hollywood and the ridge leading up to Mt. Hollywood.

It was a long, dry, tiring day, but we all had a ball. We love events like this. It's sort of like the Venus Transit or Annular Eclipse, where all sorts of people with all sorts of backgrounds, who may have little in common with each other, can stop and share a common experience that transcends economics and culture.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Hike 2012.066 -- Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area

Hiked Saturday, September 15. This was supposed to be my morning hike, followed by a drive to the desert and some dark sky observing. Instead, I got tired from the hiking, and slept for a few hours after I got home. That was the end of my Saturday.

Kenneth Hahn State Park (Recreation Area) is located in the Baldwin Hills. It is bounded by La Cienega on the west, La Brea on the east, and (roughly) Rodeo Road on the north and Fairfax/Stocker on the south (it actually doesn't quite reach those roads, but that's the vicinity). To get there, take I-10 (the Santa Monica Freeway). If coming from Downtown, exit at Washington/Fairfax, turn left at the light (Washington), another left almost immediately after that (Fairfax), then another left after about 1/4 mile (La Cienega Blvd).

You'll soon cross Jefferson, then under the Expo Line (light rail), past the See's Candy factor on your right, then Rodeo Road. From there, La Cienega opens up into a quasi-freeway, with 3 six lanes of traffic, three lanes going slow. (That's from Telegraph Road, by the way. on a divided road flying through the Baldwin Hills. Then, the unexpected happens. On your right, there's an offramp that is signed for Kenneth Hahn State Park. That one totally caught me by surprise, because my directions gave an even-numbered La There's also a line about birds up on a wire, and up on the poles," which I also thought about when I took a picture of the birds on the powerline, a little later in this post).

Meanwhile, last Saturday, my three lanes of traffic were moving fast as I climbed up along La Cienga, into the hills, expecting to reach a left turn pocket to turn into the park. Instead, an offramp suddenly materialized on the right, with a sign indicating that was the way to Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area.

After exiting La Cienega, follow the road across and over La Cienga up 1/4 mile or so to an entrance station ($5 entry fee on weekends, free on most weekdays).

I followed the road all the way to the end, on up a hill, because that's where the signs for the event I was attending pointed. This was a "Fitness Challenge" event for the entity that employs me, which meant free entry for me (even though it was a weekend), plus the promise of free giveaways and a little Saturday morning hiking. I'm not sure if this road is normally open or not.

Once in the top parking lot, I checked in, got my freebies (moist towelette sunblock containers, hooks to hold your water bottle, a portable mister, and a banana.

The pre-hike warmup was something with very funky music. However, me being me, I did not participate in that part of the festivities. To me, the hike was going to be the warmup. Besides which, the musically assisted stretching would have required that I have a minimal sense of rhythm. I made about three half-hearted steps in time to the music, then gave up. Instead, I enjoyed the view from this hilltop location. The downtown skyline was off to the northeast. This is the opposite direction from what I normally see it.

I also saw a trail that headed down one of the side canyons. I thought that might be the trail we'd follow, but it was not.

Instead, when the hike began, we headed due south. A dirt road left from the gathering spot, past a water tower, and pass some powerlines that were very popular with the doves.

Some 20 hikers were part of the "advanced" group that set out on what was billed as a 2 1/2 mile hike around Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area.

Kenny, by the way, was a long-time LA County Supervisor. His son was once mayor of Los Angeles, and his daughter is now a member of Congress, after previously serving on the Los Angeles City Council.

The hike on the dirt road was not the most scenic. Not all that different from Griffith Park, except that it's much smaller and there are a lot of oil derricks to the southwest.

The park is located at the top of Baldwin Hills, which was also once a reservoir. The dam burst in 1963, and the former reservoir was later largely filled in. "The Bowl" is still visible as the outlines of the reservoir, however.

Our hike continued south, almost to the practical end of the park. Then we turned east, and descended to La Brea. There, we were greeted by a chain link fence. At the fence, we turned north.

After about 1/2 mile of rolling towards the south, we reached a paved road with a locked gate against La Brea. We then headed up this long (not all that steep, but pretty long) incline. At a level area just over 1/2 way up, we reached an LADWP structure. I guess there's still some groundwater pumping going on in the area, despite the reservoir no longer being there.

Once at the top of the hill, the music from our starting area was quite close to the left. However, near as I could tell, the main body of hikers turned right here, waling what must be 3/4 of a mile around The Bowl. At the far northern end of The Bowl, I saw a sign that described the collapse of the Baldwin Hills Dam.

Once all the way around The Bowl, another sign was on the south end of the depression. It read, "Janice's Green Valley." I assumed a young Janice Hahn used to enjoy this view.

Finally straggled back to the staging area for the event. It's not that I'm a slow hiker--I was just taking a lot of pictures.

I took even more pictures on the second "advanced" hike. This one seemed perhaps a bit longer than the last one. We started out heading north, around "The Bowl," again. But, at the northwest end of the the depression, a trail peeled off to the right. We continued travelling to the northwest, first near the ridge. There were several pavilions for people to enjoy the view in the shade. I took LOTS of pictures. In particular, I noted that I could see both the Hollywood Sign and Griffith Park, well off to the north-northeast. The whole ridge I had hiked on the previous hike was laid out in the distance.

Closer, to the northwest, was Culver City. On views back to the southwest, I could see the control tower for LAX. This struck me as not a bad place to watch a space shuttle make final approach. Not worth a trip for me, since I feel I have a better viewpoint closer to home. But for folks living out this way, it's a possibility.

After about 1/2 mile, the trail started descending the ridge as it approached another fence. At the fence, we turned left, then eventually completed a U-turn. Now heading south, I could soon hear voices.

The voices were gathered around a waterfall. Yes, clearly not a natural falls. Still, the sound of cascading waters is always soothing.

We posed for a group picture in front of the falls, and then started heading back.

Just south of us was Doris' Japanese Garden. The garden itself is fenced off, but there are pretty views of the small red bridge, the lotus-filled pond, and the smattering of other Japanese influences. Not what you would expect in the Baldwin Hills. I took 18 shots just of the lotus, trying to get it just right. Used the old trick of long zoom and wide aperture to minimize depth of field.

From there, we had at least a long mile, treking across the park, then up the road, back to our starting point.

I'll call it five miles for the day, though both walks seemed longer than 2 1/2 miles. Trail junctions tend not to be signed, though the park is small enough that even a wrong turn should mean nothing more than an extra 1/2 mile or so of walking. Dogs on a leash are permitted.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Hike 2012.065 -- Mineral Wells to Mt. Lee

Hiked Tuesday, September 11. I had training in Burbank on Tuesday, so I decided I'd visit Griffith Park again after the class was over. Drove down Victory Blvd and eventually made my way to Riverside Drive, crossed the Ventura Freeway (CA-134), then headed west, on Zoo Drive. Right after passing Travel Town, I took a left, looking for decent access to the trails of Griffith Park.

This road turned out to be Griffith Park Road. I followed it for a winding mile and a half or so, going up, then down. Finally, as I neared what turned out to be Mineral Wells Road, there were some cars parked on the side of the road. A trail access was to the west of them, so I parked and began my hike. A large sign for Mineral Wells picnic area was right near my car.

This turns out to be the "North Trail," as indicated on the Tom LaBonge map I have mentioned before.

It's a steep trail, gaining about 150 feet in maybe 1/8 of a mile. As I climbed, I could see Burbank and Glendale behind me. I also climbed above a golf course, and a driving range.

It gained another 80-100 feet in the next 1/5 mile, as it led me up to Amir's Garden. It's one of those places I'd heard of, but did not know where it was. Now, I was there. Very lush. Well-tended. And with plenty of benches to enjoy the shade.

I stayed there for just a few minutes before returning to the North Trail. For the next 3/4 of a mile, the trail continued climbing, though less steeply. A power line ran along the road for a bit of the way. I could also see that I was on the opposite side of a habitat restoration area that I had visited on a previous hike.

Ahead of me, in the late afternoon glare, I could see Mt. Lee and Cahuenga Peak.

I was now on the Mt. Hollywood Trail. I followed it for about 1/4 of a mile, until I hit the dirt road. Then I made a right, traveling about 1/5 of a mile, through the pass between Mt. Bell and Mt. Chapel. Once on the other side, you hit a T-junction with another dirt road. There, I made a left, then a quick right. This put me on a dirt road that took me towards a water tank that is just north of Mt. Chapel. It's probably a bit under 1/4 mile to the water tank, then 1/10th of a mile up from the water tank to the top of Mt. Chapel. That's on a short use trail, which is initially steep, but requires no more than 30 or 40 vertical feet to get to the summit.

I walked over, shot a number of pictures back towards Griffith Observa-tory, then continued over. There is no trail indicated on the Tom LaBonge map, but the use trail is very well defined (as are several others, some of which skirt transversely along Mt. Bell, and two of which go right on to the top).

The trail that heads along the ridge line to the southwest of Mt. Lee continues for about 2/5ths of a mile. There are a couple of places with substantial drop offs and scenic views to the south. In several spots, the Mulholland Trail is right below you. It's junction with the Hollyridge Trail also occurs far below your perch.

As your trail continues heading to the west, several use trails split off, for other vistas. However, if you stay on the main path, you are soon delivered right on to Mt. Lee Road. Make a right at the pavement, and continue up this road 1/2 mile, to the top of Mt. Lee. That's near the radio towers, and behind the Hollywood Sign.

Just where the road makes a hairpin turn and makes the final run to the summit of Mt. Lee, there's a monument and a somewhat-hidden trail that goes to the west. That one heads on to Cahuenga Peak. From there, you could also continue at least to Burbank Peak. That was ground I also covered in a previous hike.

Today, I had no desire to continue far to the south and west, but I did want to get a peek at the view from the ridge just east of the Hollywood Sign. I went up that way maybe 50 yards, then came back and returned the way I came.

Hard to be certain on the mileage. If you add up all the segments and double it, you'd be at about 4 miles. My suspicion is the total mileage was probably between 4.5 and 5 miles roundtrip. Although going to Mt. Lee from Mineral Wells was probably one mile shorter each way than going from the Griffith Observatory, I think the degree of difficulty is considerably higher. That's a pretty long and strenuous climb from Mineral Wells up to the ridge line.

Dogs on leashes are permitted (pick up after your dog), and no entry or parking fees are required.

The main point of this hike was to scout possible locations to photograph the impending arrival of the space shuttle Endeavour in Los Angeles (Now scheduled for Friday--postponed a day because of weather). It is considered likely that a flyby of the Hollywood Sign will be part of the victory lap, and I am going to try to get some good pictures of the shuttle and the Observatory on Thursday (or later, if the arrival turns out to be delayed).

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hike 2012.064 -- Mt. Hollywood and Vicinity

Hiked Sunday, Sept 9. Still behind in my hike writeups. I walked this one on Sunday. Did another hike on Tuesday. Both were in Griffith Park, as I continue scouting potential spots to shoot photos during the anticipated Endeavour flyby as it heads to LAX. That'll be on Thursday, September 20. Sort of like the transit of Venus from earlier this year, this'll be another "once in a lifetime" opportunity.

On Sunday afternoon, from the Observatory parking lot, I headed down the trail that departs from just northwest of the Observatory structure. Hikers, bikers and joggers are always going up and down that trail, but I did not know where it went. Today, I would find out.

I thought it was going to take me to the point where Vermont Avenue makes a hairpin turn as it stops heading directly north and begins weaving up the mountain. But this was not where this trail went.

Instead, it dropped down, to the south. Nice views back at the Observatory dome as it dropped, before making a left and continue to lose altitude. After about 1/4 mile, I hit a multi-pointed junction. I turned left, because that's the way I wanted to go. After another 1/4 mile, I hit a paved road. Just down and across on that road, the dirt trail continued, so I went that way. I could undoubtedly have continued on the pavement for some distance in either direction, but I don't like walking on pavement.

When I eventually popped out of the hills, I was disorient-ed. Despite driving up Vermont about a dozen times in the past month, I never noticed the side street I was now standing on before. Looking at the Google Maps satellite photo, this would be Vista Del Valle Drive. Picnic tables and picnickers were across the road. Cars were parked in the road.

"In the road?" you ask? Yes, in the road. In the middle of the road. Because, on the afternoon I was hiking, there was a concern in the Greek Theater, which is also on Vermont. There's not a lot of parking adjacent to the Greek, so one of the things they do is stack parked cars right in the middle of both Vermont and Vista Del Valle.

I checked with one of the guys directing cars to parking, to be sure I was allowed to cross. I also asked about the deer, and he said they're always there.

"Deer?" you ask? Yes, deer. I saw two of them, browsing under the trees, about 30 yards from some picnickers. Both seemed happy to pretend to ignore each other. But I still like taking pictures of deer, so I zoomed in and snapped a number of shots.
They were a couple, a buck and a doe. Clearly, the grass is greener down near these manicured park lands than it is up in the chaparral.

Once I had my bearings, I headed east, to Vermont, then north. I had to dodge many concert goers and their cars as I headed that way. I crossed Vermont when I saw a break in the traffic, and headed up the east end of the street. Several trails head off from that end. I elected to take the one up where Vermont makes that hairpin turn I mentioned earlier. There's a restroom there, and a sign that mentions "Bird Sanctuary."

I get the impression the bird sanctuary is the area that's fenced off from fire damage. The only trail from this area heads north, but climbs up the west end of the canyon. A chain link fence borders you on your right.

It was about 1/2 mile of walking along Vermont, then about 1/5 of a mile of heading north-ish on the trail before the trail hit a fence and made a sharp switchback to the west. The trail then largely contours to the west before turning north again, meeting the Charlie Turner Trail at another multi-point junction. From there, paths back down towards the Observatory, or around either side of Mt. Hollywood depart. I took the easterly route, just because I haven't gone that way as often.

About 1/4 mile to the east, and you hit Dante's View. Another 1/5 mile or so takes you to the summit.

As I rounded towards the east end of Mt. Hollywood, I saw a portion of a rainbow, rising steeply against the sky. It was raining pretty good down towards the foothills.

Several nice views of the downtown skyline along the way, too.

Some idiot with a group of other idiots was firing his CO2 bb gun at a bottle cap sitting atop one of the wooden fence posts surrounding the top of Mt. Lee. But no one was willing to tell the idiot what an idiot he was for fear of getting the snot beat out of them.

Returned back to the Observatory parking lot via the Charlie Turner trail. Nice views of Buddha's Rays as the sun set beyond Mt. Lee.

Shot plenty of additional shots of the skyline to my south. Continued down the Charlie Turner, crossed over the Vermont tunnel, came down past the Berlin Children's Forest, crossed the lot, and got back to my car. About 2 1/2 hours, all told. Probably five miles, maybe a little less.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Hike 2012.063 -- Echo Mountain

Short hike on Tuesday, Sept. 4. I mainly wanted to try out my new camera. It's a Nikon D3200. I have the 55-200mm lens, and, in part, it's so I can try to get shots of the space shuttle when it flies into Los Angeles in a few weeks.

Echo Mountain is possibly my most frequently walked hikes. It starts from the top of Lake Avenue in Altadena. You can reach Lake Avenue from the Foothill Freeway (I-210). For more info and more representative pictures of the hike route, search this site for one of my many other Echo Mountain posts.

About the only substantive difference for this hike versus past ones is that the last mile and a half or so of Lake Avenue is now a one lane (each way) road, which makes parking near the top much easier.

On the day I hiked, it was hot (as it's been most of the past few weeks. As a result, the number of walkers (and joggers) I saw was much less than I would have expected. I walked easily, not bothering to bring anything to drink with me. It's only about 5 miles roundrip, with a 1200 to 1400 foot gain, so even on a warm afternoon/evening, I didn't need to bring anything with me besides my camera.

Several helicopters flew around me as I climbed, so I practiced getting shots of them. The first one I saw was one of those infamous black helicopters. It had a camera ball on it's nose, and I got the feeling they were zooming in on me a lot closer than I was zooming in on them.

The second helicopter was an LA County fire helicopter. A few days later, I saw an LA City fire helicopter, so now I know the different paint schemes used by each.

Both of the heli pictures are fully zoomed, then cropped (the black one a good deal more than that the fire one). In fact, except for the candles, the rock, and the LA skyline, all of the shots are substantially cropped. I figured that's one of the advantages of the crazy megapixels this new camera has.

I also flipped the ISO selector around a few times. I'll have to try the sport setting one of these days, too.

Have to admit the shots were not as sharp as I hoped, but were definitely sharper than what I've seen before. Not a very clear day, so it's not a fair test of resolution. Still, compared to the Nikon L110 I have been using, the D3200 is obviously a major improvement. The autofocus also works much quicker and more dependably than the "crossover" camera I had been using.

The next two hikes I need to write-up are also related to my hoped-for appoint-ment with a space shuttle. I am currently trying to scout locations in advance of the expected Sept. 20 fly-in of the space shuttle Endeavour. More on that in my next two posts.