Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Hike 2012.074 -- Griffith Park -- Old Zoo Trail, Mineral Wells Trail, Condor Trail, Skyline Trail, and Crystal Springs Drive

Been over a week since this hike, from back on November 12.

I considered several possible hikes on this Veteran's Day holiday, but settled on something close and easy. My initial plan was to park near the zoo, pop in there for a little while, then take a hike towards the old zoo. Old zoo and new zoo. Seemed like it would be fun.

To get to the current Los Angeles Zoo, I normally take the Golden State Freeway (I-5) north to Zoo Drive. That exit is right at the interchange with the Ventura Freeway (CA-134). In fact, you actually have to exit the Golden State to the 134 before the Zoo exit appears, on your right.

However, as I pulled off the freeway and on to the exit lane, I saw the traffic in front of me at a dead stop. I could also see the traffic on the bridge I would need to cross to get over the 5 and to the zoo was at a standstill. I waited a moment or two, then lost patience. Clearly, this would take me 15 minutes or so just to go the 1/4 mile from the exit to the zoo parking lot.

Instead, I decided to go east on the 134, towards Glendale. I have a Groupon for a baklava place, which I was sure was also in my car. However, after I got on surface streets and near where I figured the place was supposed to be, I could not find the coupon. I stopped the car at the curb and checked both seats and the trunk. Quite a mystery. I'll have to print out another copy and try to get my baklava some other day.

So, foiled in my backup plan, I decided to head south until I hit Los Feliz, which I knew would take me over the Golden State Freeway, and, hopefully, do so much more quickly than Zoo Drive was going to take.

Indeed, the drive was pretty quick and easy. Crossed over the freeway and then turned right on Griffith Park Drive. I decided I would also take this opportunity to see the official park visitor center, which I had never yet seen.

It's a good mile north on Griffith Park Blvd to the Ranger Station. Eventually, it appears on your right, just about where Griffith Park Blvd splits, with one part remaining Griffith Park Blvd and the other becoming Crystal Springs Drive. Both are paved routes that normally pass through the park. Both are posted at 25 mph, which is somewhat slower than the flow of traffic. However, I have been told there are times when speed limit enforcement is strict, so if you're driving here, take care.

Despite a large sign for the visitor center, the parking area was much more prominent than the visitor center, itself. It's mixed among several other buildings, all of which have bigger exposure to the main thoroughfares than the actual visitor center.

Standing near the street, I saw an American flag on a pole behind the more obvious buildings, and I deduced this was a signal that the visitor center was in there. And it was.

The visitor center is normally closed on Mondays, and I'm not sure if it was officially open today. It was unstaffed, at any rate. I think it was left unlocked so that folks attending some private event in the nearby auditorium would have a place to use the rest room.

On the way to the visitor center, there are what I assume to be life-sized representations of various large birds you might see in the park.

Inside the visitor center, there's a nice topographical relief map of the park, with little light-up indicators for a variety of attractions that have associated buttons to push along the perimeter of the map. They also had taxidermic examples of various local wildlife: cottontail rabbit, fox, coyote, bobcat, raccoon, and opossum.

Along the walls were numerous photos, and one section had a video display with a series of viewing choices.

I was most amused by the little blurb next to the section on Griffith J. Griffith, who donated the land and a chunk of money for the park and observatory that bears his name. There's a paragraph in there noting that "Colonel Griffith was a Park Commissioner for a brief period of time in 1903. He later survived a brief period of scandal in his life."

Compare that treatment with what you'll read on findagrave.com's website, and you'll almost think you're reading about two entirely different people!

After getting my fill of the visitor center, I hopped back in the car and parked in the lot that's just south of the Merry-Go-Ground. This is the same place I started my hike to Bee Rock, just a few weeks previous. The trees in the lot were beginning to turn color.

Leaving the parking lot and heading west, I got on what is labeled "The Old Zoo Trail." Again, I was somewhat surprised to discover that this trail stays on the perimeter of the Old Zoo, and does not bring you down to the actual cages. I'll have to return to this area yet again to actually experience the Old Zoo, itself.

I also observed that the weird Christmas decorations and singing elves I saw on my pre-Halloween hike were gone. Turns out they were part of the Haunted Hayride, which one reviewer, at least, said was worth it. I didn't go, myself.

As for my hike, I continued on the Old Zoo Trail, crossed the Bee Rock trail, then, almost immediately after that, the Bill Eckert Trail. I continued on along what was now the Mineral Wells trail. This one more or less parallels the base of the hill, so you're always overlooking the floodplain to your right. You also parallel the driving range for a bit, and you are close enough (and the landing area for driven balls is narrow enough, and the fence low enough) that you really do need to keep an eye out for errant golf balls. One landed about 20 yards in front of me at one point.

Along the way I saw some woodpeckers. They were checking out the acorns they had "planted" for grubs to eat. I also saw Amir's Garden from the other side. There's a steep trail that heads on up there from the north, but I wasn't in the mood for the challenge.

I continued on the Mineral Wells Trail until I reached the Mineral Wells Picnic area. Once there, I made several false starts before finally getting on the Condor Trail. This path then leads to the Skyline Trail, at which point I turned right. Most of those trails is spend overlooking the zoo, or even running right along the fence that marks the boundary of the zoo.

As I began my descent towards the west, I got some nice views of the Los Angeles River and downtown Glendale. I also saw that the zoo lot was more crowded than I had ever seen it before, which would explain the traffic at a standstill that I encountered as I approached Griffith Park that morning.

My initial plan was to either head into the zoo or go to the Autry National Center for lunch. Yet the trails don't actually take you to those places. Instead, on the trail took me below Zoo Drive and on to a trail that paralleled the Golden State Freeway.

It went behind the Autry, from which I could not tell if the museum was open or not. And I was getting too tired to want to go tromping across a large parking lot. So, instead, I continued along Crystal Springs Drive, heading south on the flat and not especially scenic route to nearly the Ranger Station, before dashing across Crystal Springs Drive and making my way to the parking lot south of the merry-go-round.

I'm going to roughly estimate my entire hike for the day at 6 1/2 miles. It was plenty long enough to feel like a hike, particularly without a lunch break. The last two miles were level, but even running along the base of the hills, there were some substantial gains, especially near the start of the Old Zoo Trail, and when I headed out of Mineral Springs Picnic Area and up on the Condor Trail.

I ended the day tired, but happy at having covered quite a bit of new trail for the day.

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