April 13, 2012

You can take the hiker out of the Northwest…

Filed under: Geology, Hiking, Travel — geezerwriter @ 9:43 pm
Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

On our trip to Southern California to visit Joe and Laura we have come across a great variety of weather to go with the great variety of everything else one finds here. Tuesday we drove south to Redondo Beach, where Wanda’s (much) elder brother was the editor of the Daily Breeze in the late forties after mustering out of the service. It was a beautiful day for a drive along the coast from Marina del Rey to Redondo and after lunch we were visited by a very friendly Black-crowned Night Heron. At first glance it appeared to be a tern but then I saw the long, delicate white plume that extends from the back of his head almost the while length of his body. That and the brilliant ruby eye cinched the identification.

The next day Joe and Laura were once again busy with work, so we drove out to the Angeles Crest mountains for a visit to the historic Mount Wilson Observatory. After some overnight rain the weather was fine in town but we entered the clouds as we drove to the observatory’s 5600′ elevation, and at first we could hardly read the few signs. The temperature had dropped to about 35°F (2°C) and I thought we wouldn’t be spending much time there. But after the obligatory trip to the restroom the clouds pulled back a bit and we could find our way over toward the observatory.

I should say “the observatories” since there is a large campus with a number of different types of observatories. The centerpiece is the 100-inch diameter Hooker reflecting telescope, but there is an older 60-inch reflector, a couple of towering solar telescopes including one with a 150-foot (not a typo) focal length and a CHARA array of six one-meter reflector telescopes linked together by large light pipes and some seriously sexy computing devices to form a instrument that can resolve objects that would require a mirror 340 METERS in diameter (which works out to about 1100 feet). The Hooker mirror (2.4 meters) is 13 inches thick and weighs tons so I cannot begin to imagine what a 340 meter chunk of glass would be like.

There are no pictures worth showing because of the weather and because all of the action there is intellectual and nothing is very photogenic.

Then last night at dinner Laura told me about her favorite hike in the area: Runyon Canyon. If you’ve ever seen a TV series shot in LA (e.g., Entourage) where people are shown hiking and jogging in the hills, there is a good chance you’ve seen Runyon Canyon. It is a public park in a notch in the Hollywood Hills just above Hollywood Boulevard and La Brea Avenue (of tar-pit fame). It climbs up to Mulholland Drive and affords panoramic views of the Los Angeles basin.

At least it does when the atmosphere is friendly. Today the forecast was for rain and we headed out into the sort of drizzle that is so familiar to hikers  (and everyone else) in the Northwest. We first popped into downtown LA’s fashion district to visit the Michael Levine fabric store – an enormous warehouse-like room jammed with any sort of cloth you can imagine. Wanda picked up a few yards for a future quilting project and we headed to Joe’s restored theater where he runs his business of sound editing and mixing for motion pictures (he was raised in Seattle, so his company is named “Puget Sound”) and Laura runs her calligraphy and event planning business. I dropped Wanda off so she could have some quiet time and I headed for Runyon Canyon.

Downtown LA

Downtown LA from Runyon Canyon

Santa Monica from Runyon Canyon

Santa Monica from Runyon Canyon

By now the rain had reduced to an intermittent misting so it looked like I had a good chance of a pleasant hike. I didn’t bring any of my hiking gear on the trip – no trekking poles, no pack, only some New Balance walking shoes – but the whole hike was only about 2 miles round trip with about 700′ of elevation gain. The terrain is mostly low brushy stuff (chaparral, maybe?) with occasional trees so you get almost continuous views of the city.

The first half-mile was quite steep, covering most of the 700′ of gain. The footing was pretty good – mostly coarse sandy earth derived from the dark granitic bedrock that showed itself frequently. I think it would be classed as diorite – basically like granite, but with the darker minerals predominating over the lighter quartz. It was the latter that formed the coarse sand, much like at the start of Hannegan Pass trail.

The hard part

The hard part

Diorite bedrock

Diorite bedrock

There were a couple of steep spots further on, including this rocky face coming down from the high point of the trail. By this time the mist had moistened the track pretty well and it was a bit slippery. It wouldn’t have been a huge problem if I’d had my poles, but even then I might have done some sitting and sliding. But I was wearing some fairly nice pants so I ended up doing a crab walk on hands and feet, facing up – I’m glad there was no one there to take any pictures.

Micro box canyon

Micro box canyon

When I got to the north end of the trail I was looking at a choice of going back down the old sort-of-paved road or down another ridge trail something like the one I’d just done. My decision was made for me when the wind suddenly began to roar up the canyon and the mist turned to a downpour – I had a light rain jacket on but everything not covered by it was drenched to the skin in about fifteen seconds. As I went squishing down the road and the brown runoff spread across it, I remembered thinking at the start of the hike that, given the rain, I was better off on the ridge than in the gully since a flash flood was more likely, and more dangerous, than a lightning storm – I remembered that just as a massive thunderclap echoed across the canyon, reminding me that I did not have to choose between those two potential disasters.

Flash Flood

Flash Flood

The road had been paved at one time, but is badly washed out in spots. When the runoff stream hit those potholes/washouts it would turn into a mini-waterfall at the top of a micro-box canyon. By the time I got back close to city streets the water had spread across the entire width of the road in places. And then it funneled down into a gutter and roared on past the opulent mansions lining the street. I took a short movie of the point where the runoff from the trail turns and runs down Vista Street – I don’t think I can include a video in this blog.
Tomorrow we’re expecting a return to the normal, boring old sunny warmth of Southern California for a trip to Alhambra to visit with Laura’s family, followed by another sardine session on Allegiant Air for the return to Bellingham. (Did you know that the seats on Allegiant don’t even recline any more?)

Additions & Corrections

Joe informed me that the tall buildings in the distance that I identified as downtown Santa Monica are actually in Century City, a neighborhood of tall office buildings that are home to many lawyers and agents who control the flow of money in and around the motion picture business.

I wasn’t able to find any detailed information about the bedrock mentioned – all the geology discussions I found in a quick search was understandably focused on earthquake faults and soil stability. So I will stick with my identification of the rock as diorite; follow this link to a picture that seems to confirm.

And it appears that I can add my video of the storm runoff, via the good offices of

1 Comment »

  1. Well, it looks like you got a little exercise in any event. Glad you will be coming home soon, we sure missed you on Thursday’s hike! Small group but very pleasant company.

    Comment by DJan — April 14, 2012 @ 5:56 am

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