CityDig: See the Mountain Ranges of Los Angeles in All Their Glory

This spectacular bird’s-eye-view of L.A. shows off the Verdugo, Santa Monica, and San Gabriel ranges
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Cooper Enterprises, Cartographer: Jack H. Moffett, 1970

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It is not easy to create a three-dimensional image on a flat surface, but there are some cartographers who have mastered the art. The great Erwin Raisz and the marvelous Charles H. Owens come to mind, as do the mapmakers of the Automobile Club of Southern California and the gentleman who created this map, Jack H. Moffett.

Maestro Moffett brings the mountain ranges and hills to life, showing off the dramatic landscape of Los Angeles and its environs. Christopher Isherwood once wrote of the Southland’s spectacular geography, “An afternoon drive from Los Angeles will take you up into the high mountains, where eagles circle above the forests and the cold blue lakes, or out over the Mojave Desert, with its weird vegetation and immense vistas.” This whopper of a map gives a sense of that scale, stretching from Malibu to Laguna, from the Salton Sea to Sylmar, from the Mojave to the Palos Verdes peninsula. It even brings Vegas into focus. Most impressively rendered are the transverse ranges that cross Southern California area from San Diego to Santa Barbara.

Standing tall here are the lengthy Santa Monica Mountains, the beautiful San Gabriels, and the Verdugos, all of which date back at least to the Cenozoic Era when they were thrust up out of the earth. Separating the Los Angeles basin from the Mojave Desert, the San Gabriels are the most impressive range. They boast Mt. San Antonio (aka Mt. Baldy)—one of the the most well-known peaks in Southern California. The Verdugo Mountains parallel the southern part of the San Gabriels, and though picturesque, they pose rockslide threats to communities like Tujunga, Sunland, Sun Valley, parts of Los Angeles, and Burbank. The most popular hiking destination are the Santa Monica Mountains. Covering a forty-mile stretch from the Hollywood hills out to Pt. Mugu in Ventura, they slice between the San Fernando Valley and the Los Angeles basin. Geologists say the westernmost outcropping of these mountains is the Channel Islands out in the blue Pacific. On the other side of the Valley are the Santa Susana Mountains.

This map also shows geographically significant hills like Baldwin, Chino, Puente, and Palos Verdes, as well as the San Rafael, around which are dotted the communities of La Canada, Flintridge, Pasadena, South Pasadena, San Marino, El Sereno, Montecito Heights, Cypress Park, Mount Washington, Glassell Park and Eagle Rock. Many of these hills are urban wildlife islands that are shrinking as developers replace green space with concrete. Coyotes, raccoons, opossums, skunks, deer, bobcats, mountain lions and huge populations of birds and insects call these hills home.

Of the rivers seen here, the Los Angeles, San Gabriel and Rio Hondo are most prominent. Creeks also appear all over the map, dispelling the nonsensical notion that Los Angeles is a desert ecology. The Aliso, Ballona, Arroyo Seco, Bell, Big Tujunga, Castaic, Compton, Malibu, and Piru creeks, as well as the Pacoima, Tujunga, and Verdugo washes, are just a few of the plentiful waterways of the Southland.


Los Angeles Public Library map librarian Glen Creason shares a map from the Central Library’s collection at CityThink each week.

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