One recent Saturday afternoon, my nine-year-old son, Isaac, pointed out the car window to the Verdugo Mountains and asked, his voice high-pitched and eager, “How tall are those radio towers up there?” “I don’t know,” I answered. “We’d better find out.” The next day we returned, determined to reach the spires that blinked and broadcast over our heads.
I’m a fairly avid hiker, and one of my deep frustrations is the lack of sign-age on our local trails. I carry maps, but if the trail isn’t marked, the map’s not much help. The Verdugos are no exception. I find most trailheads by looking for a dirt parking lot with a bunch of cars in it. Off La Tuna Canyon Road we found three such lots, picked one, and started walking. We crossed dry creek beds and were canopied by oaks. We navigated steep and rocky switchbacks like urban billy goats. The cars moving along the 210 freeway got tinier, and the hum of their tires faded to silence. This is a fringe benefit of living in this city—to be immersed in nature so quickly—but the trail was also lonely: We didn’t see another hiker the whole way up. As for signage along the route? Nonexistent.
Isaac loves the mystery of an unmarked crossroad—“Let’s go this direction!”—and it’s not that I’m against surprise and discovery, but when you’re in the wild with your kid, you want to make sure you can make it home. We hit a fire road that led to a dead end and then took a shortcut through a blissful, totally incongruous pine forest that brought us to the towers, some 3,100 feet above sea level. The towers themselves were anticlimactic, but the view was a knockout: Isaac spotted the Golden Road Brewery along the L.A. River while I watched gnat-size jets touching down in Burbank. We chose a fire road and headed back downhill; on the entire six-mile trek the one sign we encountered mystifyingly read PLANTATION LATERAL.
Many cities have mountains as a backdrop, but the L.A. ranges we highlight in this issue—from the Santa Monicas to the San Gabriels—aren’t just a backdrop: They are woven into the fabric of the city. Just moments from your office you could encounter a snake, a deer, or maybe that fabled cougar, P22. You could also get lost. That’s why I’m hereby launching a campaign to better identify routes—let’s call it “Operation Trail Marker”—by appealing to the agencies that manage our parks. I suggest this knowing that the city has many pressing priorities, from overhauling LAX and the LAUSD to filling potholes, and I realize that parks are cash strapped. We’re going grassroots here. We all benefit from even the most modest investment. Visit CityThink on our Web site for updates. In the meantime, don’t forget your compass and always pack twice as much water as you think you’ll need.