Jean Wallace works as a telephone operator, a job that keeps her cooped up with voices squawking at her all week long. So when weekends come, the 62-year-old Hollywood resident likes to walk outdoors in quiet places. To be more precise, she likes to hike.
"I need to rejuvenate my mind," she explained. "And I need to make myself do something difficult, because I feel so much better after overcoming a challenge."
For years, she would hike all over Los Angeles County by herself. But, with an increase in news about crimes against women, she began to feel unsafe alone and realized she had better start hiking with companions.
About five years ago, she began going on Sierra Club hikes in Griffith Park several times a month. And, if Saturday morning was any indication--and by all reports, it was--she's found plenty of company.
Following Ranger Bill
On Saturday, Wallace was among 60 people who decided to leave such citadels of civilization as Glendale and Arcadia behind to follow retired park ranger Bill Eckert on his monthly six-mile, three-hour interpretive hike to the top of Mt. Hollywood.
The Sierra Club and the Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department sponsor 18 hikes a month in Griffith Park, but Eckert's is the one that most stresses teaching city slickers about the park's plants, animals and rocks.
"I try to point out what I think is interesting, to help people see the things in nature," Eckert said.
That he did. During the hike, he conducted an informal, free-flowing lecture on whatever was in view, including a cliff wall formed of volcanic rocks, a baby rattlesnake snuggled in the base of a tree, a hummingbird dipping its beak into a blossom, a red-tailed hawk surveying the canyons for food, and wild herbs used for folk medicine.
All this went on with views of the Golden State Freeway and the high-rises of Glendale and Hollywod reminding people why Griffith Park is treasured as a sanctuary from urban sprawl. "I'm so thankful we have something like this so close to the city," said Wallace.
Equipped with backpacks and lots of enthusiasm, the hikers gathered at 9 a.m. at the parking lot near the Merry-Go-Round on the park's eastern side. They ranged in age from 10 to 85 and in hiking experience from novice to veteran. The typical wardrobe of the day included T-shirt, shorts, boots, cap and, because the morning was cool and the sky hazy, a light jacket.
Eckert, who is 60 and has been leading the monthly walks since 1977, wore khaki shorts, a green Ranger windbreaker, a green cap and a T-shirt emblazoned with the words: "Super Ranger Bill." Several hikers observed that his eyes are his most noticeable feature: very pale blue and very clear.
"The rest of us are bleary-eyed from looking at papers on our desk all day long," remarked Ann Overman, an Arcadia woman in her mid-30s who is a personnel officer and a regular on the Griffith Park hikes. She said that the senior citizens on the outing made her feel "young and out of shape."
"I need to get outdoors more," she said. "I don't need to be in any more buildings."
Oldest Hiker Is 85
The oldest hiker was 85-year-old John Nienhuis of Eagle Rock, a retired mailman who was wearing a jaunty straw hat and string tie. Nienhuis said he used to walk his postal route all week and then hike on weekends. Now, he hikes 8 to12 miles in the Angeles National Forest almost every Wednesday with a group composed mostly of senior citizens. The six-miler in Griffith Park, he said, was to be "just a workout, just to keep in shape."
Eckert, who was a gardener and maintenance supervisor with the city parks system before becoming a ranger in 1965, stressed the importance of being imaginative when observing nature. He returned to that theme later, pointing out how a cliff formation looked like a woman's fancy hair comb and how the appropriately named monkey flower, turned upside down, looks like a monkey's face.
He explained that the hike was beginning at 490 feet above sea level and that the goal, Mt. Hollywood's summit, was 1,652 feet above sea level. That elicited a few quiet groans. But another expert hiker was only going halfway up that day and promised to escort down anyone who was too tired to continue. So any fears about limping alone down a dusty trail were eased and the group set off. (Nine people did turn back later.)
Past Bee Rock
Within a few minutes, Eckert unlocked a chain-link fence gate leading into an area where the zoo used to be. The zoo moved in 1966 to a spot about a mile north in the park, but the old moats for tigers and bears could still be seen.
Eckert said that Bee Rock, a nearby promontory, got its name because bees were attracted to the sweets at the old zoo's refreshment stands and made their homes in the rock's crevices. The summit of Bee Rock is now fenced off. That was unfortunate, but understandable, Eckert said, remarking: "When I was a kid, and we're talking about history now, we didn't have any idea about dope and people wanting to commit suicide."