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From Basin Camp, the Final Assault

IN SEARCH OF THE L.A. RIVER: Last in an intermittent series.

January 30, 1986|DICK RORABACK | Times Staff Writer

When the thunder sounds like fury And the rain begins to fall I dream the mighty crashin' Is the L.A. River's call. The sound I hear is not a dream, It's a motorcycle roarin' upstream. Ooze on, L.A. River, ooze on.

--From the song "L.A. River," author still anonymous

The dirt-bikers were tearing up the pea patch, gouging great gobs of smirch from the bed of Dayton Creek.

Dayton Creek is the stream that feeds Chatsworth Creek. Chatsworth suckles Bell Creek. Bell, reputedly, is the mother of the L.A. River. Or is it the Arroyo Calabasas?

Whatever, the Explorer was making a last-ditch attempt to run to earth the source of the river.

From Valley Circle Boulevard in Lakeside Park, west to the L.A. County line, Dayton Creek had not seemed worthy of canonization. What may once have been a warbling trout stream, even a salmon run, was now littered by rusting motorcycle parts. Even the birds had fled in panic at the howl of the Harley. For Dayton Creek, the trill was gone.

Duty-bound, the Explorer, eschewing a dirt road 50 yards to the south, continued to schlep up the dank depression, bashing through the underbrush that soon began to clog the unmade creek bed. It was a decision he would live--barely--to regret.

About 100 yards into Ventura County, a small dog hurtled out of the woods as if shot from a cannon, and made straight for the soft underbelly of the Explorer. Within seconds, Attila the Hungry was joined by three clones. Each dog was about two feet tall, with maroon hair worn punk-style and a set of teeth rarely seen this side of Transylvania.

To fight was foolish; to run ridiculous; to scream demeaning. To climb divine.

Fortuitous Fall

The Good Lord in his infinite mercy had caused a tree to fall across the creek at a jaunty 55-degree angle. The Explorer accepted the invitation with alacrity.

So, rather astoundingly, did Attila, who followed the Explorer up the leaning trunk a good 10 feet before it occurred to him that nature had not intended dogs to be tree-dwellers. Falling from grace with an unholy howl, Attila joined Manny, Moe and Jack in snarling vigil directly under the Explorer's perch.

Some months later, the dogs disappeared, summoned by a whistle far off in the wood.

The Explorer dismounted, found the dirt road and retreated to his car. Then back up the dirt road, on the theory that termites were no match for a tank.

Wrong again. Did you ever see a pack of dogs try to eat a Toyota?

With the detachment of the truly terrified, the Explorer decided on the spot that Dayton Creek was not the source of the Los Angeles River.

Not for the first time, the Explorer was tempted to abandon his quest.

Once again, though, sinking spirits were buoyed by the calls and letters, a cornucopia of enlightened eccentricity that had sustained him throughout his muzzy waltz up the watercourse. Words of wit and wisdom from the man who owns the river; the man who found Jesus there; the man who wants to sail up the river; the men who did. From the nostalgic; the historians. . . .

--Joe Campbell, a die-hard Chief Bender fan from Glendale, provided a peek at a 1926 Gillespie Guide. The map book showed the river passing through such exotic communities as Davidson City (now Carson), Hynes (Paramount), Home Gardens (South Gate) and Bandini (Commerce), and fetching up at Van Nuys.

--"Fifty years ago," Gene Lippert of Hacienda Heights wrote, "I could have shown you some real action: gunfights at the RR bridge north of Rosecrans; skinny-dipping girls; cows staggering drunk at Imperial--they ate the mash dumped into the river from the moonshine still in Downey. . . ."

--There was mild regret from attorney Raymond C. Fisher of Tuttle & Taylor: "I only wish you'd told us what that fellow (in Sherman Oaks) was seeing through his binoculars." (Would you believe Halley's comet?)

--A rare sour note, along with a conciliatory bumper sticker, from Lewis MacAdams of Culver City: "I have a problem with your gently mocking tone. . . . The Friends of the Los Angeles River is a very recently formed organization whose goal is to bring the river back to life. . . . It doesn't have to be treated like a sewer. . . ." (Needless to say, the Toyota now heralds the "Friends of the Los Angeles River," a logo that has drawn skeptical stares and an out-and-out contretemps with a passing driver, who rolled down his window to suggest a subtitle: "Sons of the Ditch.")

--Gerald Rusk of Oceanside remembered camping by the river with Troop 2 in North Long Beach--in 1915!--while Mary Hart of Los Angeles recalled "the river bed turning black with polliwogs. It was fun to come home with a mass of frogs' eggs and watch them grow feet and become frogs (or toads; I never was sure which)."

--And then there was Gerald (Red) Meade, who dropped by one day to rap about the river and casually mentioned that he owned a chunk of it. . . .

. . . Nobody owns the Arroyo Calabasas now. Miguel Leonis did, but he died.

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