The Gold Rush may have begun up north at Sutter's Mill, but it was in Los Angeles that the first discovery of California gold was made, six years earlier in 1842.
Another little-known fact: The speed of light was first measured from Mt. Wilson to Mt. Baldy in an experiment that Albert Einstein described as one of the most significant of this century.
Such tidbits abound during "The Other Los Angeles," a daylong bus/walking tour that forsakes the usual Los Angeles-area tourist staples and ventures up hill and down dale, from the Mojave Desert with its cactus and Joshua trees to the San Gabriel Mountains at elevations above the clouds.
"People think of Los Angeles as being concrete and artificial. This tour shows L.A. as it was before all the people came here, and that still exists," says Lee Klein, who created the tour in 1983 while climbing Ayers Rock in the Australian outback. It was then that he realized that outdoor life was more fulfilling than his MBA degree from Loyola Marymount University and corporate career.
Initially, the tour was the only offering from Klein's company, called the California Native--"because I am one." The company has since expanded to include several one-day and weekend excursions and longer trips outside the United States.
Klein, 50, who also taught college business management and computer science courses, dispenses his knowledge of Los Angeles history and geology to tour-goers.
"The history here is fascinating," he says. "The movies always did these numbers on Tombstone, but the wildest of the Wild West was Los Angeles.
"This was the queen of the cow towns," he continues. "This is where all the shootouts were. A lot of bandits came from San Francisco mining towns, driven south during the Gold Rush by vigilantes, and banditos came from Mexico. They'd (all) be drunk at night, and everyone carried a gun."
Indeed, much of the tour follows the route taken by native Californian Tiburcio Vasquez--whose 20-year criminal career included murder, horse thieving, cattle rustling and highway and stagecoach robbing--and that of Charlie Vincent, who killed three people in Arizona before becoming a hermit miner in the San Gabriel Mountains.
Klein also talks about local American Indian history and culture: "We go into the Shoshone Indians, now called the Gabrielinos, and the Chungichinsh religion, which was based on the hallucinogenic properties of the jimson weed."
The tour covers about 200 miles over its nine-hour duration. One stop is Vasquez Rocks, named for the aforementioned bandit who hid out there. It's now a location for many television shows and movies; visitors can climb it if they choose. At Placerita Canyon, a colorful mural depicts the gold discovery made there in 1842. Throughout the day, Klein describes local flora and fauna; past tours have sighted bears and bighorn sheep.
The Devil's Punchbowl, created by the convergence of five earthquake faults, is the setting for lunch. "We see a lot of earthquake faults," Klein says. Most notable, of course, is the San Andreas Fault, which the tour covers from the Mojave Desert floor to its 7,000-foot zenith in the San Gabriel Mountains.
"One time, we were standing on the edge of the fault when there was a huge peal of thunder," Klein recalls. "Talk about wonderful sound effects. Everyone wanted to know how I'd done it!"
The mountain trails traveled during the tour--which Klein knows well from years of hiking--depend in part on weather and road conditions. "We usually do the Angeles Crest Highway, which is 60-plus miles. I talk about Benjamin Wilson, who created Alhambra and other towns and made original trails up to what became Mt. Wilson, to carry wine casks for his winery.
"The biggest surprise people have on this tour," Klein adds, "is how much wilderness we actually have here. We have 500 miles of trails going through the San Gabriel Mountains. You can hike all day and see only two people, or even no one at all."
Travelers also visit and sometimes tour St. Andrew's Priory, a Benedictine monastery near Pearblossom where ceramics are made. Although the picturesque scene, complete with grazing sheep, has a timeless quality, a sign posted is also a gentle reminder of the present.
"No hunting," it reads, "Except for peace."
\o7 The next "Other Los Angeles" Tour is May 18. Meet at the "Park and Ride" lot at the Mulholland off-ramp of the San Diego (405) Freeway. Departure time is 9 a.m. Tour price is $65, plus cost of picnic lunch, or bring your own. Although this is a bus tour, some walking is involved. Warm jacket, comfortable shoes and a camera are suggested. Reservations essential. For more information, call (213) 642-1140. \f7