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Close to Nature : Nearby Recreation Sites Beckon as Cool Getaway Spots


AREAWIDE — Glendale and Northeast Los Angeles residents have a choice of natural recreation sites just a few miles from home where they can escape the heat and congestion of the late summer and seek the serenity of a mountain stream or a quiet stroll through the forest.

They can plan a range of forays into the countryside: day trips by car, picnics in natural settings, nature hikes lasting from a few minutes to all day, overnight camping trips or extended wilderness journeys.

Whether novice or experienced, hikers and campers should always bring along enough water for a full day and let someone know their destination. Families should bring a change of clothing for everyone.

Those going to Angeles National Forest should call ahead to the Forest Service at (818) 574-1613 to make sure roads and trails are open.

All the parks have free admission, though there are some charges for overnight camping in the Angeles National Forest.

Brand Park

A quick and easy escape is Glendale's Brand Park, which features a 30-acre nature area on the southern slope of the Verdugo Mountains. Hikers can enjoy views of the city below and find a variety of wildflowers without really leaving the city.

Take the Golden State Freeway (5) to the Western Avenue exit. Head north to Mountain Street. Turn right and enter the park at the first left opposite Grandview Avenue.

Oak Grove Park

Just north of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena's Arroyo Seco, Oak Grove Park provides nature enthusiasts a quiet, secluded retreat. Joggers and bicyclists also enjoy the scenic trails along the adjacent Devil's Gate Reservoir.

Take the Foothill Freeway (210) to Arroyo Boulevard. Head north on Windsor Avenue to Oak Grove Drive. Turn left. The park is on the right, opposite La Canada High School.

Whittier Narrows Recreation Area

Farther east, Whittier Narrows offers jogging, fishing, a large nature area and bike trails along the San Gabriel River bank. In fact, ambitious bicyclists can follow the San Gabriel River bike paths from the Angeles National Forest south all the way to Long Beach and Seal Beach.

Take the Pomona Freeway (60) to Santa Anita Avenue. Head south to Durfee Avenue. Turn left for the Nature Center and the San Gabriel River, right for Legg Lake.

Echo Mountain

More remote wilderness experiences can be had in the Angeles National Forest, which features numerous campsites and picnic areas and hundreds of miles of trails for hikers, mountain bikers and horse riders.

The Forest Service publishes a detailed map of the area's numerous recreational areas. John W. Robinson's book, "Trails of the Angeles: 100 Hikes in the San Gabriels," is a great resource.

One of the more dramatic and accessible hikes that Robinson mentions is a 2 1/2-mile climb up Echo Mountain.

Parts of the trail follow an abandoned rail line that, in its heyday around the turn of the century, carried more than 3 million people to hotels and an observatory at the summit. Today those structures are in ruins. On a clear day the view is spectacular, and there is also the novelty of shouting into the narrow canyon and waiting for the reply.

Take the Foothill Freeway (210) to Lake Avenue. Head north until the end, and park there. Follow the Sam Merrill Trail.

San Gabriel Earthquake Fault

Just a short drive into the Angeles National Forest from Tujunga is a small picnic area at the San Gabriel fault. A few yards off the road, a microcosm of the natural forces that shaped the mountains can be seen.

The fault in the cliff face, which forest rangers say was last active more than 200 years ago, is an interface between two massive rock formations. A few feet away, a small stream steadily erodes the cliff.

Barely a trickle in summer, the stream becomes a noisy waterfall that cascades violently down the cliff in rainy season. Between November and April, the Forest Service reports an annual rainfall of 22 to 40 inches from the lower to higher elevations in Little Tujunga Canyon.

Take the Foothill Freeway (210) to Osborne Street. Head north on Foothill Boulevard and turn left onto Osborne at the first light. Osborne becomes Little Tujunga Road. The fault is about 10 miles from the freeway and is identified by a Forest Service site marker.

Deukmejian Wilderness Park

A look at the potential ferocity of nature can be seen on the access road to Deukmejian Wilderness Park above La Crescenta. The park's access road and several acres on either side are owned by the county Flood Control District and will eventually be used as a landfill for flood debris.

After massive floods, the county can shut down the access road on a moment's notice and fill the huge site with enough debris to make the grade too steep for use as a roadway. County officials estimate a single storm could generate that much debris in a few hours. If that happens, the access road to the park will be moved.

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