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Finding the Way With Guidebooks


Good guidebooks aren't easy to come by. Some read as if they were rewrites of trail signs. Others throw in a few too many details, such as, "Turn right at the fifth cactus on the left." Most read like they were penned by a volunteer with the local chamber of commerce.

A few good books do make the cut, all of which can be found on the shelves of most large bookstores.

My three favorites are the work of one incredibly organized man: Tom Stienstra's "California Hiking," "California Camping" and "California Fishing," (all from Foghorn Press).

Each book has at least 750 pages and lists many of the state's best trails, campsites and places to fish. The information is well-organized and embellished by Stienstra's folksy writing. Anyone who travels throughout the state should have one of these books.

"Walking Southern California" (Harpers Collins West), by The Times' hiking columnist John McKinney, and "101 Hikes in Southern California" (The Wilderness Press), by Jerry Schad, are written by men who know the lay of the land, as well as the story behind it. Both books go into considerable detail about the hikes they list--including plenty in both the Angeles and Los Padres National forests. The directions are solid and readers should find the trailheads without getting hopelessly lost.

Perhaps the best local guide book is "Mountains to Ocean, A Guide to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area" (Southwest Parks and Monuments Assn.) by Randy Jorgens. In just over 100 colorful pages, Jorgens describes all of the parks in the Santa Monica Mountains, complete with basic trail information, historical anecdotes, color photos and plenty of notes on natural history and wildlife. For those unaware of the diversity of the parks in the Valley's backyard, this is a great place to start.

Being a dog owner isn't easy. All Los Angeles County and most Ventura County beaches don't allow dogs. Neither do the state parks--I once picked up a $78 fine in Topanga State Park.

Wynne Benti knows that frustration and her "Favorite Dog Hikes in and Around Los Angeles" (Spotted Dog Press) is a no-nonsense guide that will get both you and Rover on the trail without having to worry about Smokey (the ranger, not the bear).

Maria Goodavage's "The California Dog Lover's Companion" (Foghorn Press) looks at the bigger picture, providing information on motels, parks and restaurants throughout the state where Fifi is welcome. The book's cartoons are a hoot and Goodavage's writing is often hilarious, a quality seldom found in guide books.

Thinking about quitting the job, walking out on the lease and heading for the hills? "Walking Softly in the Wilderness" (Sierra Club Books) by John Hart is the bible of back-country hiking.

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