"See where those garbage trucks are parked?" asked Russ Guiney, superintendent for the state parks' Angeles District and my hiking companion in the Baldwin Hills. "Imagine a lovely park entrance, where visitors board a tram for a lift up slopes carpeted with native grasses and wildflowers to a nature center, where they join a ranger-led hike up to this magnificent viewpoint."
Guiney was talking about Vista Pacifica, where the landscape of the imagination may be the most important landscape of all. Right now much of the Baldwin Hills resembles a conservationist's nightmare, not a dream. But parks officials are imagining -- and planning for -- something different.
Vista Pacifica is part of a planned expansion of Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area. Surrounding the tidy lawns of the existing park are bulldozer-battered slopes smothered in sagebrush and weeds. Adjacent ridges and canyons are dominated by oil fields, ugly as can be.
But even in their degraded state, the Baldwin Hills are habitat for animals, including the gray fox, black-tailed rabbit, black-bellied salamander and side-blotched lizard. Scientists from the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles have identified more than 160 species of birds here. All are residents of what Guiney and other conservationists say is the last large, undeveloped space in urban Los Angeles County.
To check out Vista Pacifica, exit Interstate 10 at La Cienega Boulevard, drive south to Rodeo Road and turn right. At Jefferson Boulevard, turn left and drive about one-third mile to Hetzler Road on your left. I suggest you begin your Baldwin Hills walk from here.
A half-mile ascent brings you to Vista Pacifica, where the stunning 360-degree view encompasses the city, the mountains and Santa Monica Bay. You will have an air-traffic controller's view of planes approaching LAX and a great introduction to the Baldwin Hills. Bring a picnic -- and your imagination.
Thanks to volunteer trail builders, the park has more than seven miles of trail. The 2.6-mile Ridge Trail and 2.2-mile Burke Roche Trail are the newest. Other popular walks include the mile-long Waterfall Trail and the 0.8-mile Bowl Loop.
See more of John McKinney's tips at www.thetrailmaster.com.