I’ve never been much for city living. Over the years, I’ve called many places home—all over the world—but they always had one thing in common: small towns with easy access to oceans, forests or mountains. I’ve long prefered walking over driving, the trickle of a creek over the hum a crowd. So this whole move to Los Angeles marked a fairly profound shift in lifestyle. All of sudden I have to drive EVERYWHERE. It seems like no matter what time of day or night it is, the grocery stores are a mob scene, the Post Office has a line, and the sheer sprawl of humanity feels poised to sweep me away like waves in a storm.
Given all that, it doesn’t take too long for me to go a little stir crazy and start looking for a dirt road to nowhere. Luckily it turns out my new home has those too. Despite highways as far as the eye can see, LA sits astride a string of mountains riddled with deep canyons and creek beds, which makes hiking Los Angeles a surpsingly easy proposition, even within the city limits.
Thus it was that I found myself on a Wednesday afternoon, expressing my frustration to GG about a string of rejections from various editors…I should mention that, as my better half, GG has gotten pretty good at deciphering my various forms of grumpiness (mostly there’s just two: “hungry grumpy “and “annoyed-at-work grumpy”)…So she quickly hit upon the right idea. “Just take the dogs and go find a trail somehwere,” she said. “Fine,” I replied, briefly affecting my “I-know-you’re-right grumpy” demeanor.
From our home in the San Fernando Valley, we’re practically spitting distance from the Santa Monica Mountains, and it didn’t take long to pinpoint the ideal spot for an afternoon adventure. A few miles to the west, Topanga Canyon is like an oasis of tranquility amid the bustle of the city, with an almost commune-like feel as you wind deep into its twisted, shaded one-lane roads lined with makeshift gardens and VW vans. My destination sat at the road’s dead end: Red Rock Canyon Park, a dog friendly local preserve where a fire road leads through the riparian canyon to a stunning overlook at Calabassas Peak.
These Dogs are Made for Walking
No matter whether we’re on the barrier islands of Savannah or an urban oasis in Southern California, our dogs Georgia and Brewster know the score. The second those truck tires crunch on gravel road, they’re up in the front seat, crying, pawing at the window—they know it’s time to hit that trail and they’re ready to go NOW.
We pull into a rustic parking lot amid only two other cars, toss the $5 parking fee into the iron ranger, and set up the dusty track. It’s our first foray into the Southern California outdoors. We once slogged swamp trails on the lookout for feral hogs, gators and cottonmouths, but now we’re huffing up arid, red-dirt track with lizards scuttling through the underbrush and hawks soaring overhead on updrafts from the valley floor. Not likely seen during the day, but also not forgotton, is the possibility of coyotes, which (along with the hawks) would happily make a meal of my tinier pup.
Urban Oasis in our Own Backyard
This particular park is small, we hiked beyond it’s boundaries and back within a couple hours. But the trail has cool features, including overhangs, awesome stratification in the canyon walls, and small caves eroded into the rocks by ancient water flow. If you keep following the road as we did, it climbs upward and connects to the Calabasas Peak Trail. A right turn leads to the eponymous peak where you can see the vast expanse of the valley stretched out below.
By this point, Brewster started to get tired in the hot sun so I threw him over my shoulder for the steeper part of the downhill return. When we got to the bench at the trail junction, we were all happy to take a break for some water and dog treats before heading back home, certainly all of us a bit more at ease knowing we can get away from the city without even leaving the city. And right in our own backyard.