Monday, January 9, 2012

Los Angeles River

In my determination to do more outdoorsy activities to take advantage of this welcome warm spell, I decided this week to get acquainted with the Los Angeles River.  I planned an itinerary that starts from the downstream end of the Glendale Narrows to the Elysian Valley Gateway Park and back to the starting point.
Before I went to the river, I visited the Los Angeles River Center and Gardens located in Cypress Park.
Los Angeles River Center and Gardens
The River Center consists of an exhibit hall that charts the history and the role of the river, as well as its continuing future development.  The small hall was interesting and informative, and I spent 10-15 minutes perusing the presentation.
River Center
Afterward, I walked around the grounds which, on this Sunday, were deserted.  Besides being an orientation center for the Los Angeles River, its beautiful mission-styled gardens and buildings also double as an event location, available for rental for conferences and weddings.  The grounds are open daily and free to the public.
Los Angeles River Center and Gardens fountain courtyard
Los Angeles River Center and Gardens
When I was ready to explore the river, I drove a couple miles over to Egret Park, a tiny pocket park that was my designated starting point for the journey.  Egret Park abuts the bike/walking path on the west bank of the river.  As I stepped out of the park onto the path, this was visible on the opposite embankment:
Anza Mural by Frank Romero
From here, I headed northward, tracking the river the entire way.  The course wasn't busy, but bikes passed me regularly, and I also encountered occasional runners and fellow walkers.  Bikers far outnumbered people on foot.
west bank bike path and river
It wasn't a taxing trek.  The path isn't inclined, and the weather couldn't be better--sunny but not hot at all.  I made sure to bring a hat for shade, and I paused often to take photos.  
Though I was tempted, I did not climb down the concrete embankment to inspect the river more closely.  Besides the potential danger of falling into the river, I wasn't sure what the laws were concerning going past the railing.  Also, the cleanliness of the water was questionable, and the litter I saw on the trees and foliage around the river gave pause.  Though the nature aspect of the river is fascinating, the river also seems a magnet for urban detritus.  Quite unpleasant.
view of embankment slope
tons of litter
The walk also presented an acutely contrasting juxtaposition of nature with urban deterioration.  I'd gleaned from my research a mostly romantic expectation about "urban nature," encouraged to only look towards the river and its flora/fauna.  Yet I couldn't ignore the low-income residential and commercial property I passed on the other side of my path.  I also felt self-consciously intrusive at being able to see into private dwelling backyards that are barely separated from the path by flimsy chain-link fences.
barbed wire to keep trespassers out or the captives in?
However, despite the depressing aspects of the area, I nevertheless enjoyed my walk.  It was peaceful, and there were ample bird-watching opportunities on the river.
My northbound journey ended at Elysian Valley Gateway Park (another tiny pocket park), and I headed back south to my starting point.  The round-trip measures 3.4 miles exactly, according to my research, and took me an hour and a half to complete it.
Pocket parks are SUPER tiny.
It was an interesting excursion.  I learned a lot about the river, and I'm glad that I finally got to examine part of it up close and not just in passing as I drive by on the freeway.  I might explore another stretch of it in the future since it's about 50 miles long, and I am curious about the river within different settings.  I'm also very glad that I discovered the Los Angeles River Center and Gardens, an unexpected oasis worth visiting again if I'm in the area.


  1. Wow, that does look a little bit dystopian in parts. I actually don't think I've ever been by there.

  2. I'm not a stranger to run-down urban areas (and I've seen worse), but I was baffled by the idyllic descriptions of this particular walking route when it was far from it.