Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Seeing Stars

Last Sunday, my throat a little scratchy in the initially cool morning, I headed over to "the corner," traditional meeting place of the Los Angeles Wheelmen, for the Sunday ride. Marty, our ride leader, handed out the route slips; I saw we'd be heading into the Santa Monica Mountains to explore a little-known park, an historic highway, and a well-known landmark.

It was another typical winter morning in Southern California, predictably sunny and warming. Like any Sunday morning, this one was predictably short of motorized traffic, as our route under blue skies led first through Beverly Hills.

Downtown Beverly Hills sits on flat ground. The climbing into the hills proper didn't begin until we'd entered the mouth of Franklin Canyon Drive, a mile or so north of downtown. One short but steep climb led to our first stop, where we all regathered and enjoyed the view.

Franklin Canyon once belonged to the Doheny Family (of Teapot Dome Scandal fame). The canyon, which was part of and known as the Doheny Ranch, was long slated for development, and there are homes at the top and bottom of the canyon; the canyon is also the site of the Franklin Canyon Reservoir. However, conservationists worked to preserve most the remaining open space, 605 acres, and now it's part of the National Park Service.

The park contains miles of hiking trails, picnic areas, a duck pond, and a nature center. For a park with so much open space, located in the Los Angeles, minutes away from the vast swarms of humanity, it's amazingly empty, every day of the week.

The reservoirs in Franklin Canyon were designed by William Mulholland. The setting has been incorporated into a variety of films and t.v. shows., but this morning, there was only blissful reality to contend with.

Another climb brought us to Mulholland Drive, and we turned east, to follow it into Cahuenga Pass, separating the Los Angeles Basin from the San Fernando Valley.

Once over the pass, we dropped down to the north side of the Santa Monica Mountains, and pedaled into massive Griffith Park. The land for the park, more than 3,000 acres, was donated by Griffith J. Griffith, a Welshman who worked as a journalist and mining advisor and then made a fortune in Mexican silver mines, as well as southern California real estate.

A 600 foot climb took us to the highest point of the park that can be reached on pavement. Most of the way, the road is closed to motorized traffic. There were a few hikers and lots of cyclists.

Barry eases off the pedaling after reaching the apex of the climb, more than 1,300 feet above sea level.

We coasted past one rider who decided, after the final, steep pitch to the top of climb, that it was time for a break.

There followed a more gradual descent, taking us down the south and west facing slopes of Mount Hollywood. Coming around a sweeping turn, we spied the Griffith Park Observatory.

A final climb up to the Observatory, built in a beautiful art deco style, took us past our first significant traffic.

Griffith also donated funds for the construction of the Observatory, which, with its telescopes designed to study the heavens, its science hall, and its planetarium, opened in 1934. Griffith never saw the finished edifice; he died in 1919.

Important parts of the terrific, and quirky movie, "Rebel Without a Cause," starring James Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo (all of whom would, in their real lives, die rather violently) were filmed at the Observatory. The movie is, all these years after it was made in 1955, a timelessly good look into the mind of angst-ridden young adults.

Dean, with just three films to his credit before dying in a car wreck, was a true Hollywood star; his sculpted head, which sits atop a pedestal at the Observatory, honors his career and his performance; the Hollywood Sign, to the northwest, offers a nice backdrop.

We met a wonderful group of younger riders, who I am fairly confident do not suffer the angst experienced by Dean, Woods, and Mineo, both in the film they made and in their real lives.

I've ridden my own single-geared bike to the Observatory; it wasn't easy.

As this was yet another day of my "20 Jerseys - 20 Days" endeavor, here's what I wore: my 1976 team issue Peugeot La Grange race jersey. It almost fits as well as it did 33 years ago. The La Grange club still exists as a powerful racing team in Los Angeles, although the "country French cuisine" restaurant for which it was named has long ceased to exist, and Peugeot, the team sponsor, stopped making bikes a long time ago.

We had another ten miles or so and some traffic to negotiate before our return to our starting point. It was all downhill and passed too quickly. And by mid-evening, my scratchy throat had turned into an annoyingly intense sore throat.

Camera: Panasonic Lumix TZ5
Note: To view full-size images, click on the photographs.

No comments: