I recently decided to join the American Society for Environmental History. Not only do I (obviously) love the outdoors and the environment, but as an archivist, one of my favorite things in the world is to mix these two passions together. I’ve also been reading several books lately, when I can make the time, relating to environmental history, and SOMETIMES, I secretly consider going back to school someday for environmental history as related to ecological or conservation records.

(I think I should finish this masters degree first though).

 So much of what we know about the environment now, and the ways in which we envision and understand the “outdoors”, is deeply related to the history of industrial development, economic development (i.e wage labor) and urbanization (amongst other things).

(gasp, yes, we can probably even trace some of the history of hiking/backpacking to these histories).

So, in light of this, I was just thinking I’d like to repost something I wrote last summer related to environmental history and Jen Huntley’s book The Making of Yosemite: James Mason Hutchings and the Origin of American’s Most Popular National Parkwhich among the many topics, looks at the relationship between the industrial complex of the gold-mining era of California and the development of the “sublime” concept of Yosemite Valley.

Here is the original post:

I’ve recently been reading Jen Huntley’s The Making of Yosemite: James Mason Hutchings and the Origin of American’s Most Popular National Park, I’ve and stumbled onto some really interesting topics related to the environment and California history. As a lover everything outdoors, I’ve always been especially fascinated by the history of conservation in my state,  especially as related to the mining boom of the late 1800’s. While you wouldn’t immediately expect there to even BE a connection, you’d be surprised to find that  the the history of mining and the history of out favorite park, Yosemite, is actually deeply entwined.

(Note: I’m not saying that Yosemite National Park is necessarily our BEST park, but, I will say that statistically, it is the most visited National Park in California, and the third most visited National Park in the United States).

Huntley’s book primarily looks at the life of James Mason Hutchings, who was one of the first individuals to promote tourism in Yosemite Valley, where he and his wife would eventually purchase a hotel (then known as the Upper Hotel, later renamed the Hutchings House). The history of how he came to be in Yosemite, where he would eventually hire a young John Muir, is related to his role as a businessman in the booming mining industry of California in the 1800s.

Hutchings, who left England in 1848, spent a winter in New Orleans, and from there arrived in California in 1849 during the mining boom. Through his profits made through mining, Hutchings eventually invested in other ventures, one of which was a continued involvement in the newspaper industry.

While standing in for a friend at the Placerville Herald in 1853 he wrote “The Miner’s Ten Commandments” which, if you read it, is pretty funny. I was inspired to learn more about this particular document and style, finding the image I’ve shared above. It actually ended up being a very popular piece, and was reprinted in different mining camps around California. It was then turned into an letter sheet (a new term for me, here is what wikipedia says), which is a beautiful piece of work. Looking at the photograph above, one can see beautifully drawn illustrations on the sides related to the text.

As some people know, Hutchings was intimately entwined with Yosemite’s early history as a new tourist destination, and is generally viewed as somewhat of a villain cast against the forces that wanted to conserve the park in it’s “natural “state. From the perspective of thinking about Hutchings, it’s interesting to make the connection between nature, conservation, economics, and tourism, and to realistically see that in many ways, these cannot be separated. Interestingly, Huntley correctly (in my opinion) makes the connection between our own perceptions of conservation and nature and the industrial complex of the 1800’s. That is,the exhalation and conservation of natural beauty was a direct result of industrialization, because without industrialization the construct of preserving these unique (and “untouched”) places might not hold the same value. That is, the sublime natural landscapes were suddenly seen as separate and distinct from the urbanization and industrialization due to the mining industry (and all that came with it). It’s vastly more complicated, but that is one of the main take home messages that I’ve been particularly struck by.

Environmental history, wow! This really makes me think: Is some of my own attraction to the “pristine” backcountry (in quotes, because we know that there is VERY little wilderness that is in fact not shaped by man in some way, even by indigenous practices for generations) actually, within the spectrum of history, a result of my own experiences with development and urbanization? Do I look for the antithesis to the urban in nature? Big things to think about for the weekend 🙂

-You can ACTUALLY see (a lot of) stars from Point Mugu, even at this distance to LA. It was pretty impressive! However, expect lots of airplanes passing overhead in the distance (it wasn’t all that bad).

-It gets cold at night in the Santa Monica Mountains, who knew? From my research, I believe it got down to the mid 40’s the night we camped. Luckily I only own a 30 degree bag.

-We decided to camp at Sycamore Canyon (as opposed to the beach campground across the PCH, I wasn’t really into camping in a parking lot that is basically next to the highway).

-It’s not the most beautiful campground in the world, which may partially be the fault of the wildfire that came through last year. The building and tables are unscathed, but the general area is surrounded by burned tress, which are beautiful in a weird way (see photo below). The campground is basically all dirt/sand, and was super empty the night we were there (most likely due to the fact that it was the Saturday night before the superbowl). 

-It was sort of quiet, if you don’t count the random VERY loud mustang that decided to continually speed through the campground really late at night. This sort of makes me wonder if this kind of stuff is a regular occurrence. I haven’t gone enough to figure that out yet.

My overall impression was positive, but I think that before going back here I would prefer to explore some other campgrounds around the Los Angeles area (perhaps in the San Gabriels?). I think it was a lovely place to spend an evening with friends and an easy escape from Los Angeles on a beautiful drive. I also wonder what it would be like on a more crowded night, due to the low or non existent coverage in between sites. However, I may just be a backcountry snob, where I’m used to having a pristine mountain lake all to myself 🙂

Here’s a photo showing the fire damage from last year, care of the talented Nadav Benjamin:

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Well, to start, I’ve been writing papers and continuing my futile attempt to complete homework assigned readings for grad school. I’ve also been interning (again) two days per week this winter, which has unfortunately been eating into my hiking/camping time. At this point I could go into a long rant about traffic in LA (it’s real!) and how horrible it is, but, I think this is a universally accepted fact. Traffic in LA is horrible. While I started the year with the goal of getting out MORE, and experimenting more with new trails (I have a tendency to go back to the ones I know and love), it’s been hard to balance class, internship, and work. Some things I have recently (or not so recently) done include:

1. this past week I managed to get out to Eagle Rock in Topanga Canyon State Park in the Santa Monica Mountains via the musch trail in the Trippet Ranch area.. I was having a really stressful week, and decided on Wednesday that a hike was needed to maintain my sanity. This is really my go to hike, and I should probably expand my horizons more, but I love it. I have a ton of photos for this particular trail, most of which seem to be missing, but here are a few:

2. Sandstone Peak: In November (which seems like long ago) we FINALLY managed to get out to Sandstone Peak via the Mishe Mokwa trail. It was amazing, and one of the best hikes I’ve done in LA since moving here. I’d love to go back more, but it can be a bit of a haul if there’s any traffic, and I have to drive to Malibu 2 days a week anyways for my internship (thus, more driving does not always appeal to me! See some of the photos right below:

3. Parker Mesa from Trippet Ranch: We did this 6.8 mile jaunt at the end of January on a semi-cold and foggy afternoo, which turned out to be beautiful. It mainly consists of walking on fire roads and includes quite a bit of uphill on the way out (which would make sense, you’re hiking to Parker Mesa). We didn’t think it was super tough though, and it was worth it! We’ll definitely repeat this route again soon.

4. Camping at Mugu State Park: I’ve been wanting to this try this, because I was skeptical about camping this close to a major city. I actually have a few things I want to say about camping at Point Mugu, but I’m going to save that for a post that is coming up next!

5. Inspiration Point sunset watching in Will Rogers State Park: I’ve sort of always avoided this park because my mentality is to get as far away from people/houses as I can when I hike (thus my enjoyment of Topanga SP and Point Mugu, which is even further out). But, we accidentally ended up here one evening after a brush fire on the PCH rerouted us onto Sunset Blvd. So, we opted to watch the sunset from the inspiration point trail, and turns out that it was a beautiful and quiet spot to be in the evening. I’ve been doing some further map research, and this is in fact that area that marks the beginning of the Backbone Trail. I’m excited to explore this area more in the near future! Also, bonus: We got to watch the LAFD helicopters refill with water at the field just past the Sunset entrance off of Will Rogers State Park Road.

6. Getting shit done! Seriously, I need to graduate and that is a big priority right now. While I’m missing the regularity of my weekday hike, I’ve been telling myself that this is the last push, and that it’ll all be worth it. I have a lot more to say about archives, and some of my recent thoughts (and concerns) about this area, which I will post soon.

There are a lot of things I’d like to get moving on for this website. I want to attack the section about “vegan backpacking” soon, because it’s something I’ve been asked a lot about (YES, you can backpack as a vegan, you won’t die). I’d also like to get back to my originally intended programing of doing real trip reports, because I like reading the reports of other people, and in a weird way it appeals to my archival interests (creating an archive of my own hikes). Sadly, I have been fighting with the GPS apps on my phone, and will get that worked out soon.

Until then, enjoy the photos!

Vasquez Rocks

I’ve been wanting to go here for a very long time, but until recently had no idea that they were within easy driving distance of Los Angeles. I have a very long abiding love of dramatic desert rock formations (I think formed during my archaeology years) and after seeing photos of the Vasquez Rocks I knew that I needed to go. So, I loaded the boyfriend (my wonderful and patient hiking companion) and my daypack into the car for the 45 minute drive up to Agua Dulce.

Admittedly, before doing a bit of pre-trip research, I had no idea that the Pacific Crest Trail ran through Vasquez Rocks. As a lover of everything map related, and everything related to outdoorsy California (especially the PCT), this was an awesome surprise. So, we decided to do a gorgeous jaunt down the PCT to where it goes under Highway 14 via a long cement tunnel (see photos!).

We decided to do a short jaunt on the PCT, partially because I get really excited about the fact that I’m on a trail that technically goes to Mexico, but also partially because it offers some amazingly dramatic views of Vasquez Rocks and the San Gabriels to the south. Unfortunately, the visitor center is closed on Mondays, which was really too bad, because not only was it suspiciously built in the shape of a strange spaceship, but it looked to have a lot of really interesting resources inside. If you’re interested in this, it’s worth noting that Monday mightnot be the best day to drop by!

After driving around in a semi-lost state for a few minutes, we decided to park at the middle lot between the large lot right next to the rocks, and the visitor center up the hill (as per Socal Hiker’s recommendation) .Helpful hint on this: Once you enter the park and follow the sign that points to the left towards “trails” you’ll pass a parking lot on your left with a notice board. You can obviously go down the hill and park in the huge lot there, but I found that it’s harder to find the PCT from there, and you actually get to see some really cool rock formations if you take the PCT from up the hill (see photo at the bottom), which also doubles as a “geology trail”.

So, assuming you’ve parked in the lot on your lefthand side, you can catch the PCT from right there, which is marked with a very noticeable “Pacific Crest Trail” sign.

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PCT Sign

PCT Sign

It’s pretty easy at this point to follow the signs. For the most part the trail is marks until you get to the tunnel under Highway 14, other than when it sort of crosses an open parking lot type area with a large unusually green tree (for this area) that is labeled “pepper tree” via a wooden sign. If you follow the arrows on the small PCT posts (see below) you basically walk straight across this area, passing the pepper tree on your left, to where the trail picks up again with another PCT sign post.

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View from the PCT, looking southwest.

Along the way you’ll walk over a low ridge, with views of Vasquez Rocks on your right and the San Gabriel Mountains on your left.  

Eventually, you’ll head downhill and around a hillside to travel through Escondido Canyon, where you’ll pass under towering sandstone walls to read the tunnel under Highway 14. This is only semi-creepy, but altogether it seems pretty safe!

After getting to the tunnel we simply backtracked and took the PCT towards Vasquez Rocks, taking a more direct route back towards the large parking lot at the base of the rocks. We wandered around and climbed up on several rocks taking in the spectacular view.

We eventually made our way back up the hill to the car by following a random trail the ran in parallel to the road. This brings up an important point: I don’t think it’s very easy to get lost here (I’m SURE it’s possible), but there are many offshoot trails that seem to go in various directions without any indication of where (or why) that might be. I generally carry my phone GPS for day hikes (using an app called “Topo Maps” with the correct topo map predownloaded) just in case I get confused. Be aware that there are patchworks of trails throughout this area, and try your best to maintain your bearings (Or, carry a phone, gps, or compass). I didn’t need any of these today!

All in all, a wonderful day and a highly recommended place to check out for any LA (or non-LA) outdoor enthusiast.

While I am normally hugely concerned with every ounce when it comes to gear, I recently purchased a North Face Topaz 2 tent from Adventure 16 here in LA (admittedly it was deeply discounted). I’ve been working towards making car camping more comfortable, partially for my significant other, and partially because I’ve discovered that it can be fun (shocking). Who doesn’t like making good food and sleeping in a comfortable tent in a campground with a bathroom? While the ultralight backpacker in me shudders, I know i’ll have plenty of time for bare minimum gear choices in the future.

Anyways, back to the tent: We used the Topaz 2 this past weekend in Joshua Tree National Park during some truly spectacular winds. Walking around the campground before dinner, I noticed that the winds were really taking a toll on the numerous Coleman and REI tents others were using, and was feeling concerned that we might need to opt to sleep in the Subaru rather than the tent (it’s happened before). However, the tent held up beautifully, and throughout the whole ordeal, during wind gusts that I surely thought would peel up the rainy fly, the tent stayed solid. While dirt and sand DID blow into the bottom of the tent, the fly comes low enough to generally minimize this, and I feel confident that it could have been much much worse.

Some random observations:

1. The pole structure seems very solid, and while some of the very powerful gusts caused some movement, it was minimal compared to some of the other tents I saw.

2. It’s roomy for two people, with jackets and other random things laying around the edges. It also has walls that are just about vertical so you can easily sit up and not touch the tent.

3. The rain fly worked really well, and blocked a good majority of the wind, other than some random sand getting in, which is probably a result of the sheer power of the gusts, and the low mesh sides of the tent.

4. At one point we had both vestibules pulled back and open, giving us a great view of the stars.

5. One thing to note, is that it can be tricky to get the vestibule areas pulled out enough via stakes. We found that when on soft sand, with occasional unseen rocks, that the stakes would either move around, or we were unable to get it in all the way. However, I think this is just going to be the case. We used some large rocks in situations like this.

6. Two door design: YES. Unfortunately I get up at night, a lot. So, it was great to not have to crawl over the boyfriend to do this. In the past, using my Big Agnes UL2, getting up means kicking the sleeping person next to you as you crawl past their head.

7. I don’t think this is a great backpacking option. It’s about 5 pounds of weight, and while replacing some of the metal stakes with lightweight alternatives might help, this would still not be my first choice for any kind of long-distance trip.

Overall, I highly recommend this tent for two-person car camping or shorter backpacking trips.

Update January 2015: We are still using this, and it’s still awesome for camping down here in Southern California. We took it backpacking on Catalina Island in March 2014, where we AGAIN encountered a lovely wind storm, and again, tent held up great. However, weighing in at over 6 lbs, we are planning to purchase a lighter backpacking tent and continue using this for car camping. To date, really my only complaint continues to be that sometimes the low mesh sides can let in some sand during really windy times, at which point I just cover my head while sleeping.