Loving the Alps of Los Angeles

I orient by landmarks. When I was growing up in New Jersey, the skyline of New York raked the eastern sky. To the west were the Watchung “Mountains“: hills roughly half the height of Manhattan’s ranking skyscrapers. But they gave me practice for my favorite indulgence here in Los Angeles: multi-angulating my ass in respect to seriously huge mountains.

What stands out about these things aren’t just their elevations…

  1. San Gorgonio, 11,503′*
  2. San Jacinto, 10,834
  3. San Antonio (Old Baldy), 10,068*

It’s their relief. These mothers are almost two miles high: alps above low plains and hills that slope under city and suburbs to the sea. One day when I went skiing at Mt. Baldy (same mountain as I shot above, on approach to LAX), I met guys who had gone surfing that very morning, not far away.

That’s right: skiing. In Los Angeles County.

All these mountains are crumples along a seam in the earth called the San Andreas Fault. The 40-quadrillion-ton Pacific Plate is crunching up against the also-huge North American plate at a high rate of geologic speed and force. The core rock inside these mountains is about 1.7 billion years of age, but the mountains themselves are, geologically speaking, as new and temporary as waves of surf. Note the catch basins at the base of San Antonio Canyon in the shot above. Their purpose is to catch rocks rolling off the slopes, as well as rain-saturated “debris flows”: Southern California’s version  of lava.

Speaking of which, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of John McPhee’s The Control of Nature (here’s an LA Times review), which features a long chapter titled “Los Angeles versus the San Gabriel Mountains.” That anybody would build a damn thing on or below the slopes of these virtual volcanoes speaks volumes about humanity’s capacity for denial.

Well, I was gonna drive up to the top of Mt. Wilson this morning to catch the sunrise over the layer of marine fog just over my head here in Pasadena, but I’ve got too much work to do. So I’ll just enjoy orienting toward it as I drive to Peet’s for coffee, and let ya’ll derive whatever vicarious pleasures might follow along. Cheers.

[Later...] Beautiful clouds atop the mountains all day today, with showers scattered here and there, and even a bit of snow. Tonight the snow level will be about 5000 feet, I heard. Should be pretty in the morning. Alas, I’ll be arriving at Newark then.


* The photos in Wikipedia for both are ones I shot from airplanes. They are among more than 400 now in Wikimedia Commons. I love feeding shots into the public domain, to find helpful uses such as these.

2 comments

  1. Vanessa Blaylock’s avatar

    Aww, Doc, what a lovely story!

    And yay for public domain images! We should all contribute to the PD more. It’s funny, so many peeps, particularly peeps in the circles you probably travel in, totally get PD & CC and probably have for a long time. I’m taking a very cool MOOC ATM, “Practice Based Research in the Arts” from NovoED. I’ve just done a sampling of websites & blogs from artist-scholar-students in the course and: out of 25 I looked at: 16 had no license or TOU at all, and 9 were Copyright All Rights reserved. Not one of the sample had a CC license. I wanted to cry.

  2. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Vanessa.

    One problem, with Flickr and every other centralized service, is that they default to “all rights reserved.” So the photographer needs to re-set the default, or ride the licensing while uploading and sorting out shots.

    Another problem is that rights-clearing is rapidly becoming the norm when shooting people. We’re moving toward the Hollywood model there. Not sure if that’s good, bad or both, but that’s the trend, as more of us become more careful regarding our own privacy and that of others. That may be at play with the NovoED case. Dunno, though.

    An ironic thing about my own photography is that my best work isn’t the aerial stuff, but my shots of people, especially family. But few of those make it out of “private” mode on Flickr. Most these days are shared via Dropbox, and the public never sees them.

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