L.A. Through Green-Tinted Glasses
Blogger: Daniel O'Connor
For nature lovers, Los Angeles has kind of a bad rep – it's definitely more commonly associated with urban sprawl, traffic, and pollution than it is with natural beauty. As an environmental biology major and an avid hiker, I'd like to take my moment on the Oxy Voices blog to set some things straight.
First, a word about smog. Like I mentioned, I'm a science major, but I'll try not to be too technical. While air quality is a persistent problem here, it's not entirely because of the car culture. Los Angeles is located in a valley right next to the ocean – perfect, right? Well, not entirely. As air over the land is heated, it rises, and cool, moist (read: dense, heavy) air moves in from the ocean and settles underneath. Usually this isn't really a problem, but here the cool ocean air comes inland until it's stopped by the mountains surrounding the city. This causes an unusual scenario called an inversion layer, where cool air becomes trapped under warmer air. So the reason we can see the pollution produced in Los Angeles isn't that we pollute way more than everyone else (actually, Los Angeles has lower per-capita carbon emissions than Seattle), it's because those pollutants become trapped in the cool air of the inversion layer.
Second myth: Los Angeles is nothing but urban sprawl and concrete as far as the eye can see. Though LA is definitely an urban, modern city, there are also a lot of opportunities to get outside and access green spaces. There are plenty of hikes within a 20 minute radius of Oxy. Debs Park is only 10 minutes away, and features a pond at the peak of your hike with a view of downtown Los Angeles. Eaton Canyon, in nearby Altadena, is a popular hike ending in a waterfall. Griffith Park – home of the famous Hollywood sign and spectacular views of the city – is a quick 15 minutes west of campus. My current favorite is the Beaudry Motorway (“motorway” in this instance indicating an unpaved fire access road), a 6 mile loop up into the Verdugo mountains in Glendale. For half of the hike you can see out over La Cañada and to the San Gabriel mountains. The other half looks out over Los Angeles proper, where you can see downtown in the distance and sometimes even the glimmer of the ocean, depending on the inversion layer that day.
You can hike year-round in Los Angeles, but spring is a special time here. The California poppies have bloomed in the Verdugos and more buds will be opening soon. Getting to hike every weekend and see the landscape change with the subtle shift in seasons is a real privilege to have in an urban setting, and it's just one more thing that makes Oxy's location so special.