Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Our Central Park

Enjoy Wild LA in Griffith Park
Although many areas have been developed and some landscaped, much of this 4,100-acre park is native chaparral. The Ferndell area is popular, but it's a nice introductory spot, and a great place to take visitors.

For an easy stroll with a baby in a jogger or toddling youngster, cruise what I'm calling lower Ferndell. It's the landscaped stretch of creek on the west side of Ferndell Drive soon after you enter the park from Los Feliz Blvd. Look for the large wooden "Ferndell" sign. You can stroll from here up to the Ferndell Picnic Area. At the picnic area, you'll find a small playground. 

For a more vigorous walk, start at the picnic area (across the street from Trails Cafe) and head up Ferndell Canyon. Take the trail on the right side of the creek/dry creek bed. Parts of this trail are steep, so I don't recommend a jogger. If you have a baby or toddler, be prepared to carry her much/most of the way in a baby carrier. (We use a Kelty Kids carrier.) Otherwise, the trail is wide and smooth: easy for kids over age five.

It's about 1.25 mile to the Observatory on this trail. Listen for birds in the oak, sycamore and willow trees in the canyon below you. If you're hiking in winter or spring, look to your right for a large white-blossomed bush that smells like incense. This is ceanothus crassifolius, one of several species of "california lilac" that grows on local hillsides. Blue varieties are common and make lovely additions to home gardens. Also note the red-berried bushes on the slopes here. They are toyon. Early settlers thought it resembled European holly and dubbed it Hollywood. Speaking of, you can see the Hollywood sign from this trail, as well as the Observatory. Near the top--on a clear day--you can see the LA basin all the way to the ocean.

This trail is hot in the summer. Try it on a cooler day or in the morning. 

Ferndell Trail
Ferndell Drive, LA

From Los Feliz Blvd, turn into the park at Ferndell Drive. For the easy stroll, park soon after you enter the park. For the hike: try to park further up, near the picnic area, across from Trails Cafe.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Strut with the Peacocks

LA County Arboretum and Botanic Garden

This is another of my favorite spots to take little kids. The peacocks are the big attraction, but the Arboretum is also a great place to observe Canada geese, ducks--wood ducks and mallards--and turtles. Also, look for wading birds such as egrets--great and snowy--and great blue herons around the edge of the two ponds.

I'll never forget a recent trip when I saw a bob cat dart out a bush! It's not often you see these shy, nocturnal cats, so don't expect to see one. But you could get lucky: staffers say the Arboretum has at least two in residence. (Don't worry about safety: these guys are quite small and not aggressive to people.)

A fun spot for kids is the teaching garden and neighboring pond. They can peer at sunbathing turtles through a blind, run through arbors, or a wander a small rosemary bush maze. The Canada geese here don't seem as aggressive as domestic geese, but, to be safe, tell your child not too get too close. Bring shoes you can hose off, and perhaps a spare pair: some lawns are a mine field of goose poop.

You can picnic at the Arboretum on the third Sunday of the month, but I don't really recommend it. Keeping goose poop off your kid(s) feet--and, hence, off your blanket--is a big distraction. Picnics are only allowed near a specific tree that we couldn't find.

You can learn a lot at Arboretum classes and workshops. Among the current offerings:
  • Family Bird Walks: first Saturday of the month, starting at 8:00 a.m. (free)
  • Family Adventures: first Saturday of the month, 10:00 a.m. (free)
  • KIds Art Classes: for 4-12 year olds, Saturdays ($155 for 10 weeks)
  • Garden Talks with horticulturalist Lili Singer, Thursday mornings
301 N. Baldwin Avenue
Arcadia, CA 91007
Open Daily, 9 - 5
Adults: $7
Kids (5-12 yrs): $2.50
Under 5: free

Note: Admission to the Arboretum is included in a membership to Descanso Garden.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Garden Play

Huntington Library and Gardens

This is a lovely place to stroll with a baby, little kids and friends. 

The big attraction for 2- to 7-year-olds is the Children's Garden, with its spurting, bubbling, and misting fountains. Plus, tunnels, a "rainbow room," a little house, chimes--you drop pebbles into them!--and topiary. Be sure to bring a change of clothing for toddlers. 

But be forewarned: The Children's Garden is ridiculously hot in the summer. Just when the weather is favorable, the Huntington cuts back it's hours. (For a garden with kid-friendly hours and activities, check out Descanso Gardens in La Canada.) Also, the $15-$20 adult admission is CRAZY. (Yes, there's one free day a month, but you have to reserve in advance.)

However, the children's garden isn't the only fun spot at the Huntington. The nearby Conservatory is intended for middle-school-aged kids, but it's also fun for younger ones. 
They get a good introduction to a jungle.

Look for koi and ducks (mallards) in the pond at the gorgeous Japanese Garden, and at the Lily Ponds

The lake in the new Chinese Garden also attracts waterfowl. In general, the Huntington is a good place for bird watching. One easy to spot species: those medium-sized black birds with white tummies and long bobbing tails are black phoebes. Look in tall trees for red-tailed hawks.

Young ladies may enjoy the tea room. (Reservations recommended.) Boys might prefer to chase lizards in the Desert Garden

The Huntington has a wonderful gift shop with a good selection of nature books for kids.

1151 Oxford Road
San Marino, CA 91108
Closed Tuesdays
Adults: $20 weekends, $15 weekdays
Under 5: free
Age 5-11: $6
Students: $10 

Our family became members at the Huntington because we live nearby. But membership here is expensive and not especially generous. Descanso offers better family events, as well as nature classes for kids. The LA Zoo admits more family members--including extended family and childcare providers--on its basic membership. If this sounds critical, don't get me started on Pinkie and Blue Boy!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

You'll Love This Spot

Monrovia Canyon Park

This is one of the sweetest of the easily accessible front-country spots in the San Gabriel Mountains. It's beautifully maintained by the city of Monrovia and volunteers. The addition of a darling nature center makes this a great place for families. 

If you're hiking with energetic kids over age 5 or 6--or a little baby you plan to carry the entire way--you can opt for hiking the entire 1.7 miles of the waterfall trail. (You can find the trailhead to the left of the entrance booth.) At times this trail is narrow with steep drop- offs, so I wouldn't trust a toddler on it. It also has some hilly stretches, which could make carrying a squirming toddler a workout. (See below for smoother route for little kids.)

Still, this stretch is less crowded and affords better wildlife viewing. One a trip last fall, we got a glimpse of a pair of deer before they dashed off through an oak woodland. Native grey squirrels are abundant here. They're smaller and grayer than the nonnatives we have in the city. The hilly trail also makes for pleasurable views of tree tops on the slopes below. 

For a shorter, flatter trip: Drive past the guard station to the next parking lot. There's a trailhead across the street from the lot. This gives you a two-mile round trip. 

To ensure you get to the waterfall with your toddler: Drive further up the road to the nature center and picnic area. The trailhead is behind the nature center at the back of the picnic area. From here, it's an easy 3/4 mile to the waterfall. Remember that forest canyons can be quite cold in the winter. Please, if you bring a dog, observe the leash law.

This isn't the most spectacular waterfall in the forest, but the streamside hike is lovely. The trees with eye-like knots are alders. The giant twisting ones are coast live oaks. The sweet-smelling trees are California bays. Those cement structures across the stream are check dams, designed by the US (Army) Corps of Engineers, in the 1960s, to slow the flow. 

Our 21-month-old son rode upstream in a Kelty carrier. Then marched back most of the way--with a few handholds here and there. 

Don't miss the nature center! Real snakes and other animals represented via taxidermy are worth a look. And a friendly volunteer or ranger may have answers to your questions. 

1200 N. Canyon Blvd.
Monrovia, CA  91016
Admission: $5 per car
Park gates are locked at 5 p.m.

From the 210 freeway, exit at Myrtle Avenue. Drive north through downtown Monrovia. (North is easy to find in these foothill communities: it's toward the mountains.) After 2 miles, turn right on Scenic Drive. Soon you'll have to take a short jog to stay on Scenic Drive, then continue east about a mile to the park entrance. There are a couple of signs en route.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Best Science Books For Kids 2008

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has announced the finalists  for its Science Books and Films prizes. Here are the finalists for best picture book.


"Eggs," by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Emma Stevenson. Holiday House, New York, 2008. 32 pp. $16.95. Eggs provide a shelter in which a developing animal can breathe, be nourished with food and drink, and grow. They are laid by birds, invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and even some mammals. Singer presents examples of their innumerable shapes, sizes, colors, and patterns. She also discusses how burial, brooding, and nests protect eggs, and she describes varieties of hatching. Stevenson's detailed gouache paintings convey the eggs' allure.

"Sisters and Brothers: Sibling Relationships in the Animal World," by Steve Jenkins (illustrator) and Robin Page. Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 2008. 32 pp. $16. Animals and families always fascinate children, but the facts about siblings that fill this book will also engage adults. For example, young shrews line up holding each others' tails, with the mother leading the way. Female termites lay 30,000 eggs a day, whereas giant anteaters are always single offspring. Nile crocodiles cooperate even before they hatch, but hyena cubs can fight to the death. The authors' collages are sure to appeal to young readers.

"Spiders," by Nic Bishop. Scholastic, New York, 2007. 48 pp. $17.99. Spider enthusiasts and arachnophobes alike will be drawn to the amazing, up-close photographs in this informative introduction to these eight-legged predators. The concise, well-written text offers numerous interesting facts about spiders. For example, they were among the earliest terrestrial predators, having arisen more than 350 million years ago. And although "silk is the secret of spider success," many of the more than 38,000 species do not use webs. Fishing spiders dart over the water's surface, and some jumping spiders can leap 20 times their body length to pounce on prey.

"Wings," by Sneed B. Collard III, illustrated by Robin Brickman. Charlesbridge, Watertown, Massachusetts, 2008. 32 pp. $16.95. ISBN 9781570916113. Paper, $7.95. Insects, birds, and bats all move through the air on wings. Collard introduces the diversity of these appendages and their uses. Wings can be covered with scales, feathers, or bare skin. They allow peregrines to twist and turn in a dive, leaf-nosed bats to lazily flap over the ground, milkweed bugs to move short distances among patches, and Arctic terns to migrate between the polar regions. They help animals chase, catch, flee, and mate. To illustrate this variety, Brickman sculpted painted paper into colorful collages.

"The Wolves Are Back," by Jean Craighead George, illustrated by Wendell Minor. Dutton Juvenile, New York, 2008. 32 pp. $16.95. The wolves of Yellowstone were once shot until they were eliminated. However, with changed values and the yearning to again hear howls in the wild, wolves were reintroduced to the national park in 1995. As the wolves multiplied, wildflowers reappeared (wolves chased away the mountain sheep that had eaten them) and birds returned (wolves hunted bison and elk that had trampled young aspen needed for perches and grasses needed for food). By following along as a wolf pup wanders the Lamar Valley, readers learn how wolves are even important to halting riverbank erosion. George's simple text and landscape artist Minor's beautiful illustrations convey the importance of maintaining all parts of ecosystems.

AAAS has also announced nominees in the Middle Grades and Young Adult categories.