Thursday, March 19, 2009

Family Bike Ride

Pedal and Play at Hansen Dam Recreation Area 
Eastern San Fernando Valley

For a fun ride for all ages, head to Hansen Dam. The 4.5 mile ride along the top of the dam and back affords panoramic views of the San Gabriel Mountains and the San Fernando Valley (as well as the adjacent park and golf course). Your kid(s) will be in good company: Youths of all ages bike and run here. The training-wheel set is well represented, as are teens. With the exception of one incline as you rise to the dam, this ride is flat and smooth. Bring binoculars if you want a look at equestrians below you. 

There is no--I repeat, absolutely no--shade here, so this ride is for winter and spring. However, there was a nice breeze when we visited recently. 

We bought a carton of watermelon, mango, and other fruit soaked with salty lime juice from a vendor along the bike path. It was delicious!

After the ride, we enjoyed the nearby playground. This is a new, large, and well-maintained playground, with two sprawling structures, a sand area, swings, etc.

If you have time, stroll into the Lake View Terrace Branch Library  behind the playground. It's lovely and green. The building is energy efficient and features recycled and environmentally friendly materials. 

Hansen Dam is a great place for bird watching. For this, stroll the paths around Hansen Lake. Like most lakes in so Cal, it's man made. The lake is an abandoned gravel pit that filled with water. The area is somewhat neglected, but the willows and other plants that have spring up around the lake mimic habitat that used to be common in LA. Much of this river-adjacent habitat (called riparian habitat) was destroyed when two of LA County's three rivers--and many tributaries--were confined to concrete channels. Rare birds, including the Least Bell's Vireo, rely on the plant community here. You probably won't see them unless your an ace birder. But look for herons, egrets, grebes, and ducks in the lake. They're easy to spot. 

The San Fernando Valley chapter of Audubon leads bird walks here. It's a great way to learn.

For more on the LA's native riparian habitat, check out my series KPCC series on the LA River

This park is best known for it's Aquatic Center, which features a "recreational lake" for pedal boats and fishing, and a "swimming lake." Don't get any wild ideas from the term lake. These are giant swimming pools. 

1770 Foothill Blvd
Lake View Terrace

To bike the dam:
From the 210 Freeway exit Foothill/Osborne Street. Go west on Osborne (it becomes Foothill Blvd). Pass the Aquatic Center, and turn left--confusingly--back onto Osborne (instead of continuing on Foothill). Turn left into the Hansen Dam Recreation Area at Dronfield Ave. As soon as you turn, look left. Note the paved trail that runs next to Osborne Street. This is the bike trail to the dam. As the road Ts into a park road, look left. You'll see the playground.
(Thomas Guide page 502)
From the 5 Freeway, exit Osborne. Head east past San Fernando Road and Glenoaks. Turn right on Dronfield.

For a Bird Walk
Park in the lot near the athletic fields. This is east of the aquatic center, near the intersection of Osborne and Fenton Avenue (next to the 210 Freeway). Walk away from the road, past the picnic area and athletic fields, and take one of the dirt paths leading to the lake.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Little Sprouts

Our two-year-old loves to harvest things from our garden--flowers, pea pods, carrots, lettuce I don't want picked yet--even if he has no intention of eating them. That's okay with me. I figure a little cuddling with the broccoli might spark future interest of the culinary sort. I have to remind myself it's worth losing some blooms, fruits and foliage to promote his interest in plants.

Here's a simple project to try at your home. 
  • Buy some basil seeds
  • Have your child help you almost fill small pots (with holes) or the bottom of an egg carton with potting soil or homemade compost. It's worth buying your kid her own little trowel and watering can. It will keep her busy while you work in the garden--even if she's watering the rocks. 
  • Place four or five seeds in her hand, have her spill them into the dirt.
  • Cover with about 1/8 inch of soil.
  • Put pots somewhere in your home that's warm and light. (Once nighttime temperatures are over 50 degrees you can seed outdoors, but it's also fun to have little pots indoors.)
  • Water lightly to keep soil moist but not drenched.
  • After they sprout, thin the seedlings to 4 inches or more a part. (They'll look the little guys on the left in the photo above.) 
  • Transition them gradually to outdoors, giving a little more direct light each day for a few days.
  • Plant in a sunny spot outside once the p.m. temperature is reliably above 50 degrees. Place in beds or pots, especially self-watering containers. Use improved soil so you won't have to fertilize the plants.
  • Harvest sparingly until your plant is about three inches tall, then clip more aggressively if you want. 
  • Enjoy. Basil is sweet, so you may be pleasantly surprised to discover (if you haven't already) your picky toddler loves fresh pesto. Ours does. You can also make a great kid-friendly pesto with 2/3 basil 1/3 parsley. 
  • At the end of the season, let your basil bloom and seed. Collect seed, and/or leave seed heads for birds to feed on. Darling little bush tits flock to my basil.
Above: Our son is much more enthusiastic about picking broccoli than eating it. But homegrown broccoli is so much more delicious, much sweeter than store-bought.  He does love eating the peas he shoots out of the pods of our sweet peas. I eat the shells he rejects.

Warning: once you toddler realizes there are edible things in the garden, he will probably want to sample just about every plant you've got. Fortunately, we have very few that are toxic. Nevertheless, it surprised us when our son--who avoids most things that aren't sweet--took a liking to manzanitas, both the flowers and the bitter little berries. It happened after we observed bees drinking from the pink, urn-shaped flowers. He decided to imitate the insects. What a wanna-bee.

Recommended Reading: 
  1. Southern California Gardening by Pat Welsh
  2. From Seed to Pumpkin (Let's-Read-And-Find-Out Science). Our son has enjoyed this since he was quite young. 
  3. The Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen. 

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Bike Claremont


If only there were more bike paths like this in LA county! The Thompson Creek Trail in Claremont is smooth, tree-lined, and NOT next to a freeway. The creek is channelized--not a pretty sight--but the banks have been lovingly landscaped with native and Mediterranean plants. (I can't recall ever seeing so many rosemary bushes!) You also get a nice view of Mt. Baldy. On a recent trip it was dusted with snow.

Be sure to slow for the the horse stables near the beginning of the trail. We were also amused to see not one--but three--dogs cruising the path in strollers. 

In a little over half a mile you reach Higginbotham Park, which has a small play ground with a couple rock-climbing areas. You could also start your ride here, especially if you have kid bikes, picnic blankets and other things you might like to stash at the park while you ride. There are short paved paths through the park that are good for kid riding and scooting.

The path has a slight upgrade, so I recommend starting at the southwest end, so you can coast back. If you don't live in the area, consider making a day of it and stroll the nearby Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden.

Thompson Creek Trail

From the 210 Freeway, exit on Towne Avenue. Head north on Towne one block, and get in the left-hand lane. Once you cross Baseline Road, you have to make a slight left turn to stay on Towne to where it ends at the creek. Park in one of the turnouts by the road. The path is at the end of the road. 

To start your ride at Higgenbotham park, park on the street on Mt. Carmel Drive (Thomas Guide page 571).