Mapquest gave me two sets of directions to Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park, so I visted both. The two sites are one freeway exit apart in the heart of Chatsworth/Simi Valley. Both have what I call "pre-desert" terrain. No cactus or Joshua trees, but lots of reddish-orange sandstone outcroppings dotted with a variety of brush and an occa-sional oak. The park is in a suburban neighborhood, offering locals some needed nature. One cannot complete-ly escape civilization though. Telephone poles and jet trails are part of the scenery. A transmission tower is just steps away from the entrance.
The pass is an old stage coach trail and has been used in many movie and TV westerns, including as a backdrop for Bonanza. The west end of the San Fernando Valley was a major obstacle to travel between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Around 1860, a steep road was carved out of the rock face of these hills, with Devil's Slide being the most treacherous portion of the trail.
In 1989, the state purchased 400 acres in the Santa Susana Pass area and added it to another 400 acres of state-owned parkland. The park represents two decades of work by San Fernando Valley and Simi Valley environmentalists, spearheaded by the Santa Susana Mountain Park Association.
This park shares staff with Los Encinos State Historic Park. Since there is no ranger actively on duty at Santa Susana, the park has a low annual maintenance cost of around $21,000. The LA Times reports that the park has raised enough money for a one year reprieve, so it has escaped the July 1 closure date!
Networks of trails loop through the park, but are a little confusing. Naturally, Roxy and I chose the trail marked with a bird sitting on the signpost. And naturally, the little bird did not steer us wrong. The paths intersect frequently, but the park is small and getting lost is not a worry.
Many of he beautiful rock formations are the perfect size for kid (and dog!) mountain climbing, especially in January when rattlesnakes are not yet a huge concern.
Generally I find that parks within city limits have more warning signs and are more ominous than their wilderness sister parks, and that was certainly the case here. The adjacent Chatsworth City Park South is closed to the public pending resolution of a lead contamination, making it necessary to find parking on the street in the surrounding residential neighborhood.
Other indicators that the park is in an urban setting include broken botttles and fast-food trash left by week-end partiers. Graffitied rocks and bullet-hole ridden targets are around many a turn. Panoramic views are marred by smog.
But there is also hiking and history. There are birds, boulders - and if you look up instead of out - blue skies, making the park, in my opinion, all the more important for city dwellers.
I hope the state of California can find an annual twenty-one grand in the budget to keep this park open. I must say, if they don't, this one will really have me scratching my head.
I hope to see you at the State Parks.