Family Field Trips
Southern California's Golden Resources
Jefferson H.S. Science Dept.
Why don't you take the time to visit some of California's spectacular nature?
Randy Sweeney, Science Teacher, Jefferson High School, LAUSD
Southern California is a half-day's travel (or less) from some of the most interesting natural areas and cultural centers anywhere on this planet! Some of these include:
Desert FlowersSpringtime is a time of flower blooms in the deserts of Southern California. The California Poppy Reserve (off HW 138...travel east off junction with the I-5). Anza Borrego Desert State Park (take HW 78 east from Julian) is also beautiful place to see the cactus flowering as well as the annuals which grow so profusely after a wet winter (the rains wash inhibitors out of the seeds...thus the spectacular flowering after a very wet winter of rain). Joshua Tree National Monument is also a most interesting place to see plants of various sorts as well as some very interesting rock formations. In all three of these situations it is vest to call the State Parks folks and check on the condition of the flowers during the time you are planning to get to the area. The flowers generally do not last for more than a couple of weeks at the most.
Our local mountains have spectacularly beautiful snow conditions for a couple of days after a cold local storm in January or February. There are several ways to get to the Big Bear Lake area, which has a number of services suitable for a family's comfort when wet and cold from snow play. Take HW 330 or 38 into or out of the mountains. Both roads travel through very beautiful country. Taking HW 330 to Running Springs, then east on HW 18 will take you past some very fun snow-play areas before you reach the summit of the roadway prior to dropping down to the Big Bear Lake area. Always be prepared for hazardous winter travel when making these trips. Although you can generally get back to warm weather in Redlands in about an hour, road travel can be very hazardous and it is not uncommon for snow-related accidents to stop traffic for hours at a time. Warm Cloths, Sleeping Bags, and of course tire chains, along with snacks are always good to take along even through you are only a short distance from Los Angeles!
High-speed "express" boats from both San Pedro and Long Beach can access Catalina Island. The trip takes only an hour or so, and lots of boats make the trip on weekends, so there are a number of choices as to when you can leave or return. The boats travel to both Avalon (the larger community) and Twin Harbors. I would recommend Twin Harbors, as it is much more "country", and you will be able to get to beautiful snorkeling much more quickly. There are snack shops at Twin Harbors where you can get some food it you need to, and roadways, which travel across the Isthmus to Catalina Harbor, toward the West End of the Island, and back toward Avalon. You will be able to swim among the kelp beds within 30 minutes walk of the dock at Twin Harbors. The Kelp Beds are in places only a couple feet off the rocks, and the water of the "mainland side" of Catalina is spectacularly clear for Southern California. It is not uncommon for visibility to be greater than 30 feet. Campgrounds exist in the area, but you will need to make reservations. A one-day trip is certainly not out of the questions, leaving early in the a.m. and returning later that evening certainly puts in a full day! And...fares to Catalina are about $30 for a round trip ticket!
"Amateur Astronomers" (I say this because many are highly professional scientists...with astronomy as their hobby") have two areas here in Southern California where they meet together in these nights of stargazing. During the warmer months a favorite location is on the parking lot at the top of Mt. Pinos. You can reach this area by exiting I -5 at Frazier Park, and travel west about 20 miles following the signs as you bear left at the intersections. There are several National Forest Service campgrounds on the way up to the parking lot, and almost always there are campsite available, even if you arrive in the evening. During the winter months, there is excellent cross-country skiing on trails, which leave the same parking lot where the star parties are located in the summer and fall. During these colder months, the star parties are moved to Red Canyon State Park. This park is located along HW 14 on the Upper Mojave Desert, and besides the star parties, it has some spectacular rack formations and other desert features.
The High Sierras
The Sierra Nevada Mountains are some of the most spectacular anywhere in the world, and some of the most spectacular parts of this range can be accessed within six hours drive from Los Angeles.
Of course there are the well-known National Parks in the Sierras (Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon National Parks) which are generally accessed from the west on roads which junction with HW 99. Even closer to Los Angeles than these parks, and almost as spectacular, are the camping and snow play areas in the Sequoia National Forest located only a couple of hours drive out of Bakersfield.
The portion of the Sierra's which is visited much less, and I feel even more spectacular, are those areas accessed from HW 395. This roadway travels along the Owens Valley, which is east of the Sierra Nevada's. Bishop is a town, which can be used as a shopping center, and has all the services, which a family might need. The Lake Sabrina and South Lake areas can be accessed directly out of Bishop, and can be reached in six hours drive from Los Angeles!
From Independence northward, the spectacular Sierra Nevada's will be above you to your west! And look for the volcanoes in the area! There are some spectacular cinder cones which people seem to have a hard time "seeing"...even though the HW 395 has to take a bend around them!
Further up the hill from Bishop you will enter the Long Valley Caldera! Mammoth Lakes is located here, as are a number of interesting volcanic features which have been showing signs of activity since 1980. A rash of earthquakes since July, 1997 has increased the prospects of something interesting happening here...and the "Hot Springs" in the areas are certainly getting hot! Besides the Mono Craters, Mono Lake, and other well know features in the area, be sure to also visit "Obsidian Dome". This cliff of volcanic glass is located a couple of miles west of HW 395, accessible on a dirt road which can be traveled during the warmer summer months.
There are several areas here in Southern California where fossils can be easily found. One of the nearest is off "Old Topanga Canyon" Road. Traveling up Topanga Canyon from HW 1, turn left onto Old Topanga Canyon. Another couple of miles up Old Topanga Canyon will bring you to the top of the mountain ridge. There are some road cuts here which cut directly into fossil beds. Check the rocky chunks, which have eroded from these deposits and are located near the roadway. Notice! Great care must be taken in cutting away soils from this deposit...the high cliff overhead can give way while people are digging in the area, and rocks can fall and injure people who are careless.