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trail’s end


Los Angeles is a city of light and noise. When the morning fog lifts, the sun breaks free to glance off towers of glass and steel. Later there will be an interlude of supersaturated orange-gold, soon replaced by a surreal violet dusk that no other place can claim. This illuminated city pulses with its own language, communicated in bleat- ing horns and cumbia rhythms, helicopter blades and police sirens, barking dogs and crowing roosters. There are other sounds, too: the sweet trill of springtime songbirds, the low rush of the Los Angeles River after a heavy rainfall, the echo of coyote yips multiplied between canyon walls. These are also part of our language, a reminder that even here, amidst this tamed territory, the wild survives. You’ll find it at Griffith Park—named for Griffith J. Griffith, a mining tycoon who gifted just over 3,000 acres (and later, a sizable trust) to the city of Los Angeles. He said that he wanted to create “a place of recreation and rest for the masses, a resort for the rank and file, for the plain people”: in short, an urban paradise for us regular folks.

For the millions who call Los Angeles home, finding a space of one’s own is a necessity. In a city constantly clamoring for development, many of us find that sanctuary in Griffith Park. Its chaparral-clad slopes, craggy cliffs, and deep canyons offer not only entertainment (a golf course, tennis court, live con- certs!), but also respite and renewal.

That’s especially true in the earliest hours of the day. Just-

awakened Angelenos spend their mornings scattered around the park, kicking up dust on hikes or trail runs, practicing tai chi on tufts of dewy grass, or paying witness to the sunrise from a vantage point at the Griffith Observatory. My ritual is different. I slip into the park from a sleepy resi- dential street, gooseflesh raised on my arms by the predawn chill. I make my way up the shaded canyon; parts of the city are simultaneously unveiled and made distant as I rise above the houses and cars and the people inside both. This part of the park is quiet and uncrowded, and I’m often left alone to


indulge in my imagination, where the roar of traffic on the interstate below becomes a river straining against its banks, the water crashing against boulders and logs. As I walk, animals dart across the trail in the waning blue light. The cottontails are out, scurrying beneath fallen branches when startled by my footfalls. Farther up, a cluster of trees offers a perch for passing birds—less troubled by my presence, but just as fascinating to observe. I love to listen as they chat with one another, privileged to hear their secret language, their chirps and chortles a performance piece with only me in the audience. Sometimes it’s deer I encounter, heads lowered to nibble at damp grass against an incongruous backdrop of skyscrapers. Just as skittish as the rabbits, they disappear into the chapar- ral as soon as they hear me. The coyotes are much braver, jogging alongside me in a predawn camaraderie. Eventually I arrive at Beacon Hill, a small lump on the park’s eastern edge that overlooks a wide swath of Los Angeles to the north, east, and south. I can see the concrete funnel of the Los Angeles River, but also the sharp pitch of the Verdugo and San Gabriel mountains, often in silhouette, their edges smoothed by morning haze. Here, I watch the sun rise. Like the city, I, too, am reborn. In this quiet part of Griffith Park, at this early hour, I am almost always alone. But sometimes I encounter other people in the midst of their own morning rituals. When we lock eyes, there is a brief, shared moment of understanding: a quick nod, maybe a muted “hello.” Then we disengage, off to enjoy our shared sanctuary in our own way, emerging into the possibilities of the day, centering ourselves in this city of light and noise.

shawnté salabert is a los angeles–based writer who’s as much at

home in the mountains as in the city. her guidebook, hiking the pacific crest trail: southern california, is due out this year.

darcy kiefel

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