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Monday, April 29, 2013

Hike: Griffith Park, Old Zoo

I'm a big theme park fan.  Aside from Disneyland/Disney World (which I consider in a category entirely separate from the rest of the theme parks of the world) I pretty much love all theme parks, from the small park on the lake near my hometown where I rode my first rollercoaster, to Six Flags Magic Mountain (Tatsu, anyone?) right down to your run of the mill zoos and aquariums.  As much as I love theme parks, though, the idea of being in one when its closed, or worse, with the lights shut off, totally creeps me out.  It really gives me the wiggins.  I also love theme park history (especially anything Disney related) and really enjoy reading about old rides that don't exist or have changed over the years.  So, as you can imagine, I find abandoned theme parks to be fascinating and yet totally eerie and frightening all at the same time.  And yet, I have a morbid curiosity for them.  I spent a good 2 hours watching Adam the Woo explore abandoned theme parks around the country, including Disney's very own River Country (which I highly recommend watching, if you're into that kind of thing) which can almost be considered abandoned by Disney (even though the lights are still on!)


Because of this weird fascination I have with these sorts of things, I've always wanted to hike through Griffith Park to find the Old LA Zoo.  For those of you who have never been to Los Angeles, Griffith Park is a crowning glory in this city, which includes a whopping 53 miles of trails to hike and explore.  It's massive - it has an outdoor ampitheater, the famous observatory (where "Rebel Without a Cause" was filmed) and the Los Angeles Zoo (amongst many other attractions) and it would probably be a challenge to see and do all of the things it offers in the span of a day.  So, that being said, when you choose to "hike Griffith Park" you sort of need to choose where you're hiking, and that is usually flanked by some sort of landmark, like "oh, I'm going to hike to the Hollywood sign today!"  When we decided this weekend we wanted to hike around Griffith Park, I leapt at the chance to finally check out the Old LA Zoo.

The Old LA Zoo was built in the early 1900's and pretty much abandoned in the 60's when the new zoo (still standing) was built and all the animals were relocated.  I actually didn't do a lot of research on this before we went, but basically, the story goes like this: the zoo had a rocky start, and never quite got its footing.  There were issues with the zoo sewage draining into the local water supply (gross, right?) and during WWI, there was a meat shortage, and the animals suffered and some died.  It sounds like Los Angelenos were pretty much ready to give up on it.  Then, in the 30s, the Workers Progress Administration breathed new life into the zoo, but by the 50s, the city was talking about relocating.  So they did, and left the old zoo behind.  And its still there.  (Well, sort of.)

It's a little hard to find, but its not entirely difficult.  The Old Zoo is located near where the Merry-Go-Round (which is not abandoned and actually quite popular) stands, just above some shaded picnic areas.  You begin by walking up a paved pathway to a large grassy field, and off to your left, you see caves.  They are far too uniform to be real, so you know you've stumbled upon the beginning (or middle? or end?) of the zoo, where they probably housed the big cats or elephants or something large.

The caution tape is marking off a crime scene.  JUST KIDDING - there was a youth group camping out in the area.
The first set of caves has a set of picnic tables set in it, in case you want to eat your lunch and pretend you're a cooped up, caged in creature just waiting to be freed.  If that's your thing.
You continue around the path and you'll come across a long line of cages raised above the ground, and then further on, you'll come across a long line of larger cages.  Here is the part where I got totally creeped out.  There is a sign on the top of one of the cages describing the history of the zoo, and how amazing it is that these cages have managed to withstand the test of time, and oh, what advancements we've made when it comes to designing a zoo.  I agree that our society has made some serious advancements - these cages are SMALL - but that doesn't not eliminate the creepy feeling you get walking by them.  Some of the gates are open and you can waltz right in (again, if that's your thing) and some are chained and padlocked shut (which makes you wonder if someone forgot an animal or two?) and all of them are stacked tightly together, side by side.  They also still smell like... animal.
 Something tried to get in... or out.

You don't fool me, City of Los Angeles.
 As my wise friend Dave pointed out, the only thing acceptable in cages like this would be Sawyer and Kate from LOST.

After you pass the row of cages, the paved portion of the path continues winding towards the right, or a beaten, dirt path heads off in the other direction, past what looked like a man made dam and set of waterfalls, no longer running.  We followed the paved path, as I was determined to find the rest of this zoo, and came across a foundation for something large (that no longer exists) but nothing else.  In re-reading the hike synopsis I had found, I now realize we should have kept going on the paved path, and most likely would have seen other abandoned buildings and/or cages, but at this point, we wanted to get a real hike in, and I was starting to get the heebie-jeebies.  So, instead of sticking to the path, we climbed another, narrower, probably-not-a-real-trail pathway, until we hit a dead end close to the top of the hill.  Had we not taken this path, however, we would have missed this:

 (p.s. - see that trail to the left? That's the trail we SHOULD have taken.  Next time.)

Despite the fact that we didn't see all of the Old Zoo, it was still a great hike, and one we will definitely explore again.  If you're feeling like I totally gipped you, you can read this brief LAist article which includes far more pictures with lots of filters to ramp up the creepy factor.  If you're in LA, I highly recommend you check it out yourself.  I can't find the original hike description I used, but this one in Modern Hiker is much easier to understand and is the hike we were trying to do.

Happy trails! 


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