Battling heavy traffic and exhaust fumes, more than 25,000 sun revelers flocked to Castaic Lake Monday for an end-of-summer-vacation fling and to seek relief from the heat that bore down on the San Fernando Valley area throughout Labor Day weekend.
By 11:30 a.m., all parking spaces at the 12,000-acre county park were taken. By 2 p.m., families laden with rafts and inner tubes, suntan oil and coolers were forced to park five cars deep on dusty access roads leading to Los Angeles County’s largest reservoir.
“Oh, no, it’s going to be another hot one,” county Parks and Recreation Lt. John Brooks said, surveying the onslaught of bathing suit-clad visitors making their way to the 29 miles of shoreline.
“When it gets hot like this, and the beer starts flowing, then we expect a couple of fights,” Brooks said. “Nothing we can’t handle.”
Brooks, who oversees a staff of 10 patrol officers at the lake, has had his share of unusual occurrences at Castaic in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Two years ago, a water-skiing elephant was brought to the lake to film a commercial for suntan oil. Last year, two huge rubber dinosaurs battled each other in a Walt Disney film and, in 1976, the lake was dotted with dozens of mock Japanese ships to simulate a World War II war scene for the filming of the movie “Midway.”
On Monday, however, most of the commotion came from the hordes of people looking for shade.
“We get people all the time who pass out from sunstroke,” Patrolman Allen Lawrence said as he steered his four-wheel-drive vehicle along the narrow paths that wind through the beach area.
The aroma of steamed tortillas and mesquite-broiled hot dogs, the rhythm of mariachi music and Bruce Springsteen, the activity of Latino children playing hide-and-go-seek and old Chinese woman playing mah-jongg, all merged into a cross-cultural fest.
While zigzagging along the beach area, Lawrence, 49, heard a screeching alert on his two-way radio: A lost girl was crying. The girl was promptly picked up and taken to park patrol headquarters.
Another bulletin squawked through the radio: Three young men were seen smoking what smelled like marijuana behind the bathroom near guard station three. Lawrence grabbed the patrol car’s steering wheel and headed fast for the area, spinning his tires in the dust of the narrow dirt road.
But by the time he arrived, the offenders had gone, the smell of marijuana still redolent in the still summer air.
For the lifeguards cruising in county power boats, the main duty is warning boaters not to cross over into areas reserved for power skis--motorized single-ski contraptions that make a whirling sound as they go by.
“A lot of people think we sit out here all day long like sun gods,” said bare-chested Jamie Shields, 26, as he pulled the throttle of the yellow-and-white patrol boat off to warn another boater against crossing into a restricted area.
By the end of the day, lifeguards Shields and his partner Brian Roney, along with patrol officer Lawrence, packed up their belongings. The loud music was heard no longer, the lost children had been found, the picnic food consumed.
A stray towel, cold powdery coals, chicken bones and empty plastic bottles of suntan lotion littered the beach. Labor Day weekend was over.