An L.A. Metro sign in the desert? 2020 continues

The original metal object (left) and the inspired L.A. parody (right).
The original metal object (left) and the inspired L.A. parody (right).
(Kelsea Dockham / Canyon State Overland; photo collage by @militantangeleno)

By Mary Forgione
Design and illustrations by Micah Fluellen

Sign up here to get The Wild sent weekly to your inbox.

Welcome to The Wild. The mysterious metal object discovered in a remote Utah canyon could just be an L.A. Metro sign, right? That’s how @militantangeleno reimagined it with a photo parody in this Twitter post. Yep, just a stop on the D (formerly Purple) Line at Wilshire/Western. In 80 comments, some people quibbled about the destination (“Why not Vermont/Beverly?”); others welcomed the red-rock express, one writing: “Who needs high speed rail to Vegas when you can take the purple line all the way to Utah?”


The issue is moot now. The shiny metal structure has vanished, days after Utah biologists reported seeing it Nov. 18 south of Moab while counting bighorn sheep from a helicopter. Officials say they had nothing to do with removing it — adding to the mystery. One theory: It could have been a work by sculptor John McCracken, who died in 2011 and once told his son “he would like to leave his artwork in remote places to be discovered later,” according to the New York Times.

By the way, many stories called it a metal monolith, but monoliths by definition are made of stone. Still, the name stuck. Now you know.

4 things to do this week

There are plenty of places in L.A. to cut your own Christmas tree.
(Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times; Getty Images)

1. Cut your own Christmas tree (if you know how). Cutting down your Christmas tree is prohibited at national forests in Southern California, so tree farms are the way to go. These sites usually let you choose and cut your tree. But these are COVID times with social distancing, mask-wearing and other protocols in place. Some have modified their business to “choose the tree, but we’ll cut it for you” policy. Call before you go to make sure. Here are nine places where you can cut your own Christmas tree around L.A. Too overwhelmed to chop your own? There’s always family-run Christmas tree lots that sell freshly cut trees. All you have to do is decorate.

Baby Joshua trees are being grown to replant the burn area at Cima Dome in the Mojave National Preserve.
(National Park Service)

2. Join a volunteer effort to restore Joshua trees to a Mojave Desert landmark. The Cima Dome area of Mojave National Preserve was an impressive volcanic field covered in Joshua trees. Then the Dome fire — sparked by a lightning strike — swept through Aug. 15 and left “a graveyard of Joshua tree skeletons,” burning as many as 1.3 million in the 43,273-acre blaze, the preserve’s Facebook page says.


Now the area, about 250 miles northeast of downtown L.A., is seeking volunteers to help restore the burn area. Hands are needed to replant Joshua trees next year and to collect seeds in spring. Contact the preserve to learn more.

Go with the GLOW at South Coast Botanic Garden.
(Mary Forgione / Los Angeles Times)

3. Take a night walk through GLOW at South Coast Botanic Garden. I got a holiday boost from a visit to the nighttime light installation Garden Lights & Ocean Waters (GLOW). Section by section, lights transform the garden into otherworldly landscapes at this all-outdoors event. In the Banyan Grove Rain Storm, for example, trees turn pink, turquoise, chartreuse and red while blinking white lights imitate rainfall.

My favorite was an undulating river created with waves of blue lights projected onto the path. The centerpiece Rose Garden becomes a dance-party moment where pop-up screens flash images and colors to music by the band Train. Shout-out to show creator California Outdoor Lighting in San Pedro on its first public installation. You must buy tickets in advance for a timed entrance starting at 5:30 p.m.; last entry is 8:30 p.m. Tickets cost $34.95; $24.95 for members; children 4 and younger are free. Read the garden’s COVID protocols and buy tickets here.

Emma Gatewood
(Getty Images; Denver Post)

4. Join a book club discussion of a biography of the first woman to finish the Appalachian Trail. I don’t know much about Emma Gatewood, but I should. A biography by Ben Montgomery shines a light on the life of the woman who became an Appalachian Trail celebrity in the 1950s and ‘60s after completing the trail numerous times — at age 65-plus. “Grandma Gatewood’s Walk” is the book pick for the virtual discussion at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 10 — and it’s free. The conversation will be hosted by Sierra Club’s 20s & 30s section. Check out the details here.


Wild things

Rocky the owl.
(Associated Press)

Consider the recent quandary of a northern saw-whet owl, one of the smallest owls in the U.S., trying to find its way home. The creature was trapped in the limbs of a Norway spruce that was cut down in upstate New York on Nov. 12 and transported 170 miles to be installed as the Christmas tree at Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center.

Four days later, a worker discovered the female owl, which was given the nickname “Rocky” or “Rockefeller,” in the tree. Apparently she hadn’t had anything to eat or drink for four days. Rocky was taken to a wildlife center to bulk up on mice and get healthy. Then she was set free.

This video captures the remarkable moment when rehabilitator Ellen Kalish gives the owl one final caress before raising her arm to release the bird. It takes a few seconds for the owl to wing her way to a nearby pine tree — much to the joy of Kalish and those of us watching. The owl flying freely may be just the thing to watch when we’re feeling a bit trapped at home by the pandemic. Read the full story here.

Cool gear

Onesies and toddler T-shirts from Wolf Mountain.
(Wolf Mountain)

I recently was browsing online for a baby gift with an outdoorsy vibe. Search Etsy for “outdoors” and “baby onesies” and prepare for your brain to melt. “Walk. Crawl. Camp” (or “hike” or “fish” or “hunt”) seemed popular. Several showed some twist on “little adventurer” and “a little dirt never hurt,” with depictions of mountains.


There were plenty of “future hikers” with boot prints on baby’s belly, and “barn hair, don’t care,” presumably for future horseback riders. I thought hard about which one would stand the test of time when that baby’s 40-year-old self looks at their early photos. “Get lost” by Wolf Mountain seemed literal and snarky enough to go the distance. Prices: $16 for the onesie, $20 for a toddler T-shirt.

Need more gift ideas? Check out the L.A. Times holiday gift guide and the 22 best gifts for people who love to be outside.

Send us your thoughts

Share anything that’s on your mind. The Wild is written for you and delivered to your inbox for free. Drop us a line at

Click here to view the web version of this newsletter and share with others. I’m Mary Forgione and I write The Wild. I’ve been exploring trails and open spaces in Southern California for four decades.

Mary Forgione