Why climb Mt. Wilson? For sundaes and stars

A photo of Mt. Wilson Observatory.
Mt. Wilson Observatory is open again.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times; illustration by Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times )
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By Mary Forgione

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A tired tease that hikers repeat on tough, steep routes goes somewhat like this: “There are cold drinks at the top, right?” or “Save me a seat at the restaurant.” It pays off at the seasonal Cosmic Cafe atop Mt. Wilson. It’s back after COVID-19 closures and last year’s Bobcat wildfire, which almost destroyed Mt. Wilson Observatory and its grounds. The cafe will be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, starting this weekend.


The outdoor snack stand with picnic tables and views of the San Gabriel Valley is a treat for those who hike the 7 miles up from Sierra Madre (yes, you can drive to the top too). In past years, I’ve flung my backpack on a table and headed to the window to order a fresh hummus and avocado sandwich on whole wheat or a French roll. It usually beat whatever I carried in my pack. On cold, even snowy fall days, I thrilled to find hot, steaming vegetarian chili or lentil soup on the menu. At times, hot chocolate and coffee fixings were left (pay on the honor system) for hikers and visitors who needed warming up. And did I mention the occasional ice cream sundae?

More good news: The observatory reopened Tuesday for anyone who wants to visit. The grounds are accessible daily from 10 a.m. to sunset, with free parking. You can make reservations for guided tours and selected dates for night stargazing at the 60- and 100-inch telescopes at the observatory’s website. In September, firefighters battled flames for weeks to spare the historic observatory.

4 things to do this week

People look at Anacapa Island from Inspiration Point.
The best view on Anacapa Island, part of Channel Islands National Park, may be from Inspiration Point.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

1. Plan a Father’s Day hike to one of these Inspiration Points. The thing that bugs me about places named Inspiration Point is that they may set you up for disappointment. What if you don’t find them all that inspirational? I visited five in Southern California, which may be good places to take hiking dads on Sunday. The longest hike by far is to historic Inspiration Point past Echo Mountain above Altadena; it’s a 10- to 12-mile round-trip hike through pretty front-range landscape. Need something shorter? The little hike from King Gillette Ranch in Calabasas offers wide-angle views of the Santa Monica Mountains, with plenty of time for brunch or dinner afterward. Read about more Inspiration Points here.

Pictogram of a person in a hot spring with fog arising.
(Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times)

2. Take a “sound bath” under the stars. Glen Ivy Hot Springs, an hour southeast of downtown L.A., shifts from a day spa to an evening spa on weekends through Sept. 26. One of the p.m. offerings: sound baths or guided meditation sessions accompanied by gongs, singing bowls, percussion instruments, chimes, rattles and other items. Join sessions on the Secret Garden deck from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Tickets cost $180 for two and include a three-course dinner, access to pools and entertainment. Check out the calendar of events to plan your kick-back evening.

Pictogram of a sunny pool setting.
(Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times)

3. Cool down as L.A. reopens many public pools. COVID-19 pretty much shut swimming at public pools last summer. Now, a number of L.A. pools are open in time for adults and kids seeking a reprieve from the soaring heat, which is expected to send some Valley temperatures into triple digits. The newish Hey Rookie Pool (3601 S. Gaffey St., San Pedro; more info), which overlooks the L.A. Harbor, is open 2 to 6 p.m. Mondays to Fridays and 1 to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through June 20. After that, hours extend until 7 p.m. weekdays. The Hansen Dam Aquatic Center (11798 Foothill Blvd., Lake View Terrace, more info) is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through Sept. 2. Entry is $1 to $4. Find more L.A. summer pool openings and hours.

Photo illustration of Juneteenth celebrations.
There are many Juneteenth celebrations in L.A. underway this year. Enjoy!
(Micah Fluellen / Los Angele Times)

4. Lots of outdoors events around L.A. planned for Juneteenth. Juneteenth has particular resonance this year because of the continuing national conversation about racial injustice. The pandemic curtailed last summer’s celebrations, but L.A. springs back with 25 events to commemorate June 19, 1865, when enslaved people in Texas finally learned they had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation more than two years earlier. Check out the Freedom Hike at Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area at 9:30 a.m. Saturday and other events.

Wild things

Photos of Michael Packard, left, and a humpback well mid-dive.
Lobster diver Michael Packard said he thought he was going to die after being swallowed by a humpback whale (though not the one pictured).
(Associated Press)

No one has a fishing tale quite like Michael Packard’s. While diving for lobster off Provincetown, Mass., the 56-year-old apparently was swallowed whole by a humpback whale. Unheard of, yes. Unbelievable, not quite. “I was completely inside; it was completely black,” Packard told the Cape Cod Times. “I thought to myself, ‘There’s no way I’m getting out of here. I’m done, I’m dead.’ ” (Packard talks about what happened in this Twitter post.)


Here’s what scientists think happened: The whale was feeding — hoovering up seawater and food that is filtered by its baleen plates — when the lobster diver got sucked up by accident. Humpbacks don’t eat humans, so the whale did what anyone would do with something distasteful in its mouth: Spat him out. Packard, who suffered bruises but no broken bones, estimates he was inside the whale about 30 to 40 seconds, according to his social media post to thank local rescuers. And yes, as soon as he heals, he plans to resume diving.

The tail of a blue whale sticking out of the ocean.
A blue whale tail off Southern California.
(@NewportWhales; Erica Page)

Speaking of whales, blue whales are back in Southern California. Two of the largest animals in existence (yep, bigger than dinosaurs) were sighted Monday off Newport Beach.

Jessica Roame, education programs manager at Newport Landing Whale Watching, writes in an email: “When conditions are right, and the krill is abundant off our coast, the blue whales will arrive each summer. These two blue whales were seen on two consistent whale watching trips in the late afternoon [June 14], separated from each other by about one mile.” Check out video of the massive creatures here.

By the way, whale watching tours are offered year-round. Check out schedules and ticket prices in Newport Beach and at these locations.

The must-read

A photo illustration of Eagle Rock Brewery's Local Source beer, made with woolly bluecurls, California laurel and black sage
A woolly bluecurls toast to all!
(Martina Ibáñez-Baldor / Los Angeles Times; Ariette Armella/Eagle Rock Brewery; Getty Images )

Wait, you can make beer from native plants? This Los Angeles Times story toasts the collaboration between the Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley and Eagle Rock Brewery. The brews were rolled out at a recent Pollination Party to teach folks about building native habitats in Southern California. But back to the beer. Its base is black sage (Salvia mellifera) with California laurel (Umbellularia californica) and a wildflower that appears to be as tasty as it is pretty.

“Surprisingly, though, the flavor that really shines in this 5.2% helles-style lager is woolly bluecurls (Trichostema lanatum), a showy member of the mint family with rosemary-type leaves and staff-like blooms that look like clusters of tight purple curls,” according to the story.“The aroma is both earthy and fruit-punch sweet ... but paired with the laurel and black sage, it provided a faint but refreshingly fruity aftertaste.”

The beer, called Local Source, is available at Eagle Rock Brewery, 3056 Roswell St., Los Angeles (four-packs of 16-ounce cans are $14.20), and at independent liquor stores in Southern California that specialize in craft beer. Read the full story here.

Cool stuff

Merrell collaborative designs by artist Latasha Dunston are out this week.
(Latasha Dunston)

If you want your outdoor clothes to reflect your values, you’re in luck. June is the ideal month to celebrate gay pride, Juneteenth and nature. There are plenty of cool collaborations — good for the city and the trails — that add an inclusive and decidedly outdoor vibe to boots, tops, hats and other gear. For example, Merrell just dropped a line created by artist Latasha Dunston that’s “meant to inspire more diversity and representation in the great outdoors,” a company statement said. Parks Project, which donates a portion of sales to national parks, partnered with Vans on shoes and a long-sleeved T that says, “Leave It Better Than You Found It.” Vans also has a cool slip-on for its 2021 Pride Month collection.

The red flag

Illustration of a big horn sheep
(Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times)

If you are braving extreme heat in Joshua Tree National Park, know that the popular 49 Palms Hiking Trail is closed to encourage bighorn sheep to find standing water. “The park is under extreme drought conditions and herds in the area are increasingly reliant on the oasis to survive the hot summer months,” a park statement says. The closure will last through what’s called the summer monsoon season in hopes that more water will be available to the sheep. The national park also warns visitors about which hikes to avoid during triple-digit summer heat.



Still from the History channel's "Alone" trailer.
“Alone” is back with Season 8.
(History Channel)

The eighth season of the History TV series “Alone” is back in case you’ve forgotten what true isolation means. Forget pandemic-closure deprivations and TP shortages; these 10 people are alone and facing death. To recap, the TV show takes willing subjects into remote outdoor locations where they are left to fend for themselves. The eighth season was shot on Canada’s Chilko Lake in British Columbia, known as “one of the densest grizzly bear populations on earth.” See where this is going? It’s all about tenacity, survival and maybe $500,000 if you’re last person standing. It’s worth binge-watching earlier seasons to see how real this series is. Then tune in at 9:30 p.m. Thursdays to see the latest. More info here.

An illustration of a flower surrounded by scorched wood.
(Ross May / Los Angeles Times; Getty Images; Apple)

Battling the big heat in your garden? Southern California’s wilting temperatures don’t mean your garden will die. You can save everything from tomatoes to roses. An easy one: Don’t water in the sun. “As tempting as it sounds, don’t hose down your plants in the middle of the day; those water droplets turn into mini magnifying glasses on the leaves and intensify the heat.”

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Click to view the web version of this newsletter and share it with others, and sign up to have it sent weekly to your inbox. 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