Why I won’t be having a trashy Christmas

A small gnome figurine with a red cap and white beard sits near the opening to a cave.
Talk about a secret Santa! This one is hiding in a Griffith Park cave.
(Joan Schipper @cashiostreet)

Instead of a holiday gift list, I have a holiday thank-you list to show gratitude for the gifts I’ve received all year long. I want to thank every person in 2021 who gave me the gift of clean trails and urban walkways so I could have a better outdoors experience. I’m guessing you have benefited from their good deeds too.

Let’s start with the Echo Park Trash Club, which Erin Fein started by inviting neighbors to a cleanup on the Nextdoor app. It’s a pretty simple model if you want to start your own cleanup crew. “We were limited in the amount of trash we could pick up, because I was putting it all in my car and moving it back to my apartment dumpster,” Fein told the Washington Post. Now, the city provides pickup. Thanks also to the Silverlake Trash Bandits, who gather stuff the rest of us leave behind; climate activist Edgar McGregor, whom I wrote about in March for his dogged work of cleaning up Eaton Canyon in Pasadena; and organizers at the Sierra Club’s Angeles Chapter who took me on a cleanup to a place I had never visited: South Los Angeles Wetlands Park. There are many other organizations and clubs that host beach, river, trail and other cleanups, and I send my thanks.

In 2022, I want to do a better job of not being part of the problem. (You can join me.) In April, I wrote about the overwhelming volume of garbage left in the Angeles National Forest. Forest officials always ask visitors to “pack out” their trash, but some of us aren’t getting the message. It means taking your food wrappers and waste, water bottles and whatever else back home and disposing of them in your own garbage or recycling bin. Which brings me to a cave in Griffith Park (see photo above). A friend collecting trash along the trail found a surprise inside a hollow in the cave: Santa. She left him there for others to discover. I’m hoping whoever spread this holiday cheer will return later to remove Santa. Happy holidays to all!


4 things to do this week

Dozens of people in red suits and white beards wave while standing on a snowy slope.
Santas hit the slopes at Mountain High ski resort near Wrightwood to raise $21,800 for an organization called Christmas Cheer All Year, which helps underserved youth.
(Mountain High)

1. Finally, ski resorts from SoCal to Lake Tahoe have opened. Here’s what to expect. The first big storm of the season brought enough snow to warrant a trip to the slopes, and there’s more snow to come. As of Monday, Big Bear Mountain Resort (Bear Mountain and Snow Summit) in Big Bear Lake reported a base of 25 to 38 inches, and Mountain High near Wrightwood reported a top depth of 18 inches. So what’s new at resorts this year? You can hop on a free trolley from Big Bear Lake to the ski resort, and Snow Valley Mountain Resort in Running Springs expanded its snow play area and added a 100-foot moving surface lift in the resort’s Children’s Learning Center. Learn more about what’s new and how to hit the slopes safely. Also, make sure you check on coronavirus restrictions before you head to your favorite resort.

An aerial view of a stretch of empty sand and surf.
Seaside Reef at Cardiff State Beach in Encinitas.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

2. Get a jump on 2022 hiking with these free guided First Day Hikes. Forget planning for New Year’s Eve and make it all about New Year’s Day. First Day Hikes on Jan. 1 are happening at state parks throughout California and around the country. They’re a great way to start a new activity (beginners are welcome) and/or learn about a new place. Bring layered clothing, as well as snacks and water in your backpack, and wear sturdy shoes. Here are four to try at state parks. (See the full list of free hikes at California State Parks here.)

— Panorama Overlook Trail in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, north San Diego and Riverside counties. The two-mile hike climbs about 200 feet uphill to take in scenic views of the Borrego Valley and Fonts Point. Good for children 7 and older, with an adult. Parking costs $9 to $10. 2-4:30 p.m.

— Beach walk at Cardiff State Beach, Encinitas. Sign up for a 45-minute brisk walk that leaves from Lifeguard Tower #11 and continues to Cardiff Reef and ends at tide pools. Children are welcome with an adult. 11 a.m.


— Upper Aliso Canyon hike in Chino Hills State Park, Chino Hills. Spend your first day of the new year on an easy-to-moderate canyon hike that may be a good place to look for early shoots of wildflowers. Meet at the Rolling M Ranch Campground; children are welcome with an adult. 9 a.m.

— Trails in Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park, west of Chatsworth. Four hikes are offered, from “slow and gentle” to difficult, and distances range from a mile and a half to three miles. Meet at Andora Avenue in Chatsworth; children are welcome with an adult. 11 a.m.

A man leans on a rock formation in a desert.
Justin Rimon from “Just Trek Podcast.”
(Just Trek)

3. While trapped inside by bad weather (or even if you’re not), listen to my chat about the outdoors on “Just Trek Podcast.” File this under “trail-loving love fest.” Justin Rimon of “Just Trek Podcast” and I could not stop talking about our shared passion for hiking in Southern California. The latest episode of the podcast touched on a wide range of topics, including poop bags (for humans, not dogs), Mt. Baldy as a virtual Mt. Everest, where to get your leg stitched up in Malibu and our favorite places to go. Listen here and here.

An illustration of a backpack with a mask and gloves hanging out.
(Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times)

4. Drop off used sleeping bags or blankets to donate to homeless people. Before you think about all the cool new gear you’ll get for Christmas, think about donating your old stuff to homeless people who struggle to stay warm during winter on the streets. L.A. Sanitation & Environment is collecting new and lightly used blankets, sleeping bags and socks that have been cleaned and/or laundered. You may drop off donations from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. through the end of the year at eight of the bureau’s sites in Sun Valley, Northridge, San Pedro and other sites in the city of L.A. Addresses of drop-off locations are here.


Wild things

A footballfish washed up in Encinitas.
(Ben Frable / Scripps Institution of Oceanography)

The Pacific footballfish looks like something “The Nightmare Before Christmas” creator Tim Burton dreamed up. The black round fish with a spiky-toothed lower jaw washed up at Swami’s Beach in Encinitas. It’s only the 31st specimen collected worldwide. Yep, these fish are beyond rare. However, three of these deep-sea dwellers have turned up in the past year. “It is very strange, and it’s the talk of the town among us California ichthyologists,” or zoologists who study fish, Bill Ludt, assistant curator of ichthyology at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum, told The Times. Read more about the fish that have scientists talking.

A multitude of birds are seen covering a rocky area.
Thousands of birds live on the Farallon Islands, 30 miles off San Francisco.
(Josh Edelson / For The Times)

Mice may not be stirring in the famed Christmas poem, but on the wild Farallon Islands — a harsh and remote rocky grouping 30 miles off San Francisco — they are out in force. A 60,000-strong army of nonnative mice has been upending the lives of big birds, specifically ashy storm petrels, on the wildlife refuge that’s off-limits to people. What to do? Rodenticides, poisons that are outlawed in California, appear to be the answer for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The plan to airdrop 2,800 pounds of lethal pellets got a thumbs-up from the California Coastal Commission. Times columnist Steve Lopez wrote about who likes this idea and who hates it — and how the issue isn’t as simple as it seems.

The must-read

A blackened tree lies toppled on the ground.
A dead Joshua tree scorched by the Dome Fire in August 2020.
(Nathan Solis / Los Angeles Times)

Planting Joshua trees is a bit of an act of faith. I say that because the spiky desert plant grows very slowly. To see a seedling grow to 4 feet would take at least two decades. Regardless, volunteers planting Joshua tree seedlings in the Mojave Desert remain undaunted. “Well, I’m a geologist,” Joe Landeros, 28, of Long Beach told The Times. “Geologically speaking, that’s no time at all.” About 1,500 seedlings are being planted in an area where a healthy stand of the shaggy Joshua trees were burned down in the Dome fire in August 2020. There’s no guarantee that all seedlings will thrive. “Even if many survive, they will replace only a fraction of the destroyed trees. But for the volunteers, nurturing new life in the desert is a way for hope to triumph over grief,” Times staff writer Nathan Solis wrote. Read the full story here.


What do you think?

A photo illustration of music speakers and a hiker.
(Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times)

Readers who weighed in on Bluetooth speakers blasting music on the trail: I hear you, loud and clear. The 28 responses in my unscientific survey all indicated a preference for the sounds of nature. Some saw blasting music as a sign of disrespect; others shared their love of the birdsong and peace. This leaves me wondering, who are these people pumping out tunes on the trail? I will have to stop and ask one of them in the future. Until then, thanks to all who responded and stuck up for nature’s quiet side.


Who doesn’t want to squeeze some good news out of this year? The nonprofit news organization Sierra Nevada Ally in Northern California put these 2021 name changes in the win column.

— Palisades Tahoe, the new name for Squaw Valley ski resort, which finally dropped the offensive “squaw” from its name.

— Sue-meg (pronounced “soo-may,” in the Yurok language) State Park became the new name for Patrick’s Point State Park, which reflected the name of a settler who killed Native Americans.

— Part of Highway 120 near the eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park was named Chiura Obata Great Nature Memorial Highway, after the California artist and Japanese American leader.


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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