Cars Allowed on Griffith Park Road for Feasibility Study

For the first time in 20 years, the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks' opened 1.1 miles of Mount Hollywood Drive in Griffith Park to passenger vehicles on March 20 to accommodate the park's growing number of visitors.

To increase traffic flow and improve safety conditions, cars are now only allowed to park on one side of Western Canyon. The overflow has to go somewhere and for the next three weeks, it will be along Mount Hollywood Drive, which will be open to motorized traffic until April 12.

The trial period is scheduled to run both during Spring Break and the Easter weekend holiday which is when the park typically sees its heaviest use. However, the Greek Theatre's 2015 season begins April 24, and is likely to compound the traffic problem, which has now impacted nearly every area of Griffith Park.

The good news is that tourism in Los Angeles is up, and Griffith Park -- the nation's largest city park with urban wilderness -- is more popular than ever. Locals, Southern California daytrippers, and tourists are flocking there in record numbers.

The bad news is that all this popularity is causing massive traffic jams on surrounding streets, clogging up Griffith Park's roadways and parking areas, and choking its visitors with the fumes from thousands of idling cars waiting for a spot. According to the park's traffic counters, 6500 vehicles entered the park on a Saturday alone -- just through Vermont Canyon Drive.

Yosemite's Glacier Point Road Open Early This Year

In a lot of ways, March feels like the longest month. The cold of winter has mellowed out and is in the rear view, but spring hasn't completely taken over the landscape yet. It's 31 days of aching anticipation, and we try our best to pass the time. If you're a baseball fan, this means checking in with your favorite team's spring training news, crossing your fingers that none of your favorite players get hurt. If you're a fan of the outdoors, this means checking in with the Yosemite National Park website, crossing your fingers that the park roads will open up earlier than usual this year.

See, some roads at Yosemite (including Glacier Point Road and Tioga Road) are shut down for the winter, closing off some access to the park. The roads usually close in mid-November, only opening back up when the snow melts enough for the plows to get through, generally sometime in May. Well, Yosemite fans, I've got some news for you: Glacier Point Road is currently open.

The park allowed cars back on the road on Saturday, March 29th, making it the earliest road opening since 1995. Visitors are still urged to practice caution while driving as wildlife may be present. Meanwhile Tioga Road, which runs east and west through most of the park, remains closed for now, with no official estimates for when it will re-open. Stay tuned to the website for more details. You can also call (209) 372-0200 for up-to-date road and weather information.

Celebrate Earth Day By Cleaning Up a State Park

On Saturday, April 18th, the California State Parks Foundation, in conjunction with Pacific Gas & Electric, holds their 17th annual "Earth Day Restoration and Clean-Up Day." This year, 27 different State Parks will participate in the program, with each of the areas receiving a small bit of polishing and slight makeover by gracious volunteers.

In the L.A. area alone, there are five parks in need of volunteers. They are (1) Malibu Creek State Park, (2) Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, (3) Crystal Cove State Park, (4) Chino Hills State Park, and (5) San Onofre State Beach.

Each park has their own check-list of what they hope to accomplish that day, depending on the number of volunteers they get at each location. (Chino Hills, for instance, is in need of some new cable fencing, as well as a better delineated trail, while San Onofre needs more native plants and outdoors speakers and lights.)

For those who use the parks throughout the year, this is a perfect chance to give back some of your time and make the parks more enjoyable for future treks through nature. It's also not a bad excuse to head up or down the coast and clean up a park as part of a weekend road trip, as participating locations stretch as far north as the Oregon border, and as south as San Diego.

For more information, head on over to the CalParks website, where you can sign up to volunteer.

New Trail Opens in Sonoma County's Jack London State Historic Park

Jack London State Historic Park in Sonoma County is simultaneously a tribute to the author of "White Fang" and "The Call of the Wild" and a preserve dedicated to the natural surroundings he adored. The park's 1,400 acres include a museum dedicated to London's writing career and life as an adventurer (with occasional piano performances by the staff), the ruins of the Wolf House (a 26-room mansion that tragically burned down shortly before London was set to move in), and over 20 miles of hiking trails.

On March 14th, the park held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of the East Slope Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail. The 13-mile round-trip hike will be open to hikers, bikers, and horseback riders, and will offer "sweeping panoramas from the top of Sonoma Mountain, finding different views than ever seen before."

To celebrate the trail's opening, the park is offering two guided hikes. The first, on March 28th from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m., will be led by naturalist John Lynch. The second, on May 2nd, will be led by former board member of the Valley of the Moon Historical Society Dave Chalk. Both are free. However, visitors will need to pay the entry fee for the park, which is $10 per vehicle, or $5 per walk-/bicycle-in.

If you can't make it to either hike, the park also has a wide variety of events occurring throughout the year, including their famed outdoor concert series.

Best Picnic Spots in Southern California

We love to be outside any chance we get. The beauty of living in Southern California is that you get chances to be outside A LOT. The cities sprawl far and wide, but there are gems sprinkled within them. You don't always have to wait for a well planned weekend to get out there and enjoy the abundant sunshine, and you don't need to travel far. An evening picnic is the perfect excuse to get out with your family or friends. Meet in the middle, share your favorite picnic recipes, start a fresh new soul nourishing routine. Here are some spectacular places to begin:

Wildflowers bloom in the springtime throughout Southern California. The exact peak dates for each location are mainly based on the elevation. One of our favorite locations is Anza Borrego State Park. It peaks fairly early, usually starting in February, which gives you a dose of excitement for what's to come for the rest of the season. Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley National Park can both be incredible later in the season, towards the end of March and April. Around this time period, you can also plan a picnic at the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve. Endless fields blanketed in bright orange and yellow poppies are a satisfying background for a family picnic. Check out Desert USA Wildflower Reports to find your closest blooms and when they're expected to peak.

Hollywood Forever Cemetery
The Hollywood Forever Cemetery is one of the most iconic locations in the Los Angeles area. Many stars of the cinema are buried in this lovely location. You can stop by for a picnic on the grass anytime during the year, but summertime is an essential time to check it out. Movies are played outdoors on the lawn, which is a perfect activity to accompany a picnic. Bring your most adorable picnic basket, a good blanket and some candles, and impress your (many) fellow picnickers with your creative recipes. If you ride your bicycle in, you'll usually get priority standings in the entrance line, even if you haven't purchased a ticket on a sold out night.

Vote for Your Favorite National Monument

Giant Sequoia National Monument / Photo:42dreams/Flickr/Creative Commons License

If you were like most people and didn't vote in March, now's the time to make up for it.

USA Today is taking readers' votes for best national monument. National monuments are named by the president and are protected much like national parks; however, unlike national parks, the designations can go beyond wilderness areas. California is represented twice with Giant Sequoia National Monument and Muir Woods National Monument both nominated in the category, along with 18 other monuments from across the country.

Giant Sequoia National Monument is located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The giant sequoia is the world's largest tree, growing at more than 250 feet high on average.

Muir Woods / Photo:strolling_jim/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Muir Woods located in Marin Country was named a national monument in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt. It's one of the last remaining redwood and sequoia forests that were at one time plentiful throughout the U.S.

The fact that California has the tallest and one of the oldest trees should be a source of pride for all of us, so go vote for our national monuments! Though, to be fair, the other nominees outside of our great state are pretty darn impressive too.

You can vote here until March 30 at noon ET.

Let us know which monument you vote for in the comments section!

Sing Sea Chanteys In San Francisco

For some silly reason, on September 19th of each year, we celebrate International Talk Like A Pirate Day. This is where people in offices say things like "arrr," "ahoy," "matey," and perhaps even "wenches" in the more lax environments. It is a garbage holiday, not least of which is due to it being horribly inaccurate.

While pirates didn't go around saying things like "shiver me timbers," they did sing a whole bunch of songs called sea chanteys. Part of this was to lift their spirits, but part of it was also to help them with their duties aboard ships:

During the golden age of chanteying, 1840-1860, the work songs of sailors were used aboard ship to help coordinate shipboard jobs. Jobs such as hauling on lines to raise sails, turning the capstan (an iron winch) to weigh (raise) anchor and manning the ship's pumps required sailors to work together in rhythm.

The songs were performed in a call-and-response way, with a lead singer or, chantey-man, singing long verses telling the song's tale, and the crowd joining in for the chorus. If you find yourself in San Francisco on the first Saturday of every month, you can join in the chorus too. If you're brave, you can even lead one of your own.

The National Park Service holds a public Chantey Sing on an old historic ship (the specific ship changes throughout the year) at the Maritime National Historic Park on Hyde Street Pier. The sing-a-long goes from 8 p.m. to midnight and is free. Make sure to bring a mug for complimentary apple cider. Speaking from experience, it is simply one heck of a fun, weird time. Just make sure to make a reservation, as the event does book up.

Where Southern California Wildflowers Are Blooming

As we've mentioned before, this spring is set to be an extraordinary one when it comes to Southern California's bountiful wildflower blooms. And according to the wildflower hotline at the Theodore Payne Foundation, it looks like that massive bloom is already here. Here's a quick rundown of where to see this year's batch of wildflowers:

Santa Monica Mountains

According to the Payne Foundation, this is the "go to place for a while." Chocolate lilies are all over, while gooseberry, ground-pink, common goldfield, red skinned onion, purple owl's clover, wild hyacinth, and a whole bunch of other species are blooming all along the Pentachaeta Trail in Triunfo Canyon Park.

Paddling Along the Rivers of Mendocino County

I arrived in Mendocino an hour before sunset, the last light of day touching the faces of the picturesque Victorian homes and store fronts, spilling across the Mendocino Headlands to cast a contented glow on the faces of the dog walkers, joggers, and hand-holding lovers crunching along the winding paths.

I have made a life of watching the sun sink into the sea, and so, eventually, I followed a path to the edge of the cliffs. The sea blew ragged, but the mouth of the Big River was a deep blue calm.

Directly below me, five twenty-somethings stood on the dark rocks as the ocean sighed and moved just off their feet. The three men were fishing. The girls watched the sunset. None of them seemed the least bit concerned with the oncoming darkness. All wore thick flannels and wool caps in deference to the ever cooling wind.

A man stepped up beside me.

Eschewing a greeting, he grumbled, "Stupid kids. How are they going to find their way back in the dark?"

I try to give my fellow man the benefit of the doubt, but it is also true I have small tolerance for the grumpy and the judgmental. I had already seen the well-stocked contents of the red and white cooler tucked up against the cliff, and a full moon was already in the sky. It seemed to me a fine way to spend the night.

I smiled at the man.

"I wouldn't mind being down there with them," I said.

He grimaced at me as if he might give me a push so I could join them.

"Well then, you're out of your mind too," he said.

I nodded agreeably. It was a possibility.

"Maybe gravity got the best of them," I said.


Mendocino is not without its New Agers, old hippies, and displaced Rastafarians. There is often a sweet smell in the air. It was not hard to see what my companion was thinking.

"I was walking the streets before I came down here," I said.

He harrumphed.

"You are crazy," he said, leaving before I had the chance to tell him what I had discovered.

As the light left the sky, I looked down a last time at the gathering below me. One of the fishermen had put down a pole and taken up a young girl's hand. Moonlight winked on the water.

How can you not like Mendocino, where all the streets tilt to the sea?

That night I ate Brazilian fish stew at the Mendocino Café, where they pride themselves on "serving international cuisine composed of organic ingredients healthy for the planet and our customers." Not that this distinguished the cafe from most of the other local businesses. The stew was piping hot and delicious, a coconut broth liberally endowed with rock shrimp, mussels, clams, calamari and fish. It made me think of my friends at the ocean's edge, and when I walked back out on to the headland after dinner, I didn't even need to walk to the cliff's edge. I could hear their laughter, coming up over the cliffs and running through the moonlight.

Video Captures Majesty, Mystery of Joshua Tree

If you've ever had the pleasure of driving through Joshua Tree National Park, then you know how there's just something different about that area of the world. The edges are a little crisper, the sunsets a little sharper, and the stars seems just a tad closer. It's not surprising, then, that the park has been used in a whole bunch of films.

Its latest starring role, though, isn't for Hollywood. It's for an independent project called More Than Just Parks, which is attempting to bring awareness to America's National Parks by filming short gorgeous-looking videos of all 59 of them. (They've got a ways to go: besides Joshua Tree, they've filmed Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Olympic National Park, and... that's it.)

The project is the work of filmmaking brothers Will and Jim Pattiz, who spent nearly a month exploring Joshua Tree National Park with their video camera:

We chose Joshua Tree because of its unique landscape. Its immense boulder piles, colorful cactus fields, endless desert expanses, and one-of-a-kind Joshua trees make for a spectacular setting.

Here, then, is what they came away with:

If you're interested in helping to fund the project, visit the website for more information.

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