Griffith Park: Fern Dell

In this second installment of our series on Griffith Park, which began here, we look at Fern Dell, which is another one of the Park's oldest attractions.  From the Observatory, Fern Dell can be reached by a downhill hike of approximately 1.3 miles, which, in most cases, will be followed by a much more difficult uphill return.  It's probably a pleasant enough walk, but we used the car that day in the interest of time. 

The higher area of the Dell is a nicely wooded refuge from the city.  And, we might add, even from the Park itself, much of which isn't landscaped and reflects Southern California's semiarid climate.  Woods and groves are an important asset to a large metropolitan park, and all too often these things are missing from other parks around the city, partly due to the need of open space for games.

Picnic area, upper Fern Dell

The trees in this area are deciduous trees typically found in the area, including sycamores and oaks.   Redwoods and other non-native plants have also been brought in.


Being occasional viewers of the Ghosthunters franchise on the SyFy network, we initially thought we might have discovered an entity or spirit of some kind, hovering in these redwood trees:

Sun shining through redwoods

We went behind the trees to investigate, and to take some live action AV material, but as luck would have it, our equipment malfunctioned, as so often happens.  Besides, the entity seemed to recede at the exact same pace with which we approached it.  Ultimately, having just come from Griffith Observatory, we soon suspected that we were looking at something known as the "sun".  There was really no doubt, since we knew that it was daytime, and according to our ephemeris, the sun was supposed to be out, somewhere above the horizon.

Fern Dell used to have an artificial stream running through it, fed by runoff from Griffith Observatory's cooling system.   Unfortunately, when the Observatory was renovated and expanded a few years back, this water source was eliminated, and the Fern Dell stream is now dry.   However, the existence of a spring in the immediate area has been known since 1929, when it was rumored to be a fountain of youth.  This does sound bogus, we must admit, but not altogether surprising given the time and place.  This was the era of the first flush Hollywood celebrities, of early Pentecostals and other evangelists.  It was the end of a decade during which the population of the Los Angeles had increased twenty-fold.  Most of that increase was from new arrivals from other states and countries, most of whom hoped to re-invent themselves--or at least their lives.   A definite contributing factor was an influx of young men and women hoping for a career in motion pictures.   We shouldn't be surprised if a continual stream of visitors showed up  at this alleged Fountain of Youth, armed with bottles and jugs in which to carry some of the magic water home.  

Presumably in response to traffic concerns, at first  the city capped the spring,  but this caused unwanted seepage in neighboring houses and streets.  In the end, they  simply routed the water instead to spigots in the Fern Dell ranger's house, which has been lost to the passage of time.

It's too bad we no longer have the sound of a running brook here.  Still, as we saw at Franklin Canyon,  sheltered canyons in this area do support a greater variety of trees and plants than you find on the hilltops.   Chapparal scrub and stunted live oaks give way to tall sycamores, oaks, and spruce where the surrounding hills reduce the exposure to sunlight and help the plants to retain what moisture they can get.  There's usually more groundwater in these canyons, where springs are relatively common.

The lower end of the canyon features more definitely exotic plants, especially for Southern California.   Although this fine cycad looks like a palm tree of some kind, is actually a holdover from a much more primitive era of plant life.

Cycad plant at Fern Dell
While it is a seed bearer, it first evolved hundreds of millions of years before flowering plants like the true palms.  Incidentally, only one kind of palm, the Desert Fan, is native to Southern California, the rest being imports.

As we might expect, there are also actual ferns.

Lower Fern Dell
Here we also find elephant's-ear, banana, and hibiscus among other non-native plants.  Although they come from areas with warmer climates, they do well given plenty of shade and water, and are often seen in people's front gardens around town.  In fact, banana plants can be made to produce fruit here, contrary to common belief.  

Along the main road in this area is Trails Lodge, where they pour a decent cup of coffee.

Trails Lodge
When we went, it looked as if  something odd had  been happening to the birds which roost around here.

Or maybe they just hadn't taken down the Halloween decorations yet.

What do you know, there seems to be another apparition. Behind the man in a short-sleeved shirt, walking out of the picture to the right, a shadowy form seems to hover, as if just on the point of rising from the table.  Was that there when we took the picture?   I don't remember.

Leaving Fern Dell, we encounter a statue of a small bear where Fern Dell Drive meets Los Feliz Boulevard.

As the plaque informs us, it is a Cold War monument, presented to the people of Los Angeles by the people of West Berlin.  Berlin and Los Angeles are sister cities, a relationship which, at the time, was presumably recognized only by West Berliners.  A bear standing in this posture is the main design of Berlin's coat of arms, and is an example "canting" arms, since the German word for 'bear'--Behr--is pronounced very much like the first syllable of 'Berlin'.

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