I was 8 the first time my dad and I hiked Placerita Canyon. It had rested there a few hundred million years, but, as a park, Placerita was just two years old then.
I’d like to think we all have our special places. My dad, Walt Cieplik, loved Placerita. We were hiking one day when he made me promise. He wanted his ashes to rest on The Waterfall Trail. You never want to hear that from a loved one. It vaults you to a future reality where that someone who so — is — won’t be.
I visit Dad from time to time in Placerita. I’m not supposed to. The difference between now and 60 years ago is people. The wrong people. There’s a great zen quote: “An idiot can throw a rock into a pond that 12 wise men cannot retrieve.” I’m Old School. I say make sure the rock is heavy and make sure the idiot is tied to it when you throw it in the pond.
I love Placerita Canyon.
It was in the 1970s and I was working at The Signal’s 6th Street headquarters. The ladies in the front office started screaming:
“IT’S — — — — SNOWING!!!”
Yup. Truly was.
I kickstarted my big motorcycle and raced straight for Placerita Canyon. This might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, hiking through the park in a blizzard.
Well. We’re Newhall. When it comes to blizzards, we have lower standards than most.
Middle of the day, sun shining here, black clouds there, all by my lonesome, I followed the creek upstream, a steady, light flurry of snow hitting my cheeks and outstretched palms. I walked with my hands out, trying to catch the flakes, smiling, so perfectly alone but not lonely.
I’ve hiked Placerita at night, under a full moon. I’ve hiked it pitch black — you’d be amazed how much light stars provide. How many hundreds of miles have I logged as a young man in race horse shape, lightly bouncing from log to boulder? Sometimes, with a good pair of old tennies, I’d just splash directly in the middle of the creek. How’s that for a definition of Heaven? Jogging on gold dust?
Every birthday, until he was 85, my father hiked the Los Pinetos Trail, straight darn up, straight darn down, not for sissies, complete with Beware Of Bears signs at the higher elevations.
Placerita Park has changed since I was a boy. It hasn’t changed at all. In this political climate, I’ll probably get slammed with some felonies and assigned a special prosecutor, but I recently walked past the Damn You To Perdition If You Cross These Do Not Trespass signs. The creek was running at a good clip, rolling dirt, minerals and forest debris toward the Pacific 70 miles away.
I still get a kick out of reading the tracks. Deer. Dog. Coyote. Velociraptor (or maybe a crow?) Raccoon. Fellow trespassers. No sign of mountain lion. Eeesh. That’s something to get your heart rate racing — the damp, fresh spore of a full-grown cougar. The last few years, my reaction to Placerita is twofold. Here is my familiar beauty, a safe friend who holds my soul. Here is the overreach of well-meaning bureaucracy, littering the pristine, intent on making Your Placerita Nature Center Experience anal retentive and regulated.
I can’t blame park officials. It’s nothing less than tragic how our parks are overrun with imbeciles and barbarians. I’ll never forget a park director telling me about a wedding reception where the bride’s and groom’s families broke into cabinets, pulled out five coffee pots and cooked chili in them. They trashed the facilities, leaving, of course, fossilized chili in the coffee makers.
Let me go on record as saying I favor A Prolonged & Painful Death Penalty for people, Democrat-Socialist or Republican, who leave dried, caked-on chili in a coffee pot that doesn’t belong to them. Ditto for buttheads who trash campgrounds, carve their initials into picnic benches or trees or leave a diaper, cigarette or grandparent on a trail.
It pains me so to say this. But there’s something wrong now with my treks to Placerita. Part of it is the overabundance of messaging. Every 13 feet it seems there’s an information post or arrow pointing out: “THIS IS DIRT” or “DON’T TOUCH THIS.” I swear in a few years bureaucrats are going to post the Motor Vehicle Code every eight feet. God save us from Boy Scouts and their addiction to creating eyesore concrete amphitheaters that would make Ansel Adams spin in his grave. Horrifically ugly fencing, orange cones and police tape litter the park. They do nothing to keep anyone out. It’s ugly. It’s a soul-wrenching combination of an outdoor garbage dump for unwanted county roadcrew supplies and tacky advertising.
I don’t go to Placerita for messaging. Or green nagging. I go to feel the canyon breeze, the changing shadows, the babbling brook, the song of birds, the memory of youth and the face of my father.
Placerita is just a small wilderness.
Let it be that.
Stop trying to Disney-fy Nature.
And arm the docents with high-powered scoped rifles to shoot the barbarians.
John Boston is a local writer.