Santa Monica Mountains . . . by the book

A story of the 46-mile-long range that traverses Los Angeles, California
Jim McCausland

For all the people, pavement, and pressure that define life in Los Angeles, there is an equal share of solitude, unspoiled beauty, and relief in and around the city. It's the Santa Monica Mountain range — a lovely swatch of topography that can save your sanity. You just need to know it personally, and The Santa Monica Mountains: Range on the Edge by Matt Jaffe and Tom Gamache (Angel City Press, Los Angeles, 2007; $40) was written to make the introduction.

Complex geology has set the stage here. Gamache illustrates it with gallery-quality photographs, and Jaffe populates it with the people, civilizations, animals, and subcultures that make it so endlessly fascinating and beautiful.

   
 
One-way hikes made easy
L.A.'s front porch
Fabulous finds in Culver City
Architectural diversity
 
   
Read the book and you'll probably get the sense that these mountains are bigger and deeper than you'd ever dreamed: bigger in the potential for days-long hikes, meandering drives, and weeks of exploration; and deeper in history, culture, politics, and natural science. If the Laurel Canyon music scene was wild in the 1960's and 70's, consider earlier fights here between grizzlies and men, the constant threat (and promise) of wildfires, and more recent battles to develop the land.

So far, about 70,0000 acres have been preserved. Jaffe takes you through the territory within that landscape (and equally compelling areas outside it) in a way that makes its beaches, meadows, ridges, and sycamore-shaded creeks feel very familiar, like a place you suddenly recognize as home.

This is a range on the edge indeed: of the Pacific, of Los Angeles, and of issues and desires that shape society. But it's a range that welcomes you in — and this book is your invitation.

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