Those Angels

(Our trailer parked near another one in Malibu–the Velamints Road Show trailer. In case you’re wondering what the Velamints road show is, it seems to consist of several young European guys who sleep late and then scream at a soccer game loudly while eating breakfast.)

The day after Sea World, we packed up and left for Los Angeles. The plan was to visit Hollywood and the La Brea tar pits for novel research purposes. I normally try to write made up locations or locations I’m familiar with to avoid just this sort of inconvenience, but for the current work in progress, I had no choice but to set part of it in LA.

The drive from Ramona to LA was only 2.5 hours, but it took us all. frigging. day. to get there. The traffic was obscene. I had identified a campground in Malibu with vacancies, so we made our way through LA to Malibu, and went to the location provided by the GPS. It wasn’t there. We found a park, but no campground, nearby.

Perplexed, we turned to our Rand McNally atlas. How could we lose a whole state campground. I observed on the map that the little campground symbol was near another road, called Coral Canyon Road. Could that be where the park entrance was located? It was already about 6 PM, and we were tired and wanting to set up camp. We headed for Coral Canyon Road and started up it.

And I mean up. It quickly became apparent that this was a really steep climb straight up into the mountains. And there was no place to turn around! We white-knuckled it up this curvy, twisty, scary road, looking for a place to escape, and finding nothing. We passed some houses perched on the mountain–no doubt unspeakably expensive–but did not want to use people’s driveways, and even if we did, it would involve three-point turns, and we really try to avoid backing up the trailer. (It can go horribly wrong, and when you have no room for error, that’s a very bad thing.)

We resigned ourselves to following the road to its end. The view was breathtaking, but we were all too nervous to enjoy it. We got to the end of the road, and at first it looked like a simple dirt track with no place to turn around. We were finished! We would have to abandon our trailer there on top of the mountain. Woe!

Fortunately, a little reconnaissance revealed that there was a parking lot. The area was a popular scenic view point and trail head. We chatted a bit with the people there, and then we turned around and headed down the mountain.

Here were were not out of trouble yet. In worse, in fact. Even making liberal use of the trailer brakes and lower gears, we heated up the car brakes quite a lot. The brakes became “squishy” and the smell of burning brakes filled the car. We got to the bottom and went to a roadside RV park that we’d identified and got a spot there.

Again, getting into the spot called for skilled trailer backing. Brent, who had just driven up Coral Canyon Road, was having a terrible time. Our neighbors in the next spot over cheerfully offered to help. They were German, and were touring the coast in a rented motor home. The man hopped into our Suburban and backed the trailer into the narrow spot in one try. It was very impressive!

The next day, we had a leisurely breakfast and enjoyed a commanding view of the ocean from our parking spot. When everyone was ready, we headed out for the tar pits. Because the temperature was a civilized 70 degrees, we had no worries of leaving the dogs locked in the trailer.

The tar pits were fantastic. It smelled like hot asphalt and there was tar bubbling and oozing everwhere. The park had tried to fence off the active pits, but it was clear they were playing a game of whack-a-mole with the tar, which had new pits forming in many open areas. We toured the excavations. Some key scenes from my book happen here, and I was happy to be able to see the layout of the place.

It was also amazing to see in person the world’s richest source of pleistocene fossils. Almost everything we know about the living world from 40,000 years or so ago comes from those tar pits. The museum was impressive, as well, and mercifully small. They have enough fossils to fill a hundred museums of the same size, but I appreciated that they kept it simple. (That was probably through budget limitations more than anything.)

After the tar pits, we ate at a burger place called The Counter. It was amusing that the waitress, who looked like she’d never eaten a hamburger in her life, had only the vaguest idea that the tar pits were there. “I think I can see them from here,” she said. In fact, they were directly across the street. She sees them every day she comes to work.

After the tar pits, we took a driving tour of Hollywood and the area around it. We hit all of the high points, literally, and again I got valuable on-the-ground data for my book. Then we went back to camp for the night.

The evenings activity was more hanging out with friends, taking us an oddly midwestern bar in Burbank, and then an oddly cinematic bar in North Hollywood. And by cinematic, I don’t mean it was full of movie memorabilia, but it seemed like a set from a movie–realer than real–and was populated by larger-than-life characters. More than that, I cannot say, because I promised the evening would not be “on Facebook.”

When we got back to camp, we were relieved that there had been no strange occurrences and no repeat of the “Woobly woobly” incident.


(La Brea Tar Pits. These tarped cubes are chunks of stuff pulled out of a parking lot excavation. They are waiting for scientists to have some time to take them apart.)