Elephant Hill – Visited

I recall not too long ago there was a victory in the true struggle to keep Elephant Hill, in El Sereno, an open and green space; but it was not until a few days ago that I ventured into those very hills. Having been a resident of El Sereno off-and-on since ’94 it was about time. As a city-dweller I have often pontificated on the necessity of such spaces but like a city-dweller I did not necessarily visit them. Here is a photo diary of my hike through Elephant Hill (warning: this post is PHOTO-HEAVY).

The entrance to Elephant Hill is not but a few blocks from where I live. A GoogleMaps search actually calls the trails on the hill streets, though you’ll soon see that there are not more than sun-baked mud trails. Here is the street leading up, on a bright Spring day:

Probably one of the biggest reasons why most of us do not venture into the open spaces around us is shown here in its sidewalk death: TELEVISION

Just 10 years ago such a television would have been a prized item, but here it is set off like an ugly sweater you never wore. Such is consumer society.

The entrance to the Elephant Hill was guarded by a white cat, that probably went there to hunt lizards, birds, and whatever other little wild life we have yet. A book I read recently by J. Franzen (“Freedom“) made much ado about how outdoor domesticated cats are a scourge on the wild bird population.

Just before this unbecoming trail head there was a house with a barrier of beautiful succulents. I only assume they are a barrier due to the fact that in this part of Los Angeles wildfires are not so much an affliction upon life as much as they are a part of it: just something else to ready yourself against.

It’s pretty obvious that the city, or whomever “manages” this space probably makes use of tractors in the following photos:

The following photo does not give justice to just how steep this hill is. The incline is easily over 45°, and the fact that it is not a well-pacted trail made it difficult to scale. Loose clumps of dirt and rock made it difficult footing:

Here is a snail that since a kid in Lincoln Heights I have noticed only keeps to the hills. I rarely, if ever find these snails in the valleys around the North Eastside. The large white stripes on their shell give themselves away:

A book I recently read about “Great Historical Events” of Southern California mentions that Ladybugs, not native to North America, were actually brought over from Australia in 1892 to help with the scale insect problem affecting the orange industry. Here’s one of the relatives from that importation:

As you would have already noticed there is a deluge of yellow flowers on these hills, which on a trip to Santa Barbara, were made known to me as Yellow Mustard. The wide-windowed cars on the Amtrak were accompanied by the narration of a volunteer-runned operation describing the wildlands about. Though they are not native to North America, but to the land around the Mediterranean Sea, they are nonetheless a frequent hallmark of Spring in Los Angeles.

And here’s a beautiful look back down the trail with Mustard on both sides:

And here’s a view looking onto South Pasadena & beyond:

Wall of Mustard:

Another one of those gorgeous snail shells:

And here’s a majestic view of Mt. Wilson Mt. San Antonio which still bears snow:

Once I got over Elephant Hill, facing west the view gave view to this:

As you see in the previous photo, the trail moves to the South and it is here where I discovered something strange: scattered longs nails & screws. Either they were somehow accidentally dropped or were put there to discourage off-road driving, I cannot be sure, but there sure were A LOT of them:

Most of the “wildlife” I came across were snails, ladybugs, or bees whose buzzing would almost deafen the city life below. But here I did capture one of the few spider webs I came across:

And with this next photo I caught one of the top predators of the hills of the North Eastside (besides the coyotes), mainly the Red-Tailed Hawk. It was difficult to capture as it swooped overhead, but I did get one half-decent photo. It even has a beer named after it:

Amongst the wildflowers I did see, I only caught a few of the State’s official flower: the California Poppy. Here was one of the three I saw:

And here’s a view to the South-West with an appearance by the iconic Downtown LA skyline: Another gorgeous view atop Elephant Hill:

And with that I bid this photo diary adios and heartily recommend you go and wander amongst those hills around you. Yes, much of our open spaces have been decimated of their original wild-&-plant life, but there is something to be gained which cannot be enumerated by dollar-signs. There once, after all, roamed grizzly bears in our midst.


I returned with my special lady friend to the hills earlier today and it was quite a different scene. The incessant buzzing of bees was gone, probably because the flowers were closing up for the evening. I also spotted quite a few Pinacate Beetles, known also as the ‘stink beetle.’ Here’s one:

I also saw an armored beetle which I did not get a photo of, but here’s a photo of one:

We also spotted quite a few rabbits. It was hard to count them because they kept criss-crossing the trail and reappearing. We also did see the oddest looking squirrel: looked like a mix of rat and squirrel.

And finally we saw this odd contraption, rusting atop the hill. Anyone have any idea as to what it may be?


13 thoughts on “Elephant Hill – Visited

  1. This is awesome and I will definitely check this out this summer. I’m always on the lookout for free things to do in the city. Anyway, from what streets do you suggest I enter?

  2. @ElChavo: yeah I saw no one. The only people I even saw were on some inhabited hill where workers were working on a patio outside though I couldn’t hear their machinery. The peace was only broken by helicopters and planes overhead. I know that Debbs Park is much more popular, probably because it is deemed a park.

    @soledadenmasa: I’ve only entered from the one entrance I took photos of here, which is Lathrop Street. Zoom into this map and see how Lathrop seems to end heading West and it is there where the trail/hill begins.

    View Larger Map

  3. Great post and nice pics. Been wanting to check out that area for a while. One of my students once showed me an article from a moto-cross magazine that high-lighted Elephant Hill as an “back in the day” (early – mid 1970’s) mx spot. That mx history may be the reason for the nails. Really cool one-page article with a picture of the mx trails- I wish I had a copy. I’m sure some folks on this blog remember those days!

    BTW, that’s Mt. San Antonio, aka Old Baldy. Definetly no snow left on Mt. Wilson these days!

    Thanks for the pics and report.

  4. @Mr. Pelon, you’re right about that mountain being St. Antonio. I realized it going around town that the peak I photographed could not be Mt. Wilson at all: it’s too far to the East. Thanks for the correction.

  5. This is a great collection of photos of the hills in the community. I am very familiar with this area of town and have been up in those hills since the 1980’s. Most recently I have been using it as a relay location to contact Emergency Responders by radio every Monday Night. It make for a great spot, relationg to communications. It also make for a great spot for observations, if you can think of it as an area to gain advantage when hunting. The reason why I mention this, is because in the story id indicates that Bears once roamed these lands, and it’s true. Same with the Sabor Toothed Cat when the Natives roamed these lands half dressed and barefoot before 1769.
    The TONGVA INDIANS occupied all the lands in the current Los Angeles basin and this area of the Villages was called OTSUNGNA. The idea of keeping open space is acceptable, and retaining the land as natural as possible, retains it for the next 1000 years. I am not so sure about this area being in El Sereno, because maps have shown that it is absolutely not within that community. I wanted to find out where the communities boundaries were located and the facts have shown otherwise. So, back to OTSUNGNA, you probably want to know what that has to do with it. Well, the english translation is “Place of Roses”, what a beautiful name for this beautiful community.

    Rose Hills Review,
    Anthony Manzano

  6. Did you know you can eat the mustard? The stems are not too tough when it’s young (or just cut off the younger stalks), and tastes like a sweet broccoli. The flowers taste like mustard, the powdered kind. You can eat it raw when it’s tender, and you can cook it down like broccoli. It’s kind of similar to Chinese broccoli or rapini, actually.

    So, you can help the environment by harvesting wild mustard, and maybe sprinkling some native plant seeds. Cal poppy is easy – and it has this interesting property of establishing a thick root that will actually out-compete weeds over the years. It’s a fascinating and beautiful plant, and my favorite flower.

  7. Easiest way to enter the hill is on Cudahy St. @ Locke St. There is a short paved road that leads you up to the start of the trail. I live right next to one of the entrances and have been seeing a lot more people utilizing the hill / trail lately. Some joggers, some walking their dogs, some to toss back a few or smokeout and some like me just to get a little exercise and enjoy the 360 degree views.

  8. @Anthony, thanks for the kind words in regards to my photos and for the history of the area. I’m not sure whether El Sereno ends where Elephant Hills begins, but it seems that the area all around is El Sereno.
    @Alienation: Do you have to cook the wild mustard stems? Or can you eat them raw in a salad with the flowers?

  9. When you speak of ‘Elephant Hills’, which is shown in the photos, it is a location. When you speak of El Sereno, that is actually a community and also a location. I have studied the history of this entire area for close to 6 years, (from Downtown to San Gabriel Misson) including maps, college reports, court documents, archives, library facts and internet research all provinding a basis for my position. Many people area unaware of where each of the communities is located. I say each, because I am am on the Neighborhood Council and I KNOW where each community is located.
    El Sereno was established on June 10, 1915 and the whole area from the L.A. River to San Gabriel Mission was called ‘Rancho Rosa de Castilla’ which at one time included all of Lincoln Heights, Monticito Heights, City Terrace, Rose Hills, Alhambra, Monterey Park, Monterey Hills, Hermon, University Hills, Hillside Village, and parts of South Pasadena, and San Gabriel. Check out the archives and note that this whole are was all Rancho Rosa de Castilla ~~~~~~~~~~> or now days “Rose Hills”. There is so much history about here relating to Rose Hills beyond any other community going back 1000 years, so I do know the truth and the truth will come out pretty soon. If you give me your e-mail, I will send you over some amazing archived facts and then it can be noted that this is not in El Sereno.

    Rose Hills Review,
    Anthony Manzano

  10. I love the pictures. Last winter I went wandering around the area (mostly by accident) and loved it. The only downside was the low-lying swampy areas that made some paths a bit mucky/impassable. But I’m guessing that’s a seasonal thing.

    I did find that it’s surprisingly easy to get “lost” in such a small outdoor space. I guess I’ve been living in metro areas too long. It’s sad that such “wild” spaces are so rare in LA County nowadays.

  11. Back when we were in our early twenties, my husband and I rode our motorcycles out at Elephant hill and made it to the top of the largest hill. It took starting at a long distance with our bikes at full throttle (I have no idea how fast we were going), but, hitting the base of the hill in 4th gear at top speed and down shifting as we made the climb. The first time I didn’t make it to the top, just short about 15 feet and wheelied the bike around to land sideways and dug in. Damn, looking down I had no idea what I had just tried to tackle – it’s a long way down :). Anyway, on the 2nd try I truly had my bike, a 350cc Honda CL with high sidepipes truly ‘all out’ on the throttle and hit that mountain full on and made it over the top with nothing left to give (I was in first gear as I went over). I turned my head to the left and there was my mate coming over the top with me. What a thrill to climbed that huge hill – one of the best moments in my entire life that I’ll never forget. If anyone else has climbed elephant hill with a motorcycle, please write me on facebook https://www.facebook.com/linda.sturgeon.14 as I’d love to talk to folks who have been up this mammoth hill.

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