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Malibu Creek State Park Los Angeles

11th August 2010

Driving Blind and Discovering a Cold War Missile Control Centre

Panorama of Los Angeles Area from San Vicente with Smog Masking the San Gabriel Mountains      (please use scroll bar)

    After a shower I started to boil water for my usual breakfast, only to find that when it was lukewarm, the propane gas ran out. Lukewarm porridge and coffee, yum!
    That was the strangest of coincidences, since that meal was destined to be the last meal I would cook on this trek anyway. Tonight would be the last night I would be spending inside the van, after that it would be motels and hotels with Dan, and selling the van and contents. I gave what food I had left to a neighbour at the camp, and that was the end of an era, so to speak.
    Today was to be an unplanned chill out day, in other words just a kill time day. Most of the morning was spent on emails, website, backups and burning more photos onto CDs and getting them sent back to the UK.
A Los Angeles Reservoir
    On a whim I headed down the 101 Freeway towards Los Angeles, with the vague intention of turning off to head down into Santa Monica and take in some of the city. Famous last words. America was not overly abundant with useful traffic directions. There was no sign indicating a turn off for Santa Monica. My map was not detailed enough to help. When I started picking up signs to highway 405, a main artery in Los Angeles, I knew I had gone too far, and took the first exit I could. I worked out, by the direction of the sun, roughly where I should be headed to reach the coast, and pointed the van in that direction. Soon I was driving along a very busy thoroughfare, like a continuous town high street, which was deviating from my preferred direction, so I took a turnoff. This lead me through a rather wealthy looking area, with some side roads only being accessible via special gates, some even with manned barriers (I learned later that was Beverly Hills). The road got narrower and gained height, and eventually I got to a point where only fire department vehicles could proceed further. However, folk could still continue the climb on foot, so I did. Higher up the hill I was rewarded with a superb vista looking across Hollywood to the San Gabriel Mountains, which were almost hidden behind a veil of purple/brown smog. To my left, hidden behind hills was Santa Monica, to my right behind hills was downtown Los Angeles, and far behind me over more hills was the ocean.
A Friendly Warning Sign
    I continued up the hill on foot until I reached an open gate which seemed to lead to a watchtower of sorts further up. Signs indicated I was free to enter the San Vicente area, at my own risk. The wired off area, LA96C, had been a military base during the Cold War 1956-1968. During that period it was a heavily secured and harsh military outpost. The place had been surrounded by wilderness. Deer, coyote, bobcats and mountain lions claimed all the territory outside the military fences. Soldiers lived inside this fenced cage while wild animals watched from the outside.
    San Vicente was an ideal site for NIKE missile radar. On a peak 1,950' above sea level, it provided vision in all directions. Soldiers in the LA96C Battery could look southeast to a youthful downtown Los Angeles with few of the tall buildings seen toady. From here it was 15 miles to the centre of downtown, and 10 miles to the coast. The soldiers were on 15 minute alert in case of attack. If an enemy plane had been located by LA96C (Control) located at the site, computers would have activated missiles at the companion site LA96L (Launch) in Sepulveda Basin, 4.5 miles away. There, one of 30 NIKE missiles would have been launched to intercept and destroy the enemy aircraft before it could drop its bombs on Los Angeles.
    In 1962, NIKE officials claimed, "Whatever tomorrow brings ..... NIKE will be watching, always ready". But by the end of the 1960s both the US and the Soviet Union had developed inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles which traveled so fast and high that NIKE missiles were useless for defence.
    I headed back down the mountain to the low lands and tried to pick up a route to the coast, with only street names to guide me. I soon got hopelessly lost. It didn't particularly bother me that I seemed to be driving around in circles; I was in no rush. I eventually picked up the freeway again and made my way to Calabasas, where I enjoyed a pleasant meal. It was only a short drive from there to the campsite, which I made well before the 10pm curfew.
    It could be argued that it was a pointless day, but the drive out and about served its purpose. Tomorrow would be the challenge of driving through Los Angeles proper, and I looked forward to meeting up with Dan in the evening.
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Malibu Creek State Park Los Angeles

Uploaded from Starbucks, Calabasas CA on 12/08/10 at 10:25

Last updated 12.8.2010