Often I find myself needing to Escape LA for some solitude, even for a day to recharge my soul and come back ‘filled up’ to deal with the beautiful hectic LA hustle. This recent spring day trip from Los Angeles included my fascination with a recent Instagram account I discovered called Animal Tracks, and the realization I could go hiking afterwards nearby, even with a baboon.
After a 45 minute to an hour drive north from West Hollywood just north of the Angeles National Forest, I landed off a remote dirt road feeling like I was now in the desert, to make it just in time for a pre-arranged two hour tour of the exotic animal sanctuary. For $25 and my signature on a Release of Liability form I was whisked into the closeness of nature’s strange and bizarre rescued creatures. When was the last time you had an up close exotic animal encounter?
Most animals are rescued from the black market or are used on movie sets. Our tour guide Christina supplied a wealth of information about each animal. The mission of Animal Tracks is to provide a home for animals that cannot be returned to their natural habitat. I was having flashbacks of my time in Vietnam in 1994 and Thailand in 2012 where many wild animals are corralled in make-shift zoos for people to see for a $1, although the treatment of the animals is not the same.
Somewhere in Acton, California, I met a small group in the driveway of a home attached to the wildlife rescue facility. We learned about various creepy arachnids, a massive colorful glistening frog from South America, and three different sized turtles, one in which apparently didn’t have a normal shell due to lack of food and water. I never knew you shouldn’t pick up a turtle because what you think is pee coming out of them is really their stored water supply, and you have created a slow death for the turtle. They shouldn’t even be moved off of a road because it messes with their sense of direction apparently too.
I made a slight run for it as the albino burmese python in shades of yellow and white was placed before our small group in the hot driveway. This impressive snake they call The Eriminator or Erma from Burma (until they found out she was a male) is used in many school programs. Christina, the “Animal Wrangler” is one tough chick. Many of the animals she picked up to bring close for our inspection or desire to pet. She grasped a hissing alligator for us to view and even pet, then an armadillo, as well as an opossum. She cradled a baby porcupine for our viewing pleasure too.
Other highlights of this wild time included standing in a cage in a line with others in our group as big white wolves (think Game of Thrones) moved around us while we petted them (or rather stayed still for fear of their wildness coming out when they saw me). We again were told to stand in a quiet line as Monzo, a young serval cat moved up and down our legs choosing one guy’s leather boots to rub up against happily in intoxication, while we all watched in amazement as this once illegally owned exotic pet just seemed like a really big pet cat. He’s even best friends with Smokey, their gray fox.
Various monkeys brought me back to my days in Thailand and Costa Rica as they scurried and flew through the air, not necessarily behaving so nicely to each other. Squirt, the Capuchin monkey is best friends with the famous Crystal from the movie Night at the Museum. I watched them from outside their cage as they showed off their fierce teeth. Petting the resting kangaroos made me smile and think of my dad and I doing the same thing 15 years ago in Australia. Then, one tried to mount another for some afternoon action. We were told many of the animals go on long walks and are given space to run throughout the day.
A baboon ended our exotic animal encounters. After careful instruction that I was half listening to, the baboon sat beside me on the picnic table, and I realized listening is not my strong suit. With advice from my new group members, I followed their directions and groomed him like I was his distance baboon cousin. I was shocked and thrilled to learn you can even rent a baboon or wolf to take on a hike through nearby Vasquez Rocks. Wow!
By the way, bring water. It was scorching hot, and I couldn’t wait to get to the Maria Bonita Mexican restaurant nearby for some liquids. It was in a tiny strip mall, and oh so delicious. Worth the stop for authentic Mexican cuisine!
Vasquez Rocks was a very short drive away in Agua Dulce, and I had almost the whole place to hike myself as I scurried from one path to the next, not knowing where I would end up. I passed a man on horseback in the parking lot, a gorgeous fashion shoot in the desert (so LA) and I met two guys hiking who stopped and chatted with me. Gazing in awe at the landscape set out before me, I scrambled up boulders and gazed at the rugged landscape as far as the eye could see.
Vasquez rocks, literally! 932 acres of spectacular rock formations,Tataviam Indian sites, and a seasonal stream are some of the highlights. In prehistoric times the sandstone rocks were uplifted at a picturesque angle, showing their jagged red features. In 1874 Tiburcio Vasquez, one of California’s most notorious bandits, used these rocks to elude capture by law enforcement. His name has since been associated with this geologic feature. Rumors or legend has it that in 1872 he stole, and later hid, a 500 pound brick of silver, or ingot, into one of the many rock crevices.
Vasquez Rocks is part of the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail that stretches from Mexico to Canada, and is considered to be one of the “notable locations” that it passes through. Also, the park has a long history of key scenes in movie and TV from Star Trek to Little Miss Sunshine to Planet of the Apes. There is board just as you leave that showcases the countless films made in this area.
The temperatures dropped fast and after a couple hours of hiking, I made it back to my car since I was freezing, although happy to escape into the wild terrain for an afternoon. Caution: the dirt lot closes at 5 PM.
Take a walk on the wild side with Animal Tracks and Vasquez Rocks.
All photos courtesy of Melissa Curtin.