WRSHP the desert


You gotta grant Los Angeles its geographic or climatic diversity.  LA is not unique in this feature–I was surprised and delighted when I first visited Vancouver, for example, to find that one could visit a northern rain forest within a half-hour drive, and the visual contrast of the surrounding mountains and the central sound is appealing.  We have an equally broad range of features here in Los Angeles, though warmer and drier versions of those.  Still, we manage beaches, flatlands, and reasonable mountains, in a moderate radius, and with lots of differences in vegetation (albeit spread over more square miles than most geographically diverse cities)

One hears an insistence, from time to time, that Los Angeles is no desert.  This is true, since that would require less than 10in/year of rainfall, where Los Angeles gets about 15in/year.  Something interesting to me, however, as a relative newcomer is that this precipitation is strongly bimodal with low-rainfall years averaging 7-8in/year.  So we are only a desert in odd years, it appears.

No desert here
No desert here

The parks of LA certainly make for a pleasant arid walk in the summer.  Nice parks they are too.  I frequently walk the Runyon Canyon loop, which has quite a magnificent vista of the city, from Hollywood and Downtown, over to Beverly Hills and the Westside on a clear day.  Last week, however, I took a walk around Will Rogers State Historical Park which is a similar trail, but with a bit more view of the ocean.  One delight of the walk was the rattlesnake that greeted us on the trail, but sadly scampered away before I was able to get my cell phone camera out to take it’s portrait.  Readers will have to get by with a bit of cactus.


7 thoughts on “WRSHP the desert”

  1. “reasonable” mountains?

    the implacable granite of the San Gabriels awaits you. not the Rockies, but they can do some damage (see John McPhee, “Los Angeles Versus the Mountains”)

    southern california nature: beautiful, to be sure, but not so benign. or reasonable. no reason it should be, really.

  2. No, our mountains are “reasonable.” Take it from someone who got in over her head at 10,000 feet in the western Sierras, east of the Central Valley, a few weeks back: THOSE are unreasonable mountains. Our Santa Monicas & San Gabriels, not so much.

  3. By most classification systems (particularly the Modified Köppen classification system generally used by climatologists), the climate in the dry phase of our wet/dry cycle would be regarded as a steppe (Köppen class BSh) rather than a desert (Köppen class BWh) – average precipitation less than the total potential evapotranspiration, but more than half the total. (Deserts have average annual precip less than half the total.)

    That classification would be consistent with the persistence of extensive native grasslands – typical of a steppe climate, but not a desert – even in the driest years.

    (Before it was farmed, the San Fernando Valley was thickly covered with wild oats; and in the late 19th century, before the LA aqueduct was built, it was cultivated as one of the nation’s largest wheat farms without supplemental irrigation.)

    But trying to classify the climate as “a desert in the driest years” (or even a steppe) sort of misses the point, since climate classification is based on long-term averages, not short-term variations.

    LA’s climate type is “Mediterranean” (Köppen class CSa). Many areas with type CSa Mediterranean climates have strongly bimodal precipitation – it’s a common component of the overall pattern.

  4. Really my post was just a few snapshots of a pretty walk. I am glad the bimodal precipitation comment encouraged some comments though. My kudos to lamapnerd as well. I think my brief not also tried to observe something else as well though: along with the bimodal distribution of precipitation, we tend to have more microclimatic variation over a small geographic range than do many other steppes. Turning on the local weather channel shows that just a few miles makes for a pretty huge variation in temperature, rainfall… and consequently, of course, localized vegetation. Again, LA is not unique, but it is more-so than most places.

  5. Calling Southern California a desert is destined to become as rebuttal-inducing as calling Silver Lake the “eastside.” And rightly so.

    As for those who classify our mountains as “reasonable” because they don’t aspire to five-digit elevations, I’d invite ascents of either the 10,064′ rock named Mt. San Antonio (Mt. Baldy) in the San Gabriels or the 11,490′ San Gorgonio in the San Bernardino range.

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