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From a Cold War Radar Site to a Hiking/Biking Treasure, San Vicente Mountain Park is full of Surprises

Dec 06, 2010 by Lisa Newton

To work off the extra calories I gained over the Thanksgiving Day weekend, last Sunday I decided to work up a sweat at one of Los Angeles’ hidden treasures– San Vicente Mountain Park.

Located just off the 405, on the dirt section of Mulholland Drive, there’s a hiking trail perfect for either walking, as I did, or mountain biking, as I saw several others taking advantage of.

The park’s trail is actually a fire road, and is also dog friendly. But the best part of the park is its location. The 10.2 acre park offers one of the most stunning and spectacular vista vantage points for 360-degree views of Los Angeles County:

From this vantage point, I’m standing about 20 miles from Los Angeles, while you can see from the photograph much more of the horizon from here. Stating the obvious, to fully appreciate San Vicente Mountain Park, you have to be there on a clear day.

Encino Reservoir

Just a slight turn away, here’s the Encino Reservoir, and the rest of the San Fernando Valley.

Delving a bit into Los Angeles’ military history, from 1956-1968, San Vicente Mountain Park aka LA-96, was one of but sixteen Los Angeles area Nike-Ajax supersonic anti-aircraft missile launch sites during the Cold War.

With a total of 40 defensive areas, the NIKE missile sites were typically located in key urban and industrial areas scattered throughout the United States, and was part of the US Army’s first operational anti-aircraft missile system..

As the US – Soviet Cold War escalated, the then Soviets developed airplanes that our radar could not detect. So, In the early 1960s at the San Vicente Mountain Park site, the military built this tower to house advance radar that could help to neutralize the Soviet planes.

During the time that our soldiers were stationed there, their reconnaissance was always on a 15 minute alert, in case of a potential enemy attack.

If the enemy airplane was located by LA96C (Control), where you’re now standing, the computers would have activated missiles at the companion site LA96L (Launch), located in the Sepulveda Basin, 4.5 miles away.

There, one of 30 NIKE missiles had the capability of launching and intercepting incoming hostile enemy aircraft before it could drop any bombs on Los Angeles. For security reasons, the soldiers only knew their own specific routine and duty; and none knew exactly how the NIKE system worked.

Obviously, this all took place in a different time and era, but it’s amazing just how close we were always seemingly on the brink of a nuclear war with the U.S.S.R.

Today, there are several signs like the one above, that provide additional stories about what went on during that epoch. Nowadays, the San Vicente Mountain Park provides an excellent place for a day get-a-way, and to exercise either by walking or biking.

A reminder, this park in only accessible via the dirt section of Mulholland Drive, so be prepared in case of rain or mudslides–but in that case, the road will most likely be closed.

Parking is available within a hundred yards of the road, which changes from tar to dirt. The day I was there Mulholland Drive was closed to motor traffic, but it extends all the way to Santa Monica.

In the map above, the Water and Power Pole Road, is the hiking and biking trail and for people to occasionally “get away from it all,” if not for a short while.

Another attractive feature of the park is that cars are not allowed.

For the adventurous, these trails lead to the Marvin Braude Mulholland Gateway Park, and also to the Westridge-Canyonback Wilderness Park as well, if you really want to do some serious hiking. .

When you’re in the mood for either a short hike, or to appreciate the panoramic views of LA, or both, be sure to visit the San Vicente Mountain Park, as it’s not only easily accessible and part of our city’s lore, but in the end, its a great place in the city to enjoy.

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