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Happy Trails to You

The Urban Rangers Set Up Camp at MOCA and Get Ready to Hike the Downtown Wilderness

As the native wildlife moved around in their suits, ties and power dresses, and clucked on their cell phones, Ranger Sara stretched her arm and pointed north.

There, she said, is the valley of monuments. Behind her, she explained, are the caverns. Just down the hill are the meadows and peaks.

“There’s so much topography here that people can explore,” she said in wonderment.

Ranger Sara may have been standing on Grand Avenue in Bunker Hill, but to her, it’s all nature.

Sara Daleiden is a member of the Los Angeles Urban Rangers, a collective of artists who see the city a little bit differently than most people. This Thursday, and again for one night in both August and September, they’ll seek to share that point of view with Downtown as part of the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Engagement Party series.

Where some see a sidewalk, the Rangers see a trail. Buildings are mountains and a walk to lunch or a business meeting can be reinterpreted as an opportunity to explore the city and learn how the urban topography was formed.

Thus Ranger Sara’s monuments are the buildings near the Civic Center, the caverns are MOCA’s exhibit halls and the peaks and meadows are the high-rises and the Maguire Gardens down the hill.

In the Engagement Party series, MOCA lets local arts groups program various forms of entertainment on the first Thursday of each month. The Rangers follow Neighborhood Public Radio, who explored noise, ambient sound and related art.

The Rangers are concentrating on the physical environment. The collective founded in 2004 by a group of artists and writers will lead a series of explorations of Downtown in their park ranger personae.

They’ll be dressed in full ranger gear, including the Stetson hats, beige shirts and cargo pants. They’ll be friendly, really knowledgeable, a bit square and will employ metaphors to convey the idea that the urban landscape is its own ecosystem.

“There’s the certain sense of cheekiness to them, but you end up learning a lot about the city,” said Andrea Stang, senior education program manager for MOCA. “It’s the sort of fun take on the national parks system, and with their characters they make you look at your environment and think about the environment in a different way.”

Three Adventures

The first event, the Bunker Hill Expedition, takes place July 7 at 7 p.m. and will include six hikes through the Civic Center, Bunker Hill office buildings, hotels and Pershing Square. In addition to information about the area’s civic heart, the guides will touch on topics relating to public-private space issues and air rights.

At the Aug. 4 event, the L.A. River Ramble, the rangers will post stations through portions of the Los Angeles River near Downtown. They will take people under the Sixth Street Bridge through an aqueduct to explore the concrete-encased waterway.

“The L.A. River is just this fabulous natural phenomenon that’s a huge part of Downtown,” Daleiden said.

The final event, September’s Critical Campout, will be an overnight stay and campfire discussion on the MOCA plaza. While details are still being worked out, participants will set up their tents and learn about art and gentrification, and possibly tell ghost stories too.

All events are free, and reservations are only required for the campout, which is expected to fill quickly.

The hikes, Daleiden said, will give people a chance to see the city the same way the Urban Rangers see it.

“Many of us living here have a real desire to get to know this place, and when we’re going around in our cars we’re having a disassociated relationship with the city,” she said. “So part of what the hikes do is they get you on the ground, wandering as a group. There’s a lot of interesting information we’re providing about the history and how Downtown is redeveloping right now and we’re using these nature metaphors to make that information more accessible.”

Scale a Hotel

One trail during the Bunker Hill expedition will pass through the city’s largest hotel. The Bonaventure Adventure will be led by Ranger Ron Milam, who joined the group four years ago.

“It’s a really exiting hike. We are going to scale the four peaks of the Bonaventure,” he said, referring to riding the outdoor elevators on the four sides of the hotel on Figueroa Street. “One of the most fantastic things is that it serves as a real wonderful scenic overlook with really fantastic views of the region.”

The Bonaventure will be used as a natural compass, since the hike to the top will help people get oriented with the landscape around them.

The group will also explore different ecosystems in the hotel. “The lobby is one ecosystem, a place where people are foraging for food,” he said, referring to hotel guests and visitors out for a meal.

MOCA, which is being referred to as the “trailhead” and “lodge” for the hikes, will also be explored. Urban Rangers will take participants through the caverns to explore the museum.

Senior Ranger Jenny Price said one of the goals of the series is to bring the same kind of wonder and curiosity that people take to national parks and apply it to the places that people take for granted. In addition to the pretty sights, Downtown is an important landscape for understanding the entire city’s past, present and future, she said.

“Downtown is a place of nature and one of the things we emphasize is that nature isn’t something that’s out there,” she said. “We actually live in nature, we inhabit landscapes and ecosystems, so Downtown is as much a place of nature as Yosemite is. It’s really important to make those connections visible.”

MOCA is at 250 S. Grand Ave., (213) 626-6222 or moca.org. Reservations for the campout start Aug. 1; email reservations@moca.org.

Contact Richard Guzmán at richard@downtownnews.com.

Read this story on the Los Angeles Downtown News website.

Related Field Sites: Downtown L.A.

Did you know?

The primary watershed for the LA Basin is not the L.A. River but the Ballona Creek.