It was Batman that brought me to Bronson Caves. Well, the Bat Cave, actually. I’d read it was an easy hike to the “Bat Cave” location seen in the 1968 Batman television series starring Adam West. This proved to be true. It’s less than a mile round trip with only a slight, gently inclining, well-marked path to see the “cave,” which is actually a tunnel in the rock wall of an old quarry.
The opening to the watery tunnel was fenced off on both sides the day I was there, but it was a gas to recall and imagine the show’s rocket-powered, black Batmobile bounding in and out of the tunnel.
The other benefit of the stroll was a stunning view of the bright, white individual letters of Hollywood Sign high atop Mount Lee looming over the canyon. Batman and Robin didn’t have the place to themselves – episodes of television’s Mission Impossible; Gunsmoke; Little House on the Prairie; and A-Team were set in the foothills.
There were plenty of movies filmed at Bronson Canyon, too, including various Lone Ranger movies; The Invasion of the Body Snatchers; Friday the 13th; and Hail Caesar (in 2016); to name a few.
In terms of celebrity actors, Wikipedia suggests that “Charles Buchinsky” maybe have taken the name of the street and canyon to become “Charles Bronson.”)
I pulled my black hood over my head with my dark glasses on and took some Dark Knight-style selfies in front of the Bat Cave.
Call me practical, but one of the best things about Bronson is parking and a port-a-potty – the two things most elusive in Los Angeles, believe it or not. Public restrooms, even at gas stations, are spotty. And if you happen to find a parking spot, deciphering the complicated, conflicting parking signs requires a law degree.
Runyon Canyon, one of the fashionable celebrity hike spots, which stretches from Fuller Avenue up to Mulholland Drive, offers only very limited street parking, from which I have seen people’s cars both ticketed and towed. In fact, I actually gave a lift to a woman who turned out to be the talent director for Soul Cycle when her car was towed from outside the Runyon Canyon North Gate after she took a short stroll.
But Bronson has two parking lots and amazingly they are both free. The parking lot has two port-a johns which I recommend using before you hike (and it’s a relief, pardon the pun, to find them after.)
Bronson Canyon and the caves are in the southwest section of Griffith Park at the north end of Canyon Drive.
Walking back down the little hill, I noticed another welcoming path. The gate was closed for vehicles, but pedestrians were welcome to traverse the Brush Canyon Trail. Signage indicated it led to the Mount Hollywood Trail and the Hollywood Sign summit and it listed the distances. Don’t quote me on the numbers, but apparently that means gradually ascending 492 feet up a winding and scenic simple dirt and stone trail.
I knew I had more steps in me and was curious to see more scenery, so I took to the trail which went along a babbling stream and through some shady oak and sycamore trees. The road climbed consistently, with only brief respites of relative flatness, but I kept walking up the incline because I was curious to see what was beyond each bend. When I started to perspire in the sunshine, I flipped my light sweatshirt up and over my shoulders.
As it rose, the trail became scenic (when I reminded myself to look up – usually when I stopped to catch my breath or greet passersby). Eventually, the scrubby canyon valley began to reveal itself as the trail banked to the left in a sweeping, almost horseshoe-shaped turn. I spotted an overlook spot up on a plateau at what seemed like two-thirds of the way up the mountainside and decided it would be my goal to reach it.
A Warm Benchwarmer
The last turn and stretch of road up to the plateau were the steepest, so when I got near the top the sight of a bench on the edge of the overlook revealed itself. Ah! A payoff for my puffing, huffing hike up. I could pause and ponder and peruse the miles of beauty below – over the rough, rolling canyon, past the bulky Beverly Center, and onto the beach.
Alas, however, I saw a person perched on the plateau: someone seated squarely on the seat. I saw the silhouette of a slender woman in a safari-style hat squatting on the very center of the bench.
There was probably enough room to sit in the space on either side of her and her hat, but it seemed like an awkward move, even if it weren’t the age of social distancing. Therefore, I resigned myself to standing still and surveying the scenery – and at least not climbing anymore – which I did so while catching my breath) – silently, and subtly to the side and behind the bench.
Without even turning her head or shoulders, she spoke:
“Would you like to sit down?” the hat-wearing woman asked.
“Oh, it’s okay, I don’t want to intrude. Please…relax,” I answered.
“Please…sit down,” she insisted in return, while turning, standing and shifting to the side of the bench.
Realizing it would be rude to do otherwise, I sat down on the left side of the bench, leaving the middle open. It was in that space she extended a sandwich bag full of fruit toward me.
“Would you like an apple slice?”
I did decline the apple slice, but in turn, I gave her a promise. “Don’t worry,” I said. “I won’t disturb your peace here by talking.”
She shrugged…and an hour’s long conversation commenced.
Small Talk in the Sunshine
I think the conversation was half an hour old before we even said our names. Her name was Theresa. Mine is Michael Patrick.
“I watched you way down there walking up the trail. It was looking like a hard walk for you. I wondered if you’d make it, but then ‘poof!’ Here you are!” Theresa exclaimed, wearing brand-name designer outdoor wear on her then-fit frame.
“I may keep going,” I insisted, sucking in my stomach. “Does that trail go up above the Hollywood Sign?”
She told me she didn’t know. “I don’t need to go up behind the Hollywood Sign,” she said. “I live in a neighborhood down there, so I see the sign all the time.”
Theresa then made a groan directed at the very word and concept of “Hollywood.” But she noticed I was looking up in the direction where the sign might reveal itself if I walked further.
“Watch your step if you keep going on that trail, though. I call it ‘Poop Road.’”
I lifted an eyebrow.
“People take guided horse rides from Sunset Ranch along that trail, so…you know. The horses naturally drop ‘presents.’ And, if you’re downwind on a hot day, well…”
“I would not use that word, but you get the idea.”
We watched what seemed to be a large bird glide over the chasm below.
“That’s a red tail hawk,” Theresa pointed out. “There is plenty of wildlife up here. Maybe you saw some on your walk up?”
I asked Theresa what I should have been looking for.
“Oh, rabbit, rattlesnakes, deer…”
A Deer and a Mountain Lion
“Ever seen a mountain lion here?”
“Yes,” she answered, which prompted me to wonder why she hadn’t initially included the lion on her list. “I once saved a deer from a mountain lion. The lion was about to run it down and eat the deer.”
“Jesus, how did you do that?”
It seemed like nothing to Theresa when explained she threw a rock at the mountain lion while making noises to startle the deer and make it run.
“That was brave of you,” I stated.
“I had to save the deer. The lion was stalking it and going to pounce.”
” In the ‘Superman’ movie he was warned not to interfere in the course of human events. Theresa, you upset the food chain!”
She smiled…a little.
“And besides, you may have replaced that deer on the food chain if that mountain lion had then set its sights on you. Weren’t you scared?”
“No, I wasn’t scared.”
“I had more rocks to throw.”
As I laughed in admiration, Theresa made a comment with her voice trailing off. “Besides, I know what it’s like to be chased…”
I later learned what she meant.
I shifted around a little to shield the sun in order to look into Theresa’s eyes as we spoke, but we mainly talked while gazing down over the gaping canyon.
“It’s so green at this time,” she said. “It’s usually not this green. Typically, it’s brown and dry. But it’s very green right now.”
I didn’t think too much about it but I guessed Theresa’s age as 50ish. About the same as mine. She was calm and the conversation quite casual. Even though we conversed, a certain percentage of our consciousness remained focused on the nature we’d come to observe and be in communion with.
“Did you see the ‘Giving Tree’ on your way up?” she asked.
I said that I hadn’t.
“Well, they call it the ‘Giving Tree’ because people stick little notes in it with their wishes. It’s kind of just off the path a little bit to the side and up a bit.”
“I’ll look for it on the way down.”
“Sometimes they clean it out and take away all the notes,” Theresa said.
People walked on the trail behind us from time to time that late afternoon, sometimes stopping to snap panoramic photos of the canyon in the increasingly golden late light. While they passed, and we talked, I learned that Theresa was an actress.
“I worked as a model in Miami for a while, too,” she admitted. “My father, he’s 94. He lives in Florida.”
“That’s as far as you can get from Miami and still be in Florida.”
“He ran a military base there.”
I had become accustomed to, in Los Angeles, meeting interesting people with compelling stories. But I had to admit that was impressive.
“He was a pilot. Landed planes onto aircraft carriers.”
“Can you imagine the courage,” I said. “When I hear of people who do things like that I often tell myself ‘I aint never been nowhere and never done nothing.’”
Theresa nodded and agreed.
“Does he ever talk about his service?”
“I make him. I sit with him and ask him to tell me his stories. His life would make a good movie,” said the actress.
In Hollywood, and in fact, everywhere, I have had many people tell me their story would make a good book or movie. Just a few days earlier, a Persian man at Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel wanted me to sell his story about escaping from Iran to HBO.
But Theresa was a step further. She told me she’d actually taken all those hours of stories and turned them into a book.
“Can I read it somewhere? Is it published?”
“No. It’s just for us – my family – for now,” she answered. “I can’t let too many people see it. Once it gets out too much people might steal the story. This is Hollywood. People do that all the time. They steal stories.”
Since Theresa mentioned her family, I asked her if she had any brothers or sisters.
“I am one of 15.”
“Yes, I am in the middle.”
For being guarded about the details of her book Theresa told me the romantic tale of her parents – the kind of “Greatest Generation” couple that would marry young enough and stay married long enough to have 15 children.
“My father, when he was a young man, dated ‘Ms. Georgia.’ But then he met my mother,” she explained.
“Since your mother supplanted a beauty queen like ‘Ms. Georgia,’ she must have been very special,” I suggested.
“She was a nurse, but her real plan was to become a flight attendant. Back then in order to be a flight attendant you had to be a trained nurse,” Theresa explained. “Once she married my father and they started a family she sacrificed that dream.”
“Instead of being a stewardess…she married a pilot,” I posed. “Don’t all flight attendants want to do that?”
Theresa laughed…a little.
Her Father’s Daughter
I noticed the sun sinking some and thought about whether I would have time to summit or not, as I was worried my car would end up locked in the parking lot if I got back down too late. I recalled a sign saying the park gates would be closed at sunset. Nevertheless, I continued the conversation.
“Do you think you are like your father?” I asked, in a question that was really more of an observation and a presumption.
“Well during the Screen Actor’s Guild strike I picked up and went to live in Florence. In Italy,” Theresa said while shrugging.
“Are you still in showbiz?” I asked, again in the form of a question that really was more of a conclusion.
“I am an actress,” she answered.
The cliched follow-up question begging to be asked, typically, is, “What have you been in?” It’s a question I have learned to resist acting. Theresa, though, with her plain-spoken sharpness, headed off the potential question.
“You’ve seen me in some things,” she offered, from behind her sunglasses and under her hat.
“Did you like Florence?”
“My friends thought I was crazy, but I saw the strike as an opportunity. There was no reason to be here – no work – so I got on a plane and went. I didn’t even know where I was going to stay.”
“It worked out?”
“I was there six months. Six marvelous months. I’d like to go back.”
I told Theresa I had recently been in Florence and toured the Tuscan countryside’s wineries. She spoke of Siena, the medieval town outside Florence.
“I’ve been to the Palio.”
“It looks wild,” I said, speaking of the ancient but annual, circular, bareback horse race in the city center – the Piazza del Campo – twice each summer.
“The riders don’t even matter. The horses run whether the rider is on or not. They fall off!”
“It looks very crowded and colorful in that square. A manic swarm of people similar to the Fiesta San Fermin in Pamplona for the ‘Running of the Bulls,’” I suggested.
“I was able to watch the racing from above. From the window of the Mayor of Siena,” Theresa told me.
“Wow, that must be quite a vantagepoint. Like a luxury suite. What an opportunity,” I remarked.
“Well, it started out that way. But I was at a horserace, and I was the one who ended up doing the running!”
I kept quiet and didn’t have to ask what she meant, as she continued.
“As soon as my friends left me alone in his office to go to the bathroom the mayor chased me all around that room!”
“Around and around the room like the Palio race below,” I remarked. I was hoping, as I said it, that it wasn’t unsympathetic or disrespectful.
“Right,” Theresa said, probably missing the irreverence.
“Italian men,” I said.
She nodded. “He was all over me. When my friends got back, I told them not to leave me alone with him again.”
“Good thing your father wasn’t there,” I deadpanned, pardon the pun. “He would have flattened the mayor.”
“Yeah,” she said with her voice trailing off. I suppose the thought had never occurred to her. “Anyway, my Florence fantasy life came to an end and I left Florence when I got called for an acting job in India.”
A Bombay Dive
“So, I went from Florence to Mumbai. Talk about culture shock. India had so much poverty. I’d never seen anything like it. And it was contrasted against such wealth.”
This topic – wealth inequity – turned an inspiring conversation toward politics, a place from which it never quite recovered. Our chat, which began in such a natural, earthy way, spiraled into Covid conspiracies; vaccine and mask-wearing mandates; and even how the contrails left behind the commercial airplanes streaking above us across the early evening sky were bad for your health.
There was a flavor of suspicion and pessimism to it all. I didn’t judge Theresa, and in many ways, I agreed with her despair about the division that’s been created in humanity. If only everyone could sit where we sat and see what we were seeing – nature at its most majestic – all the way down to the Pacific.
While Theresa decided to walk back down the mountain, I decided to hike up a little higher…on my way to the Hollywood sign. (The trail allows hikers to view the sign from both below it and above. It’s about a seven-mile, partly paved round trip from the parking lot to the sign for selfies – longer if you decide to view the sign from both below and above, which I highly recommend.)
I was one or two bends from reaching a direct, panoramic view of the Hollywood Sign, but I had to turn back because I recalled seeing a sign stating that the parking lot would close at sunset. I didn’t want to end up with my car locked in the parking lot…nor did I want to be alone on the mountain in the dark with its escarpments, cliffs and…wildlife.
In the middle of the trail on the way down, though, in the softening, golden twilight, a woman performed yoga poses in front of the scenic panorama while a cameraman filmed her.
I thought to myself: “There is no business like show business.”
Read more of Michael Patrick’s work at The Travel Tattler and contact him at [email protected]