Distance (round-trip)

0.9 mi

Time

1 hrs

Elevation Gain

275 ft

Season

Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter

Weather

You’ve likely seen Amir’s Garden in Griffith Park before but not known what it was – a strangely forested ridge amidst the otherwise dry Southern California landscape.

Today, the five acre plot of land stands as a peaceful, shaded oasis amidst Griffith Park – a favorite of hikers and equestrians alike – but the garden itself arose from a dangerous and often deadly occurrence – wildfires.

In 1970, a brush fire swept through the area, leaving desolation and denuded slopes in its path.

Iranian immigrant Amir Dialameh was a West Hollywood wine merchant and hiker, who had taken to the trails in Griffith Park after moving to the States (and hiking all over the world). The Mineral Wells area was one of his favorites, and after the fire he petitioned the city to repair a section of the burnt land and plant a garden to provide shade and rest for hikers. The City eventually gave him permission to revegetate the area as a firebreak (but said no equipment or workers would be available to him). Amir signed on, and in 1971 he began his work – digging out over 200 charred tree stumps with his own pick and shovel.

Over the next 12 years, Amir planted 60 varieties of trees and shrubs on the land, cut hiking trails into the hillside, and hand-watered all of his plantings. According to the Amir’s Garden history page,

His goal was to make, “an attractive rest stop for hikers,” because outdoor recreation was as important to him as breathing. “There are so many problems, so many pressures,” Dialameh once said of city life. “All people do is complain. They need to get away from that.”

Amir passed away in 2003, but hikers can visit the work he started and hardworking volunteers continue to maintain today. All it takes is a short trip up a fire road from the Mineral Wells area to experience the beauty a little hard work and volunteerism can do for a city.

Begin at the fire road that sits at the southern intersection of Mineral Wells Road and Griffith Park Drive. The main fire road parallels the paved road for a bit, but you’ll start hiking up the road with the incline instead of staying flat (heading west from the roads).

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A water tank will be in sight almost from the very beginning of the trail as it climbs a respectable 170 feet in the first 0.2 miles. The road flattens out a bit near the water tank, and if the skies are clear you’ll start to see some drop-dead gorgeous views of the Verdugo and San Gabriel Mountains along with Burbank and Glendale.

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Although it is possible to hike this trail year-round, it is especially lovely after a few good winter rains. In the spring, the hillsides turn verdant green, and blooms of all types dot the landscape.

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Continue heading up on the fire road until the 0.43 mile mark, when you’ll note the plant life takes on a more manicured look.

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You have now officially entered Amir’s Garden.

Modern gardeners may balk at the appearance of exotic species mixed in with the native flora here, but it’s important to remember that when Amir started this garden in 1971, what we now know as native gardening hadn’t really entered the mass consciousness yet. So you’ll see native agaves mixed with jade plants and banana trees and other succulents and thirsty plants. It’s also important to remember that the are does serve utility as a firebreak – and keeping the area hydrated serves as an important fire safety measure.

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I had the chance to tour the gardens with its current volunteer caretaker, who also pointed out the new natives she was introducing into the garden – including some sage cultivars from the San Gabriel Mountains.

The Garden’s main rest area sits right at the top of this stretch of fire road just off of a sharp turn in the road itself. There are numerous benches and planters – many designed and built with reclaimed materials by Amir himself. A recently-installed water fountain provides a bit of respite for thirsty hikers as well.

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Working with no budget and often by himself, Amir used discarded and unwanted items wherever he could – both for aesthetics and for function. Old park benches form the backbone of many of the older terraced sections, and you’ll spot drainage grates, old water pipes, and other seemingly trash items turned, as they say, into another man’s treasure. The whole place has a similar folk-art vibe with places like Watts Towers and Nitt Witt Ridge, albeit with a slightly more natural touch.

Enjoy the shade and benches at the central garden plaza, then take your time exploring some of the side trails and terraces in the garden’s sloped areas, too. You can sort of explore on your own here, enjoying the various sections of tropical and native plants. Do please take special care not to cut any switchbacks or blaze your own trails through the steep garden area as this will greatly increase erosion – and also be on the look out for exposed irrigation pipes.

This should go without saying, but also please don’t take any of the plants. When the caretaker and I were hiking up, we saw a woman trying to carry a large piece of a jade plant down the hill.

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The Garden has several additional access trails, including a steep route that will take you back down to the intersection of Griffith Park Drive and Camp Road and another trail that heads toward the Boys’ Camp itself.

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The steps up from Camp Road

In addition to serving as a lovely shaded rest area, the Garden also serves as a memorial to some of Amir’s friends and family, as well as other people who’ve volunteered in and cared for the garden over the years. A large pine tree right at the entrance is named for Amir’s friend Spike, and for years served as Amir’s outdoor Christmas tree during the holiday season.

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A nearby pine is named Otis, and there is also a young chitalpa tree somewhere in the Garden dedicated to the one and only Huell Howser.

If you travel past the Garden on the fire road for a short distance, you will notice the road is flanked by another series of planted pine trees.

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During the Great Depression, thousands of people were employed in Griffith Park as part of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, a government program that paid unemployed people as laborers. On October 3, 1933, 3,780 laborers were working in Griffith Park clearing trails and performing maintenance. Before the winter rains set in, the chaparral and brush was bone-dry, and it didn’t help that Santa Ana winds has started to bluster into the region. The temperature at noon was already over 100 degrees.

At 2:10 PM dense smoke was reported at the mouth of Mineral Wells Canyon, just below the road you’re standing on now. The unskilled firefighters (working without flowing water) rushed to the site of the blaze and attempted to extinguish it with shovels, but the blaze quickly rushed 50 feet up the canyon, igniting trees and sending embers scattering into the dry chaparral in all directions.

Crews were leveling a dirt road in the area, and work bosses urged the builders to rush to the fire to try to stamp it out and set backfires to halt the main fire’s advance. By the time the Fire Department arrived, the Fire Chief said there were about 3,000 workers trying to fight the fire in Mineral Wells Canyon and nearby Dam Canyon – and that he couldn’t both fight the fire and guarantee the safety of the unorganized laborers.

Shortly thereafter, the wind turned the fire on the workers and turned their backfires into deadly infernos of their own. Crews were cut off, surrounded, or completely engulfed. Some who did survive hid under planters or in the swimming pool at the girl’s camp (now a boy’s camp) deeper in the canyon. When the fire was finally put under control that night, death toll estimates varied wildly. Eventually the city settled on 29 deaths (along with hundreds of injuries). It remains the deadliest wildfire in Los Angeles history and one of the deadliest in American history.

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The destroyed slopes of Mineral Wells Canyon, October 4, 1933. Amir’s Garden is now on the burned peak closest to the viewer. Image from USC Digital Library

A memorial tree and plaque were dedicated near Griffith Park’s Vermont Canyon entrance, but were lost due to time and re-landscaping efforts.

Today, however, the 29 trees planted along this nondescript fire road commemorate the 29 firefighters who lost their lives in the canyon below in that 1933 fire.

Enjoy the views around you and return back the way you came. And consider a quote from Amir on the day the city formally placed a sign at his garden’s entrance in 1983:

“This country was built by volunteers. I believe everyone should do something for his community…. I built a garden.”

Additional historical resources:

Note: This trail is transit accessible via Metro Bus Line 96. The closest stop is at Crystal Springs / Griffith Park, which is about a 1.2 mile walk along the road. Alternatively, you can also hop onto the eastern section of the Griffith Park Northside Loop Trail.

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Modern Hiker, Author of "Day Hiking Los Angeles," Walking Meditator, Native Plant Enthusiast.

Historical Interest

Kid-Friendly

Potable Water

6 Comments

wendynewell

wendynewell Jun 8, 2015 13:06In reply to: Casey Schreiner

I did reach out to her personally -- and received no reply. If Kristin wanted to communicate that way I would have received a "Today's interaction definitely got out of hand. Why don't you bring your pups up next Sunday and I can say hi to you under better circumstances." -- That didn't happen.

As I said I understand and appreciate the dedication she has to the park and the garden but her actions were not only over the top they could have been disastrous for her. You are correct, I have a lot of experience with dogs, hiking with dogs, and keeping dogs under control in stressful situations. Kristin's actions were shocking and upsetting to me. In my email to her I highly suggested she look into dog behavior and how to react to them. It wouldn't surprise me at all if she has had run ins in the past that were negative. Her body language, and attitude toward the dogs almost demands it.

For your readers there is a great app called DogDecoder that is even used to help train some police units. It's a wonderful way to help better understand dog body language so you don't react in a way that causes problems.

Although I watch a number of pits I had none with me yesterday. I had 4 little dogs and two medium sized ones -- including mine who is a German Shorthair Pointer mix. I hike daily with one to five dogs and have for over two years (and a total of 8 with my dog and friends pups). I have never had a problem and a lot of that has to do with my control over the dogs as well as those fellow hikers on the trail. I wrote an article for Dogster on this very subject - http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/hiking-dogs-off-leash-animal-behavior-training

I completely understand that she may have been having a bad day, she may have even come upon a dog off leash earlier in the garden, but there is no excuse for the extreme rudeness she showed me. She made it very clear that she did not feel that my dogs, on or off leash, deserve to be in "her" garden.

The entire situation could have been avoided if she would have reacted positively and openly to both myself and my dogs.

I also have a background in social media and feel that the best way to handle the medium is to be open and honest to allow for continued conversation and ongoing communication. The fact that Kristin deleted my comment from the Amir's Garden page was also upsetting to me. Of course she runs the page but it is run as if it is a PUBLIC page to help those who share a PUBLIC park. To cut out communication you don't believe in is being oddly selfish. My comment was in no way a "negative campaign." If you re-read it you can see that I have always respected the work she does and have been VERY excited to meet her. The meeting was even more upsetting because of that.

I believe, as I think most do, that Griffith and our other LA parks are for everyone to enjoy. I love taking my dogs on adventures and letting their folks know where we go so that they can continue on those type of journeys. I lead a weekly hike with my friends, their children, and their dogs. I believe everyone should be allowed to enjoy the wonderful park.

Just this weekend Kristen posted negative comments about an activity taking place in the park, The Great Horror Campout. I commented that although it may not be something she enjoyed there is no need to be negative as it is a great way to have people, who may not have even known about the Old Zoo, enjoy their park. It is after all OUR park. That comment was also deleted despite it being a positive turn on her negative post.

Once again I will say my fellow hikers of Griffith and it's surrounding areas have always been very nice and 99% are even happy to see my pack walking past them. Believe it or not the dogs seem to bring a lot of joy to the trails we hit and lift the spirits of those we come across.

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Casey Schreiner Jun 8, 2015 13:06In reply to: wendynewell

Wendy,

Sorry you had such a stressful experience up there. I have a very sweet pit bull myself and am unfortunately used to people over-reacting (and even crossing the street to get away from her when we're walking!), but dog owners also have to respect the safety and feelings of those around them who are not dog owners. Griffith Park rules do state that dogs must remain under their owners' control at all times, and even well-behaved and kindly-disposed puppies can snap without warning. The barks you interpreted as curious could very easily have been interpreted another way by other people and may not have been the intent of the dog itself. Although it sounds like you have a lot of experience with four-legged buddies, you still never really know what they're going to do when they've slipped out of your leash-hold.

Obviously I wasn't there and this is very much a she-said, she-said situation, but I do know the caretaker personally and I'm aware of some of the truly insane things she's had to deal with as a 100% unpaid volunteer. Even Amir himself was attacked by gangs in his own garden! Part of being in a public park is respecting the people and rules of everyone around you and maintaining respectful communication when differences arise. I realize that may have been difficult in this probably quickly-happening situation, but perhaps reaching out to her personally instead of going on a negative web comment campaign would be more constructive?

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wendynewell Jun 7, 2015 23:06

Earlier today I had an encounter with the "caretaker" of Amir's that truly saddened me. As a dog sitter and avid hiker I visit Amir's often. I include information about it in my dog guests report cards so their family can go back and enjoy it together. I even did my last birthday hike there with friends. As you can imagine I've always wanted to meet the caretaker in person. I had such respect for her. Sadly I met her today and it was a horrific experience. I had my dogs tied up to take pictures and as I was untying them she came around the corner dragging hoses. The dogs got spooked and my dog, on leash, slipped out of my hands. He went up to her and got about 4 feet away from her. He was barking in a curious manner. Granted his curious bark can be misunderstood by humans so I told him she was fine more to put her at ease than him and give me time to go get him. Obviously she has no understanding of dog behavior, understandable I suppose although it shocked me. She stood toward him aggressively AND PULLED OUT HER SHOVEL/PICK TOOL AND HELD IT AGGRESSIVELY AIMED AT HIM! Of course my pup started to become more aggressive as he was being threatened. This all happened very fast. I was confident my dog would do nothing but wanted to get to him before she showed more signs of going on the attack (a huge no no when dealing with dogs). I told her not to grab her weapon and not to hold it up. She was VERY negative and not accepting of having of other "guests" in her park. I was so horribly disappointed having one of my nature idols crumble before my eyes I told her so. In response she turned on the water soaking the dogs and me.

I fully understand her actions came from fear but her actions were inappropriate and put herself and my dogs at risk. How dare she. How dare she act as if the park belongs to her. I appreciate and respect all she does and the hours of her life she dedicates to Amir's but that DOES NOT give her the right to treat a fellow animal lover, Griffith lover, and hiker with such disrespect.

To my fellow Griffuth hikers I thank you for being such great trail companions. The dogs and I have met hundreds of people over the years and we thank you for sharing the trails with us!

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notforgrandpas May 31, 2015 14:05

This site is so great for me in general, but especially since I recently injured my back and had to take a break from the 100 peaks list, these smaller hikes are so great for rehabilitation and getting my stamina back, plus a little reward for pushing through some of the pain of healing is always fantastic! I loved Amir's garden, it was beautiful this morning and breezy, next time I will bring a book and hang out on one of the benches for a bit longer. Awesome hike to do before work for me!

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Camilo Barcenas Feb 18, 2015 14:02

I've been hiking in Hawaii for 5 years and have seen amazing stuff. Hope to one day be able to do more adventuring on the West Coast. Your blog is very inspiring! Please follow my photography and hiking escapades on instagram @kamerakamilo808.

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Kristin Sabo Feb 17, 2015 12:02

Casey, thank you for the wonderful write-up on Amir's Garden! I'm proud to have been the caretaker since Amir passed away more than 10 years ago now. I think you should point out that the gentleman with his back to the camera in this photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/dropdeadsuit/15855545434

is 95 years old and still hikes to Amir's Garden. He's one of two regulars in their 90s that we have visiting.

Any questions, comments and other requests for information about Amir's Garden can be either emailed to: [email protected] or you can message the admin on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AmirsGarden

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