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Nike Station | love San Fernando Valley

4th Largest Unofficial City in America!

Nike Station

Nike Station

Jul 27, 2015

A hike to Nike Station along the crest of the hills bordering the south side of the valley takes you back to the days the Cold War. When SFV Granny was growing up in the sixties, we thought a nuclear attack from Russia was imminent. The Nike missile program was the response to that threat.

Nike sentryThis 10-acre shard of a park is an easy 15-minute drive from the 405 freeway. It offers expansive panoramas of the region. SFV Granny loves the bird’s-eye view of desert mountains, sweeping valleys, cities and ocean, especially in winter when the skies are clear. This hidden gem is top secret in more ways than one: it was a clandestine military base during the Cold War. Perched on a sliver of ridge with an unparalleled 360-degree view, Nike Site LA-96 is a leftover relic of the 300 Nike missile bases that once strategically ringed U.S. cities, industrial complexes, and military installations. The compound housing the command center here was a product of the rising animosity between the United States and the Soviet Union after World War II. The men stationed within the barbed-wire enclosure maintained a vigilant watch. They could look down on Van Nuys airport in the Valley where  missiles were ready to go if they spotted any hostility coming in by air.

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When jet bombers first became a threat in the 1940s, the slow rockets of the period couldn’t intercept them. The more powerful Nike missiles were developed to do the job. They, too, eventually became obsolete. Today we take for granted many of the brilliant technical innovations resulting from the program: computers, the Internet, and radar. Sparse signage provides a glimpse into the tense life spent here, worlds apart from the carefree sightseers meandering through the ruins these days.

Renamed San Vicente Mountain Park, the site sits at the eastern edge of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. Climb the original radar tower to catch a splendid sunset sinking below stacks of mountain ranges. A network of trails branches off in several directions through thousands of acres of protected chaparral habitat. It used to be possible to drive the eight miles from the Valley  to Will Rogers State Park on the beach. Now we have to go around. But the roads are maintained for fire protection, and make a pleasant trek trough the mountains. This is wild Los Angeles at its best.

Getting there: 

Mulholland trails; training Sunny 063Take the Mulholland Drive exit on the crest of 405, the freeway connecting San Fernando Valley with greater Los Angeles. Follow signs to reach Mulholland, the taller of the two bridges. Drive west 2.7 miles to the end of the paved road. Turn left onto a dirt road. If you turn right onto Encino Hills Drive you’ll wind down into the San Fernando Valley. The unpaved road is the beginning of what locals affectionately dub “dirt Mulholland,” seven miles of fire road running atop the crest of the mountains used by hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians. If the fire gates are open, drive to the top and park outside the sentry entrance. There’s only limited handicapped parking at the site. If the lower gates are closed, you’ll walk about three-fourths of a mile uphill to the park.

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