Flying into LAX, I love to look down and see the concrete swathe of the L.A. River threading through the heart of Los Angeles. From Canoga Park in the western end of the San Fernando Valley, the river flows 51 miles down to Long Beach where it empties into the sea.

Join Grist as we explore the wild landscape of our cities.
Susie Cagle
Join Grist as we explore the wild landscape of our cities.

Having spent years photographing the river, I still love exploring and finding new and exciting parts of it to shoot. So popular as a movie backdrop, the river changes scenes almost as much as a movie itself, sliding from a tranquil, tree-lined landscape to the severe cement channel that cuts through downtown L.A.

Once completely cut off from the public, the river has been unchained -- access to the river is increasing every day and there is no turning back. Along the Glendale Narrows you can ride the rapids in an ocean kayak or watch a great blue heron take off majestically from its perch. Downtown you can walk on the concrete beveled banks of the river -- the place where they raced cars in Grease, and which still attracts film crews almost daily.

Several times a year I lead a photo tour of the river, and as we slip through the torn rusty fence and gingerly cross the railroad tracks to look over the edge of the river, a bit of danger hits us, and we all understand how this unique and majestic river has ingrained itself into our psyche.