Loading...

Alligator Tales 

A battered marsh’s unlikely hero

Thursday, Oct 6 2005
Comments
It is late autumn afternoon and the light has started to fade. A great-winged raptor circles lazily above bruise-purple Machado Lake. At the swampy perimeter, all tule and water primrose and sedge, 10,000 tiny flies disappear down the throats of a thousand tiny frogs, who dart and skittle through the watery dark. Little crawfish scoot through the shallows. Big, white wading birds pick through the shadows on the opposite shore, and above the whine of traffic and the distant thrum of giant harbor cranes, the delicate counterpoint of birdcall and the hum of hatchling mosquitoes etches the still, moist air. The frogs begin to sing.

Like most people in Los Angeles, I first learned about the C-shaped Machado Lake, and the surrounding Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park, through Reggie, the cagey alligator whose presence here has obsessed local newspapers since early summer.

Earlier in the day, local teenagers were heard bellowing, “Yo, Reggie!” and it was not unusual to see skillfully thrown tortillas, reportedly one of the alligator’s favorite foods, skim the lake’s surface. If you show up at the right time of day, you can see wandering vendors selling Reggie shirts and alligator dolls to the visitors who come to gawk at the lake. I have never managed to catch sight of the alligator, either during the afternoon or at that point in early evening when its eyes are said to glow red from its hiding place in the shallows. So far, Reggie has managed to elude wranglers from Colorado, Florida and Louisiana, and looking at the thicket of water primrose, it is easy to see why.

Machado Lake is a peculiar place. It may be the major remaining wetland in this part of California, but it drains a large area of extremely industrial property, and the waters of the lake are polluted with DDT, ammonia, copper, PCBs and lead. Before Reggie, the lake was probably most famous for a 2002 outbreak of botulism that killed most of the ducks and coots that nested there. At least some of the abundant mosquitoes carry West Nile virus. The willow forest at the top end of the park is home to dozens of homeless men, and the parking lots and streets bordering the park are full of old campers and battered automobiles that probably house many more. Nobody has swum or boated in the lake for years, even before the alligator.

The lake, a stranded oxbow of the Los Angeles River, was once named Bixby Slough after the family who owned much of the land around Long Beach, and renamed Harbor Lake when the area was transformed into a park, and 20 years ago recovered its original name, in honor of a member of the baronial Sepulveda family whose adobe overlooked it from a nearby knoll. If you gaze across the lake, artfully positioning your head to blot out the surrounding hospital, golf course and oil storage facilities, you could be in a Southern California that ceased to exist more than a century ago, a place of coastal marshes, willow forests and swarming ducks.

The Southern California primeval, a minute-and-a-half off the Harbor Freeway, and an alligator too. What more could an Angeleno want?

Related Stories

  • Party Nation

    Southern California is often seen by the rest of the nation as a cultural outlier, a relatively new region with traditions that are sometimes at odds with the heartland of America. But when it comes to the ultimate celebration of U.S. nationhood, there are few other places that party as...
  • Beer Festivals 3

    Nothing says summer in Southern California like unlimited beer outside on a sunny day. If you're new to craft beer, attending a festival is the perfect way to access many different breweries and styles in one place. Plus food to keep you grounded and music to keep you occupied.  Every...
  • Drone Art

    Two military aviators were working with drones when they struck on an idea: what if they used the remote- controlled aerial devices to take photos from angles no regular cameraman could reach?  "We realized that some of the stuff we were creating was really, really aesthetically pleasing," one pilot explains...
  • Old-School Mexican Restaurants 36

    Old-school Mexican is a state of mind. Far, far away from farm-to-table, diet fads or the latest trends, this style of cuisine celebrates comfort, plenty and lots of lard. These retro-minded dishes wouldn't be caught dead featuring chia seeds or kale - although it's amusing to remember that the avocado...
  • L.A. County Craft Brewers Win at the 2014 World Beer Cup

    The World Beer Cup is the Olympics of beer. There is no better way to describe one of the biggest and most prestigious commercial beer competitions open to breweries from around the world. Held in Denver on Fri., April 11, at the end of the Craft Brewers Conference, the World Beer Cup awards ceremony...

Related Content

Now Trending

Los Angeles Concert Tickets

Slideshows

  • The World Cup Celebrated And Mourned By Angelenos
    The World Cup has taken Los Angeles by storm. With viewings beginning at 9 a.m., soccer fans have congregated at some of the best bars in the city including The Village Idiot, Goal, The Parlour on Melrose, Big Wang's and more. Whether they're cheering for their native country, favorite players or mourning the USA's loss, Angelenos have paid close attention to the Cup, showing that soccer is becoming more than a fad. All photos by Daniel Kohn.
  • La Brea Tar Pits "Pit 91" Re-Opening
    Starting June 28th, The Page Museum once again proudly unveils the museum's Observation Pit, which originally opened in 1952 but has spent most of the last half century closed. Now visitors can get an up-close look at Pit 91, which is currently under excavation. The La Brea Tar Pits, home of the Page Museum, is one of the world's most famous ice age fossil locations, known for range of fossils from saber-toothed cats and mammoths to microscopic plants, seeds and insects. The new "Excavator Tour" is free with museum admission if purchased online at tarpits.org . All photos by Nanette Gonzales.
  • Scenes from the O.J. Simpson Circus
    In the months after O.J. Simpson's arrest for the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman in the summer of 1994, the drama inside the courthouse riveted the masses. But almost as much mayhem was happening right outside the building, as well as near Simpson's Brentwood home. Dissenters and supporters alike showed up to showcase art inspired by the case, sell merchandise, and either rally for, or against, the accused football star. Here is a gallery of the madness, captured by a photojournalist who saw it all. All photos by Ted Soqui.