Category Archives: trails

Running to Shangri-La

Cloud-shrouded Saddle Peak, Cold Canyon and Monte Nido from Calabasas Peak fire road in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Well, maybe not Shangri-La, but a Lost World kind of morning on the Calabasas Peak fire road segment of the Secret Trail.

Calabasas Peak fire road traverses the rock formations on the left, descending to Stunt Road. At Stunt the route continues up the Stunt High Trail to the Backbone Trail. Here you can do an optional out and back to Saddle Peak, shrouded in clouds in this photo, or turn west on the Backbone Trail and continue mostly downhill to Piuma Road near Malibu Canyon Road. Malibu Canyon is in the distance on the right in the photo.

The panorama is from a run earlier this month. Here’s a larger version.

Related post: Secret Trail Variations

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The Rattlesnakes Are Blooming

Rattlesnake on the PCT east of San Francisquito Canyon.

Although we are still experiencing a record-breaking drought, this rain season did provide a little short term relief to plants and wildlife. Compared to last year rainfall is up 27% at Los Angeles, 39% at Santa Barbara, 57% at LAX and 63% at Camarillo/Oxnard according to NWS data.

The increase in rainy season precipitation dramatically increased plant growth, the abundance of wildflowers, and temporarily increased the availability of key resources to wildlife.

Another thing it seems to have increased is the number of rattlesnakes. Over the past two years I have seen maybe two rattlesnakes total on my runs in the Santa Monica Mountains, San Gabriel Mountains, and in the Big Bear area and on San Gorgonio Mountain. In the Ahmanson Ranch – Cheeseboro area I’ve seen none.

With the increase in rainfall this season that has changed. The title photo was taken on the Leona Divide 50/50 course March 28. That day I encountered two rattlesnakes and talked to a runner that had seen three on the course the previous weekend. From March 26 to April 2 I encountered rattlesnakes on three out of four runs. Two of those were at Ahmanson and it seemed everyone I talked to on the trail was seeing rattlesnakes.

Hard to see rattlesnake on the PCT a few miles west of Bouquet Canyon.
See the rattlesnake? Click for larger view.

There has also been an increase in the number of encounters with non-venomous snakes as well. I’ve seen a number of gopher snakes and a California striped racer. Friends have mentioned seeing a ring-necked snake and California kingsnake.

Since the weather has cooled I haven’t encountered any rattlesnakes, but have seen their tracks. When I run, especially on single-track trails, my snake radar is on and I’m definitely on the lookout for the hard-to-see beasts.

Some related posts: Southern Pacific Rattlesnake on the Burkhart Trail, Southern Pacific Rattlesnake, Big Southern Pacific Rattlesnake at Ahmanson Ranch

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Photography on the Run Migrated from DasBlog to WordPress

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Photography on the Run published its first image, Oat Mountain Snow, more than nine years ago. Following nearly a thousand posts and the publication of thousands of images, I have migrated the content from the DasBlog blog engine to WordPress. Some work remains to be done, but the blog is fully functional and all of the content is present and accounted for.

Most DasBlog-style links to the blog’s content should continue to work. Old permalinks and date and category views have been mapped to their WordPress equivalents.

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If you receive an error or something doesn’t seem to be working properly, please let me know.

Thank you for supporting Photography on the Run!

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If It Looks Like a Hummingbird and Flies Like a Hummingbird…

hummingbird moth feeding on spreading larkspur

I was on the way back from Mugu Peak and about four hours into my run. I’d stopped at an exposure of Miocene age shale along the Upper Sycamore Trail. The gray-brown rubble is home to an intensely blue-purple wildflower called spreading larkspur (Delphinium patens ssp. hepaticoideum).


Click for animation
I’d just snapped a series of bracketed exposures of one patch of the flowers when suddenly there was the bumblebee-on-steroids buzzing of a hummingbird in front of me.

At least I thought it was a hummingbird. It sounded like a hummingbird and was about the right size. Its blurred wings were shaped like a hummingbird’s. It flew with the precision of a hummingbird, darting from flower to flower, deftly feeding on each blossom’s nectar using its oddly shaped beak.


Click for larger image
But it wasn’t a hummingbird — it was a hummingbird moth — a white-lined sphinx (Hyles lineata). I’d read about hummingbird moths, but to have one suddenly appear and start feeding on a larkspur plant I happened to be photographing was extraordinary.

Apparently the problem of feeding on the high-energy nectar in certain types of flowers is sufficiently definitive as to have produced a very similar evolutionary solution in wildly different organisms.

The sphinx moth is described as flying like a hummingbird, but which lineage produced this elegant solution first? It may have been the moth! A trace fossil of a sphinx moth found in Early Eocene Asencio Formation of Uruguay appears to predate the earliest known Oligocene fossils of hummingbird-like birds! In any case it appears that both hovering moths and birds co-evolved with the flowering plants on which they feed and pollinate.

Related post: Hummingbird Stories

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Ahmanson 12K Preview

East Las Virgenes Canyon, Ahmanson Ranch

Race director Nancy Shura-Dervin picked a great year, and as it looks now, a great weekend for the inaugural running of the Ahmanson 12K Trails event.

The hills are lush and green; wildflowers are in bloom; valley oaks are sprouting fresh green leaves; and it’s looking like race day may be one of those “gotta run” kind of days.



According to today’s NWS forecast the area will see dry and warmer weather beginning Tuesday and continuing through race day. While there could be a remnant puddle here or there, four days will be plenty of time for the dirt roads to (mostly) dry out. The Cheeseboro RAWS automated weather station can be used to get an idea of the current weather in the vicinity of the race course.

Over the past 10 years I’ve logged approximately 6000 miles at Ahmanson Ranch (now Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve) and the loop Nancy has selected for the course is a variation of a favorite.



Here’s a Google Earth overview of the 12K course and a preliminary elevation-corrected profile generated in SportTracks. The course is about 7.4 miles long with an elevation gain of about 740 feet. (Note: The loop is run in the clockwise direction.)



Lasky Mesa has long been used to shoot movies, television, commercials, music videos, and even Internet games. Its wildland character and expansive views bely its urban location. For a few weeks one summer the Mission Impossible III bridge was a Lasky Mesa landmark. The aesthetically-shaped valley oak at the west end of Lasky Mesa is a favorite of production companies and I’ve spotted it in more than one commercial.

The Ahmanson 12K should be an outstanding event on an excellent course in conditions we haven’t seen at Ahmanson in several years.

For more information and photos see the Trail Run Events web site and the Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve web site.

Some related posts: 10th Anniversary of the Acquisition of Ahmanson Ranch, Coyote Tag, It Was So Muddy That…, Ahmanson Ranch Trail Runs

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Chumash Trail Clouds and Sun

Cumulus clouds from the Chumash Trail

Instability associated with an upper low resulted in some pop-up showers and thunderstorms today.



As I ran up the Chumash Trail on the east side of the Simi Valley I kept a close eye on a cell that developed near Ladyface in the Agoura Hills. That cell didn’t track as much to the east as I thought it might, but other cells were developing to the east and south of Rocky Peak and Santa Susana Pass area and at one point I heard the rumble of thunder.

As it worked out, I only had a few sprinkles on the run, but drove home in the rain!

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Just Me and the Meadowlarks

La Jolla Valley from Mugu Peak

I had to stop running and take it all in. Soaked by recent rains, La Jolla Valley was renewed and green. To my right a meadowlark warbled its silvery call, and in the distance at first one and then another bird followed in song.

Isolated for weeks by the closure of Pacific Coast Highway and Pt. Mugu State Park, the La Jolla Loop Trail was trackless and in places overgrown. Wet with dew, the mustard choking the trail had soaked my shoes and socks.

Sprinkled among the greens were whites, purples, pinks, reds and yellows of the first stage of a wildflower explosion. A sweet scent drifted on the breeze. Running in the valley was like running in a remote and seldom-visited wilderness.



There had been much to see on the run from Wendy Drive. Before the Park closed in December I had surveyed the aftermath of the December 12 flash floods in Sycamore Canyon, Blue Canyon and Upper Sycamore Canyon. One of the reasons for today’s run was to see what had happened in this part of the Park.

Wood Canyon parallels Sycamore Canyon and is probably its largest tributary. Based on the height of the debris piled against the trees, the flash flood that roared down Wood Canyon must have been astounding! Looking down the stream course reminded me of flash floods I’d seen on creeks and streams during the El Nino’s of 1997-98 and 2004-2005.



Bowl-shaped La Jolla Valley is an independent drainage, separate from Sycamore and Wood Canyons and their tributaries. It acts like a huge rain collector and funnels all the runoff down deeply cut La Jolla Canyon to the ocean. In La Jolla Valley all the creeks were scoured by the flash flooding and the small footbridge west of the group campground was washed out. The vernal stock pool on the Loop Trail above La Jolla Canyon was once again full.



It’s no surprise that the December flash floods washed out the trail in La Jolla Canyon. I can’t think of a steeper and more narrow canyon in the park.  The flow must have been phenomenal! The La Jolla Canyon Trail is closed and barricaded at its juncture with the Loop Trail. Here is a trail map of the area from the La Jolla Valley Natural Preserve web site.

In recent years the drought has dramatically reduced the number and variety of wildflowers blooming in the Santa Monica Mountains. Not so this year. Since October 1 Camarillo Airport has recorded 7.0 inches of rain, which is about 92% of normal. Last year over the same period only 0.84 inch had been recorded.



Many species are already blooming and many more will be blooming soon. On today’s run I saw shooting stars, encelia, lupine, nightshade, monkeyflower, paintbrush, California poppy, bladder pod, wild hyacinth, phacelia, wishbone bush and more. A small patch of chocolate lilies were in bloom along the eastern segment of the Loop Trail.

La Jolla Valley and Mugu Peak can be busy places, but today it was just me and the meadowlarks.

Update February 3, 2015. According to the Ventura Star six miles of Pacific Coast Highway from Las Posas Road to the Sycamore Cove Day-use Area reopened today providing access to Pt. Mugu State Park from the south. Note that the La Jolla Canyon Trail is still closed and likely to be for some time.

Some related posts: Pt. Mugu State Park Debris Flows and Flash Floods, Wendy Drive – Mugu Peak Challenge, Laguna Peak, La Jolla Valley, and the Channel Islands

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