Was running down the Chamberlain segment of the Backbone Trail Saturday, when a flash of bright red on a manzanita bush caught my eye.
Very bizarre, as nature often is. At first glance I thought the bulbous red objects on the manzanita were some kind of larvae, but on closer inspection could see it was a swelling of the leaf. My first thought was some kind of viral infection.
What they turned out to be are aphid induced leaf galls. Galls generally provide a protective habitat and enhanced food source for the inducing species and their tenants.
Related post: Scrub Oak Apple Gallby
While running in the Marin Headlands last weekend it occurred to me that it had been at least a couple of months since I’d done a a run in Pt. Mugu State Park. In addition to following the recovery of the area since the May 2013 Springs Fire, I’ve been surveying the effects of the December 2014 flash floods in Sycamore Canyon and its tributaries and hadn’t yet looked to see what happened in Serrano Canyon.
When doing a run in Pt. Mugu State Park I almost always start at the Wendy Drive trailhead. I’ve run from that trailhead to Serrano Valley and Canyon a couple of ways. Both routes connect by way of Satwiwa and Danielson Road to the Old Boney Trail. One follows the Old Boney Trail all the way to the Serrano Valley/Canyon Trail. The other climbs up and over Boney Mountain, eventually connecting to the Backbone Trail, and then descends the Chamberlain Trail and rejoins the Old Boney Trail about a mile east of the Serrano Valley/Canyon Trail.
Today’s run was a variation of option B. After climbing Boney Mountain to Tri Peaks, I ran over to Sandstone Peak using the Tri Peaks and Backbone Trails. Sycamore Canyon Fire Road, Two Foxes Trail and Upper Sycamore Trail were used to get back to Satwiwa and the Wendy Drive trailhead from Serrano Canyon.
Here are a few photos from the run. Click for a larger image:
Poppies along the Two Foxes Trail in Pt. Mugu State Park. From Sunday’s run to Mugu Peak and back from the Wendy Drive trailhead in Newbury Park.by
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).
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.
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 Storiesby
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.by
The photo above was taken from the edge of the western escarpment of the Boney Mountain massif in the western Santa Monica Mountains. The western side of the mountain is a huge bowl that funnels runoff into Blue Canyon. Blue Canyon can be seen on the left side of the photograph. It is a tributary of Big Sycamore Canyon. More than 60% of the Blue Canyon drainage was burned in the May 2013 Springs Fire.
In the early morning hours of Friday, December 12, 2014, a very strong cold front, enhanced with moisture from an atmospheric river, produced a line of strong storms that produced rain rates in the Springs Fire burn area as high as 2 inches per hour. This resulted in widespread flash floods and debris flows in the burn area, much of which is in Pt. Mugu State Park. Mud and debris flows originating from the burn area inundated homes below Conejo Mountain and closed Pacific Coast Highway.
This slideshow includes photos of the aftermath of the flash floods and debris flows in Blue Canyon, Sycamore Canyon and Upper Sycamore. These were taken on a trail run on December 14, 2014. Also included are some NWS Los Angeles/Oxnard tweets and some additional meteorological images and info.
Note: According to the Pt. Mugu State Park web site, the Park is closed until “at least January 12, 2015.”by
Rock formations along the western-most ridge on the north side of Boney Mountain in the Santa Monica Mountains.by
Runners on the Backbone Trail at About Mile 2 of the Backbone Ultra
Last year I ran the Coyote Backbone Trail Ultra and enjoyed everything about it — the trails and scenery, the runners, the volunteers, the approach of the organizers, and just the general vibe of the event. The Backbone Ultra team did a superb job, and as far as I know there no major issues. Nobody got lost or seriously injured. The runners and volunteers were respectful to the environment and everyone I talked to had a great time participating in the event.
Still I wondered. Because of its complex logistics and administrative requirements would there be a 2nd annual Backbone Trail Ultra? Then on August 22, a little after lunchtime, the news was posted — there would be a “Game 2!” I needn’t have worried, RDs Howard Cohen and Mike Epler were on it!
In the weeks leading up to the Backbone Ultra I’d been closely watching the weather. Two weeks prior to the run the area was inundated by the most rain in 48 hours since 2011. There had been some concern that heavy rainfall in the Springs Fire burn area in Pt. Mugu State Park would severely damage trails. That didn’t happen.
Ten days out it looked like an upper level low might affect the area. That didn’t happen. As the event neared, the forecast trended drier and warmer — much warmer. Friday as I was getting my drop bag ready, @NWSLosAngeles tweeted “Still expecting high temps to approach records at some locations this weekend” along with this graphic. That did happen!
On Saturday, the first day of the event, Santa Ana winds pushed the temperature at noon at Malibu & Piuma to 86 degrees — 16 degrees higher than during last year’s event! Note that this is the temperature in a ventilated, white-painted box several feet off the ground. The “in the sun” temperature, near the ground, on south-facing slopes was likely in the 90’s. Even more telling, the temperature at Circle X was in the 80’s from noon until 5:00 p.m. and at midnight was 74 degrees!
It must have been something to be on the Backbone Trail at its highpoint near Sandstone Peak in the middle of the night, with 100 mile visibility, a full moon and warm weather. I am really bummed to have missed that! I didn’t get to experience it because I had some kind of heat-related issue and dropped at the Encinal Aid Station at around mile 43.
This is the first time heat has kept me from completing a run or race. So what was the problem? Probably a combination of things. I don’t think I was under-trained or over-trained. I hadn’t just had the flu or a cold. My taper seemed OK. It wasn’t under-hydration, at least not in the first 30 miles. My best guess is that anticipating the heat, I drank too much early on. Not having trained much in the heat this year probably also contributed. It’s hard to know for sure. Sometimes it’s just not your day!
Although I didn’t get to the finish this year, I still very much enjoyed the miles I did run on the Backbone Trail. Here’s a slideshow of some images taken along the way.
It is a tribute to the many people that helped support the Backbone Trail Ultra that — by a substantial margin — there were more volunteers than runners! Many thanks to:
– RDs Howard Cohen & Mike Epler and their team Fred & Lauren Case, Willie Roland, Tres Smith, Erica Gratton and Dan Dicke.
– California State Parks and the National Park Service.
– Trippet Aid: Rene Canizales and the New Basin Blues.
– Stunt Aid: Alison Chavez/Amy Chavez and the SoCal Coyotes.
– Piuma Aid: Art Byrne and the Trail Runners Club.
– Corral Aid: George Plomarity and Patagonia.
– Kanan Aid: Paul Van Zuyle and his leprechauns.
– Encinal Aid: Bill Kee and wife Paula and the Coyote Cohorts.
– Mishe Mokwa Aid: Manley Klassen and wife Mara and the Coyote Cohorts.
– Sycamore Aid: Puerto Mauricio and the Coyote Cohorts.
– Finish: Erica Gratton & Janna Williams and the Conejo Valley Trail Runners.
– Breakfast: Luis Escobar, Jerry Gonzales and team.
– Medical: The Josepho Team and Ventura County Search and Rescue.
– HAM radio operators at each of the aid stations and the finish.
– Volunteers at the road crossings at Stunt, Piuma, Malibu Canyon, Latigo Canyon, Encinal Canyon, Mulholland Highway and Yerba Buena times 2.
– Sweeps: Kathy Higgins, Rene Canizales, Erin Chavin & Pedro Martinez, Ken Hughes and Jack Fierstadt.
– All the Course Markers & Safety Patrols.
Rock Formations Along Wet Fork Arroyo Sequit from the Backbone Trail
The Coyote Backbone Trail Ultra was one of the most enjoyable runs I did last year. The low key approach with the emphasis on the experience rather than the clock was the perfect fit for my first 100K+ run. To be able to run the entire Backbone Trail with great support, company and entertainment was fantastic.
Today’s run — the second of four 2014 Backbone Ultra training runs — was from Kanan Road to the Mishe Mokwa trailhead near Circle X. This approximately 15 mile segment is one of the most scenic on the Backbone Trail with expansive views and superlative sections of single track trail. The 850′ climb from Encinal Canyon to Etz Meloy Motorway is so well-graded you (almost) don’t realize you’re gaining elevation.
I was looking to get in some extra mileage and it turned out running cohort Ann Ongena was as well. Ann was marking the course for the training run, so the plan was to do the Kanan to Mishe Mokwa segment and then continue from Mishe Mokwa another 13 miles or so to the Wendy Drive trailhead in Newbury Park.
A little before dawn Backbone Ultra RD Howard Cohen dropped us off at the Kanan Road trailhead and then headed back to Mishe Mokwa to coordinate the training run. The temp at the trailhead was around 60 degrees, which is about 30 degrees warmer than last year’s frosty training run on this segment.
For some reason my GPS watch was a little slow to sync with the satellites, and while I waited Ann was already busy on the trail. Course markings don’t have to be numerous or obtrusive to be effective. The few markers she would place would be removed by Tres when he swept the course.
The run from Kanan to Mishe Mokwa went well. As has been the case too often this Winter, the weather was nearly ideal for running. Last year at this time Downtown Los Angeles had recorded 4.35 inches of rain for the water year (since July 1). That was well below average. This water year to date we’ve only recorded 0.97 inch of rain — a meager amount and less than in the record driest water year of 2006-2007.
On this run and all the runs I’ve been doing this Winter I’ve been looking at how the chaparral plants deal with drought. Generally, they reduce their water needs by not flowering, remaining dormant, dropping leaves, producing much smaller leaves, folding or rolling their leaves and in other ways. Some annuals simply don’t germinate. Some plants such as chamise, with its needle-like leaves, deal with drought well; others such as bush monkeyflower are barely recognizable.
As I reached the high point of the Yerba Buena segment of the BBT above Mishe Mokwa and Circle X I vividly recalled being there during last year’s Backbone Ultra. It was about 9:30 at night and I had been running for 15 hours. I could see the lights of the aid station in the valley below and then heard — or thought I heard — cheers for a runner reaching the aid station. Although barely audible, those cheers picked up my spirits as much as they did the runner reaching the aid station!
I didn’t hear any shouts from Mishe Mokwa this morning, but the thought made me smile. Overhead the layer of clouds which had been with us most of the morning was beginning to dissipate, and the temperature was beginning to climb. Across the valley Boney Mountain’s iconic rock formations stood in relief against a mackerel sky and I stopped a couple of times to photograph the scene.
At Mishe Mokwa we enjoyed the fare at Howard’s & Victoria’s rolling aid station and relaxed for a few minutes as a large group of hikers assembled and then started up the trail.
When marking a course it’s preferable that when the main group finishes the run the course-markers be comfortably ensconced in folding lounge chairs, an IPA in hand, sweat-free and looking as they have been there for hours. With more miles to cover I substituted a soda for the IPA and after about 10 leisurely minutes we followed in the hiker’s footsteps and continued up the Backbone Trail to a busy Sandstone Peak — the highest peak in the Santa Monica Mountains.
After spending a few minutes on the summit of the popular peak we worked over to the west junction of the Tri Peaks Trail, then down the Chamberlain, Old Boney and Blue Canyon trails to Sycamore Canyon. Here we left the Backbone Trail and enjoyed a little easy running up Sycamore Canyon to the Upper Sycamore Trail. Upper Sycamore ends at Danielson Road, which we followed to Satwiwa and trails that connect to Wendy Drive.by
Offshore wind events have been frequent this rain season. They often follow “inside slider” systems that miss Southern California and take a more inland track over the West. The result is more wind and less rain.
Los Angeles wrapped up calendar year 2013 with the least amount of rainfall on record. When talking about rainfall in Southern California it is more common to refer to the “water year” which runs from July 1 to June 30. Our rain season generally runs from October to April, so the water year includes all the months of a particular rain season.
So when was the driest water year in Los Angeles? It was just a few years ago, in 2006-2007 when only 3.21 inches of rain was recorded. There were also many wind events in that dry rain season, and like this January not a lot of green in the hills. To date we have had less rainfall this water year than in 2006-2007!
For the most part this Fall and Winter I’ve been able to work around the wind events and do runs that more or less escaped the wind. I thought that was going to be the case again today. The predicted offshore event seemed to be behind schedule and when I left for the Wendy Drive trailhead there wasn’t much wind.
There were stirrings of an offshore breeze at the trailhead and I commented to a hiker that I hoped the winds would hold off until later in the day. The plan was to do the out and back run from Wendy Drive to Mugu Peak. Because of the myriad of route choices, this is a fun run to do as a time challenge. What is the fastest route? Try it and see.
Things looked good all the way down Sycamore Canyon and into La Jolla Valley, but the wind started to pick up as I worked toward Mugu Peak.
Once on the peak it was like flipping a switch on a wind tunnel! I was ahead of my PR to the peak by several minutes and I was trying to push the pace. That was not happening and several times I had to pause and put a hand down as I staggered in the middle of a big step.
I caught up to a couple of people just before the final steep push to the summit. The wind flow was not as turbulent and gusty here and one of them started to run. With each stride the dust streaked from his shoes and I stopped to take some photos and this HD video snapshot. The smoother winds didn’t last for long, and neither did the running.
Mugu Peak’s next door neighbor to the west, Laguna Peak, has recorded a wind gust of 125 mph. In this photo from Boney Mountain Mugu Peak is on the far left and Laguna Peak has the communications equipment on the summit. Today I’d estimate the strongest gusts on Mugu Peak were in the range of 50-60 mph. The winds were strong enough that the sewn end of a fluttering strap was like a whip and just as capable of raising a welt.
I spent zero time on the summit and was very happy to get back down to La Jolla Valley.by