Category Archives: trails|pt mugu state park

You Can’t See Far in a Cloud

Clouds along the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains near Sandstone Peak

For the most part the upper layer of clouds had been above Boney Mountain. Thin wisps of cloud had clung to the ridges in a couple of places, but the ceiling looked like it was going to remain above the peak.

But then something unusual happened. A lower deck of clouds formed in the Conejo Valley, and then expanded upward, enveloping me as I worked up Boney’s Western Ridge. It wasn’t a whiteout, but in places the visibility was reduced to about twenty feet.

Fog changes the mood and character of a place, particularly a place where airy views and an expansive mindset are the norm. Thoughts turn inward and perceptions more narrowly focused. The big picture becomes entirely virtual.

Earlier in the week the area had been drenched by more than two inches of rain. It had been damp overnight and water filled the profusion of irregular pockets covering the volcanic rock. The rock was plastered with a patchwork of bright green moss and gray-green lichen. Saturated with water, the moss was slippery as ice. I climbed with extra care, especially on the steeper sections.

Where soil collected on tiered steps, obovate leaves of shooting-star and other annuals sprouted, presaging a show of the purple and yellow wildflowers. Chalk liveforever relished the moisture, its drought-scarred leaves rehydrating and recovering.

Higher on the ridge the intricate green foliage of red shanks, still recovering from the 2013 Springs Fire, was heavily-beaded with water. Brushing against it was like being sprayed with ice-cold water.

I remained immersed in cloud all the way up the Western Ridge, past Tri Peaks and over to Sandstone Peak, and didn’t climb above them until near the summit of Sandstone Peak.

A few photos from the climb and run are below. Click an image for more info and to display the image full-size.

Related post: Increasing Clouds

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Increasing Clouds

Pt. Mugu State Park from the Chamberlain segment of the Backbone Trail

The last couple of days I’d been checking the weather models to try and get an idea of when the cold front might reach Pt. Mugu State Park. Projections ranged from around 10:00 AM to about 1:00 PM.

A group of us were doing an annual end of the year trail run and scramble over Boney Mountain to the Backbone Trail, and then returning by various routes to the Wendy Drive trailhead. Along the way there are great views of the Boney Mountain Wilderness, Channel Islands, Conejo Valley and Ventura Mountains, but you can’t see very far from inside of a cloud.

Runners on the crest of the western ridge of Boney Mountain.
Boney Mountain’s Western Ridge

It turned out clouds would not be a problem. At least not the first half of the day. When I pulled into the parking area at Wendy Drive the front was little more than a white smudge on the western horizon. The sky was clear and it remained clear the entire time we worked up Boney’s Western Ridge. Everyone enjoyed scrambling up the gullies and rocks to the top of the mountain and then over to Tri Peaks.

View west from Sandstone Peak, the highest peak in the Santa Monica Mountains
Approaching cold front from Sandstone Peak

We’d reached Tri Peaks about 40 minutes ago. From there I’d run over to Sandstone Peak, the highest peak in the Santa Monica Mountains. From this panoramic vantage point I could see the front was still well to the west, near Santa Barbara. This gave me some time. I was prepared for rain, but didn’t want to miss the wonderful scenery running down the Chamberlain Trail, over to Serrano Valley, and through Serrano Canyon.

Sycamore Canyon near the Danielson Multi-Use Area.
Increasing clouds near Danielson Ranch

Over the remainder of the run I watched as cirrus clouds ahead of the front gradually muted the sun, mid-level clouds began to develop over the peaks, and the wind became more gusty and fitful. Later in the run the clouds started to lower and thicken and the temperature dropped. Eventually it began to smell like rain.

Cold front moving into Pt. Mugu State Park
Here comes the rain!

As I crested the hill on Danielson Road I felt a cold drop of rain on my arm and then another on the back of a leg. Clouds covered the sky, and to the west showers draped the ridges and filled the canyons. The front and I were racing the last mile to the trailhead, and I knew who had won.

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Boney Mountain’s Western Ridge

Boney Mountain's Western Ridge

From today’s run, hike, scramble and climb of Boney Mountain’s Western Ridge. The rounded pinnacle at the  top of the formation is this one.

Some related posts: Boney Mountain Western Ridge & Loop, Over Boney Mountain to Sandstone Peak and Serrano Valley, Boney Mountain Eclipse Run, Boney Mountain – Serrano Valley Adventure Run, Boney Mountain Views

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Manzanita Leaf Galls and Aphids

Manzanita Leaf Galls and Aphids

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 Gall

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Over Boney Mountain to Sandstone Peak and Serrano Valley

Volcanic rocks along the western escarpment of Boney MOuntain

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.

Some related posts: Pt. Mugu State Park Debris Flows and Flash Floods, Just Me and the Meadowlarks, After the Springs Fire: A Run Through Pt. Mugu State Park

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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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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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Pt. Mugu State Park Debris Flows and Flash Floods

View of Blue Canyon from Boney Mountain

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.”

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