Category Archives: nature

Forest Run

Coast redwood along the Forest Trail in Malibu Creek State Park

The nasal bellowing of a bullfrog shook the morning, but didn’t disturb the mirror-like surface of Century Lake. I had paused along the Forest Trail in Malibu Creek State Park to take in my surroundings. Here and there glimmers of sunlight reflected from the base of the reeds along the opposite shore. Birds called, flowers bloomed and Nature continued to work in its wonderous way.

Canyon sunflower along the Lookout Trail in Malibu Creek State Park.
Canyon sunflower along the Lookout Trail.

My run had started at the Cistern Trailhead on Mulholland Highway and then wandered about the Reagan Ranch area. The Lookout and Yearling Trails had been thick with mustard and badly overgrown. The plants had been wet with dew, and my black sleeves and shorts had been liberally sprinkled with the bright yellow flowers. A few ticks had also hitched a ride, but were removed before they could bite.

It had been a relief to get back to the Cage Creek Trail and descend to the Crags Road Trail and Malibu Creek. The logs extending across the creek from the washed out bridge had been rearranged, making it easier to cross.

Log crossing across Malibu Creek on the Crags Road Trail, near the Forest Trail junction.
Log crossing across Malibu Creek on the Crags Road Trail, near the Forest Trail junction.

No other trail in the Park is quite like the Forest Trail. The trail isn’t part of a loop, doesn’t connect to other trails, and is only a half-mile long; but it feels like a trail you might find in Big Sur, Santa Cruz or the Bay Area. The forest is comprised primarily of coast live oak, California bay, and sycamore, but at several spots along the trail you’ll find coast redwoods.

Coast redwoods are not endemic to Southern California. All but one of the Forest Trail redwoods were planted over 100 years ago. The trees were severely impacted by the 2011-2015 drought, and only a few have survived. Even so, they are easy to spot — the large, deeply-furrowed, copper-brown trunk of a coast redwood is unmistakable.

Note: There is some poison oak along the Forest Trail, and this year some was protruding onto the trail.

Some related posts: The Malibu Creek State Park Redwoods Are Dying; Malibu Creek State Park Redwoods: Fighting the Drought; After the Woolsey Fire: Malibu Creek State Park Redwoods, M*A*S*H Site and Bulldog Climb

Dawn Songs, Wildflowers, and a Rocket Launch from the Phantom Trail

Sun and clouds in Malibu Creek State Park
Clouds & sun at Malibu Creek State Park, near the end of the Phantom Loop

I checked my watch — it was 6:13 a.m. I was part way up the Phantom Trail in Malibu Creek State Park, and had stopped to see if I could hear the launch of the Falcon 9 at Vandenberg Space Force Base.

I’d hoped to see the launch, but low clouds obscured the view skyward. Even so, there was a chance that a thin spot in the cloud deck might reveal the ship, as it propelled its classified payload into orbit.

All was quiet, except for the dawn songs of waking birds and the occasional car or motorcycle on Mulholland Highway. But then, just above the ambient sounds, I heard it — a constant dull roar somewhere to the west. I scanned the sky for any hint of an exhaust plume.

None was evident, but I suspect that if I had looked at the right spot at the right time, I might have glimpsed the rocket’s sun-bright flame. After searching and listening for a couple of minutes, I resumed working up the trail.

Phacelia along the Phantom Trail in Malibu Creek State Park
A sea of Phacelia along the Phantom Trail

Ka-boom! Even though my attention had turned to the trail, the distinctive, two-syllable report of a sonic boom broke my reverie. It had to be the Falcon 9 booster returning to the launch site. The boom wasn’t very loud at my location, but some living closer to Vandenberg apparently mistook the launch and sonic boom as an earthquake.

The remainder of the run went well. I’d run the Ahmanson 12K the day before, and the Phantom Loop (clockwise) was a good follow-up to that run.

I was a bit surprised just how overgrown some sections of the trail were. Mustard wasn’t the only plant crowding the trail, phacelia was as thick along the Phantom Trail as I’ve seen.

A showy patch of Chinese houses wildflowers along the Phantom Trail
Chinese houses along the Phantom Trail

With the cloudy, cool start to the day, the poppies were mostly closed, but several other species of wildflowers added color along the trail. Among them were Elegant Clarkia, Owl’s Clover and Chinese Houses.

Note: A little higher in the Santa Monica Mountains and farther to the west, Jonathan Stewart captured this video of the NROL-85 launch from Boney Mountain.

Some related posts: Phantom Trail: Trade-offs of a Wet Rainy Season; Redwoods, Raptors, and the Phantom Loop; Ladyface Via the Phantom Trail and Heartbreak Ridge

Encelia Eruption

Bush sunflower (Encelia californica) along the Secret Trail in Calabasas

The bush sunflowers (Encelia californica) above are along the Secret Trail in Calabasas. While there have sometimes been showy displays of bush sunflowers along this trail, I don’t recall any quite as prolific as this. There were many other wildflowers as well (slideshow).

It’s been another bizarre rain year. While California water managers worry about water supplies, chaparral plants in the Santa Monica and Santa Susana Mountains seem quite happy with this season’s rainfall. There is a lot of new growth and plants appear to be playing catchup from last year’s dismal rain season. From the trail it looks more like an above average rain year, rather than the somewhat below normal rain year actually recorded.

Exploring the Santa Clarita Ultra & Trail Runs 50K Course

Bigcone Douglas-fir along East Canyon Mtwy fire road
Bigcone Douglas-fir along East Canyon Mtwy fire road.

I hadn’t seen a hiker, runner, or mountain biker since turning off East Canyon Mtwy fire road. That was about 2 miles ago. I checked my watch — it read 18 miles. Had I’d made a wrong turn?

Today’s plan was to do the first 25 miles of the Santa Clarita Ultra & Trail Runs 50K. A week ago I’d run the first (blue) and third (yellow) sections of the course, and today’s run would theoretically combine the first (blue) and second (orange) sections.

Oat Mountain (3747'), the highest peak in the Santa Susana Mountains.
Oat Mountain from the Towsley Canyon Loop Trail

So far, the run had gone well. It had started with an extended version of the popular Towsley Canyon Loop in Ed Tavis Park. After climbing up oil-rich Wiley Canyon to a view point at an elevation of about 2450′, the course descended a series of long switchbacks, and passed through a gap in Towsley Canyon known as the Narrows. A mile down the canyon from the Narrows I’d used segments of the Elder Loop and Taylor Loop trails to run over to Lyon Canyon.

Entrance to the Narrows on the Towsley Canyon Loop Trail
Entrance to the Narrows in Towsley Canyon

Following an out and back up the canyon to the top of a prominent hill, the course continued on the Taylor Loop nearly to the Old Road, eventually circling back to the parking area at Ed Davis. At the parking lot my watch read a bit over 9 miles.

After switching from a bottle to a pack, I’d run on the Old Road over to the East Canyon Trailhead. From there the course followed East Canyon and Sunshine Canyon fire roads to Mission Point. The climb up to Jones Junction gains about 1300′ in 3 miles, then it’s another 1.5 miles over to Mission Point (2771′), the high point on the course.

A very green stretch of the Taylor Loop Trail
Green along the Taylor Loop Trail.

One of the highlights of the run up East Canyon was the very healthy-looking Bigcone Douglas-firs higher on the road. Now relegated to the cooler climes of steep, north-facing mountain slopes, the species used to be far more widespread in Southern California.

On the way to Mission Point, the views of the San Fernando Valley from the crest were outstanding, and gave a perspective of the Valley I had not seen before. Apart from having to detour along fence lines bordering private property, and continuous gunfire in a section of the canyon that is near a popular gun club, the run to Mission Point was excellent.

The first of three short detours along fencelines on the way to Mission Point.
Detour around private property on the way to Mission Point.

Returning from Mission Point there was another part of the course I needed to do — an out and back on Weldon Mtwy. Which brings me back to mile 18 of today’s run. After turning off East Canyon Mtwy on what I thought was Weldon Mtwy, I had expected the fire road to loose elevation relatively quickly. But that wasn’t happening.

Instead of running down a canyon, I was running along a ridge — a long ridge. Below and to my right was what looked like a landfill. Below and to my left I could see the Old Road and Santa Clarita. They seemed a long way down.

Mission Point, Three Trees and the San Fernando Valley.
Mission Point, Three Trees and the San Fernando Valley.

There were several ways I could have checked where I was — my watch has maps; my phone had maps; and I had a map in my pack. But I wasn’t in trouble and was already two miles down this road — whatever it was. If I wasn’t on Weldon Mtwy, it would still be a trail I hadn’t done.

After a couple of “I’ll just go a little farther down and see what I can see” episodes, I eventually turned around and headed back up the fire road. When I got back to East Canyon Mtwy, I checked the yellow pole marking the junction of the fire roads — it was marked “WELDON.” Later, I checked my track and found I had turned around a half-mile from the Newhall Pass Trailhead. Now I know.

Overall, I’d enjoyed the course, and decided I would register for the 50K. But registration closed early, and now I see the event has been postponed until November. Oh well, I still got to run in a new area and check out some interesting trails!

Old Boney to Serrano Valley, Plus Fireline and Overlook

Paintbrush along the Old Boney Trail in Pt. Mugu State Park

Serrano Valley and Canyon had been on my run list for a few weeks. I was curious to see how December’s rainfall had affected Serrano Canyon. Runoff from those storms had (once again) washed out sections pf the Blue Canyon Trail and Upper Sycamore Trail. Had the Serrano Canyon Trail also been damaged?

Greenbark Ceanothus along the Old Boney Trail
Greenbark Ceanothus along the Old Boney Trail

It was a good day to visit Serrano — I was looking to do a longer run; the weather was perfect; the meadows green; and many wildflowers were in bloom.

There are a couple of ways I like to run to Serrano Valley from the Wendy Drive Trailhead. Both do the initial 1.6 mile, 900′ climb up the Old Boney Trail from Danielson Road. At the top of the climb, one route goes up and over Boney Mountain’s western ridge to the Backbone Trail, and the other continues on the Old Boney Trail. Both routes join at the Chamberlain junction of the Backbone and Old Boney Trails. I’d done the western ridge of Boney Mountain recently, so opted for the Old Boney route.

Prickly phlox along Overlook Fire Road
Prickly phlox along Overlook Fire Road

Wildflowers were everywhere. The December rain and February heat wave seems to have encouraged many plants to bloom — among them blue dics, Encelia, clematis, California poppy, greenbark Ceanothus, shooting star, nightshade, paintbrush, poison oak, milkmaids, prickly phlox, hummingbird sage, and larkspur.

Serrano Valley was Spring-green and spectacular. Serrano Creek was gurgling away, and the Serrano Canyon Trail had survived December’s storms. After a pleasant run down Serrano Canyon, I stopped to get some water from the faucet at the junction of the Serrano Canyon Trail and Sycamore Canyon.

A right turn here — up Sycamore Canyon — produces a run of about 20 miles. Today I was looking to do a little more than that, so turned south and ran about a quarter-mile down Sycamore Canyon and picked up the Fireline Trail. This trail gains about 700′ in elevation on its way up to Overlook Fire Road.

California poppies along Overlook Fire Road, above La Jolla Valley
La Jolla Valley from Overlook Fire Road

Overlook Fire Road leads northwest to the top of the Ray Miller Trail. I was feeling good and briefly debated descending to the Ray Miller Trailhead. I did a quick estimate of the mileage. I was at about mile 14. Descending Ray Miller would add about 2.5 miles, and then the run back from the trailhead to Wendy would add another 12 miles. Hmmmm… nearly 29 miles. My legs were way ahead of my brain, and were already continuing up Overlook Fire Road.

I followed the usual route back — Overlook -> Hell Hill -> Wood Canyon -> Two Foxes -> Sycamore Canyon -> Upper Sycamore -> Danielson Road -> Satwiwa. The paved part of Sycamore can be a bit tedious and it helped when I happened upon a couple of friends.

Here is an interactive, 3D terrain view of the GPS track of my route. The map can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned. For help controlling the view, click/tap the “?” icon in the upper right corner of the screen. Track and placename locations are approximate and subject to errors. Poor weather, and other conditions may make this route unsuitable for this activity.

Some related posts: Over Boney Mountain to Sandstone Peak and Serrano Valley, Serrano Valley from Wendy Drive, Pt. Mugu State Park Debris Flows and Flash Floods

Revitalized Valley Oak at Ahmanson Ranch

Sunlit valley oak in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (Ahmanson Ranch)

Revitalized by December’s copious rainfall and temperatures in the mid-80s in February, this valley oak at Ahmanson Ranch has produced a lush crown of new leaves.

(Officially named Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve, most users refer to the open space area as Ahmanson Ranch, or simply, Ahmanson.)