Category Archives: nature

Sage Ranch Micro-Wilderness

Sage Ranch Micro-Wilderness. Photography by Gary Valle.

Sage Ranch is a Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy open space area adjacent to the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) Superfund site.

The sandstone rocks are an exposure of the Chatsworth Formation, which extends from the Simi Hills across the 118 Freeway to Rocky Peak and the Santa Susana Mountains. The popular rock climbing area Stoney Point is a well-known example of the Chatsworth Formation.

Geology and climate are the foundation elements of habitat. They influence — and sometimes dictate — the plants that inhabit an area. The plant Santa Susana Tarweed is very common on exposures of Chatsworth Formation sandstone, but rare elsewhere.

Exposures of Chatsworth Formation sandstone in Sage Ranch Park and Rocky Peak Park are sufficiently rugged as to create areas of isolated micro-wilderness within urban open space.

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Bush Senecio on Temescal Peak

Bush Senecio on Temescal Peak. September 23, 2018.

Yellow seems to be the predominant color of late-summer and fall wildflowers in Southern California. In addition to the bush Senecio pictured above; rabbitbrush, goldenbush, tarweed, telegraph weed and common sunflower come to mind.

From a recent run of the Trippet Ranch loop, with a side trip to Temescal Peak.

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After the Station Fire: Back to Bear Canyon

Bigcone Douglas-fir burned in the 2009 Station Fire. September 1, 2018.

It’s been nine years since the Station Fire burned 160,577 acres in Angeles National Forest. The Red Box – Bear Canyon – Gabrielino loop is a long time favorite adventure run that I’ve enjoyed doing many years before and after that 2009 fire.

The loop was the first I did when the area reopened in May 2011. The trails were in poor shape — overgrown and damaged from flash floods. The notorious fire-follower Poodle-dog bush had flourished in the wake of the fire and was particularly bad along the Gabrielino Trail between Switzer’s and Red Box. Thinking I was “immune” to the plant, I brazenly plowed through it, and as a result spent several inflamed nights trying to sleep in a reclining chair.

Each year Bear Canyon and upper Arroyo Seco recover a little more. Poodle-dog bush is in decline and in many areas nearing the end of its life-cycle. The chaparral, bay trees and oaks are all recovering; and the bigcone Douglas-firs that survived the fire have become more fully-foliaged.

Bear Canyon from the upper Bear Canyon Trail.
Bear Canyon from the upper Bear Canyon Trail. Click for larger image.

This year Bear Canyon was a little drier than last. The creek was a trickle, disappearing in the sand in some areas and creating small pools in others. The path in the upper part of the canyon, above Bear Canyon Camp, was better defined, but still tricky to follow in some spots.

With the dry conditions, most of the poison oak had already turned red. It was easy to spot, but difficult to avoid. The “stinging nettle” creek crossing higher in the canyon wasn’t as overgrown as last year, but I still managed to brush against a plant or two.

Bear Canyon ends at Arroyo Seco, downstream of Switzer Falls. After turning upstream on the Bear Canyon Trail, I hadn’t run far when I encountered a couple of mountain bikers. They asked me, “is this the trail to JPL?”

This wasn’t the first time that I’d encountered misplaced riders or hikers on this section of trail. Some get misplaced looking for the falls and others mistakenly follow the Bear Canyon Trail down into Arroyo Seco instead of continuing high in the canyon on the Gabrielino Trail. Because of the completion of the restoration of the Gabrielino Trail there were a few more riders on the trail than usual.

Here are a few photos taken along the way.

Some related posts: Bear Canyon Loop: If the Poison Oak Doesn’t Get You, the Stinging Nettle Will; After the Station Fire: Red Box – Bear Canyon – Gabrieleno Loop; After the Station Fire: Contact Dermatitis from Turricula parryi – Poodle-dog Bush

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Cottonwood Pass – New Army Pass Loop 2018

Upper Rock Creek Basin.

The smoke in the Owens Valley was as thick as PCH fog, and I wondered if it would extend into the higher elevations of the Sierra.

From Whitney Portal Road I couldn’t see any of the ridges on Lone Pine Peak and the visibility at the bottom of Horseshoe Meadow Road wasn’t much better. Gradually, as I drove up one long switchback and then another, the smoke thinned. At Horseshoe Meadow the sky in the direction of the crest was a decent Sierra blue, but smoke still spoiled the views down the canyons and over the valley.

As usual, I parked at the equestrian and overflow parking area for the New Army Pass Trail. From here, the start of the Cottonwood Pass Trail is a 5 minute walk SSW through the trees and downhill. I prefer to do the loop clockwise, going over Cottonwood Pass first, and then New Army Pass later in the run. Late season, I’ve also done the loop using (old) Army Pass, but that is more of a mountaineer’s route and is often blocked by snow and ice.

New Army Pass is fairly high — 12,300′ — and the east side is quite steep near the top. Depending on the year, snow and ice can be an issue, even in mid-summer. When doing the loop clockwise, confirm in advance that New Army Pass will be passable with your level of experience and the equipment you’ll be carrying.

For more details see the related posts below.

Here are a few photos from the run.

Some related posts: Cottonwood Pass – New Army Pass Loop 2013, Cottonwood – Army Pass Loop, Cottonwood Pass – New Army Pass Loop 2011

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Up, Down and Around on Mt. Pinos’ Tumamait and North Fork Trails

A Chumash spirit tower on Sawmill Mountain, near Mt. Pinos

Yellows, reds and greens marked its location, but the seep above Sheep Camp was dry. As I approached the camp, the uppermost campsite was empty and I wondered if the spring at the camp was also going to be dry. If it was, I was going to have to revise my running plan.

Rabbitbrush blooming along the Tumamait Trail near its eastern trailhead on Mt. Pinos.
Near the start of the Tumamait Trail on Mt. Pinos.

So far the run had gone well. From the Chula Vista parking area (8350′), I’d run the service road up to Mt. Pinos (8831′), then followed the Tumamait Trail west to Mt. Abel Road. Along the way Sawmill Mountain (8818′)and Grouse Mountain (8582′) had been short side trips; and from the end of the trail, the summit of Mt. Abel (8280′) was a short hike up through the pines.

Compared to the triple-digit temperatures in the parched West Valley — as high as 117 °F this July — the temps on the Tumamait Trail had been wonderfully cool. The hotter than average weather seems to have become the new norm, and also — unfortunately — the resulting wildfires.

On a run here Last July, smoke from a fire near Lake Cachuma had nearly enveloped Mt. Pinos. Today several fires were burning in California, and once again smoke could be seen in the valleys and canyons to the north of the mountain.

The North Fork Trail and small spring at Sheep Camp.
The small spring at Sheep Camp.

To get in a bit more mileage and elevation gain the next part of my run was supposed to be an out and back to the sun-baked environs of Lily Meadows (6600′). That wasn’t going to happen if the spring was dry.

When I stopped at the wildflower-accented spring I could see that there was the barest thread of water trickling from the pipe. It didn’t look like much, but it filled my 18 oz. cut-off water bottle in about three minutes. I gulped down most of the first bottle and it took a couple more to fill my Camelbak. In about 10 minutes I was headed downhill.

The North Fork Trail at Lily Meadows Camp.
The North Fork Trail at Lily Meadows Camp.

The North Fork Trail is far less used than the Tumamait Trail. That’s part of the fun. Thunderstorms had not only wiped away any previous tracks, but had severely eroded some sections of the trail as well.

With the loss of elevation came an increase in temperature. By the time I reached Lily Meadows Camp the temp was in the 90s. This time of year there were no lilies or meadows at the campsite, but there was a nice grove of Jeffrey pines and a new camp table!

I didn’t spend much time down there. There was a hill to climb and the cool temps along the crest were only about an hour away.

Some related posts: Pinos to Abel Plus, Thunderstorm, Vincent Tumamait Trail

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