One day while running at Ahmanson Ranch, I was admiring the stately limbs of a large valley oak, and noticed that along the margin of the canopy were several sapling oaks. As I continued my run, I found that only a few other valley oaks hosted a brood of young trees.
That oaks would sprout on the margin of the canopy made sense. There is an abundance of acorns at the ends of the limbs. It is also where water drips from the oak’s leaves on foggy days or when there is light rain or drizzle. The mix of sun and shade on the edge of the canopy is the perfect place for a young oak to thrive.
The surprise came when I took a closer look at the young trees. Most were valley oaks — the same as the shepherding tree — but in some cases the young trees were coast live oaks! And sometimes there was no obvious parent coast live oak nearby.
Of course, there are plenty of coast live oaks at Ahmanson and several ways for their acorns to find their way under a valley oak. Birds and squirrels love to stash acorns, and gravity is good at moving round things downhill.
Time is at a different scale for a tree. In my mind’s eye I accelerated time and watched as the young oaks surrounding a guardian oak grew in stature. Fire sweeps through the frame on several occasions. During one fire the old brood tree collapses and in another fire, the collapsed tree disappears from the frame. Of the young oaks that have survived, one dominates, spreading its limbs and growing large and robust. Along the margins of its canopy, I can see several sapling oaks…
Note: The young oaks in the title photo are an older brood that survived the Woolsey Fire, but many younger sapling oaks were killed. Introduced grasses, black mustard, and other introduced plants produce higher fuel loads than native equivalents and increase fire mortality.
Parked in a turnout on Mulholland Hwy, I finished putting on sunscreen and then pushed the Start/Stop button on my watch to dial in the GPS and pair my HRM. Outside, it was a chilly 43 degrees. Sunrise was nearing and the strengthening March sun was forecast to push temps well into the 70s.
In the aftermath of Woolsey Fire, I’d returned to Malibu Creek State Park to see the wildflowers; gauge the response of the creek to heavy Winter rains; check on the health of the redwoods along the Forest Trail, and assess the ongoing recovery of the burned chaparral.
Today’s run of the Bulldog Loop would be a follow-up to two runs in the park in December 2018, which found a fire-ravaged landscape just beginning the long process of recovery.
Many of the live oaks and valley oaks in the Woolsey Fire burn area have withered, brown, scorched leaves. As bad as they look, most of these trees will replace their foliage and recover.
Today I was excited to see foliage replacement occurring on several live oaks in the northeastern area of the fire. This also happened about a month after the 2005 Topanga Fire.
Back in 2005, valley oaks also started replacing their leaves about the same time as the live oaks. That might not happen this time. Valley oaks are deciduous and the Woolsey Fire occurred later in the Fall than the Topanga Fire. Now is about the time valley oaks would be losing their leaves. That may affect the timing of their foliage replacement. We’ll see!
I’d done a long run the day before in Pt. Mugu State Park, so the plan for this morning was to do a short run and check out the Woolsey Fire impacts between Century Lake and the MAS*H site in Malibu Creek State Park.
In addition to checking the condition of the coast live oaks and other native trees, I was curious to see how the coast redwoods along the Forest Trail had fared. These trees were planted nearly a century ago and in recent years have struggled with the drought. Had they survived the fire?
It had been about a year since I had checked on the redwoods. The good news is that a few of them still appear to be viable. The bottom limbs on some of the trees were scorched, but I think they will be OK. Of the 16 or so redwoods, about five have died, about five are in poor shape, and five or six appear to be OK. There is one young naturally occurring tree that was severely scorched and may not survive. We’ll just have to see.
While there was some damage to the MAS*H site, the picnic tables, ambulance, and signpost made it through the fire. Some repairs will be necessary.
I was supposed to turn around at the MAS*H site, but you know how that goes. I wanted to see “just a little” of the Bulldog climb… and a little more… and a little more. I finally ran out of time about 2.5 miles up Bulldog Mtwy and headed back.
Even when you expect it, it is sobering to see areas of high soil burn severity. Thirty-six years of robust chaparral growth were just… gone. Also startling were the stream flows and debris flows that resulted from “only” about 1.5 – 2.0 inches of rainfall in early December. An atmospheric river event of the magnitude that caused the Malibu Creek flooding in February 2017 would be catastrophic.
A lot of work had been done on Bulldog Mtwy. It had been repaired and graded. Where there was still brush and trees along the road the branches had been trimmed!
There’s a reason that Skyline to the Sea is Pacific Coast Trail Run’s biggest event. Close your eyes and picture your ideal trail. The trail of your dreams might be hard-pressed to match the appeal of the Skyline to Sea Trail.
There is something magical about running in an old-growth redwood forest. Established in 1902, Big Basin Redwoods State Park was the first state park in California. It’s redwoods reach 2000 years in age, 328 feet in height and 18.5 feet in width!
The Skyline to the Sea Trail has a net elevation loss, but enough uphill to get your attention. Many miles of the trail are as smooth as a carpet, but some are rocky, root-strewn and technical. It is often cool under the dense forest canopy, but it can also be warm and humid. I was surprised to see an “Emergency Water” stash a mile before the last aid station. In some years it is well-used and much appreciated.
The Park supports a vast variety of animal and plant life. Some plant species can only be found in the Park and a seabird (Marbled Murrelet) nests in its old-growth conifers.
In some years one park species can add extra adrenaline to the race. This year Brett (my son) and I were counting down the miles to mile 4.0 of the Marathon. The R.D. had reported encounters with the beasts at that point of the 50K on Saturday. About 20 yards before mile 4.0 Brett saw what looked like a “cloud of dust” and shortly after that we heard agitated voices from the runners ahead.
In it for the full experience, we — and several other runners — plowed headlong into the cloud. The yellowjackets didn’t like that. A number of us were stung; some several times. The day before a runner in the 50K was stung 18 times.
Yellowjackets or not, running the Skyline to the Sea Marathon was like running a 26 mile nature trail and one of the finest courses I’ve done.