Category Archives: wildflowers

San Bruno Mountain and Windy Hill Trail Runs

California bay trees in Windy Hill Open Space Preserve near the bottom of the Razorback Ridge Trail.
California bay – Windy Hill Open Space Preserve

With vaccinations on the increase and Covid on the decline, it was wonderful to once again be able to visit family.

As we always try to do, Brett and I got in a couple of runs. We usually do at least one run that is new to me, and there are certainly plenty from which to choose in the Bay Area.

Oxeye Daisy along the Old Ranch Trail in San Bruno Mountain Park
Oxeye Daisy along the Old Ranch Trail

Our first run was on San Bruno Mountain. We’d previously done the Ridge Trail, so this time opted to do a variation of the Summit Loop. The parking lot at the base was was closed, so we started the run using the Old Ranch Road Trail. This was a plus because it added a little mileage and there were a lot of wildflowers along the trail, including monkeyflower, iris, lupine, yellow paintbrush, daisy, and foxglove.

Brett running up the Summit Loop Trail on San Bruno Mountain
Summit Loop Trail, near the top.

It was an excellent run on single-track trail. As is the rule on San Bruno, it was a bit breezy, with hazy views of the surrounding communities and the Pacific. An island of open space in an urban sea, San Bruno Mountain is a miracle of land conservation, and an area to be relished. Here is a map of trails in the area.

The next day, after watching a spirited youth soccer match, we headed south on 280. On the way, Brett filled me in on the runs he likes to do in Windy Hill Open Space Preserve and Huddart Park. We couldn’t go wrong with either choice but finally decided to save Huddart Park for another day.

Brett running through thimbleberry on a lush section of the Razorback Ridge Trail
Razorback Ridge Trail

Windy Hill Open Space Preserve is on the northeast-facing slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains above Portola Valley. We parked near the Alpine Trailhead and ran up the road to the Eagle Trail. Corte Madera Creek was running, but low. Although the grasses along the trail were green and the undergrowth was relatively lush, I suspect the conditions were more like July than May. Open hillsides looked mid-Summer dry and the lichen on the trees was drab and desiccated.

Like the rest of California, the Santa Cruz Mountains have seen well below average precipitation this rain season. One station near Windy Hill, Woodside 3.4 S, recorded only about 28% (12″) of normal precipitation from October 1 to May 19. Another station, Skyline Ridge Preserve, recorded about 41%  of normal (16.5″) from October 1 to May 3.

Western columbine along the Lost Trail in Windy Hill Open Space Preserve
Western columbine

From the Eagle Trail/Private Road we turned onto the Razorback Ridge Trail. According to my Garmin track, the Razorback Ridge Trail gains 1000′ or so over 2.4 miles to its junction with the Lost Trail. It’s all runnable, switch-backing up a thimbleberry and fern-lined trail, shaded by California bay trees.

While the Razorback Ridge Trail continues up another 0.4 miles to Skyline Blvd., we turned right onto the Lost Trail. This trail parallels Skyline as it works in and out of the tributary ravines of Jones Gulch, on its way over to the Hamms Gulch Trail. Along the way there were views across the valley to Mt. Diablo, some 40 miles distant. Western columbine was blooming along the trail, its bright red color complimenting the green theme.

Large Douglas-fir along the Lost Trail in Windy Hill Open Space Preserve
Large Douglas-fir along the Lost Trail

At the top of Jones Gulch, there is an impressive, old-growth Douglas-fir. At chest height, it is about as wide as Brett is tall. This would put its diameter at over 72″ and its circumference at over 220″, suggesting an age in the neighborhood of 350 years.

The run down the Hamms Gulch Trail was as good as the run up Razorback Ridge. Given the weather was nearly perfect for a hike or run, we were surprised to see only a dozen or so people on the trail.

From where we were parked the run worked out to about 8 miles, with about 1500′ of gain/loss. Here is a trail map of the area, and here is an interactive, 3D terrain view of my GPS track of the loop. The interactive 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.

Some related posts: Breezy San Bruno Mountain Ridge, San Francisco Sights Trail Run, Miwok Wanderings

Modelo Mustard

Mustard flowering in Cheeseboro Canyon reveals the underlying structure of a hill.

Mustard flowering in Cheeseboro Canyon reveals the underlying structure of a hill.

According to the Dibblee geologic map of the area, the strata are part of the Modelo Formation. And… the Modelo Trail passes directly over the top of the hill.

The photo was taken on a run from the Victory Trailhead of Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve to the Cheeseboro Ridge Trail and back.

Back to the Stone Canyon Trail – Spring 2021 Update

View west from Mt. Lukens, across the Crescenta and San Fernando Valleys.
View west from Mt. Lukens, across the Crescenta and San Fernando Valleys.

It was a chilly 45 degrees in the canyon, and I had already resigned myself to having to wade across Big Tujunga Creek. But I didn’t even get my shoes wet. The water level was low enough that the large rocks placed across the creek were high and dry.

Low water made it easy to cross Big Tujunga Creek. April 4, 2021.
Low water made it easy to cross Big Tujunga Creek.

It was a good start to what was to be an excellent run and hike. As I gained elevation, it was evident there had been recent work on the trail. Trimmings from the brush along the trail were still green, and in several spots the tread had been freshly manicured. The higher I climbed, the more work had been done. In a couple of places, substantial washouts had been repaired.

Last year, the trailwork ended abruptly about halfway up the trail. Not so this year. An impressive amount of work had been done to clear the trail of a tortuous mix of dead scrub oaks and thorny brush. Without having to crawl over, around, and through those snarls, my roundtrip time to the summit and back was a full hour faster than last year. Many thanks to whoever worked on the trail!

Stone Canyon Trail on Mt. Lukens
Stone Canyon Trail

Although rainfall has been below normal this rain season, there were still some wildflowers blooming along the trail. Among them were bush poppy, chaparral currant, and hoary-leaved Ceanothus.

Here’s an interactive, 3D terrain view that shows a GPS track of the route up and down the Stone Canyon Trail on Mt. Lukens. The view can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned. Placemark and track locations are approximate and subject to errors.

Some related posts: Back to the Stone Canyon Trail, Mt. Lukens, Then and Now

Chasing a Sunrise, Taking a Moonshot, Los Padres Snow, and a Dark Line in the Sky

Colorful sunrise in the eastern Santa Monica Mountains

I was running up Calabasas Peak Mtwy fire road trying to get a better view of the eastern sky, but the view in that direction was blocked by a steep hillside. The road turned to the northeast up ahead, and I hoped the best moments of a rapidly-evolving sunrise would not be lost.

A couple of breathless minutes later, I rounded a corner and was rewarded with an unobstructed view of a vivid, pink-red-orange mackerel sky. Focusing on the ridgeline near Topanga tower, I shot several sets of bracketed photos.

Handheld snapshot of the Moon, using a Lumix ZS100
Handheld snapshot of the Moon. Click for larger image and more info.

Excited by the sunrise, I continued up the fire road, scanning my surroundings for another photo. My eye settled on the gibbous moon. High in the sky, it’s bright face was subdued by a thin veil of pinkish-gray cloud. I’d previously experimented with handheld shots of the Moon using my running camera — a Lumix ZS100. Zooming to an equivalent focal length of about 250mm, I held my breath, steadied the camera the best I could, and took a few shots. Here’s one of the images — cropped and sharpened — with enough detail to see craters, maria, and some other lunar features.

At the bottom of Topanga Lookout Ridge there were several bigberry manzanita bushes covered with flowers. A hummingbird was up before sunrise, buzzing about the blossoms, busily drinking the precious nectar. Although it had rained a couple days before, this rain year there had been little rainfall, and a corresponding scarcity of early season wildflowers.

As I climbed higher on the ridge, the mountains northwest of Los Angeles came into view, white with snow from the recent storm. The snow-covered peaks are south of Mt. Pinos and Frazier Mountain, in the area of San Raphael Peak, McDonald Peak, Sewart Mountain and Snowy Peak.

Contrail shadow near Los Angeles
Contrail shadow.

Like snow on a mountain, there is a purity in the form and appearance of clouds. When a long, dark streak appeared across a layer of high clouds, it was hard to miss. In this case, the dark line appears to be the shadow of a contrail of a jet flying above the clouds. At the time LAX was reporting scattered clouds at 19,000′ and 23,000′, with a broken layer of clouds at 28,000′. Given the height of the clouds and orientation of the contrail, it may have been from a flight from San Diego to San Francisco.

Topping out on the ridge, I smiled when I saw the masked couple dancing on the Lookout, and continued west toward Saddle Peak.

Some related photos: An Early Morning Dance at Topanga Lookout, Fallstreak Hole, Rainbow Colors in Cirrus Clouds Over Los Angeles

Topanga Lookout From Topanga Ridge

Topanga Lookout From Topanga Ridge

This morning, did the Topanga Lookout Ridge loop, plus the twin summits of Saddle Peak.

California buckwheat along the Backbone Trail, east of Saddle Peak
California buckwheat along the Backbone Trail

Here’s what the Topanga Fire Lookout looked like in 1969.

For more info about the loop, see the posts: Topanga Lookout Loop, Plus Saddle Peak and Topanga Lookout Ridge Loop

The short service road at the top of Saddle Peak’s antennae-festooned west peak was closed when I did this run, but was open again on December 5, 2020.

Chumash-Las Llajas Loop

Rocky Peak Fire Road between the Chumash Trail and Fossil Point
Rocky Peak Fire Road between the Chumash Trail and Fossil Point

Update of a post from December 30, 2006.

The Chumash-Las Llajas Loop is a scenic 9.3 mile trail run in the eastern Simi Valley. Run counterclockwise, it combines a  strenuous climb on a single-track trail and fire road with a fast-paced 4-mile downhill on a dirt road. The cumulative elevation gain/loss on the loop is about 1600′.

View of Oat Mountain from near the top of the Chumash Trail.
Nearing the top of the Chumash Trail

I like to do the loop starting at the Las Llajas Canyon trailhead on Evening Sky Drive. A short jog up Evening Sky Dr., then across a field, and you’re on your way up the Chumash Trail. From this point, it’s an approximately 1000′ climb over 2.7 miles of rocky trail to Rocky Peak fire road.

After turning left (north) on Rocky Peak fire road, a short downhill is followed by three-quarters of a mile of climbing to “Fossil Point.” A short detour off the main fire road leads to a cairn marking the high point. From here there is a panoramic view of Oat Mountain, San Fernando Valley, San Gabriel Mountains, Santa Monica Mountains, Simi Valley, Boney Mountain, Channel Islands, and Ventura Mountains.

Exposures of fossil shells are found near the high point. According to the area’s Dibblee geology map, these may have been deposited in shallow marine lagoons a couple million years ago.

From the high point, the loop continues north on Rocky Peak Road. At first, it descends steeply, then climbs to a hilltop with a few valley oaks. Partway up the hill, a roadcut reveals the long roots of the chamise plants on the hillside.

Road connecting Rocky Peak Road to Las Llajas Canyon.
Road connecting Rocky Peak Road to Las Llajas Canyon.

Following a short downhill, the road continues past a fallen valley oak killed by the 2011-2015 drought. There is a fork in the road here. The road connecting to Las Llajas Canyon goes up a short hill to an overlook of the canyon. From the top of the hill, there are more than 4 miles of downhill through the winding canyon. There used to be oil field equipment on the connector between Rocky Peak Rd. and Las Llajas Canyon, but it has been removed.

If the creek in the canyon is flowing, there are several places where the (usually) small stream crosses the road. In the Spring and early Summer, many species of wildflowers can be found in the canyon.

Cattle on the Las Llajas Loop
Cattle on the Las Llajas Loop

Some of the wildlife, and not-so-wild animals, I’ve encountered on the loop include rattlesnakes and other snakes, deer, longhorn cattle, roadrunners, and a kangaroo rat. Although others have seen mountain lions in the area, I’ve only photographed their tracks.

The loop ends with a short, steep climb up a paved road. At the top of the hill, turn left to return to the trailhead.

Here’s a 3D, interactive view of a GPS trace of my usual route. (It is also possible to start the loop at the Chumash Trail trailhead at the end of Flanagan Dr.)

The title photo is a section of Rocky Peak fire road between the top of the Chumash Trail and Fossil Point. It is from a run on October 6, 2020.

Some related posts: Chumash Trail Rocks & Snow, Exploring Las Llajas, Marr Ranch WildflowersThings Found on the Chumash Trail