Bigpod Ceanothus is normally the first of the Ceanothus species in the Santa Monica Mountains to bloom each year. It is a foundation species in the range and can be found along most trails. These were along Fire Road 30 (Temescal Ridge Fire Road) near the beginning of a run to Trippet Ranch.
In some years it seems every shrub in the chaparral is a big pod Ceanothus and the hillsides are carpeted in white. Along a trail thick with the blossoms you may notice a subtle earthy fragrance with a spicy edge. On that same trail in the Summer, you may be startled by a loud “Pop!” when a heated pod explodes, releasing its seeds.
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.
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.
There seems to have been some carryover from the wet rainy season we had in 2016-17 to this year. The 2017-18 rain season was very dry — the third driest on record at Downtown Los Angeles — but seeps at Waterman Meadow, along the Burkhart Trail below Buckhorn were still wet. In general plant growth along trails has been more than I expected in such a dry year.
Wet and dry periods can be seen in the growth rings of the large Jeffrey pine along the Three Points – Mt. Waterman Trail just west of the Twin Peaks Trail junction. A more careful count of its rings totaled about 500. No matter how careful the count, because of the various anomalies that occur with tree rings, some form of crossdating is usually required to confidently assess the age of a tree. Even so, it is clear this was an old tree.
The first few miles of the loop were gloriously cool, but by the time I reached Cooper Canyon and was working up to Cloudburst Summit on the PCT, the sun beat down on me in a familiar refrain.