Category Archives: wildlife

Three Bighorn Sheep, a Solar Eclipse, and a New Peak

Bighorn sheep blend into the rocky terrain near Windy Gap in the San Gabriel Mountains
Bighorn sheep blend into the rocky terrain near Windy Gap

Had they not dislodged some rocks, I doubt I would have seen the three bighorn sheep in the photo above.  They are easier to see in this zoomed-in photo of the sheep descending the rocky slopes just below Windy Gap (7,588′) in the San Gabriel Mountains. They crossed a brush-covered rib and disappeared from view.

A partially-eclipsed sun crests a ridge east of Windy Gap.
The partially-eclipsed sun crests a ridge east of Windy Gap.

A few minutes after seeing the sheep, I reached Windy Gap and stopped to put my arm sleeves away. It had been cool at the trailhead — about 40 degrees — but the temperature had warmed as I worked up the trail. As its name suggests, the wind can be fierce at Windy Gap, but this morning there was almost no wind, foretelling nearly ideal weather for today’s adventure.

Windy Gap was still in shade, and the sun was just peeking over the ridge to the east. You couldn’t tell, but the eclipse had already begun. The eclipse would be nearly total in parts of Oregon, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and Texas. In the Los Angeles area, the moon would obscure more than 70% of the sun’s disc.

Partially eclipsed sun from the PCT in the San Gabriel Mountains
Partially eclipsed sun.

From Windy Gap, I headed east on the Pacific Crest Trail toward Mt. Hawkins. From time to time, I would stop and check the progress of the eclipse using eclipse sunglasses. In sunny areas, I looked for lensed images of the sun in the shadows of trees but didn’t see any. Having needles instead of leaves, conifers don’t produce the myriad images of the eclipsed sun seen under trees with leaves.

A few minutes before the eclipse reached maximum, I took this photo of the eclipse with my iPhone, using eclipse glasses as a filter.

With nearly three-quarters of the sun obscured, the light from the sun had become enfeebled. The feeling was more than that of a cloud passing in front of the sun. I stopped and listened… to nothing. It was eerily quiet. No birds called or sang, and only chill zephyrs of wind wafted about the area. Somehow, the sun was broken.

The south ridge of Mt. Lewis can be accessed from the CalTrans shed at Dawson Saddle.
The south ridge of Mt. Lewis can be accessed from the CalTrans shed at Dawson Saddle.

As the eclipse slowly waned, I continued east in the corrupt light, past Mt. Hawkins and Throop Peak, to the PCT’s junction with the Dawson Saddle Trail. In what seemed fitting for the day, instead of continuing to Baden-Powell, I turned left and headed down the trail toward Angeles Crest Highway (Highway 2).

Why? Angeles Crest Highway was closed from Red Box to Vincent Gap, transforming Dawson Saddle into one of the more isolated areas of the Angeles National Forest. I hadn’t been on the Dawson Saddle Trail in years, and with Highway 2 closed, it would be a quirky way to climb Mt. Lewis. Instead of having one of the shortest approaches in the San Gabriels — a few feet from the CalTrans shed at Dawson Saddle — it would involve a trail run of nearly eight miles just to get to the base of the peak.

Angeles Crest Highway from the shoulder of Mt. Lewis.
Angeles Crest Highway from the shoulder of Mt. Lewis.

The eclipse was nearly over when I reached the bottom of the Dawson Saddle Trail on Highway 2. From the trailhead, I ran up an empty Angeles Crest Highway a short distance to Dawson Saddle. Mt. Lewis’ south ridge was accessed from here.

Only about a half-mile long, the south ridge isn’t technical, but the first third is steep and rocky. The elevation gain from the saddle to the summit is about 500′. Offset from the crest of the San Gabriels, the flat summit of Mt. Lewis has unique views of the crest extending from Mt. Baden-Powell to Mt. Islip and beyond.

After a few minutes enjoying the summit, I turned southward and began working my way back down to Angeles Crest Highway, up to the PCT, over to Windy Gap, and back down to the trailhead in the Crystal Lake Recreational Area.

Here are a few photos taken along the way.

Some related posts:
Solar Eclipses, Saros Cycles and Chumash Rock Art
Boney Mountain Eclipse Run
It’s Mid-July And There Is Still Snow in Los Angeles County!

A Bear on Rocky Peak Road?

Low clouds spilling over Rocky Peak Road near the Chumash Trail.
Low clouds spilling over Rocky Peak Road near the Chumash Trail.

Wait a minute… I stopped running down the hill and walked back to look at the sizable pile of scat.

I was on Rocky Peak Road, at about mile 3 of an extended version of the Chumash – Las Llajas loop, and just past the top of the Chumash Trail.

Bear scat on Rocky Peak Road. October 2022.
Bear scat on Rocky Peak Road. Click for a larger image.

No doubt about it. It was bear scat. The bear had been eating holly-leaved cherries, and the scat was full of cherry pits. Over several decades of running Rocky Peak Road, this was the first time I’d seen evidence of a bear in the area.

Bears aren’t particularly common here, but they are seen from time to time. I wondered if this was the bear that had been discovered in the kitchen of a Simi Valley home in early September.

Bears have also been captured on local trail cams. In December 2015, the NPS photographed a bear and her cub feeding on the carcass of deer in the Santa Susana Mountains. Even more remarkable, in July 2016, a bear was photographed in Malibu Creek State Park by an NPS camera trap.

This morning, I looked for bear tracks around the scat, but thunderstorms and bike traffic had erased them. After taking a couple of photos, I continued toward the high point of the loop, “Fossil Point.”

Cairn at Fossil Point, the highest point of the Chumash - Las Llajas Loop.
Cairn at “Fossil Point” — the highest point of the Chumash – Las Llajas Loop.

What had started as a very foggy morning was transitioning to a cool Fall day with a mix of sun and clouds. From the cairn at Fossil Point, Oat Mountain was still partially shrouded by clouds. Below the overlook, I spotted a couple of mountain bikers working up the road. The ride up Las Llajas Canyon has become a popular e-mountainbike ride, and e-bikes would be the only type of bike I would see on my way down the canyon.

The run down Las Llajas Canyon was pleasant and fast-paced. Lately, I’ve been doing a variation of the loop that jumps over to the Marr Ranch Trail using a trail that splits off the Coquina Mine trail. This route gets you up and out of the canyon and onto a ridge with good views of the surrounding terrain. It’s a bit more adventurous and adds a little mileage and elevation gain to the usual loop. The Coquina Mine trail is easy to miss — it branches off Las Llajas Road after passing the towering cliffs.

Here’s an interactive, 3D terrain view of a GPS track of the extended Chumash – Las Llajas loop. The map can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned using the navigation control on the right. 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: Chumash-Las Llajas Loop, Not So Flat Las Llajas Canyon, Exploring Las Llajas, Marr Ranch Wildflowers

Chumash Trail Mule Deer

Mule deer on the Chumash Trail in Simi Valley

I saw a flash of brown through the bushes on the trail ahead. I stopped as a deer emerged from a switchback. The doe was walking slowly up the trail with her mule-like ears turned back toward me. I said something like, “Where are you going?”

She turned toward me and stared quizzically. As I slowly pulled the phone from my pack, I continued to talk. Her expression was a mix of caution and curiosity. It was as if she couldn’t quite make up her mind what I was about.

Mule deer at Trippet Ranch
Mule deer at Trippet Ranch

This was peculiar behavior for a deer in this area. It wouldn’t be so strange if I was at Trippet Ranch. The deer there graze around the oaks and grasslands near the parking lot and are used to seeing people. But in decades of running the Chumash Trail, I’ve only occasionally seen deer, and they have always been skittish and quick to react.

This doe watched me as I slowly walked around the bend and toward her. I was reminded of a friend’s experience, when he was hit on the shoulder by a spooked deer. Not wanting to force a reaction, I stopped. The deer casually stepped off the trail and disappeared down the ravine.

Later, running down Las Llajas Canyon, I was startled by the sound of something large moving in the brush. This time I got only a fleeting glimpse, as the deer bounded uphill through the trees, rocks, and brush.

Some related posts: Chumash-Las Llajas Loop, Deer Encounters, Running Between Raindrops: Chumash Trailhead to Rocky Peak

After the Palisades Fire – Snake Tracks and Monkeyflowers

Rattlesnake track on Eagle Springs Fire Road following the May 2021 Palisades Fire

The rattlesnake track above was one of several snake tracks on Eagle Springs Fire Road this morning. This area, which is below Eagle Rock in Topanga State Park, was severely burned in the May 2021 Palisades Fire.

This photo of a blooming bush monkeyflower in the same area underscores the resilience of the chaparral biome.

Update February 2, 2024. Bush poppy (Dendromecon rigida)  has become a prolific and dominant fire follower in this area.

Some related posts: Trippet Ranch Loop After the Palisades Fire, Palisades Fire Perimeter and Some Area Trails

Curious Coyote

Curious coyote at Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (Ahmanson Ranch)

This afternoon I was running down a single-track trail at Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (Ahmanson Ranch), when I noticed a coyote on a parallel track across a small ravine. From time to time I would stop and watch the coyote, and from time to time it would pause and watch me. After a few minutes, it went its way, and I went mine.

Earlier in the run I’d been in the same area when a coyote, running at full speed,  came blasting down a single-track trail. It turned into the brush about 30 yards in front of me. I’d seen similar behavior once before when one coyote was chasing another. In this case a hiker followed the coyote down the trail. In my experience, it usually take more than a simple encounter with a hiker to panic a coyote.

Coyote at Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (Ahmanson Ranch)
Another curious coyote. Click for a larger image.

Update February 18, 2021. The coyote pictured on the right was in the same area as the coyote in the title photo. When I first encountered the coyote, it had just crossed the trail and was below me. For some reason it reversed its course and climbed to a viewpoint above me, and watched as I ran up the trail. After a few moments it ran back down hill, retracing its original course across the trail. It was one of the most well-conditioned coyotes I’ve seen out at Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (Ahmanson Ranch).

I have had a couple of unusual encounters with coyotes out at Ahmanson. One time, a coyote decided to run with me, as if on a leash.

Some related posts: Coyote Tag, Coyote Tag II, Coyotes Are Curious Creatures

A Windy Run, Walk, Ride, for Wildlife Research

Boney Mountain and Serrano Valley from Overlook Fire Road
Boney Mountain and Serrano Valley from Overlook Fire Road.

The Overlook Fire Road in Pt. Mugu State Park was nearly empty. I’d seen only two hikers between the top of the Fireline Trail and the top of the Wood Canyon Vista Trail. Maybe it was the wind. There had been 20-25 mph wind gusts much of the morning. Along the ridgelines, the gusts were even stronger.

Run, Walk, Ride 2020

I’d picked Pt. Mugu State Park to do a run in support of the Santa Monica Mountains Fund’s Run, Walk, Ride, for Wildlife Research. Many mountain lions have included Pt. Mugu State Park in their home range, including P-1, the patriarch of the mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains study.

According to the NPS website, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is the world’s largest urban national park. Wildlife in the Park is affected by issues resulting from the proximity of urban and wild areas. Among the problems are poisoning from anticoagulant rodenticides, limited genetic diversity, and vehicular deaths. Only by studying Park wildlife can we better understand and manage these and other issues.

Because water is usually available at several spots in Sycamore Canyon, it’s a great place to do a self-supported ultra-length trail run.

A very windy Pacific and the Ray Miller segment of the Backbone Trail
A very windy Pacific

So far, today’s run had taken me from Wendy Drive in Newbury Park to Serrano Valley via the Old Boney Trail. I’d circled past the old ranch in Serrano Valley and then descended the Serrano Canyon Trail to Sycamore Canyon. A short jog south in Sycamore Canyon put me at the bottom of the Fireline Trail, which I’d followed up to the Overlook fire road.

Next up was a scenic loop in La Jolla Valley. After that, I would work my way back to the Upper Sycamore Trail via Sycamore Canyon. From there, it would only be a few miles back to the Wendy Drive Trailhead.

The Santa Mountain Mountains Trails Council has been hard at work. Even though they can’t currently accept volunteer assistance, it looked like the Old Boney, Serrano Canyon, and Upper Sycamore Trails had been recently maintained.

Some related posts: It’s Raining Mountain Lion Tracks!; Mountain Lion Tracks on Rocky Peak Road; Mountain Lion Saga; Reagan Ranch Bobcat; Hawk, Bobcat and Rabbit