The nasal bellowing of a bullfrog shook the morning, but didn’t disturb the mirror-like surface of Century Lake. I had paused along the Forest Trail in Malibu Creek State Park to take in my surroundings. Here and there glimmers of sunlight reflected from the base of the reeds along the opposite shore. Birds called, flowers bloomed and Nature continued to work in its wonderous way.
My run had started at the Cistern Trailhead on Mulholland Highway and then wandered about the Reagan Ranch area. The Lookout and Yearling Trails had been thick with mustard and badly overgrown. The plants had been wet with dew, and my black sleeves and shorts had been liberally sprinkled with the bright yellow flowers. A few ticks had also hitched a ride, but were removed before they could bite.
It had been a relief to get back to the Cage Creek Trail and descend to the Crags Road Trail and Malibu Creek. The logs extending across the creek from the washed out bridge had been rearranged, making it easier to cross.
No other trail in the Park is quite like the Forest Trail. The trail isn’t part of a loop, doesn’t connect to other trails, and is only a half-mile long; but it feels like a trail you might find in Big Sur, Santa Cruz or the Bay Area. The forest is comprised primarily of coast live oak, California bay, and sycamore, but at several spots along the trail you’ll find coast redwoods.
Coast redwoods are not endemic to Southern California. All but one of the Forest Trail redwoods were planted over 100 years ago. The trees were severely impacted by the 2011-2015 drought, and only a few have survived. Even so, they are easy to spot — the large, deeply-furrowed, copper-brown trunk of a coast redwood is unmistakable.
Note: There is some poison oak along the Forest Trail, and this year some was protruding onto the trail.
The valley oak pictured above — one of the larger oaks along Rocky Peak fire road — toppled over in the summer of 2016 following five years of drought.
Fire and drought are a natural part of the valley oak’s habitat and the trees have evolved to withstand ordinary variations in their environment. However, severe fires or extended droughts, or fire in combination with drought can overcome the tree’s defenses.
The drought may have been the culminating factor in the felling of this oak, but fire and other factors may have also played a role.
According to the Fire Effects Information System (FEIS), the heart-rot fungus Armillaria mellea is usually present in valley oaks and larger oaks tend to be hollow or rotten in the center. The toppled oak was hollow near its base and its interior appears to have been blackened by fire. The FEIS describes instances where the decaying wood in the interior of older valley oaks could ignite in a fire, but leave the exterior bark uncharred.
While much of the country shivers in the cold climes of Winter, the muted colors of the changing season have finally reached the lower elevation areas of Southern California.
In this area the leaves of Valley Oaks usually begin to turn around mid-December and the trees lose their leaves around the beginning of the new year. About a month and a half later trees begin to sprout new leaves, usually in mid to late February. From year to year the time frame can vary by as much as 2-3 weeks.
The photo of Valley Oak leaves was taken December 28, 2017 in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (formerly Ahmanson Ranch). This willow in East Las Virgenes Canyon was also showing some nice color.