Category Archives: nature|weather

Deerweed Carpets Hills and Canyons in the Santa Monica Mountains

Deerweed (Acmispon glaber) blooming near the Encinal Canyon Trailhead of the Backbone Trail. May 2024.
Deerweed (Acmispon glaber) blooming near the Encinal Canyon Trailhead of the Backbone Trail.

A deerweed superbloom has emerged in the western Santa Monica Mountains this May, covering hillsides with a multitude of small yellow flowers.

The extensive bloom is occurring near the end of a two-year period that is the wettest in Los Angeles in over a century.

Mugu Peak – Wood Canyon – Hidden Pond Loop

Hidden Pond from the Hidden Pond Trail in Point Mugu State Park. Photography by Gary Valle'.
Hidden Pond from the Hidden Pond Trail in Point Mugu State Park.

It had rained a few hundredths overnight, and even though it was May, the weather was decidedly March-like.

Raindrops glistened in the grass, and a little mud caked my shoes as I ran across Satwiwa. To the south, rugged Boney Mountain captured the first rays of the rising sun, a remnant cloud hiding its summit. I breathed deeply and thought, “This is going to be an outstanding run…”

Here’s an interactive, 3D-terrain view of the GPS track of the Mugu Peak – Wood Canyon – Hidden Pond Loop.

Some related posts:
Soggy Shoes, Soppy La Jolla Valley, and Sensational Wildflowers
Busy Mugu Peak
Hidden Pond – Old Boney Loop

Spring Fever Running the Phantom Loop in Malibu Creek State Park

Coast live oak along the Talepop Trail. Photography by Gary Valle'

One of the e-mountain bikers commented, “That’s a lot of water!”

The three of us had arrived at the bank of Malibu Creek at the same time. There was a lot of water. The crossing must have been a real monster during some of this year’s storms, but this morning the creek was slow-moving and maybe 30-40 yards across. The main concern getting across would be slipping on the algae-covered rocks along the bottom and taking an unintended bath. I waded in.

Crags Road Trail crossing of Malibu Creek - March 2024 (thumbnail)
Malibu Creek – the trail continues on the other side.

How did I find myself wading across Malibu Creek on this brisk March morning? I was doing a convoluted variation of the Phantom Loop, enjoying the Spring scenery, and going where the trails and terrain took me.

What is the Phantom loop? For me, it’s any loop that starts at the Cistern Trailhead on Mulholland Highway and ends at the Phantom Trailhead on the other side of the highway. Or vice versa. And since it’s a loop, it could start/end at any trailhead on or near the loop.

There are many ways to complete this loop. Here’s an interactive 3D-terrain view of the shortest version I’ve done (7.3 miles), and here is a longer variation (24 miles).

Rising sun on the Lake Vista Trail in Malibu Creek State Park. (thumbnail)
Lake Vista Trail

My run started on the Cistern Trail shortly after dawn. I’d run through Reagan Ranch and then up the Lake Vista Trail to the overlook for an early morning view of Malibou Lake. From the overlook, I’d continued east on the Lake Vista and Deer Leg Trails, enjoying the blooms of the Ceanothus, Hummingbird Sage, and bush poppy along the way.

Just before the Deer Leg Trail descends from the crest, I stopped at another overlook to take in Malibu Creek’s stunning terrain. From the viewpoint, I could see the coast redwoods along Century Lake. A few of the tall trees survived the 2011-205 drought and the 2018 Woolsey Fire, including one young naturally germinated tree. Now we’re in a rare wet cycle. The past two years are among the wettest on record for Los Angeles — good news for the remaining trees!

From the overlook of Malibu Creek, I ran down to the Yearling Trail, turned right (east), and in about a hundred yards was at the top of the Cage Creek Trail. I followed this short trail down to Crags Road and Malibu Creek.

Improvised bridge across Malibu Creek. (thumbnail)
Runner crossing a makeshift bridge across Malibu Creek.

I thought there was a chance the seasonal bridge on the way to the M*A*S*H site might have already been reinstalled. It hadn’t, but a pile of limbs and logs spanned the gap across the creek.

From the matchstick bridge, I turned around and ran east on Crags Road, past the Cage Creek Trail and Century Lake, and then down the road to the junction of High Road and Crags Road.

When doing the Phantom Loop, I usually continue east under the oaks on High Road to the Grassland Trail. But this morning, in keeping with today’s theme, I headed across the bridge — in the direction of the Visitor Center — and looked for a sign marking the start of the Chaparral Trail.

Goat Buttes and Planet of the Apes Wall from the Chaparral Trail. (thumbnail)
Goat Buttes and Planet of the Apes Wall from the Chaparral Trail.

Only about a half-mile long, this obscure trail starts about 60-70 yards northeast of the Visitor Center and links to Mott Road/Century Mtwy, near Crags Road. It has unique views of Planet of the Apes Wall, Malibu Creek, and Goat Buttes. When I reached the trail’s end, I turned left on the road and followed it to the flooded crossing on Crags Road.

Wading into a stream is always a bit awkward. I decided to follow a rocky shoal where the water was about calf deep. As expected, the rocks were rounded and slimy. I didn’t have poles and the footing wasn’t the best, but I managed to get across without incident.

In a few steps, I was headed east and back on the route of the “standard” Phantom Loop. In about a tenth of a mile, I forked left off the main road and onto the Grasslands Trail.

I’m always surprised how quickly the squishiness of wet running shoes and socks goes away. (Today, I was running in Hoka Challenger ATR 7s with Injinji socks.) By the time I reached Mulholland Highway, my shoes and socks had air-dried and felt more or less normal. Crossing Mulholland Highway, I walked east a few yards and continued north on the North Grasslands Trail to the Liberty Canyon Trail.

I hadn’t run far in Liberty Canyon when I came to the Talepop Trail. It had been a long time since I had done the Talepop – Grasslands (Las Virgenes Fire Road) Loop. The hills were green, the sun shining, and the temperature perfect for running. What better time than now to get on it again? With the cool conditions, I had plenty of water to do the extra three to four miles and wouldn’t have to make a side trip to De Anza Park.

Las Virgenes Fire Road Trail (thumbnail)
Las Virgenes Trai/Fire Road

The loop was as pretty as I remembered it. Initially following an undulating ridge, the Talepop Trail eventually winds down to the grassy valley to the east and intersects Las Virgenes Fire Road. A left (north) turn here goes to De Anza Park; a right turn traverses classic oak grassland and leads back to the southern end of the Liberty Canyon Trail.

After completing the Talepop Grasslands loop, the remainder of the run followed the usual route of the Phantom Loop. It continues about 1.5 miles north on the Liberty Canyon Trail, but before reaching the trailhead, it jogs left (west), goes over Liberty Creek, and around to a short trail that connects to the Phantom Trail at a group of eucalyptus trees. My route in this area can be viewed by using our high-resolution, interactive 3D viewer and zooming in on the area near the Liberty Canyon Trailhead.

Hillside covered in wildflowers in Malibu Creek State Park
Hillside covered in wildflowers

The Phantom Trail goes west up a canyon and then turns south, eventually reaching Mulholland Highway near the Cistern Trailhead. Once out of the canyon, the main trail crosses a use trail several times, so care must be taken to stay on route. The use trail more or less follows the ups and downs on the crest of the ridge, while the main trail switches from one side of the ridge to the other, avoiding unnecessary elevation gains.

The last time I ran this segment of trail — October 2023 — it was VERY overgrown (video). This time, thanks to the work of SMMTC volunteers, nearly all of the trail had been cleared. Many colorful wildflowers were in bloom on this stretch, including Ceanothus, Encelia, Wishbone bush, California poppy, owl’s clover, and paintbrush.

Here are a few photos (and notes) from the trail run, including some of the wildflowers seen along the trail.

Some related posts:
Bulldog Loop Plus the Phantom Loop
Redwoods, Raptors, and the Phantom Loop
Malibu Creek State Park Scenic Loop

Trippet Ranch Loop, Musch and Garapito Trails – February 2024

Mountain bikers at the Hub in Topanga State Park
Mountain bikers at the Hub

It’s uncommon to have back-to-back Rain Years with 20+ inches of rain in Los Angeles. During Rain Year 2022-2023, Downtown Los Angeles (USC) recorded 28.4 inches of rain — about two times normal. This rain year Los Angeles has already had about 21 inches of rain, so another big year is in progress.

Curious to see how the trail conditions compare to last year, on February 17th and 25th I ran the Trippet Ranch Loop in Topanga State Park.

The big surprise was that the fire roads on the loop — Fire Road #30, Eagle Springs Fire Road, and a short section of Eagle Rock Fire Road — generally fared better than last year. Fire Road #30 had some damage along it’s shoulder, but I did not see the numerous mudslides along these roads like last year.

Wet and muddy section of the Musch Trail. February 2024. (Thumbnail)
A little mud on the Musch Trail.

The news on the trails was divided. One of the more unusual events occurred where the Garapito Trail crosses the east fork of Garapito Creek. A mudslide from a gully on the northwest side of the creek crossed the creek, and left a pile of debris on the trail. The stream may have been dammed by mud and debris for a short time. Farther up the trail, about a half-mile from Eagle Rock Fire Road, a section of the trail collapsed in a slide.

The Musch Trail was very muddy and wet in the usual places. There were a couple of slides along the trail, but all things considered, the trail was in OK shape. The Bent Arrow Trail remains closed as a result of previous storm damage.

Last year, the bloom of bigpod Ceanothus was well underway in early January. This year the bloom began about a month later but is now happening in a big way. Greenbark Ceanothus is also starting to bloom. Some peonies were blooming on an east-facing slope of the Garapito Trail, and a Fuchsia-flowered gooseberry was in bloom near Fire Road #30.

Here are some photos taken on these two runs.

Some related posts:
Popular Trails in Topanga State Park Damaged by Winter Storms
Wettest 14 Months in Los Angeles in 134 Years
Rainy Season Trail Running on the Backbone Trail

Wettest 14 Months in Los Angeles in 134 Years

Los Angeles Basin from Temescal Lookout
Los Angeles Basin from Temescal Lookout

With over 45 inches of rain reported, the 14 months (424 days) ending February 22, 2024, have been the wettest in Downtown Los Angeles in 134 years.

To put this in perspective, this is more than three times the amount Los Angeles would see in a “normal” year.

The wettest 14 months on record for Los Angeles occurred during late December 1888 to early February 1890, when about 47 inches of rain was recorded.

Rainy Season Trail Running on the Backbone Trail

Rock formations below Triunfo Lookout, with the Channel Islands in the distance. From the Etz Meloy section of the Backbone Trail.
The Backbone Trail contours around Triunfo Peak (on the right) above the rock band that extends across the photo. The Channel Islands are in the distance.

The Backbone Trail between Encinal Canyon and Mishe Mokwa is one of the must-do sections of the 68-mile trail. Engineered to be multi-use, this exceptionally scenic stretch of the Backbone Trail is popular with riders, hikers, and runners alike.

Chaparral Currant (Ribes malvaceum) blooming along the Backbone Trail (Thumbnail)
Chaparral Currant

It’s also a pretty good place for a trail run after rainy weather like we’ve had this February. Although the parking lot at the Encinal Trailhead was quite wet this morning, the  Backbone Trail was in decent shape most of the way to the Mishe Mokwa trailhead. There were a few muddy and wet spots, but it was generally easy to work around them. And I didn’t have to change my shoes before driving home.

The out & back run worked out to about 21-miles, with a surprisingly moderate gain/loss of about 2500′. The weather and visibility were excellent. Striking rock formations and the Channel Islands could be seen from one side of Etz Meloy Mtwy fire road, and snow on Alamo Mountain and other Ventura County peaks from the other side.

On the way back, as I was working up the long hill on the northwest side of Triunfo Lookout, a descending mountain biker commented that a large group of bikers were at “the corner.” The overlook at this prominent switchback has a wide-ranging view of Mishe Mokwa, Boney Mountain, and Sandstone Peak, and some prefer to turn around here. This variation is about 3.5 miles shorter (round-trip) than dropping down into the canyon and going all the way to Mishe Mokwa.

Explore the scenery and terrain on the Backbone Trail of this out-and-back trail run and hike from Encinal Canyon to Mishe Mokwa using our high resolution,  interactive, 3D viewer. The imagery is so detailed, it’s almost like being there! To change the view, use the control on the upper right side of the screen, the CTRL key and your mouse, or touch gestures. Track and placename locations are approximate and subject to errors. Poor weather, and other conditions may make this route unsuitable for this activity. Here’s  an elevation profile of the route.

Some related posts:
Encinal Canyon to Mishe Mokwa Out and Back Trail Run
Kanan to Mishe Mokwa and Back
Kanan to Mishe Mokwa to Wendy Drive
Night Training for the Backbone Ultra