Category Archives: nature|wildflowers

Three Points Loop Following the Reopening of Angeles Crest Highway

Bracken fern turning color at Waterman Meadow is a sure sign of Autumn.
Waterman Meadow

I was beginning to wonder if I would get a chance to do the Three Points Loop around Mt. Waterman this year. Angeles Crest Highway had been closed from Red Box to Vincent Gap for many months, and CalTrans projected it might not open until Thanksgiving.

That’s why Friday (November 3) I was excited to hear Angeles Crest Highway had reopened between Upper Big Tujunga Rd. and Islip Saddle.

Alpenglow on the San Gabriels' Front Range peaks.
Alpenglow on the San Gabriels’ Front Range peaks.

At dawn, a couple days later, I pulled into the Three Points parking lot, put on some sunscreen, grabbed my pack, and set out to see what was happening on the Three Points loop around Mt. Waterman.

I’d done the loop many times and in many situations — clockwise, counterclockwise, after the Station Fire closure, after the Bobcat Fire closure, with snow at the higher elevations, in hot weather and in cold. When the trails are in good shape and the weather isn’t too hot, the 20-mile loop is an outstanding trail run. Today, it was a challenge just to complete the loop.

Gilia along the Burkhart Trail. November 2023.
Gilia along the Burkhart Trail.

In many areas of Southern California, a wet 2022-2023 rainy season and Tropical Storm Hilary’s rain produced two seasons of Spring-like growth. One of the effects of the rain was the growth of wildflowers usually seen in the Spring, including seep monkeyflower, golden yarrow, gilia, grape soda lupine, and little paintbrush. It was strange to see a bumblebee buzzing from flower to flower of a Grinnell’s penstemon at 7250′ on Mt. Waterman in November.

At lower elevation, sections of Three Points – Mt. Waterman Trail (10W04) were overgrown with mountain whitethorn — requiring several “grin and bear it” passages. Higher, long stretches of the little-used path were covered with a second season of grass. This made route-finding difficult, particularly where the trail descends to the Twin Peaks Trail junction.

Twin Peaks from the Buckhorn - Mt. Waterman Trail.
Twin Peaks from the Buckhorn – Mt. Waterman Trail.

It was an intriguing puzzle to solve, and eventually I made it to the junction of the summit trail and the trail down to Angeles Crest Highway, near Buckhorn (10W05). The trail down to Buckhorn sees much more use than the trail from Three Points and is much better defined. Besides a couple of downed trees, the run down was one of the more enjoyable parts of the loop. The trail is usually very busy, but I didn’t encounter anyone coming up the trail.

As expected, Buckhorn Campground was closed and no water was available. It was a warm day — around 75 degrees — but with the November sun low in the sky, not as warm as 75 degrees in July. If I needed more water, there were several places I could refill.

Cooper Canyon Falls, November 2023.
Cooper Canyon Falls (video)

The Burkhart Trail (below Buckhorn) was the only place I encountered a few hikers. They were returning from Cooper Canyon Falls. When I got down to the PCT and saw how much water was in the creek, I did the short side trip to the falls and took this video snapshot. It’s unusual for the falls to be flowing this time of year.

After checking out the falls, I resumed my westward journey on the PCT. Within feet of the creek crossing, an ugly tangle of fallen trees completely blocked the trail. This was just the first of several problems on the PCT between the Burkhart Trail junction and Cooper Canyon Camp. There were the usual downed trees, but there were also several sections of badly overgrown trail. These green thickets were generally adjacent to the creek, where the trail had been (or still was) wet.

Willows along the creek near Cooper Canyon Trail Camp.
Willows along the creek near Cooper Canyon Trail Camp.

Needing water, and to empty the debris from my shoes, I stopped for a few minutes at Cooper Canyon Trail Camp. Several campsites are nestled in a pleasant area along the creek. With Angeles Crest Highway open, I thought I might see someone here, but like Buckhorn Campground, it was empty.

After reaching Cloudburst Summit, the remainder of the run was more or less usual for the loop. There was some Poodle-dog bush and a small rockslide along the PCT on the way to Camp Glenwood, but neither were an issue. The run was more challenging than usual — and a bit slower — but it had been (mostly) fun and fascinating to work through it.

Here are a few photos taken along the way.

Some related posts:
After the Bobcat and Station Fires: Three Points Loop Around Mt. Waterman (Slideshow, 3D Terrain Maps)
Cool Weather, Old Trees, Grape Soda Lupine and a Restored Trail
Lemon Lilies, Tree Rings and More Heat Training on the Three Points Loop
Three Points Loop Adventure – July 2020

Woolly Bluecurls Blooming Out of Season Along the Ken Burton Trail

Woolly Bluecurls blooming out of season along the Ken Burton Trail, in the San Gabriel Mountains.

The blue of the woolly bluecurls was just stunning. The plant was along the Ken Burton Trail, in the San Gabriel Mountains, near Los Angeles.

Arroyo Seco below Royal Gorge at Gabrielino Trail crossing.
Arroyo Seco below Royal Gorge at Gabrielino Trail crossing.

Woolly bluecurls normally flowers in the Spring, but rain from Tropical Storm Hilary, combined with Spring-like conditions caused it to bloom this Fall. Such blooms are usually not widespread and the flowers are often less robust than their Spring counterparts. Other Spring flowers that were blooming included Ceanothus, bush poppy, and golden yarrow.

The Ken Burton Trail connects the Gabrielino Trail, near Oakwilde, to a saddle at the top of Brown Mountain Road. Today, I was doing a longish out and back trail run to Wella’s Peak from Clear Creek via Switzers and the Gabrielino and Ken Burton Trails. Wella’s Peak is a bump on the west side of the saddle. Brown Mountain towers above the east side of the saddle.

An idyllic section of the Gabrielino Trail on the segment that bypasses Royal Gorge.
An idyllic section of the Gabrielino Trail

Explore the scenery and terrain on the out and back trail run to Wella’s Peak from Clear Creek 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. Snow, ice, poor weather, and other conditions may make this route unsuitable for this activity.

Related post: Red Box – Bear Canyon Loop Plus Brown Mountain

Seventh Wettest Water Year Results in Spring-Like Scenery Along L.A. Area Trails

California fuchsia along Fire Road #30 in Topanga State Park
California fuchsia along Fire Road #30, near the Hub.

Downtown Los Angeles (USC) finished the 2022-2023 Water Year with 31.07 inches of rain, making it the seventh wettest on record in Los Angeles. The rainfall total includes about three inches of rain from former Hurricane Hilary as it moved through Southern California as a rare tropical storm and post-tropical cyclone.

Canyon sunflower blooming out of season along Fire Road #30 in Topanga State Park.
Canyon sunflower blooming out of season along Fire Road #30.

The effects of all that rain can be seen on just about any trail in Southern California. It has resulted in a false Spring in many areas, with greening hills, out-of-season wildflowers, flowing creeks, and profuse growth throughout the area.

This morning, I returned to the Top of Reseda and Topanga State Park to do a variation of the Trippet Ranch Loop and continue exploring and enjoying the unusual conditions.

After running up to the Hub, this variation does an out and back to Temescal Peak and Temescal Lookout. After returning to the Hub, the route continues on Eagle Springs Fire Road down to Trippet Ranch. From Trippet Ranch, it works back to the Top of Reseda using the Musch and Garapito Trails and connecting sections of fire road. This interactive, 3D terrain map shows a GPS track of the trail run.

Dodder growing on laurel sumac in October 2023 on the Musch Trail in Topanga State Park.
Dodder growing on laurel sumac on the Musch Trail.

Visiting Temescal Peak and Temescal Lookout increases the run’s mileage from 12.5 miles to 16. On a clear day, the runner is rewarded with far-reaching views of the coast, West L.A., Downtown, and the surrounding mountains.

While most of the roads and trails on this route are frequently used and in decent condition, the Garapito Trail has been overgrown all Summer. As of October 8, it was still overgrown. Some people I’ve encountered on the trail were OK with this, but others haven’t been so happy. If desired, the trail can be bypassed by continuing to the Hub on Eagle Rock Fire Road and retracing your route back to the Top of Reseda.

Here are a few photos (and notes) taken on the run.

Some related posts:
A Second Spring at Ahmanson Ranch
Lake Vista Ridge, the Forest Trail, and September Wildflowers
Looking For Local Impacts of Tropical Storm Hilary

Trailer Canyon – Santa Ynez Canyon Trail – Trippet Ranch Loop

Santa Ynez Canyon Trail in Topanga State Park.
Santa Ynez Canyon Trail.

 

The 17.5-mile Trailer Canyon – Santa Ynez Canyon Trail – Trippet Ranch Loop is a longer version of the venerable Trippet Ranch loop from the Top of Reseda. It might also be called the Three Vistas Loop because it visits three high points in Topanga State Park with 360-degree, panoramic views.

Eagle Rock from Temescal Peak in Topanga State Park.
Eagle Rock from Temescal Peak.

The run starts and ends the same as the Trippet Ranch Loop. After running up to the Hub on Fire Road #30, instead of continuing straight on Eagle Springs Fire Road, this route turns left on Temescal Ridge Fire Road. The fire road is followed up to where the Backbone Trail single-track forks left off the road. The Backbone Trail is followed a tenth of a mile east, where a path leads up and left to the top of Temescal Peak.

The view from this little peak is superb. On a day with good visibility, the view can extend beyond Mt. Baldy to San Gorgonio Mountain and San Jacinto Peak. The next overlook on this route, Temescal Lookout, is about a half-mile (as the crow flies) to the south. The third overlook, Eagle Rock, is about a mile to the west.

Scarlet larkspur along the Santa Ynez Canyon Trail.
Scarlet larkspur.

From Temescal Peak, the route returns to Temescal Ridge Fire Road. I usually follow the use-trail back down and across the Backbone Trail and then continue on the use-trail to the fire road.

The next stop, Temescal Lookout, is about a mile from the top of Temescal Peak and just off Temescal Ridge Fire Road. When doing this loop, I run up a dirt access road on the north side of the lookout and then descend a use trail on the south side. Once the site of a fire lookout, it also has an excellent view. This photo of Downtown and San Jacinto Peak was taken from the viewpoint.

A pool on Santa Ynez Creek. July 2023.
Pool on Santa Ynez Creek.

Once back on Temescal Ridge Fire Road and headed south, it’s less than a half-mile to the turn-off down Trailer Canyon Fire Road and then another 2.3 miles down to Michael Lane in Pacific Palisades. On the way down, there are good views of where the loop is headed next — Santa Ynez Canyon. A large part of Santa Ynez Canyon was burned in the May 2021 Palisades Fire.

After turning right (west) on Michael Lane, the street is followed around and down to Vereda de la Montura. A right turn here leads to the Santa Ynez Canyon Trailhead in about a quarter-mile. This is where some route-finding fun begins.

Scarlet monkeyflower on a tributary of Garapito Creek.
Scarlet monkeyflower.

Heavy rains in December 2021 washed out sections of the Santa Ynez Canyon Trail. During the 2022-2023 rain season, the trail took it on the chin again. The good news is the trail sees a lot of use and the washed-out sections are becoming reestablished. There was still a little running water in the creek. Part way up the canyon, I was surprised to find pennyroyal blooming along the trail.

A bit more than a mile from the trailhead, the Santa Ynez Canyon Trail climbs out of the bottom of the canyon and up onto a broad ridge. Another mile of uphill, and it tops out at Eagle Springs Fire Road. After turning left, it’s less than a half-mile down to the Trippet Ranch parking lot.

Humboldt lily along the Garapito Trail.
Humboldt lily.

The previous weekend I’d done the Trippet Ranch Loop, so knew what the expect on the remainder of the run. Other than being a little overgrown, the Musch Trail was in reasonable shape. There were still some late-season blooms of showy penstemon, yellow monkeyflower, and white snapdragon along the trail. This time of year, the round pincushions of buckwheat are common. Water was available at the start of the Musch Trail and at Musch Camp.

Reaching the top of the Musch Trail, high clouds kept the temperature comfortable as I worked up Eagle Rock Fire Road. At the turn-off to climb Eagle Rock, digger bees had established a temporary colony on the fire road. In my experience, these bees are not aggressive, BUT many sources — such as this news item from ISU Extension and Outreach — say the female bees can sting.

Hiker ascending Eagle Rock in Topanga State Park.
Hiker ascending Eagle Rock.

Eagle Rock is the third viewpoint on the loop, and the most popular. The massive rock formation overlooks Santa Ynez Canyon and has an airy, 360-degree view. On a clear day, Santa Monica Bay, Palos Verdes Peninsula, and Catalina can be seen to the south. On weekends, it’s rare to find the top empty. The summit had just been vacated as I climbed up and was reoccupied by another hiker as I walked down.

Returning to Eagle Rock Fire Road, I turned right and continued northeast a tenth of a mile to the top of the Garapito Trail.

Plummer's mariposa lily along the Garapito Trail.
Plummer’s mariposa lily.

A little more than three miles long, the Garapito Trail is one of my favorite trails in the Santa Monica Mountains. Several sections of the trail are overgrown at the moment. At one point, not too far from Fire Road #30, it was necessary to bushwhack through a dense patch of six-foot-tall giant rye grass.

Two lilies listed on the CNPS Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants of California were blooming along the Garapito Trail — Plummer’s mariposa lily and Humboldt lily. Both plants have a Rare Plant Rank of 4.2, which indicates they are of limited distribution and moderately threatened in California. Thanks to our very wet rain season, the eye-catching red of scarlet larkspur was unusually prevalent along the trail.

Redberry along the Garapito Trail.
Redberry.

The Garapito Trail ends at Fire Road #30. Normally the route would cross the fire road and follow the Bent Arrow Trail to dirt Mulholland, but the trail was damaged by rainy season storms and is still closed.

Turning left onto Fire Road #30, I retraced my steps from earlier in the morning and in a few minutes was back to the trailhead at the Top of Reseda (Marvin Braude Mulholland Gateway Park).

Explore the scenery and terrain of the Trailer Canyon – Santa Ynez Canyon Trail – Trippet Ranch Loop 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.

Some related posts: Trippet Ranch Loop Plus the Santa Ynez Trail, Garapito Trail Runs, Go Figure, Trippet Ranch Wildflower Run, Eagle Rock – Topanga State Park

Trying to Use AI to Solve a Malibu Creek State Park Plant Mystery

Terminal leaf cluster of Purple Clarkia (Clarkia purpurea), after it has flowered.

Recently, while doing the Bulldog Loop in Malibu Creek State Park, I noticed a peculiar plant about a half-mile up the Bulldog climb. The linear, red-tinged “petals” were unusual in the early morning light. I snapped a photo of it, planning to identify it later.

When I looked at the photo later that day, I couldn’t ID the plant. Hoping to get some hint about its identity, I tried various “AI-powered” searches and apps. This included Google Lens, Bing Visual Search, Pl@ntNet, iNaturalist Seek, PlantSnap, Flora Incognita, LeafSnap, and others. The most common matches were air plants such as Tillandsia ionantha and various species of paintbrush.

This wasn’t a huge surprise. The AI-based applications were having the same problems I was having — they were not “familiar” with this particular stage of the plant’s life cycle. They also were not keying on an important element of the image.

After a few days without any progress identifying the plant, I headed back to Malibu Creek State Park to take a closer look at the plant.

That turned out to be more challenging than expected. Even though I had the plant’s GPS coordinates, the time of day was different, with different lighting. The plant was also less colorful than before. I walked up and down a 30-yard stretch of Bulldog fire road several times before finally seeing it.

Once located, it didn’t take long to find examples of the plant at an earlier stage of development. In one case, with leaves on the stem and another with leaves and a flower. This helped solve the mystery.

It turned out the plant was one with which I was familiar — Purple Clarkia (Clarkia purpurea). The title photo is after the plant has flowered and all but a terminal cluster of leaves on the stem have wilted. The 8-grooved, elongated-football-shaped structures intermixed with the leaves are ovaries. These are distinctive. A human expert would have immediately zeroed in on these.

The flowers of Purple Clarkia are usually much larger than seen here. They are typically purple-pink with a wine-red spot on each of the four petals. However, the color of the flowers varies, and wine-colored flowers are not uncommon. The size of the flower also varies. Jepson mentions that the subspecies intergrade extensively.

Using the photo of the plant in flower, some of the AI-based apps identified the genus as Clarkia and/or the species as purpurea, or at least included Clarkia among their suggestions.

Red Box – Bear Canyon – Switzer’s Loop – Memorial Day Weekend 2023

Marine layer pushing into Bear Canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains, near Los Angeles.
Marine layer pushing into Bear Canyon

The Red Box – Bear Canyon – Switzer’s Loop trail run is a favorite I’ve enjoyed doing for many years. Part of its attraction is the isolated, backcountry feel of Bear Canyon, particularly between Tom Sloane Saddle and Bear Canyon Trail Camp. It’s worth spending a few minutes at the old cabin site in the upper canyon to contemplate a lifestyle from an earlier century.

Early morning view from the Bill Reily Trail (aka Mt. Disappointment Trail).
Early morning view from the Bill Riley Trail (aka Mt. Disappointment Trail).

The descent of Bear Canyon is always adventurous in some way. Based on what I’d been seeing on other trails this year, I’d expected upper Bear Canyon to be a mess. I had braced myself for downed trees, washouts, and overgrown, hard-to-follow sections of trail.

But just a few minutes below Tom Sloane Saddle, a tree blocking the trail had been cleared, and the saw cuts were fresh! As I worked down the trail, I was excited to find more trailwork had been done. Branches or trees that had fallen across the trail had been cut. Some overgrown sections of trail had been trimmed. One washed-out section of trail looked like it had just been repaired. Someone had even trimmed a little of the poison oak that is so common along the trail.

Bear Canyon Trail near Arroyo Seco
Bear Canyon Trail near Arroyo Seco

As I discovered when I encountered them lower in the canyon, the Bear Canyon Trail Crew had been hard at work, and they were working in the canyon again today!

The last time I was in Bear Canyon (April 2021), the creek had been nearly dry. This year there was plenty of water and plenty of stream crossings. Unlike several recent runs, I had my poles and was able to keep my shoes and socks mostly dry.

Trailside wildflower garden on the Bear Canyon Trail.
Trailside wildflower garden

I had debated whether to do this loop on Memorial Day Weekend. It passes through Switzer’s Picnic Area, one of the most popular day-use areas in Angeles National Forest. Many visiting Switzer’s do the hike down the Gabrielino Trail to see Switzer Falls, and many of those continue down the Bear Canyon Trail to the area below the falls.

Today, the two-mile stretch from below the falls to Switzer’s was as busy as expected. One issue I hadn’t anticipated was that some stream crossings were backed up like the Hillary Step on Everest. Other than wading, there was usually only one “dry” route across the stream. At one busy crossing, a hiker — clutching a dog under each arm — deftly balanced across a sequence of slippery rocks and branches, keeping his and his charge’s feet dry.

Crimson-spotted rock rose along the Gabrielino Trail between Switzer's and Red Box
Crimson-spotted rock rose along the Gabrielino Trail

Once past Switzer’s, things returned to normal. From Switzer’s, it’s about 4.5 miles up to Red Box, with an elevation gain of about 1350′. I had been on this section of the Gabrielino Trail about a month before and was curious to see if a mass of fallen trees blocking the trail had been removed.

The trees still needed to be cleared — Forest Service rules require a qualified sawyer to do that kind of work — BUT the remaining 2.5 miles of trail to Red Box were being trimmed and cleared by several dozen members of the Mt. Wilson Bicycling Association. I wondered why I wasn’t seeing any mountain bikers on the trail — they were all working on it!

Here’s an interactive, 3D terrain view of the Red Box – Bear Canyon – Switzer’s Loop. The map can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned. To change the view, use the control on the upper right side of the screen. Track and placename locations are approximate and subject to errors.

Some related posts: Bear Canyon Loop – 2021, Red Box – Bear Canyon Loop Plus Brown Mountain, Bear Canyon Loop Plus Strawberry Peak

Canyon liveforever (Dudleya cymosa) in Bear Canyon.
Canyon liveforever.
Paintbrush along the Gabrielino Trail between Switzer's and Red Box.
Paintbrush along the Gabrielino Trail.