The fuzzy critter with the beady eyes is a Bee Fly. Its darting, hummingbird-like movements caught my eye while running on the Tumamait Trail near Mt. Abel (Cerro Noroeste) on Sunday. It was feeding on a Western Wallflower (Erysimum capitatum). Fully consumed by the morning’s experiences, I had been marveling at the vibrant yellow of Wallflowers along the trail.
With only a cursory glance, someone might mistake a Bee Fly for a bee. It does buzz. But the resemblance is superficial. It is smaller than a Honey Bee, and more thick-bodied. It has long legs, and a long proboscis to collect nectar. These can be seen in the inset photographs.
Looking at these photographs it struck me that there probably is a relationship between the length of the Bee Fly’s proboscis, and the length of its legs. It can be seen in the photos that the Bee Fly uses its legs to grasp a plant while flying and feeding. This helps stabilize its flight, conserves energy, and enables a quick escape from a possible predator. It would seem that the legs have evolved to be just long enough to accomplish this task.
There are several options for runs and hikes in the Mt. Pinos area. On the long side is the 25+ mile run from the lower McGill trailhead to Mt. Abel (Cerro Noroeste) mentioned in Snow Plant Still Life. Another valley-to-summit adventure is the approximately 20 mile out & back run/hike to the summit of Mt. Pinos from Three Falls Boy Scout Camp in Lockwood Valley.
This day I was looking to escape the heat of the San Fernando Valley, but do something a little less ambitious than either of those runs. The North Fork would be too hot, and McGill to Abel too strenuous. Instead, I opted for a third alternative, the Vincent Tumamait Trail between Mt. Pinos and Mt. Abel. By doing a short side trip to the spring at Sheep Camp, I could carry one water bottle and keep things simple.
The route, including the spur to Sheep Camp, works out to be about 14.5 miles, with 3000 ft. or so of elevation gain. There’s a lot of up and down as the trail works its way along the forested ridge, and past the broad summits of Sawmill Mountain and Grouse Mountain. The trail ends at the Cerro Noroeste road, but it is not difficult to find a way up the steep slope above the road to the summit of Mt. Abel.
In kayaking there is saying that you “never run the same river twice.” The same is true of trails. Each experience on a particular trail is unique. This would be a day of unblemished blue skies and tired legs, the subtle scents of sun-warmed pine needles and Jeffry Pine on the air. A day of bounding deer, Paintbrush reds, and Wallflower yellows. It would be one to contemplate the fallen trees of Cerro Noroeste, the peculiar shape of the Larkspur leaf, the intricacies of the snow plant, and the hummingbird flight of the Bee Fly.
The photograph is a glimpse of Mt. Pinos from the saddle west of the peak. With sufficient snow cover, and the right conditions, I’ve enjoyed good skiing on these slopes, as well as along the ridge leading to Sawmill and Grouse Mountains. Here’s a view of Grouse Mountain from near Mt. Abel.
Running or hiking up the Old Santa Susana Stage Road, if you stop and listen carefully, you may hear a sharp whistle, a raspy shout, or a few choice expletives echoing from the canyon walls. It would have taken a barrage of such oaths, and a lot more, to get a stage up and over this harrowing grade.
The image of the Simi Pacific Coast Stage in the book Simi Valley: A Journey Through Time, helps to complete the mental picture. Steep, narrow, and unforgiving, the Stage Road must have produced stark terror in more than a few passengers.
Established in 1861, the “Devil’s Slide” stage road was a link in the Pacific Coast Stage Line between Los Angeles and San Francisco. It follows the route of the original Spanish trail connecting the San Fernando and Santa Buenaventura Missions. Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, the route is said to have been “an old Indian trail,” connecting Chumash communities in Simi Valley to Gabrielino communities in the San Fernando Valley.
Old Santa Susana Stage Road is located in Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park. The park was created in 1998 to protect the Stage Road and other cultural resources in the area. A General Plan characterizing the purpose and long-term vision for the park is in under development, and through a series of meetings, public input on the plan is being requested. The second such meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, June 20, 2006 at 8:30 P.M. at Chatsworth Park South. See the General Plan web page for additional details.
There is currently no “official” trail leading to the Stage Road. Since the area was burned in the Topanga Fire last Fall, it’s important to stay on existing dirt roads and trails to help promote recovery, and avoid damaging sensitive habitat or species.
Elegant Clarkia (Clarkia unguiculata) is a showy, if somewhat bizarre looking, flower that blooms late in the Spring. It is also known by the common name woodland Clarkia. It adds a refreshing dash of color to the hills of Southern California, as they turn from green to golden brown. The plant appears to be an excellent indicator of Spring rainfall. In a drought year it might only be a foot tall, but in a rain season with a wet Spring, some stalks may reach 6 or 7 ft.
Update May 21, 2009. Angeles Crest Highway (SR2) has since been re-opened to Islip Saddle, and through to Wrightwood.
There’s more of a wilderness feel in the Angeles Forest high country today. A big chunk of Angeles Crest Highway is closed. From Eagles Roost to Mt. Baden-Powell, and back again, the absence of vehicle noise has been startling. There have been no squealing tires, warbling sirens, or red-lined RC51’s echoing up from Highway 2. Instead, the loudest sound is Little Jimmy spring water splashing at my feet. High on a ridge, a Clark’s Nutcracker tells me I’m in the mountains. and overhead, the wind plays quietly in the boughs of an immense Incense Cedar.
It’s been a blazing, triple digit day down in the valleys, and even at 8000 ft. the south-facing slopes have been warm. Chased by the warm weather, several PCTers trek northward; hoping that by the time they get to the Sierra the passes will not be choked with snow. Most have seemed enthusiastic, and eager to face the challenges ahead.
The crux of this day’s adventure looms around the corner at Islip Saddle. The steep 1.5 mile climb to near the summit of Mt. Williamson, and 1.5 mile descent to Hwy. 2 will retrace earlier miles of my trek. A mirror image of this morning’s pleasant ascent, this afternoon’s climb will be a cruel and evil twin. The 1200 ft. elevation gain will bring the day’s total to around 7000 ft.
Descending to the parking lot at Islip Saddle, I automatically look for my car. The lot is empty. Tufts of grass growing in in the pavement cracks waft in the breeze. A couple of PCTers rest in the shade of the restroom. A bird sings a cheerful tune from a nearby tree. I head on up the trail…
Today’s photograph is of a nice downhill section of trail at about 8200 ft, northbound on the PCT, above Windy Gap. That’s Mt. Williamson in the background. I was surprised I didn’t run into anyone that was doing Mt. Williamson. Williamson Rock is in the area closed by the Forest Service to protect critical habitat of the mountain yellow-legged frog, but Mt. Williamson is outside of the closed area (PDF Map). The Hwy 2 closure is about 0.25 mile west of Eagles Roost, and only adds about 2 scenic miles to the round trip up Williamson. If your favorite hikes or runs start at Islip Saddle, here’s a topo map of the area that shows the approximate mileages from the locked gate on Hwy 2 to Islip Saddle. For more information regarding the closure of Williamson Rock, see the Access Fund Williamson Rock page for more information.
Caterpillar Phacelia (Phacelia cicutaria) was prevalent at Sage Ranch prior to the 2005 Topanga Fire. It may be somewhat more widespread than I’ve generally seen, but this could be due in part to last year’s record rainfall and this season’s late rainfall. It doesn’t appear to be a fire follower in the same sense as Large Flowered Phacelia, Star Lily or Dicentra, whose populations have increased dramatically this year.