Category Archives: photography

Spring Wildflowers in December?

Paintbrush blooming in mid-December in Cheeseboro Canyon in Southern California near Los Angeles
Paintbrush blooming in mid-December in Cheeseboro Canyon

The paintbrush above, and the following Spring-blooming wildflowers were photographed on December 14,2023, on a trail run from the Victory Trailhead of Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve. With the exception of the black mustard, the wildflowers were found along a half-mile stretch of dirt road connecting upper Las Virgenes and Cheeseboro Canyons.

The false Spring was the result of rain from Tropical Storm Hilary in August, an extended period of wetter than normal weather, and somewhat warmer Fall temperatures. The Water Year that ended September 30, 2023 was the seventh wettest on record for Los Angeles and Calendar Year 2023 was the sixth wettest.

Some related posts:
– A Second Spring at Ahmanson Ranch
– Seventh Wettest Water Year in Los Angeles Results in Rarely Seen Trail Conditions
– Looking For Local Impacts of Tropical Storm Hilary

 

A Displaced Bridge, Exceptional Backbone Trail Views, and a Card Table Along the Bulldog Loop

Rock formation along the Backbone Trail. Photography by Gary Valle'

The photograph above was taken a few steps off the Backbone Trail, between the Corral Canyon Trailhead and Mesa Peak Motorway fire road. Also in the area was a set of table and chairs that might be used for an ocean-view card game or a lunch break.

These scenes were about halfway through a variation of the Bulldog Loop that starts/ends at the Cistern Trailhead on Mulholland Highway. The route follows the Cistern, Lookout, and Cage Creek Trails down to the Crags Road Trail, just east of where it crosses Malibu Creek.

A permanent bridge used to span the creek, but after being washed out several times in Winter floods, a “seasonal” bridge was put in place. The seasonal bridge is removed when there is a threat of flooding, such as during the rainy season.

This morning, the temperature in the canyon was in the mid-thirties. That was cool enough that I didn’t want to get wet, and I hoped the removal of the bridge had been delayed. But several days of rain were in the forecast, and as I neared the creek, I could see the bridge now lay alongside trail.

A log spanned the creek where the bridge once stood. Using a suitable stick as a hiking pole, it was easy to cross the log, stay dry, and continue the loop.

Some related posts:
Best Trailhead to Start the Bulldog Loop?
Bulldog Loop Plus the Phantom Loop
After the Woolsey Fire: Bulldog Loop

Exploring Las Llajas

Las Llajas Canyon, in the northeast corner of Simi Valley.
Las Llajas Canyon

First published in March 2008.

At times the site of a religious colony, a grit mine, an oil field, and a housing development, Las Llajas Canyon is now part of the Marr Ranch Open Space and Rocky Peak Park. Its oak groves, gurgling stream, varied plants, and unique geology make it a popular place to hike, run or ride.

According to California Place Names, Las Llajas might have originated from a misspelling of the Spanish word “llagas,” which literally means sores or wounds. Perhaps this was a reference to the area’s natural oil seeps. These would have been an important resource for the Chumash and early settlers.

The trailhead for Las Llajas Canyon is on Evening Sky Drive in Simi Valley. From the trailhead, it’s about 3.4 miles up the (mostly) dirt road to a windmill and oak-shaded trail junction. From the junction, a connecting trail crosses the creek and then climbs steeply to Rocky Peak Road. A strenuous 9.2 mile loop — Chumash-Las Llajas Loop — follows this route.

There are also some less-used side trails in Las Llajas Canyon. A use trail on the canyon’s east side starts about 0.4 mile from the trailhead and connects to Rocky Peak Road near the highest point in Rocky Peak Park. A very steep, eroded hill marks the beginning of the route. The trail ends at a large cairn near Rocky Peak Road. Fossiliferous limestone, composed of seashells, is found here. It is similar to that found at Coquina Mine.

The Coquina Mine trail starts about 1.9 mile from the Las LLajas trailhead. It climbs “Tapo Alto Mountain” on the west side of Las Llajas Canyon and appears to follow the route of a dirt road shown in the U.S.G.S. 1941 Santa Susana Quadrangle topo map.

About a half-mile up the trail splits — the Coquina Mine use trail switches back to the right, while a trail connecting to the Marr Ranch Trail continues straight ahead. After the switchback, the Coquina Mine trail traverses across a steep, rocky face that overlooks Las Lajas Canyon and then continues to the top of the peak. As the trail winds up the mountain, there are bits and pieces of rusted mining equipment and abandoned dig sites — signposts of success and failure on the meandering trail of time.

Thumbnail: P&H Model-206 Corduroy Power Shovel. Click for a larger image.
P&H Model-206 Corduroy Power Shovel

At the end of the trail, a few feet from the summit of the peak is a P&H Model-206 Corduroy power shovel. Nearly out of mountain, its bucket is poised to scoop another load of crushed seashell, waiting for its operator to return. Here’s a short video walk around the power shovel.

From P&H Mining Equipment:

“Thank you so much for this extraordinary image of a P&H 206! Our company built Model 206 machines during the 1920s and 1930s. They were offered in shovel configuration, such as the machine you discovered in Southern California, and also in construction crane, dragline, clamshell, pile driver and backhoe options. It is amazing to behold such a well-preserved Model 206. The arid environment must be a factor.”

The 1941 Santa Susana topo map shows two “COQUINA” mines in the area. They are labeled “TAPO COQUINA MINE” and “COQUINA MINE.” The mines are described in the Ventura County section of a 1947 California Journal of Mines and Geology report, “Limestone in California.” From the report:

“During the last 20 years there has been irregular production from deposits of shell limestone on Rancho Simi, north and east of north from Santa Susana. The quarries are on hills 2 1/2 miles apart and 1 to 2 miles from the Los Angeles County line.”

The report goes on to summarize the operation at Coquina Mine:

“In 1929 Tapo Alto Shell & Fertilizer Company leased the deposit and produced limestone until 1935. They dug limestone with a 1/4-cubic-yard gasoline shovel, and screened and crushed it in a plant having a daily capacity of 15 tons. The principal product was poultry grit…”

A more detailed description of the mine’s operation is found in the 1932 REPORT XXVIII OF THE STATE MINERALOGIST:

“Present quarry is 200 feet long by 70 feet wide, with a 40-foot face. Material is handled by gasoline shovel, having a 1/4-yard dipper, into a l 1/2-ton truck which hauls it about 200 feet to the brow of the hill where it is dumped into a chute 300 feet long. This chute empties into a hopper which discharges into the boot of an elevator; to trommel screen, 4-mesh, screenings to bin, thence to elevator and Cottrell vibrating screens ; products to two-compartment bin ; over-size from trommel to rolls and bin. The plant is so arranged that either product can be put on dump by means of a conveyor. Plant is operated by 25-h.p. Fairbanks Morse gas engine. Plant has a daily capacity of about 15 tons. Products are — 8 + 10-mesh for chickens and — 10-mesh for little chicks.”

Some related posts: Chumash-Las Llajas Loop, Not So Flat Las Llajas Canyon

Which Stretch of the Backbone Trail Has the Longest Uninterrupted Descent and Most Elevation Loss?

Runners descending the Backbone Trail pass Chamberlain Rock.
Runners descending the Backbone Trail pass Chamberlain Rock.

It’s a section of the westbound Backbone Trail that starts two miles west of Sandstone Peak and continues down the Chamberlain, Old Boney, and Blue Canyon Trails to the Danielson Multi-Use Area and Big Sycamore Canyon Fire Road. At the point where the trail turns south on the fire road, it has dropped about 2400 feet in 4.8 miles. Continuing south on the fire road, the Backbone Trail gradually descends another 100 feet over a mile and a half until it starts up the Wood Canyon Vista Trail.

What about the long downhill between Saddle Peak and Malibu Canyon? That would be a contender if it weren’t for a gradual uphill that starts a little east of the Piuma Road crossing. It gains about 180 feet over 0.8 mile. If that break in the downhill is ignored, then the stats for the two descents are similar.

Boney Mountain from Satwiwa.
Boney Mountain from Satwiwa.

This morning, I did the Backbone Trail segment from Sandstone Peak to the Danielson Multi-Use Area as part of a loop from the Wendy Drive Trailhead on Potrero Road in Newbury Park. Including the optional side trip to Sandstone Peak, the loop totals about 18 miles with around 4000′ gain/loss.

Fires and heavy rain the past decade have taken their toll on the Backbone Trail and other trails in the Santa Monica Mountains. Today, except for a short stretch near Chamberlain Rock, most of the long downhill was in decent shape and enjoyable to run.

Here’s an interactive, 3D terrain view of a GPS trace of my route. The eastern ridge route is also shown. 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:
Not So Busy Sandstone Peak
Looking for Boney Mountain
Backbone Trail Mystery

I Stop for Cumulus Clouds

Cumulus cloud - Photography by Gary Valle'

On my way to upper Las Virgenes Canyon from the Victory Trailhead of Ahmanson Ranch, I had to stop running and marvel at the intricacy and beauty of this cumulus cloud.

The cloud developed as another weak trough was passing through Southern California. For a few weeks the long-range outlooks have been advertising a change to a wetter weather pattern, but the expected transition keeps being delayed.

More posts from the category Nature & Clouds.

The Western Santa Monica Mountains from Topanga Lookout Ridge

https://photographyontherun.com/content/binary/WesternSantaMonicaMountainsMorningLowCloudsSun4949b.jpg

The sun had risen, casting a warm morning light on the Santa Monica Mountains. Overnight, low clouds flowed inland through Malibu Canyon, emphasizing the peaks and covering the valleys.

Backbone Trail below Saddle Peak.
Backbone Trail below Saddle Peak.

I had just started up Topanga Lookout Ridge and was less than a mile into the Topanga Lookout Ridge Loop. Rain had muddied the ground and cleansed the sky, producing crystal clear views in every direction.

The view of the western Santa Monica Mountains extended from the top of the Tapia climb on Mesa Peak Motorway, past Castro Peak, to Boney Mountain and the highest peak in the Santa Monica range — Sandstone Peak.

In my mind, I traced the route of the Backbone Trail along the crest. My route would take me to the Backbone Trail, but this morning I would enjoy running only a few of its sixty-eight spectacular miles.

Some related posts:
Topanga Lookout Loop, Plus Saddle Peak
Looking for Snow on Topanga Lookout and Saddle Peak
Topanga Lookout Site and the San Fernando Valley