Category Archives: wildflowers

Encinal Canyon – Mishe Mokwa Loop – Sandstone Peak Running Adventure

Tri Peaks from the Mishe Mokwa Trail. Photography by Gary Valle'.
Tri Peaks from the Mishe Mokwa Trail.

I enjoy doing trail runs with an added element of adventure, exploration, or quirkiness. A run might climb a peak, look for a particular wildflower, or check out a rock formation, a creek, or an old trail. The possibilities are endless.

Whenever I’ve done the out-and-back trail run from Encinal Canyon to Mishe Mokwa, I’ve thought about extending it to Sandstone Peak. Doing so would add the ascent of the highest peak in the Santa Monica Mountains to an already excellent run. Even better, I could run from Encinal Canyon to Mishe Mokwa, do the Mishe Mokwa Loop — including Sandstone Peak — then run back to Encinal Canyon. That would be an exceptionally scenic 26+ miles, with much of it on the Backbone Trail.

An advantage to doing the run this Spring is that back-to-back wet rain seasons have recharged the area’s streams, and I would (theoretically) be able to get water from a creek on the Mishe Mokwa Trail. Another plus is that all the rain has resulted in historic conditions, with extraordinary displays of a variety of wildflowers.

Pond along the Backbone Trail, surrounded by deerweed, black sage. (thumbnail)
Pond along the Backbone Trail, surrounded by deerweed, black sage.

The day dawned overcast and cool, a deep marine layer covering most of the area. I was running west on the Backbone Trail between Encinal Canyon and Mishe Mokwa. The weather could not have been better for the initial 10+ miles of what I hoped to be a challenging and enjoyable run.

Along the way, I marveled at the explosion of wildflowers along the Backbone Trail. In addition to the extensive bloom of deerweed, pitcher sage, black sage, canyon sunflower and purple nightshade lined the trail.

About 8 miles into the run, as the Backbone Trail crossed the west shoulder of Triunfo Peak, a new trail sign had been posted. It marked the recently completed trail connecting the Backbone Trail to Yellow Hill Fire Road and the top of Triunfo Peak. The new trail replaces a use trail that had evolved here, and expands the route choices when running or hiking in the area.

Canyon live-forever on the rocks below Mishe Mokwa. (thumbnail)
Canyon live-forever on the rocks below Mishe Mokwa.

It was still overcast as I ran through the little valley below Mishe Mokwa. Above, I could see the Backbone Trail winding up toward Sandstone Peak and into the clouds. There was a colorful selection of wildflowers along the trail, including speckled Clarkia, canyon live-forever, yellow monkeyflower, woolly blue-curls, and others.

I had planned to make a go-no-go decision at Mishe Mokwa, but something in me had already made that decision miles ago.

When I reached Mishe Mokwa, I didn’t stop. I jogged across Yerba Buena Road and started hiking up the Mishe Mokwa Trail. It was still cool and my legs felt surprisingly good. The only question was: Would the creek at Split Rock actually be running?

Having run the Mishe Mokwa – Sandstone Peak Loop on other adventures, and climbed at Echo Cliffs, I was familiar with the trails. The 6+ mile loop from the Mishe Mokwa parking area is one of the most scenic short loops in the Santa Monica Mountains and deservingly popular.

Golden yarrow along the Mishe Mokwa Trail. (thumbnail)
Golden yarrow along the Mishe Mokwa Trail.

The Mishe Mokwa Trail traverses the rocky slopes directly across the canyon from Echo Cliffs and Balance Rock. The dramatic rock formations are so close that climbers can be heard conversing as they climb the steep faces. This stretch of trail is demanding and has a few steep steps— up and down — that have to be navigated.

As I worked past Echo Cliffs, I passed a large group of hikers that had stopped to enjoy the view from the top of a prominent outcrop.

Earlier, I’d encountered a runner coming down the trail, and he’d been pessimistic about using the creek as a water source. But the burbling sound echoing in the canyon below me left little doubt that the creek was running.

A wildflower-lined section of the Mishe Mokwa Trail near Echo Cliffs. (thumbnail)
A wildflower-lined section of the Mishe Mokwa Trail near Echo Cliffs.

It seemed everyone on the trail converged at Split Rock. When I arrived, one large group was already taking a break there, and by the time I finished getting water, another group joined them.

As a water source, the creek was a bit funky. I debated skipping it but thought of a friend’s comments regarding water sources on the Arizona Trail. How bad could it be? The drainage below Tri Peaks is relatively isolated and there are no cattle. At least, that’s how I rationalized it.

With the cool conditions, I only needed about a half-liter of water. And, of course, a little way up the trail, there was another — probably better — water source. I briefly debated dumping my water and refilling, but decided to continue.

At Split Rock, the character of the trail changes. It becomes much more straightforward as it gains elevation, passes below Tri Peaks, joins the Backbone Trail, and circles around to Sandstone Peak.

After being cloudy for most of the run, skies cleared while I was on Sandstone Peak. (thumbnail)
After being cloudy for most of the run, skies cleared while I was on Sandstone Peak.

Given the number of people on the Mishe Mokwa and Backbone Trails, I expected the top of Sandstone Peak to be a busy place. But the timing worked out perfectly — only two people were on the summit. Most of the clouds had cleared, revealing Sandstone Peak’s superb views.

Since I did the loop counterclockwise, the return to the Mishe Mokwa parking area from Sandstone Peak was much shorter (and steeper) than the trails to get there. Bush lupine lined the road; its unique fragrance and vibrant color a treat for the senses.

Damaged section of the Backbone Trail above Mishe Mokwa. May 2024. (thumbnail)
Damaged section of the Backbone Trail above Mishe Mokwa

Partway down, the shoulder of the trail had collapsed in a slide. It had been temporarily stabilized with a large white sheet of plastic that must have been visible from miles away. Continuing the descent, I took great care not to miss the turn onto the connector to the Mishe Mokwa Trail. At this point in the run, I didn’t want to do any “bonus mileage!”

The return from Mishe Mokwa to Encinal Canyon is a bit of a blur. Everyone I encountered on the trail — and particularly the mountain bikers — were super-cool, several offering a quick high-five as they passed. The encouragement must have helped — my time returning to the Encinal Canyon Trailhead was faster by a few minutes than the time going out!

This interactive 3-D terrain view shows my GPS track of the Encinal Canyon – Mishe Mokwa Loop – Sandstone Peak Running Adventure. The map can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned. It is initially zoomed in on the Mishe Mokwa loop.

And BTW, even though it was a cool day, I was nearly out of water when I got back to Encinal. It took a little time to purify the water from the creek but having the additional water helped. So far, no obvious problems have resulted.

Some related posts:
Encinal Canyon to Mishe Mokwa Out and Back Trail Run
Encinal Canyon to Triunfo Peak
Balance Rock
Mishe Mokwa – Sandstone Peak – Grotto Trail Run

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.

Sullivan Ridge – Will Rogers – Temescal Loop from the Top of Reseda

Creek in Rustic Canyon near the bottom of the Josepho Drop Trail.
Creek in Rustic Canyon from near the bottom of the Josepho Drop Trail.

The most popular trail run from the Top of Reseda to Will Rogers State Historic Park takes Fire Road #30 up to the Hub, turns left (east), and then follows the Roger’s Road segment of the Backbone Trail all the way to the Park. Many do the run as a keyhole loop, picking up the Rivas Canyon Trail on the west side of Will Rogers and using that trail to connect to Temescal Canyon. The Temescal Ridge Trail is then used to return to the Hub and Fire Road #30. The run is about 21 miles and gains/loses about 3400′.

There is another — more adventurous — way to do a loop from the Top of Reseda that visits Will Rogers and then returns via the Rivas Canyon and Temescal Ridge Trails. It is about the same length as the regular route and very nearly a complete loop. That’s the route I was doing this morning.

Solitary oak along Sullivan Ridge Fire Road. (thumbnail)
Solitary oak along Sullivan Ridge Fire Road.

Instead of going up to the Hub, I ran east about 2.5 miles on dirt Mulholland to Sullivan Ridge Fire Road and then 3.5 miles down the fire road to “Josepho junction.” There’s a yellow fire gate here, and the road changes from dirt to pavement.

From this point, the goal is to get to the Josepho Drop Trail — a short (0.75-mile) trail that connects Rustic Canyon to the Backbone Trail above the bridge. From the creek to the Backbone Trail, the trail gains about 650′. Much of it is steep, rough, and rubbly.

Years ago, we would run down the private service road from Sullivan Ridge to Camp Josepho, then follow a use trail down the canyon to the Josepho Drop Trail. That hasn’t been an option for some time, but there are other — more interesting — ways to get to the Josepho Drop.

Bougainvillea along the Old Stables Trail. (thumbnail)
Bougainvillea along the Old Stables Trail.

One option is to continue south from Joespho junction on the fire road a tenth of a mile to a single-track trail on the right. On some maps, the trail is labeled the “Old Stables Trail.” Initially, the trail contours below the crest of the ridge but eventually winds down into Rustic Canyon in the area of Murphy Ranch —  an abandoned 1930s compound said to have been a haven for fascists and Nazi sympathizers.

On the way down, there are vestiges of the old compound —  a flourishing Bougainvillea, an overgrown corral, an out-of-place palm.

Near the bottom, another trail/road enters from the left. I turned right here and followed the trail around a corner with a low, graffitied wall, and then down canyon about 130 yards to a trail sign near the creek. The collapsed structure found here must be the ruins of the stables.

Trail sign marking junction of the Will Rogers and Josepho Drop Trails. (thumbnail)
Trail sign marking junction of the Will Rogers and Josepho Drop Trails.

Finding the junction at the trail sign is the key to staying on route. According to Google Earth, the approximate location is 34.074534°, -118.516381°. The coordinates recorded for the photo are 34° 4′ 28.480000″ N, 118° 30′ 58.720000″ W.

A right-hand (west) turn at the sign crosses the creek and joins the Josepho Drop Trail. I’ve explored the trail south of the sign a few times. In about a half-mile, it leads to the heavily graffitied building that housed the diesel generators for the enclave. Not only is the building graffitied, but everything within reach of a spray can — walls, steps, pavement —  even the trees are painted.

Maps show the “Will Rogers Trail” continuing to Will Rogers, but as the trail sign says, the trail is not maintained. With the rain we’ve had the last couple of years, there’s little doubt the trail is washed out, overgrown, and would be time-consuming to follow.

Creek at bottom of Josepho Drop Trail. (thumbnail)
Creek at bottom of Josepho Drop Trail.

I returned up the canyon to the trail sign and followed the Josepho Drop Trail west across the creek . It looked like some trailwork had been done on the bottom part of the trail.

As I worked up the trail, I kept an eye out above. The last time up the Drop, I’d encountered a mountain biker bumping down a steep and very rutted section of the trail. It looked like he was riding down stairs.

When I reached the top of the Drop, I turned left on the Backbone Trail and continued down to Will Roger’s State Park. The loop was completed by following the Rivas Canyon Trail over to Temescal Canyon, then picking up the Temescal Ridge Trail and following it past Skull Rock and Green Mountain to the Hub. From the Hub, Fire Road #30 was followed back to dirt Mulholland and the top of Reseda.

Eucalyptus along the Inspiration Point Loop Trail in Will Rogers State Historic Park. (thumbnail)
Eucalyptus along the Inspiration Point Loop Trail in Will Rogers State Historic Park

I was surprised to find that without the side trip to the Murphy Ranch powerhouse, the Sullivan Ridge variant of the Will Rogers – Temescal Ridge loop is virtually the same length as the “regular” route down the Roger’s Road segment of the Backbone Trail. It just has a bit more elevation gain.

If a shorter run is preferred, another option is to turn right (north) on the Backbone Trail at the top of the Drop and follow that to the Hub. From the Hub, it’s about 2.5 miles to the trailhead at the Top of Reseda. This variant of the trail run works out to about 16.5 miles.

This interactive 3-D terrain view shows my GPS track (yellow) of the Sullivan Ridge – Will Rogers – Temescal Loop from the Top of Reseda. Also shown is my GPS track (red) of the Roger’s Road option on the Backbone Trail.

Here are some photos taken along the way, including some native, non-native, and ornamental flowers.

Some related posts:
Will Rogers – Rivas Canyon – Temescal Canyon Trail Run
Will Rogers – Temescal Loop

Condor Peak Trail Run – April 2024

Condor Peak Trail above Fusier Canyon.
Condor Peak Trail above Fusier Canyon.

After climbing Condor Peak, I paused along the trail between the peak and Fox Mountain to take a photo. That’s when I heard a loud rattling behind me. I slowly turned around… A very upset snake was in the brush about 15 feet away and continuing to buzz.

Many rattlesnakes I encounter don’t rattle — even if directly on the trail. But for some reason this well-hidden snake was really agitated.

Josephine Peak and Strawberry Peak from the Condor Peak Trail. (thumbnail)
Josephine Peak and Strawberry Peak

The rattle sounded like that of a mature snake. I briefly considered looking for it. But, I reasoned, if the snake had been kind enough to rattle, then I should return the favor and leave it alone. It was already amped and clearly knew where I was. While I was curious, I didn’t need to see THIS snake. I turned and continued down the trail.

It had been one of those runs where everything goes as planned. Other than the first 50 yards or so of the Vogel Flat Trail — which was in terrible condition — it had been a nice change to be on a “normal” trail. By that, I mean a trail that (generally) wasn’t rutted, overgrown, or washed out. Consecutive wet rain seasons have been hard on lower elevation trails in the Los Angeles area.

The San Gabriel Mountains from East Condor Peak. (thumbnail)
The San Gabriels from East Condor Peak.

I was the first up to the peak, and on the way down passed several small groups of hikers. The topmost group was resting in the shade near Fox Mountain, and the others working up the trail farther down the mountain. All were enjoying the day.

According to the Tempe thermometer on my pack, the temperature climbed steadily from 60 degrees at the start of the run to around 75-80 degrees on Condor Peak. The day wasn’t forecast to be particularly hot — around 85 in the warmer valley locations. But on the return from Condor, the temperature in the sun in the south-facing bowl at the head of Fusier Canyon was in the 90s. This was offset somewhat by the shaded little streams in the corners of the canyon. In some years these have been completely dry.

Paintbrush mixed with bush poppy along the Condor Peak Trail. (thumbnail)
Paintbrush and bush poppy.

As elsewhere this Spring, the wildflowers along the trail were spectacular. Some of those in bloom included woolly paintbrush, yellow monkeyflower, chaparral whitethorn, hoary-leaved Ceanothus, bush poppy, collarless California poppy, chia, and black sage. The paintbrush and bush poppy were especially striking.

Here’s an interactive 3D-terrain map of my GPS track (yellow) of the route to Condor Peak, starting near Vogel Flat on Big Tujunga Canyon Road. It’s a strenuous 16-mile run, hike, or ride, with an elevation gain of about 4000′. The summit of Condor (either one) is at about 5441 feet.

Some related posts:
Condor Peak and Fox Mountain Adventure Run
Condor Peak Out and Back Adventure Run
Condor Peak Trail Run

Boney Mountain – Old Boney Loop from Wendy Drive

Western Ridge and escarpment of Boney Mountain from the Old Boney Trail
Western Ridge and escarpment of Boney Mountain from the Old Boney Trail

For months, it seems wet weather has had a particular affinity for Saturdays and Sundays. This has resulted in some wet, chilly runs. It’s also put a damper on other outdoor activities. A long-time rock climber, I enjoy going to Stoney Point and doing a circuit of easy bouldering problems. That’s been hard to do because 1) muddy climbing shoes don’t work so well, and 2) sandstone hand/footholds tend to break when wet.

That’s one of the reasons I was back on the western ridge of Boney Mountain — at least I’d get to climb something!

Near the halfway point on the Western Ridge of Boney Mountain. (thumbnail)
Near the halfway point on the Western Ridge.

Following a well-worn route, I scrambled up Boney’s western ridge to the crest and worked over Tri Peaks to the Backbone Trail. This time, after descending the Chamberlain Trail, I turned right (north) on the Old Boney Trail and looped back to where the western ridge route began. From there, I retraced my steps back to Wendy Drive. Here’s an interactive 3-D terrain map of my GPS track.

There were other reasons for doing this route. It’s been a very wet couple of years, and there is little trail infrastructure to handle the runoff from all the storms. Last weekend, another strong storm drenched Southern California, and on Friday, there was additional rain. The Boney – Old Boney route crosses just one creek (twice), and it usually has a decent limb/log/rock bridge. I suspected other routes would involve soaked socks and shoes.

Bush sunflower along the Old Boney Trail. (thumbnail)
Bush sunflower along the Old Boney Trail.

I’d also read that the Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council (SMMTC) recently worked on the Old Boney Trail. After experiencing the challenges of brush on that trail firsthand, I was curious to see what the trail was like now. In addition, the Old Boney return has fantastic views of Boney Mountain’s impressive western escarpment. It’s fun to look up at where you’ve been!

Another consideration — not necessarily positive or negative — is the Boney Mountain – Old Boney keyhole loop has nearly a 1000′ more elevation gain than the similar length (16-mile) Blue Canyon, Sycamore Canyon, Upper Sycamore route.

Here are a few photos taken along the way, including some of the vibrant wildflowers.

Some related posts:
Looking for Boney Mountain
An End of Year Boney Mountain Adventure
Boney Mountain Western Ridge & 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