Category Archives: photography|historical

Point Reyes Peninsula – A Hidden Island

Running on Kelham Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore

The sand was compact, the breeze cool, the surf up and the running oh so pleasant. Brett and I were running south along Kelham Beach, an idyllic stretch of sand between Point Resistance and Miller’s Point within Point Reyes National Seashore. If the tide was not too high we hoped to reach an area of dramatically folded strata along the 150′ tall sea cliffs.

Our adventure had started with a short run from the Bear Valley Visitor Center to a spot on the San Andreas Fault where a fence was reconstructed to illustrate how the Point Reyes Peninsula lurched 16 feet to the northwest during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Fences and roads in the Point Reyes area built across the fault trace were offset by as much as 20 feet during the earthquake.

It is the San Andreas Fault that makes the story of the Point Reyes Peninsula so unusual. A glance at a geologic map shows the rocks of the peninsula to be geologically distinct from those on the other side of the San Andreas. Essentially the Point Reyes Peninsula is an island on the margin of the Pacific Plate that is sitting against the North American Plate. The San Andreas Fault is the boundary between the two plates.

Towering Douglas firs at the junction of the Old Pine Trail and Sky Trail.
Towering Douglas firs at the junction of the Old Pine Trail and Sky Trail.

The core of the Point Reyes Peninsula is a granite similar to a granite found in Southern California. Over many millions of years the chunk of crust was propelled northward along the San Andreas Fault by the movement of the Pacific Plate. The story is not a simple one, involving a combination of faults. At some point — perhaps near current day Point Lobos — the granite core was overlain by the sedimentary rocks we see on the peninsula today.

It seems likely that at times during its 10 million year journey northward from Monterey, the Point Reyes Peninsula may have been separated from the coast. With more than 80% of its perimeter currently bounded by water, it may once again become an island.

Point Resistance and Drakes Bay from the Sky Trail in Point Reyes National Seashore.
Point Resistance and Drakes Bay from the Sky Trail in Point Reyes National Seashore.

After visiting the fault zone we ran across the Point Reyes Peninsula to the coast using the Bear Valley, Mt. Wittenberg, Sky and Coast Trails. For the most part the trails were duff-covered, tree-lined, shaded and cool. For someone that runs mostly in Southern California this was practically nirvana. The previous Saturday I’d run a 50K race on a rocky, exposed course near Los Angeles in 90 degree temps and gusty Santa Ana winds. In the West San Fernando Valley the temperature this year has reached at least 95 °F every month from March through October. In July, August and September the highest temp each month was over 110 °F!

Alders along the Bear Valley Trail in Point Reyes National Seashore.
Alders along the Bear Valley Trail in Point Reyes National Seashore.

It was not 110 °F now. It was about 60 ocean-conditioned degrees. Brett and I had reached the first point where the beach narrowed. There was still room to run, but the beach narrowed even more ahead. We watched as a large wave broke and washed up to the rocks. It looked like the tide was going out, but we weren’t sure. Although the surf wasn’t huge, there was a consistent swell of maybe 6′-8′.

In between sets we took a look around the next corner and it looked sketchy. Debating, we watched as more waves washed up to the base of the cliffs. That part of the exploration would have to wait until another day with a lower tide!

Related post: Point Reyes – Sky Trail Keyhole Loop

Red Box – Bear Canyon Loop Plus Brown Mountain

Brown Mountain, Verdugo Mountains and Boney Mountain in the distance.
Brown Mountain, Verdugo Mountains and Boney Mountain in the distance.

This photograph of Jason and Owen Brown (Los Angeles Public Library, Security Pacific National Bank Collection) is cataloged with the following description:

Jason and Owen Brown (1884). Photo: Los Angeles Public LIbrary
Jason and Owen Brown (1884). Photo: Los Angeles Public LIbrary

“Photo of Jason and Owen Brown, sons of John Brown of the Civil War and Abolition fame. View shows Jason and Owen Brown sitting on Mount Wilson, near the site of their cabin in 1884.”

Is the reference to Mt. Wilson accurate? Probably not. The peaks in the background establish they are not on top of Mt. Wilson. While they might be elsewhere on the mountain, it doesn’t seem likely. Mt. Wilson is more than five miles from their El Prieto cabin site. In his guidebook Trails of the Angeles, John Robinson describes the photo of the Browns as being “on Brown Mountain” — a peak which is near their El Prieto cabin, and which figured prominently in their lives.

Not having climbed Brown Mountain, I was curious to see if the photo of the “Brown Boys”  was taken on or near its summit. Early this morning I set off from Red Box, Brown Boys photo in my pack, to do a loop through Bear Canyon and Arroyo Seco, and take a side trip to Brown Mountain along the way.

False summits leading to Brown Mountain
False summits leading to Brown Mountain

The detour to Brown Mountain began at Tom Sloan Saddle and followed the peak’s east ridge over several false summits to the summit of the peak. Brown Mountain’s rounded summit sits on the divide between Bear and Millard Canyons and on a clear day affords a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains and much of the Los Angeles area. Big views can lead to big dreams, and according to an article in the Los Angeles Herald in October 1896, the Boys had planned to build an observatory on the peak. While this was not built, the Boys did succeed in having the peak named in honor of their father

On the summit, and with the Brown Boy’s photo in hand, I faced first north over Bear Canyon, then east toward Mt. Disappointment, San Gabriel Peak and Mt. Markham; and finally south over Millard Canyon. Neither the terrain or skyline matched the photograph.

The best match I’d found today was on a peaklet near Tom Sloan Saddle looking southeast toward Inspiration Point.  More likely the photo was taken on a ridge closer to their cabin. That adventure would have to wait for another day.  Today the clock was ticking and I needed to retrace my steps back to Tom Sloan Saddle, descend Bear Canyon and then follow the Gabrieleno Trail up Arroyo Seco and back to Red Box.

Some related posts: Bear Canyon Loop Plus Strawberry PeakRed Box – Bear Canyon Loop,  Arroyo Seco Sedimentation

Following are a few photos taken along the way. Click a tile for a larger image and additional information.

Big Horn Mine Trail

View from Big Horn Mine of Mine Gulch and the headwaters of the East Fork San Gabriel River.
View down Mine Gulch from Big Horn Mine. Mt. Baldy in the distance.

Returning from the run on the Manzanita Trail, I crossed Highway 2, stopped briefly at the car to switch packs, walked over to the gate in the southwest corner of the Vincent Gap parking lot, and began to run down the old road that leads to Big Horn Mine.

Mill buildings of the Big Horn Mine
Big Horn Mine mill building. Click for larger image.

Like the sure-footed animal for which it is named, the Big Horn Mine stands comfortably in a precarious spot on the east flank of Mt. Baden-Powell high above Mine Gulch and the headwaters of the East Fork San Gabriel River.

Gold hues of big leaf maple along the Big Horn Mine Trail.
Gold hues of big leaf maple along the Big Horn Mine Trail. Click for larger image.

Most accounts of the discovery of the mine describe mountain man Tom Vincent’s relentless search for the gold lode that was the source of the rich placer deposits of Eldoradoville and other workings along the East Fork. The story goes Vincent was out hunting for bighorn sheep when he made the discovery in 1895. This page from USGS Geological Survey Bulletin 1506-A-E lists mineral production for the Big Horn Mine and several other mines in the San Gabriels.

Big Horn Mine Trail about a mile from Vincent Gap.
Big Horn Mine Trail. Click for larger image.

The route to the mine follows an old roadbed and is generally straightforward. About 0.2 mile from the parking lot there is a big sign where the Mine Gulch Trail splits off (left) from the Big Horn Mine Trail and descends Vincent Gulch. About a mile from the trailhead the trail to the mine crosses a rough section where flash floods and debris flows have destroyed the road. Over the next mile the road gains about 400′ in elevation, ending at the mine’s mill building at about 6900′.

The mine was purchased by the Forest Service in November 2011.

The Big Pines Trail Marathon — First Organized Mountain Ultra in the U.S?

Mt. Baldy from the North Backbone Trail
Mt. Baldy from the North Backbone Trail

What would you think of a 44 mile trail race with 10,000 feet of gain that climbs Mt. Baden-Powell… and Mt. Baldy… by the North Backbone Trail… at night… by the light of a full moon… with the requirement to carry 10 percent of your body weight, NOT including the additional weight of food and water?

Paul V. Engelhardt, winner of the Big Pines Trail Marathon in 1934, 1935 and 1936. Photo: Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation
Paul V. Engelhardt, winner of the Big Pines Trail Marathon in 1934, 1935 and 1936. Photo: Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation

The Big Pines Trail Marathon was first run on August 23-24, 1934. Based on the description in the Autumn 1934 edition of Trails Magazine, the course would rank high among the toughest mountain courses we run today.

“Starting at Jackson Lake at an elevation of 6,000 feet, it leads over the Blue Ridge Range at 7,800 feet, down to the Big Rock-Vincent Gulch divide, 6,500 feet, up 4 miles by 38 switchbacks to the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell, 9,389 feet, back to the head of Big Rock, and east along the summit of Blue Ridge, over Lookout Peak, 8,505 feet, east over Wright Mountain to the Prairie Fork-Lytle Creek divide at 7,800 feet, over Pine Mountain, 9,661 feet, and Mt. Dawson, 9,551 feet, to the summit of Mt. San Antonio, 10,080 feet. Turning back here, crossing again the saddle at the head of Lytle Creek to the Oak Canyon trail, down through Wrightwood and up to Big Pines Park, where the finish line is at the Davidson Arch, elevation 6,864 feet.”

The winner of the inaugural 41 mile race was 24 year old Paul V. Engelhart, an Assistant Scout Master, in 14 hours, 45 minutes, 15 seconds. Second place went to 17 year old Fairfax High School track team member Bain J. Bain in 14 hours, 48 minutes.

Trails Magazine Big Pines Trail Marathon Trophy. Photo: Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation.
Trails Magazine Big Pines Trail Marathon Trophy. Photo: Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation.

In 1935 the Start was moved to coincide with the Finish at Davidson Arch, increasing the mileage to 44 miles. According to the Trails Magazine report, the race began at 5 p.m., the seven contestants starting at 10-minute intervals.

“This year’s preparations were most complete with nine checking stations, four of which checked two ways, and patrol cars covering all roads which closely paralleled the course for 18 miles. At Guffey Camp, which the contestants passed twice, at 24 miles and 38 miles, there was a field hospital station with a doctor in constant attendance, and on the summit of Mt. San Antonio, 10,000 feet in the air and 32 miles from the start, a four man team from the First Aid and Rescue Division, Disaster Unit, Alhambra Red Cross…”

Engelhardt won again in 1935 in a time of 13 hours and 32 minutes and for the third time in 1936 in a time of 13 hours and 13 minutes. In the Fourth Annual event in 1937 Engelhardt’s record for the 44 mile course was broken by Ray Ebel, who finished in a time of 13 hours 3 minutes.

“In this year’s race, as in those that have gone before, it was decidedly demonstrated that a thorough knowledge of the course is essential to win or even to finish. Of the four who passed Pine Mountain, three were off the course at some point, two of them seriously.”

Winners of the 1938 Fifth Annual Big Pines Trail Marathon. Photo: Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation.
Winners of the 1938 Fifth Annual Big Pines Trail Marathon. Photo: Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation.

Perhaps in an effort to make the course more straightforward, it was changed for the Fifth Annual race in 1938. Instead of returning from Mt. Baden-Powell and climbing Mt. Baldy via the North Backbone trail, the course continued west along the route of the present day Pacific Crest Trail (and AC100) to Windy Gap. At Windy Gap (then called Islip Saddle) the course descended to Crystal Lake Recreation Camp, turning around at the Ranger Headquarters for the 20 mile return to the Finish at Big Pines.

“It was a wild night on the mountain top, with winter temperatures and a gale of wind, a night which will be long remembered by both the contestants and those in charge of the checking and radio stations. Out of thirteen starters only six finished…”

Even in bad weather, the new forty mile course was more runnable and faster-paced. The report in Trails Magazine describes a competitive race that Big Pines Ski Club member Charles Melhorn won in 9 hours and 23 minutes — just 17 minutes ahead of Marine Reservist Don Wood. That works out to an average pace of 14 min/mile, with much of the running at night!

Strawberry Peak, Switzer’s and the Old Colby Trail

Strawberry Peak and Colby Canyon
Strawberry Peak and Colby Canyon

The Colby Canyon Trail is one of the historic trails of the San Gabriel Mountains. When Switzer Camp was established in 1884, Colby Canyon was an irresistible gateway leading deeper into the wilderness. The compelling and sometimes snow-covered peak at its head was one of Switzer’s many attractions.

Jason and Owen Brown (1884). Photo: Los Angeles Public LIbrary
Jason and Owen Brown (1884). Photo: Los Angeles Public LIbrary

In the History of Pasadena Hiram A. Reid recounts the story of how the peak was named in 1886 “by some wags at Switzer’s camp” because of its resemblance to a strawberry. He goes on to describe how one of them irreverently added, “We called it Strawberry peak because there weren‘t any strawberries on it.”

While Strawberry may have been climbed previously, the establishment of Switzer’s made it possible to climb the peak recreationally. In Early Mountain Ascents in the San Gabriels (100 PEAKS Lookout, Jul-Aug 1971) John Robinson notes an 1887 ascent of Strawberry Peak by Owen and Jason Brown — sons of abolitionist John Brown. Robinson describes the “Brown Boys” as the first local “peak baggers.”

Colby Canyon and Arroyo Seco from high on Strawberry Peak.
Colby Canyon and Arroyo Seco from Strawberry Peak.

Climbing Strawberry via Colby Canyon has been a long-time favorite. Last Saturday I’d done Strawberry via Colby Canyon as part of loop — ascending the Colby Canyon Trail to Josephine Saddle, climbing over Strawberry Peak, running down to Red Box and then down the Gabrieleno Trail to Switzer’s. A 0.3 mile connection along Angeles Crest Highway completed the route.

Today I did a variation of the same loop, this time bypassing Josephine Saddle and following (more or less) the route of the old Colby Trail up the ridge at the head of Colby Canyon to Strawberry’s main west ridge.

Overview of the route of the old Colby Trail from Strawberry Peak
Overview of the route of the old Colby Trail

As shown on this USGS Tujunga topo map from 1900, a century ago the Colby Trail was much more direct. It linked Switzer’s Camp in upper Arroyo Seco to the Colby Ranch and other ranches and holdings in Big Tujunga Canyon. It was a much shorter alternative to the roundabout route that ascended to the head of Arroyo Seco (then Long Canyon), and then continued past present day Red Box to Barley Flats and down to Wickiup Canyon. More on the history of Colby Ranch and Big Tujunga Canyon can be found in the Winter 1938 edition of Trails Magazine (12.6 MB PDF).

Ridge that was the route of the old Colby Trail.
Ridge that was the route of the old Colby Trail.

A well-used game trail wanders up “Colby” ridge, but the path is far from ideal and not always distinct. Our four-legged friends don’t necessarily follow one path, especially where the route is steep and loose. Deer are well-suited to this kind of terrain, their long, skinny legs being perfect for following an overgrown path lined with thorny buck brush. In a couple of places there were short segments of trail that look like they might be remnants of the trail indicated on the 1900 topo.

Bear tracks on the west side of Strawberry Peak.
Bear tracks on the west side of Strawberry Peak.

It’s easy to understand why the old route on the ridge was abandoned; the route to Josephine Saddle is far better and MUCH faster!

These sections of the 1934 Mt. Lowe Quadrangle advance sheet and 1939 Mt. Lowe Quadrangle shows the dramatic changes in the area with the construction of Angeles Crest Highway (LRN 61) between La Canada and Colby Canyon. The 1934 sheet shows the reroute of the Colby Canyon Trail to Josephine Saddle and then contouring around Strawberry, as well as the trails along the west and east ridges of Strawberry and connecting from Lawlor Saddle to Colby Ranch. The updated 1939 sheet includes the Josephine Fire Lookout and the Josephine Fire Road.

San Francisco Sights Trail Run

Golden Gate Bridge from the Batteries to Bluffs Trail

The Presidio of San Francisco is a favorite of local and visiting runners. One of innumerable route variations, this 7.5 mile run is jam-packed with iconic sights and memorable points of interest.

Brett and I started the run near the Chestnut gate of the Presidio. The first stop was the Letterman Digital Arts Center, the headquarters of Industrial Light and Magic and LucasArts. You can grab a cup of coffee at the Starbucks here, and then stop by the Yoda Fountain. Statues of motion picture pioneer Eadweard Muybridge and TV pioneer Philo T. Farnsworth are also on the grounds.



Circling around to the Letterman complex entrance we returned to the Presidio gate at Lyon & Lombard, which is flanked by two 18th century bronze Spanish cannon. The 6-inch caliber (24-pounder) cannon are marked with the ornate cipher of King Carlos III.  The information imprinted on the breech ring indicates they were cast two days apart in Seville in December 1783. Even older Spanish cannon can be found at the Officers Club and elsewhere in the Presidio.

Turning right (south) we ran a few blocks up Lyon Street to the popular Lyon Street steps. There are two groups of steps, the first set being steeper than the second. One of San Francisco’s most exclusive neighborhoods, Pacific Heights, borders the steps.



If you check online you’ll see counts of the Lyon Street steps ranging from around 241 to 291. Brett & Amanda counted the steps by section on another occasion and counted 63, 62, 46, 60, and 60 steps — for a total of 291 steps. The curb in the middle near the basketball hoop was not counted.

From the top of the Lyon Street stairs we re-entered the Presidio at Broadway, crossed Presidio Blvd, and then continued west along West Pacific Avenue. Wood Line, the first of two Andy Goldsworthy pieces passed on the run, is below West Pacific Avenue and between Lovers Lane and Presidio Blvd.

In about a half-mile we picked up the Bay Area Ridge Trail near the Arguello Gate and the Presidio Golf Course Clubhouse. Although not included on our route today, Inspiration Point is nearby and can be visited using the upper Ecology Trail.



Following the Bay Area Ridge Trail we crossed Arguello Blvd and continued uphill a short distance to Andy Goldsworthy’s Spire. Today Spire pointed into a clear blue sky, but on other days it can be nearly lost in fog. Over time, the young cypress and pine trees surrounding Spire will grow to dominate the skyline and Spire will shrink until it becomes a lost thought from another time.

About a half-mile beyond Spire the northwest-trending Bay Area Ridge Trail turned west, near the connector trail to the National Cemetery Overlook. Following the trail we continued west, past Rob Hill Campground to Washington Blvd. and then joined the Coastal Trail at the Pacific Overlook.

Here the iconic views of the Pacific shoreline and the Golden Gate begin. Taking advantage of the superlative weather, we ran down the Batteries to Bluffs Trail toward Marshall’s Beach and south to Battery Crosby, looping back up to the Coastal Trail and the Pacific Overlook.

The fantastic views continued as we ran north on the Coastal Trail, past Battery Geoffrey and other fortifications that protected the Golden Gate. Running under the Golden Gate Bridge we left the Coastal Trail (which crosses the bridge) and ran down the Battery East stairs to the Golden Gate Promenade.



Not that much bigger than a large container ship, Alcatraz looked like a huge tramp freighter out in the bay, steaming through the morning haze. Already late for breakfast, we tried to keep the pace up as we ran along the Promenade. At Crissy Field I paused for a moment to photograph Huru, one of Mark di Suvero’s huge steel sculptures.

Leaving the shoreline at the marina, we crossed Marina Blvd. One more stop was on our itinerary — the Palace of Fine Arts. Built for the Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915, and rebuilt in 1965-66, architect Bernard Maybeck’s vision was that of “a Roman ruin, mutilated and overgrown.”

Out of time, I took a few photos and we checked on the nest of the swans Blanche and Blue Boy, residents of the Palace’s lagoon. One swan was on the water, but the nest was empty. Later we learned that four cygnets had hatched just days before.

Here’s a slideshow of some photos from the run. This interactive Cesium browser View shows the GPS track of our route. Here also is a Park Service & Presidio Trust map of the Presidio (PDF).

Some related posts: Spire, Wood Line, Cooler Running, Inspiration Point – Golden Gate Bridge Loop