Category Archives: photography|landscape

Not So Flat Las Llajas Canyon

Cliffs along Las Llajas Canyon Road/Trail

Earlier, as I was running up Las Llajas Canyon, I thought of a conversation I had with a runner during a 50K. The runner was from southern Florida, and talked about the difficulty of finding a good hill to run. It sounded like the main options are overpasses, bridges, buildings and stadiums.

Las Llajas Canyon Road/Trail near Evening Sky Drive.
Las Llajas Canyon Road/Trail near Evening Sky Drive.

In Southern California we have the opposite problem. It’s hard to find a trail run that doesn’t have hills. And the longer the run, the more likely it is you’re going to be running some hills.

The out and back in Las Llajas Canyon is one of the flatter runs that I do. From Evening Sky Drive it’s about 3.5 miles up to where the trail forks. There is a sign at the split indicating that the left fork leads to a private ranch, and the right fork connects to Rocky Peak Road.

Pass between Las Llajas and Chivo Canyons
Use trail to pass between Las Llajas and Chivo Canyons

On rested legs, the run up Las Llajas from Evening Sky Drive seems pretty flat. Over the 3+ miles up the canyon, the elevation gain is around 565′. That’s not a huge amount, but it’s roughly the equivalent of climbing 56 floors or 900 stairs. After leaving the Marrland aid station at 20 miles, runners doing the Rocky Peak 50K discover that the run up the canyon isn’t as flat as it looks!

If you want more distance or elevation, there are a couple of ways to extend the Las Llajas out and back. One is to take the right fork at the sign and continue up to the top of the hill just before Rocky Peak Road. This adds about 2 miles and 600 feet of elevation gain.

Peak at the head of Chivo Canyon from the pass between Las Llajas Canyon and Chico Canyon.
Peak at the head of Chivo Canyon.

Another interesting way to extend the run, is to do the variation I was doing this morning. About halfway down the canyon on the way back, on the right, is a use trail. The use trail is about 1.6 miles from the turnaround point at the fork at the ranch sign. It is just past the area where steep cliffs tower above the road on the right, and is very easy to miss.

After turning right onto the use trail, about a half-mile up the trail splits. One trail switchbacks to the right and continues up to the top of cliffs and an old seashell grit mine; the other trail continues up the canyon to a  pass between Las Llajas and Chivo Canyons.

The trail over the pass leads to a well-used trail that connects Chivo Canyon to Las Llajas Canyon near Evening Sky Drive. Some refer to this trail as the “Marr Ranch Trail.” This variation adds about 1.3 miles and 500′ of elevation gain.

Yellow mariposa lily (Calochortus clavatus) along the Marr Ranch Trail
Yellow mariposa lily along the Marr Ranch Trail

Here’s an interactive, 3D terrain view of a GPS track of today’s route, as well as the variation that continues to Rocky Peak Road. The map can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned. For help controlling the view, click/tap the “?” icon in the upper right corner of the screen. Track and placename locations are approximate and subject to errors. Poor weather, and other conditions may make this route unsuitable for this activity.

After I got back from the run, I was curious to see what hilly trails there are in Florida. A quick search turned up the Hilly Trails In Florida page of the Florida Hikes web site. Anybody up for doing Mount Cockroach?

Some related posts: Exploring Las Llajas, Top of Las Llajas, Marr Ranch Wildflowers

Old Boney to Serrano Valley, Plus Fireline and Overlook

Paintbrush along the Old Boney Trail in Pt. Mugu State Park

Serrano Valley and Canyon had been on my run list for a few weeks. I was curious to see how December’s rainfall had affected Serrano Canyon. Runoff from those storms had (once again) washed out sections pf the Blue Canyon Trail and Upper Sycamore Trail. Had the Serrano Canyon Trail also been damaged?

Greenbark Ceanothus along the Old Boney Trail
Greenbark Ceanothus along the Old Boney Trail

It was a good day to visit Serrano — I was looking to do a longer run; the weather was perfect; the meadows green; and many wildflowers were in bloom.

There are a couple of ways I like to run to Serrano Valley from the Wendy Drive Trailhead. Both do the initial 1.6 mile, 900′ climb up the Old Boney Trail from Danielson Road. At the top of the climb, one route goes up and over Boney Mountain’s western ridge to the Backbone Trail, and the other continues on the Old Boney Trail. Both routes join at the Chamberlain junction of the Backbone and Old Boney Trails. I’d done the western ridge of Boney Mountain recently, so opted for the Old Boney route.

Prickly phlox along Overlook Fire Road
Prickly phlox along Overlook Fire Road

Wildflowers were everywhere. The December rain and February heat wave seems to have encouraged many plants to bloom — among them blue dics, Encelia, clematis, California poppy, greenbark Ceanothus, shooting star, nightshade, paintbrush, poison oak, milkmaids, prickly phlox, hummingbird sage, and larkspur.

Serrano Valley was Spring-green and spectacular. Serrano Creek was gurgling away, and the Serrano Canyon Trail had survived December’s storms. After a pleasant run down Serrano Canyon, I stopped to get some water from the faucet at the junction of the Serrano Canyon Trail and Sycamore Canyon.

A right turn here — up Sycamore Canyon — produces a run of about 20 miles. Today I was looking to do a little more than that, so turned south and ran about a quarter-mile down Sycamore Canyon and picked up the Fireline Trail. This trail gains about 700′ in elevation on its way up to Overlook Fire Road.

California poppies along Overlook Fire Road, above La Jolla Valley
La Jolla Valley from Overlook Fire Road

Overlook Fire Road leads northwest to the top of the Ray Miller Trail. I was feeling good and briefly debated descending to the Ray Miller Trailhead. I did a quick estimate of the mileage. I was at about mile 14. Descending Ray Miller would add about 2.5 miles, and then the run back from the trailhead to Wendy would add another 12 miles. Hmmmm… nearly 29 miles. My legs were way ahead of my brain, and were already continuing up Overlook Fire Road.

I followed the usual route back — Overlook -> Hell Hill -> Wood Canyon -> Two Foxes -> Sycamore Canyon -> Upper Sycamore -> Danielson Road -> Satwiwa. The paved part of Sycamore can be a bit tedious and it helped when I happened upon a couple of friends.

Here is an interactive, 3D terrain view of the GPS track of my route. The map can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned. For help controlling the view, click/tap the “?” icon in the upper right corner of the screen. 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: Over Boney Mountain to Sandstone Peak and Serrano Valley, Serrano Valley from Wendy Drive, Pt. Mugu State Park Debris Flows and Flash Floods

Revitalized Valley Oak at Ahmanson Ranch

Sunlit valley oak in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (Ahmanson Ranch)

Revitalized by December’s copious rainfall and temperatures in the mid-80s in February, this valley oak at Ahmanson Ranch has produced a lush crown of new leaves.

(Officially named Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve, most users refer to the open space area as Ahmanson Ranch, or simply, Ahmanson.)

Malibu Creek December 2021 Floods

Malibu Creek and Goat Buttes before sunrise
Malibu Creek and Goat Buttes before sunrise. February 6, 2022.

If you’ve done the Bulldog Loop since the first of the year, you’ve no doubt noticed there’s water in Malibu Creek again, and a lot of flood debris along the creek between Century Lake and the M.A.S.H. site. That’s all thanks to the extraordinary amount of rain we had in December. This pile of flood debris is near the old concrete bridge that washed out in the February 2017 flash flood.

This morning it was chilly along this section of creek, so it was worth a little effort to find a way across the creek with a high probability of staying dry. This sketchy log wasn’t one of them, but I found a fairly easy crossing a little upstream. Another runner mentioned there were a couple of planks across the creek just downstream of the old bridge.

Although stream gage data suggests that the peak flow was higher in February 2017, that was the result of one period of very heavy rainfall. In December 2021 there were peaks on three days, corresponding to three periods of rain.

Here’s a photo that shows the height of a debris pile along the Crags Road Trail, compared to a passing runner.

Related post: Malibu Creek Flooding

Castle Peak

Castle Peak and the San Fernando Valley. The San Gabriel Mountains are in the distance.

First published May 12, 2007.

From the rocky summit of Castle Peak I traced the course of Bell Creek into the San Fernando Valley, imagining the broad valley as it might have been a few hundred years before. Bell Creek would have joined Chatsworth and El Scorpion Creeks to form the Los Angeles River. Unconfined, the river would have been a riparian ribbon of willow green, winding its way across the valley and through a patchwork of grassland and sage scrub. Areas of the valley would have been punctuated with oaks, wetlands, and scattered chaparral.

Trail leading to Castle Peak
Trail leading to Castle Peak

A wall of marine haze would likely be seen near Kaweenga, and threads of smoke might mark the location of other communities. Later in the year, the grasslands would be set afire, promoting next year’s growth, and protecting and enhancing the health of the oaks. As they do today, the San Gabriel Mountains would beckon in the east — but would be antenna free.

Prickly phlox blooming near the summit of Castle Peak.
Prickly phlox near the summit of Castle Peak.

There would have been little noise… No distant horns, freeway drone, or roar of airplanes. Occasionally, a broken voice might have wafted up from the community below. The wind would rustle between the summit rocks, and the loudest noise might be the song of the canyon wren, or screech of the scrub jay.

Known by the Ventureño name Kas’élewun, Castle Peak is a landmark of spiritual significance to the Chumash and Gabrielino. Perched at the end of a tongue-like ridge, the peak stood over the multi-cultural community of Huwam, where Chumash, Tongva and Tataviam people lived.

Kas’élewun and the nearby Cave of Munits were places of power and ceremony. Stories would be told of the sorcerer Munits and his death upon the mountain, and of a gruesome creature inhabiting its caves. Some would tremble at the thought, and an angry parent might caution a child to behave, or risk angering the beast on the mountain.

Castle Peak with the San Fernando Valley and Warner Center in the background.
Castle Peak, San Fernando Valley and Warner Center.

It is a haunting night, and torn clouds race past a silvery moon. From the margin of the village I glance up to Kas’élewun to see a solitary figure briefly silhouetted on its summit. I rub my eyes and only the clouds remain…

Note: Like so many placenames in the Valley,  “Castle” appears to be a corruption of the Chumash name for the peak, Kas’élewun. Rather than alluding to a castle, it can be translated as “tongue,” perhaps because the formation sits at the end of a long ridge that extends out into the valley . The title photograph of Castle Peak is from a run on March 19, 2020.

Breezy San Bruno Mountain Ridge

Running along the San Bruno Mountain Ridge Trail

I staggered in the wind gust. It had to have been at least 45 mph. The views along the undulating ridge to the Bay were spectacular, but the wind was ferocious.

Hill on the San Bruno Mountain Ridge Trail.
Hill on the San Bruno Mountain Ridge Trail.

Brett and I were running on the San Bruno Mountain Ridge Trail. We’d started at the summit parking lot and weren’t exactly sure where we were going to turn around. We’d know when we got to it.

The NWS forecast for San Francisco had called for “breezy” conditions:

.TODAY…Mostly cloudy in the morning then becoming partly
cloudy. Breezy. Patchy drizzle in the morning. Highs in the mid
50s to lower 60s. West winds 20 to 30 mph.

San Bruno Mountain Ridge above Sierra Point
Continuing down, down, down the ridge.

That forecast was for the city — and of course up on the peak the wind was even “breezier.” The SF Giants beanie I borrowed was the right call. So were the gloves, extra shirt and wind shell.

We continued along the ridge past the second set of loudly singing power lines and continued downhill. It became one of those, “let’s just go down to that next overlook,” and then the next one, and the next one. Not only were we losing a lot of elevation, but we’d be running into the wind on the way back.

San Bruno Mountain Ridge above the 101 and Sierra Point
San Bruno Mountain Ridge above the 101 and Sierra Point

We eventually turned around a little above Bayshore Blvd., at the “Sierra Point Reset” benchmark marked “487” on the topo map. As is often the case, the return wasn’t nearly as torturous as envisioned, but I was glad to get back to the car!

San Bruno Mountain is an invaluable island of open space, about 20 minutes from downtown San Francisco. For more information see the San Bruno Mountain Watch website.