Category Archives: photography|wildflowers

Goldfields, Silt Slides, Oak Leaves, Invasive Thistle, Rough Trails, and a Reminder to be Watchful

Goldfields blooming on Lasky Mesa - March 2024
Goldfields blooming on Lasky Mesa

Following are some notes and photos from runs in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (Ahmanson Ranch) during March 2024.  Spring is here! The hills are green, goldfields and other wildflowers are blooming, and Las Virgenes Creek is flowing.

Goldfields and Other Wildflowers

The first goldfields (Lasthenia gracilis) of 2024 began to bloom on Lasky Mesa at the end of February. Now, bright yellow patches of these “belly” flowers are scattered across the mesa, adding a brush of color to the roads and trails of Ahmanson Ranch. The cheery flowers usually disappear with the first spell of hot and dry weather. Looking ahead, more rain and cool weather are forecast Easter weekend, and extended temperature outlooks are mixed. Hopefully, the goldfields will be around for a few more weeks.

Catalina mariposa lily at Ahmanson Ranch. March 27, 2024. (thumbnail)
Catalina mariposa lily. Click to enlarge.

Some other wildflowers are also blooming. Blue Dicks usually flourish following a wet Winter, but this March are less widespread than usual. Red maids are also less numerous than normal and their flowers somewhat smaller. The elegant white flowers of Catalina mariposa lily are just starting to bloom.

Thanks to T.S. Hilary’s false Spring and copious Winter rain, the hills of Ahmanson Ranch have been green since early October.

Silt Slides
Slides of silty soil in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (thumbnail)
New (left) and old slides of silty soil. Click to enlarge.

With all the rain, small, shallow mudslides have been common along road cuts and other steep slopes of Ahmanson Ranch. The area has fine-grained silty soil. When saturated, it can generate a slurry of silt and debris. The numerous scars on the hillsides suggest this is a primary mechanism of erosion in the area.

Valley Oaks

After losing their leaves in December, the Valley Oaks at Ahmanson are now budding and sprouting. Some trees already have new leaves, while others are still bare-limbed. The period valley oaks are without leaves varies from year to year depending on rainfall, temperature, sunshine, and other factors.

Invasive Milk Thistle
Milk thistle in Las Virgenes Canyon
Milk thistle. Click to enlarge.

Milk thistle thrives during wet years, and it’s been very wet. We’ve had two consecutive wet years, plus a tropical storm thrown in for good measure. The invasive is sprouting in areas where it doesn’t normally grow and growing prolifically in areas where it is established. In a few months, milk thistle may look like it did in May 2005, following the record 2004-2005 rain year.

Rough Trails
Upper Las Virgenes Creek (thumbnail)
Upper Las Virgenes Creek. Click to enlarge.

Profuse rainfall is a two-edged sword. It revitalizes the ecosystem, turns the hills green, recharges the creeks, preserves the trees, produces wildflowers and more. But it can also be problematic — triggering slides, washing out and damaging trails, and promoting plant growth that chokes trails and increases the fire hazard.

At the moment, the roads and trails at Ahmanson are a bit rougher than normal, particularly in East Las Virgenes Canyon. Use and drier weather will gradually smooth out the ruts and rugosities, but we’re going to be picking foxtails from our socks for some time to come.

Upper Las Virgenes Creek is still flowing — including in the canyon’s upper reaches. Sometimes, there will even be a log or two in place to help keep your shoes dry.

And A Reminder to be Watchful
Baby rattlesnake at Ahmanson Ranch (thumbnail)
Baby rattlesnake. Click to enlarge.

I sometimes stretch at the info kiosk at the Victory trailhead before running. Today, as I placed my hands against one of the kiosk posts and started to stretch, I glanced down. Disturbingly close to my feet was a small snake. Adrenaline flowing, I checked the head and tail and then checked them again. I stepped back and began to breathe. It was a gopher snake. But it could have just as easily been a rattlesnake. In fact, later on that run, I encountered a baby rattlesnake. That day and the next (March 20 and 21), I saw a total of four gopher snakes and two Southern Pacific rattlesnakes.

Some related posts:

Ahmanson Ranch  and Las Virgenes Creek After Six Days of Rain
East Las Virgenes Canyon After a Seventh Day of Rain
A Second Spring at Ahmanson Ranch
Looking For Local Impacts of Tropical Storm Hilary

Rainy Season Trail Running on the Backbone Trail

Rock formations below Triunfo Lookout, with the Channel Islands in the distance. From the Etz Meloy section of the Backbone Trail.
The Backbone Trail contours around Triunfo Peak (on the right) above the rock band that extends across the photo. The Channel Islands are in the distance.

The Backbone Trail between Encinal Canyon and Mishe Mokwa is one of the must-do sections of the 68-mile trail. Engineered to be multi-use, this exceptionally scenic stretch of the Backbone Trail is popular with riders, hikers, and runners alike.

Chaparral Currant (Ribes malvaceum) blooming along the Backbone Trail (Thumbnail)
Chaparral Currant

It’s also a pretty good place for a trail run after rainy weather like we’ve had this February. Although the parking lot at the Encinal Trailhead was quite wet this morning, the  Backbone Trail was in decent shape most of the way to the Mishe Mokwa trailhead. There were a few muddy and wet spots, but it was generally easy to work around them. And I didn’t have to change my shoes before driving home.

The out & back run worked out to about 21-miles, with a surprisingly moderate gain/loss of about 2500′. The weather and visibility were excellent. Striking rock formations and the Channel Islands could be seen from one side of Etz Meloy Mtwy fire road, and snow on Alamo Mountain and other Ventura County peaks from the other side.

On the way back, as I was working up the long hill on the northwest side of Triunfo Lookout, a descending mountain biker commented that a large group of bikers were at “the corner.” The overlook at this prominent switchback has a wide-ranging view of Mishe Mokwa, Boney Mountain, and Sandstone Peak, and some prefer to turn around here. This variation is about 3.5 miles shorter (round-trip) than dropping down into the canyon and going all the way to Mishe Mokwa.

Explore the scenery and terrain on the Backbone Trail of this out-and-back trail run and hike from Encinal Canyon to Mishe Mokwa using our high resolution,  interactive, 3D viewer. The imagery is so detailed, it’s almost like being there! To change the view, use the control on the upper right side of the screen, the CTRL key and your mouse, or touch gestures. Track and placename locations are approximate and subject to errors. Poor weather, and other conditions may make this route unsuitable for this activity. Here’s  an elevation profile of the route.

Some related posts:
Encinal Canyon to Mishe Mokwa Out and Back Trail Run
Kanan to Mishe Mokwa and Back
Kanan to Mishe Mokwa to Wendy Drive
Night Training for the Backbone Ultra

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

 

Woolly Bluecurls Blooming Out of Season Along the Ken Burton Trail

Woolly Bluecurls blooming out of season along the Ken Burton Trail, in the San Gabriel Mountains.

The blue of the woolly bluecurls was just stunning. The plant was along the Ken Burton Trail, in the San Gabriel Mountains, near Los Angeles.

Arroyo Seco below Royal Gorge at Gabrielino Trail crossing.
Arroyo Seco below Royal Gorge at Gabrielino Trail crossing.

Woolly bluecurls normally flowers in the Spring, but rain from Tropical Storm Hilary, combined with Spring-like conditions caused it to bloom this Fall. Such blooms are usually not widespread and the flowers are often less robust than their Spring counterparts. Other Spring flowers that were blooming included Ceanothus, bush poppy, and golden yarrow.

The Ken Burton Trail connects the Gabrielino Trail, near Oakwilde, to a saddle at the top of Brown Mountain Road. Today, I was doing a longish out and back trail run to Wella’s Peak from Clear Creek via Switzers and the Gabrielino and Ken Burton Trails. Wella’s Peak is a bump on the west side of the saddle. Brown Mountain towers above the east side of the saddle.

An idyllic section of the Gabrielino Trail on the segment that bypasses Royal Gorge.
An idyllic section of the Gabrielino Trail

Explore the scenery and terrain on the out and back trail run to Wella’s Peak from Clear Creek using our high resolution,  interactive, 3D viewer. The imagery is so detailed, it’s almost like being there! To change the view, use the control on the upper right side of the screen, the CTRL key and your mouse, or touch gestures. Track and placename locations are approximate and subject to errors. Snow, ice, poor weather, and other conditions may make this route unsuitable for this activity.

Related post: Red Box – Bear Canyon Loop Plus Brown Mountain

Three Bighorn Sheep, a Solar Eclipse, and a New Peak

Bighorn sheep blend into the rocky terrain near Windy Gap in the San Gabriel Mountains
Bighorn sheep blend into the rocky terrain near Windy Gap

Had they not dislodged some rocks, I doubt I would have seen the three bighorn sheep in the photo above.  They are easier to see in this zoomed-in photo of the sheep descending the rocky slopes just below Windy Gap (7,588′) in the San Gabriel Mountains. They crossed a brush-covered rib and disappeared from view.

A partially-eclipsed sun crests a ridge east of Windy Gap.
The partially-eclipsed sun crests a ridge east of Windy Gap.

A few minutes after seeing the sheep, I reached Windy Gap and stopped to put my arm sleeves away. It had been cool at the trailhead — about 40 degrees — but the temperature had warmed as I worked up the trail. As its name suggests, the wind can be fierce at Windy Gap, but this morning there was almost no wind, foretelling nearly ideal weather for today’s adventure.

Windy Gap was still in shade, and the sun was just peeking over the ridge to the east. You couldn’t tell, but the eclipse had already begun. The eclipse would be nearly total in parts of Oregon, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and Texas. In the Los Angeles area, the moon would obscure more than 70% of the sun’s disc.

Partially eclipsed sun from the PCT in the San Gabriel Mountains
Partially eclipsed sun.

From Windy Gap, I headed east on the Pacific Crest Trail toward Mt. Hawkins. From time to time, I would stop and check the progress of the eclipse using eclipse sunglasses. In sunny areas, I looked for lensed images of the sun in the shadows of trees but didn’t see any. Having needles instead of leaves, conifers don’t produce the myriad images of the eclipsed sun seen under trees with leaves.

A few minutes before the eclipse reached maximum, I took this photo of the eclipse with my iPhone, using eclipse glasses as a filter.

With nearly three-quarters of the sun obscured, the light from the sun had become enfeebled. The feeling was more than that of a cloud passing in front of the sun. I stopped and listened… to nothing. It was eerily quiet. No birds called or sang, and only chill zephyrs of wind wafted about the area. Somehow, the sun was broken.

The south ridge of Mt. Lewis can be accessed from the CalTrans shed at Dawson Saddle.
The south ridge of Mt. Lewis can be accessed from the CalTrans shed at Dawson Saddle.

As the eclipse slowly waned, I continued east in the corrupt light, past Mt. Hawkins and Throop Peak, to the PCT’s junction with the Dawson Saddle Trail. In what seemed fitting for the day, instead of continuing to Baden-Powell, I turned left and headed down the trail toward Angeles Crest Highway (Highway 2).

Why? Angeles Crest Highway was closed from Red Box to Vincent Gap, transforming Dawson Saddle into one of the more isolated areas of the Angeles National Forest. I hadn’t been on the Dawson Saddle Trail in years, and with Highway 2 closed, it would be a quirky way to climb Mt. Lewis. Instead of having one of the shortest approaches in the San Gabriels — a few feet from the CalTrans shed at Dawson Saddle — it would involve a trail run of nearly eight miles just to get to the base of the peak.

Angeles Crest Highway from the shoulder of Mt. Lewis.
Angeles Crest Highway from the shoulder of Mt. Lewis.

The eclipse was nearly over when I reached the bottom of the Dawson Saddle Trail on Highway 2. From the trailhead, I ran up an empty Angeles Crest Highway a short distance to Dawson Saddle. Mt. Lewis’ south ridge was accessed from here.

Only about a half-mile long, the south ridge isn’t technical, but the first third is steep and rocky. The elevation gain from the saddle to the summit is about 500′. Offset from the crest of the San Gabriels, the flat summit of Mt. Lewis has unique views of the crest extending from Mt. Baden-Powell to Mt. Islip and beyond.

After a few minutes enjoying the summit, I turned southward and began working my way back down to Angeles Crest Highway, up to the PCT, over to Windy Gap, and back down to the trailhead in the Crystal Lake Recreational Area.

Here are a few photos taken along the way.

Some related posts:
Solar Eclipses, Saros Cycles and Chumash Rock Art
Boney Mountain Eclipse Run
It’s Mid-July And There Is Still Snow in Los Angeles County!

A Warm Day on Blue Ridge and the North Backbone Trail

Clouds, pines, and Pine Mountain from Blue Ridge in the San Gabriel Mountains

Angeles Crest Highway was still closed between Red Box and Vincent Gap, and the heatwave continued. I was trying to decide where to run.

I briefly considered the Circuit Around Strawberry Peak, but yesterday at 10:00 a.m., the “in-the-shade” temperature at Clear Creek was already 92°F, and the “in-the-sun” fuel temperature 109°F. By 1:00 p.m., the fuel temp reached a scorching 122°F!

Although trailheads such as Three Points and Islip Saddle couldn’t be accessed using Angeles Crest Highway, the highway was open from Wrightwood to Inspiration Point and Vincent Gap. After seeing the temps at Clear Creek, it took about two seconds to make the decision to head to the San Gabriels’ high country.

 sulfur flower-lined section of the PCT east of Inspiration Point
sulfur flower-lined section of the PCT east of Inspiration Point

From Inspiration Point (7,365′), I ran east on the PCT about 7 miles to the North Backbone Trailhead on Mt. Baldy. Over most of that stretch, the temperature was a blissful 60-something degrees. Other times, I’ve driven to this trailhead — which requires a high-clearance vehicle — or run to the trailhead from Wrightwood. But the run along Blue Ridge is a favorite. It is especially scenic, with fantastic views of Mt. Baden-Powell, Iron Mountain, Pine Mountain, and Mt. Baldy.

About a quarter-mile east of the top of the Acorn Trail, the PCT passes within a few feet of one of the Wright Mountain landslides. The canyon-size landslide is prehistoric, but smaller landslides and mudflows occur periodically within the primary scar. The debris cone of a dramatic 1941 mudflow is an unmistakable feature on satellite photos.

Peak 8555 and Pine Mountain from the PCT.
Peak 8555 and Pine Mountain from the PCT.

Less than a mile beyond the overlook of the landslide, I left the PCT and jogged down to the North Backbone Trailhead. After a short descent, I started up the steep use trail toward Peak 8555. On the way up, San Gorgonio Mountain and San Jacinto Peak were visible in the haze to the east.

Peak 8555 is the first high point on Baldy’s North Backbone. It is an idyllic spot with a great view of Mt. Baden-Powell and the surrounding terrain. But you might not want to linger here in a thunderstorm — spiral scars on the trunks of trees suggest the point is repeatedly struck by lightning.

Crossing the top of a chute on Mt. Baldy's North Backbone.
Crossing the top of a chute on Mt. Baldy’s North Backbone.

Following a short descent, I resumed climbing the steep, somewhat loose ridge. After about ten minutes, I scrambled onto the crest of the ridge and crossed the top of a prominent, rocky chute. More than a thousand feet below, avalanche-hardened snow gleamed white in the sun at the base of the chute.

Another 10 minutes of climbing and I reached the Pine Mountain Juniper. Straddling the rocky crest at an elevation of about 9000′, this stalwart tree is estimated to be 800 – 1000 years old. It is a remarkable tree in a remarkable location. Except for one short, steep, eroded section, the remainder of the trail to the top of Pine Mountain (9648′) was relatively straightforward.

Dawson Peak and Mt. Baldy from Pine Mountain's south summit.
Dawson Peak and Mt. Baldy from Pine Mountain’s south summit.

Pine is the second-highest peak in the San Gabriels and has excellent views of the surrounding terrain. It is higher than Mt. Baden-Powell (9399′) and Dawson Peak (9575′) but a few hundred feet lower than Mt. Baldy (10,064′).

From Pine Mountain, the North Backbone trail continues over Dawson Peak another 2.5 miles to Mt. Baldy. There was still a long ribbon of snow along the east side of the upper North Backbone, but it looked like the trail might avoid it. I would have liked to confirm that, but today the top of Pine was my planned turnaround point. As it was, with the warm weather, I thought I might run short on water on the return to Inspiration Point.

Leaving Pine behind, I started back down — jogging when it made sense — but trying not to do anything stoopid. On the way down, I kept reaching behind me and squeezing the bladder in my hydration pack. I guess I was hoping that it would magically be more full than the last time I checked. It never was.

San Gabriel beardtongue along the PCT on Blue Ridge.
San Gabriel beardtongue along the PCT on Blue Ridge.

Back at the North Backbone Trailhead, and definitely low on water, I decided it was a good time to run the dirt road back to the top of the Acorn Trail and see how much shorter it was than the PCT. The answer was not much — only about a tenth of a mile.

I’d been willing to push the water envelope because it had been a heavy snow year. I expected the spring near Guffy Camp would probably be running. I’d passed the side trail to the spring a bunch of times but never ventured down the steep slope. My impression was that the spring was often low or nearly dry. This time when I reached the side trail, I headed down.

Pumphouse at Guffy Spring, surrounded by giant larkspur.
Pumphouse at Guffy Spring, surrounded by giant larkspur.

And down and down… It sure seemed like a long way to the spring, but when I checked the track, it was less than a quarter-mile with an elevation loss of about 200′.

As I walked up to the spring, a flurry of birds scattered in every direction. Eight-foot-tall larkspurs surrounded the spring, and an old pump house was adjacent to it. While not exactly gushing, the flow from the spring was more than adequate and refreshingly cold. I drank several cups of water and added some to my hydration pack.

Clouds over Mt. Baden-Powell from the PCT east of Inspiration Point
Clouds over Mt. Baden-Powell

Back on the PCT, the temperature was generally in the mid-eighties but was warmer on south-facing slopes. At about 1:00 p.m., the in-the-sun fuel temperature at the Big Pines RAWS was 109°F. I was very happy to have the extra water.

Here are a few photos from the out and back trail run to Pine Mountain from Inspiration Point.

Explore the scenery and terrain of this out-and-back trail run and hike from Inspiration Point to Pine Mountain using our high resolution,  interactive, 3D viewer. The imagery is so detailed, it’s almost like being there! To change the view, use the control on the upper right side of the screen, the CTRL key and your mouse, or touch gestures. Track and placename locations are approximate and subject to errors. Snow, ice, poor weather, and other conditions may make this route unsuitable for this activity.

Some related posts: Inspiration Point to the Pine Mountain Juniper and Pine Mountain, Mt. Baldy from Wrightwood Via the Acorn and North Backbone Trails, North Backbone Trail Revisited