Category Archives: photography|wildflowers

Goldenbush Blooming in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve

Bee on Palmer's goldenbush in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (Ahmanson Ranch)

If you’re a bee in the Ahmanson Ranch area, your Fall menu of wildflowers is usually pretty sparse; particularly when the previous rain year has been below normal.

But life has a way of carving out a niche for itself in the toughest of circumstances. One plant you’ll find blooming in the oak grasslands of Ahmanson Ranch following a long, hot, dry summer is goldenbush. In the case of the title photo, it’s Palmer’s goldenbush.

Another goldenbush in the Lasky Mesa area is coast goldenbush. Here is a photo of coast goldenbush in the Photography on the Run album Weekday Wildflowers.

Rabbitbrush Along the PCT Near Mt. Hawkins

Rubber rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa) along the PCT, near Mt. Hawkins

From mid Summer into Fall, the vibrant yellow flowers of rabbitbrush add a refreshing hit of color to the greens, grays, and browns of the San Gabriel Mountains.

The title photo was taken along the PCT, at an elevation of about 8600′, near Mt. Hawkins. The area was burned in the 2002 Curve Fire. Here, and elsewhere in the burn area, new trees — now in their teens — are slowly replacing some of the trees lost in the fire.

Related post: Bumblebee Feeding on Rabbitbrush

San Bruno Mountain and Windy Hill Trail Runs

California bay trees in Windy Hill Open Space Preserve near the bottom of the Razorback Ridge Trail.
California bay – Windy Hill Open Space Preserve

With vaccinations on the increase and Covid on the decline, it was wonderful to once again be able to visit family.

As we always try to do, Brett and I got in a couple of runs. We usually do at least one run that is new to me, and there are certainly plenty from which to choose in the Bay Area.

Oxeye Daisy along the Old Ranch Trail in San Bruno Mountain Park
Oxeye Daisy along the Old Ranch Trail

Our first run was on San Bruno Mountain. We’d previously done the Ridge Trail, so this time opted to do a variation of the Summit Loop. The parking lot at the base was was closed, so we started the run using the Old Ranch Road Trail. This was a plus because it added a little mileage and there were a lot of wildflowers along the trail, including monkeyflower, iris, lupine, yellow paintbrush, daisy, and foxglove.

Brett running up the Summit Loop Trail on San Bruno Mountain
Summit Loop Trail, near the top.

It was an excellent run on single-track trail. As is the rule on San Bruno, it was a bit breezy, with hazy views of the surrounding communities and the Pacific. An island of open space in an urban sea, San Bruno Mountain is a miracle of land conservation, and an area to be relished. Here is a map of trails in the area.

The next day, after watching a spirited youth soccer match, we headed south on 280. On the way, Brett filled me in on the runs he likes to do in Windy Hill Open Space Preserve and Huddart Park. We couldn’t go wrong with either choice but finally decided to save Huddart Park for another day.

Brett running through thimbleberry on a lush section of the Razorback Ridge Trail
Razorback Ridge Trail

Windy Hill Open Space Preserve is on the northeast-facing slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains above Portola Valley. We parked near the Alpine Trailhead and ran up the road to the Eagle Trail. Corte Madera Creek was running, but low. Although the grasses along the trail were green and the undergrowth was relatively lush, I suspect the conditions were more like July than May. Open hillsides looked mid-Summer dry and the lichen on the trees was drab and desiccated.

Like the rest of California, the Santa Cruz Mountains have seen well below average precipitation this rain season. One station near Windy Hill, Woodside 3.4 S, recorded only about 28% (12″) of normal precipitation from October 1 to May 19. Another station, Skyline Ridge Preserve, recorded about 41%  of normal (16.5″) from October 1 to May 3.

Western columbine along the Lost Trail in Windy Hill Open Space Preserve
Western columbine

From the Eagle Trail/Private Road we turned onto the Razorback Ridge Trail. According to my Garmin track, the Razorback Ridge Trail gains 1000′ or so over 2.4 miles to its junction with the Lost Trail. It’s all runnable, switch-backing up a thimbleberry and fern-lined trail, shaded by California bay trees.

While the Razorback Ridge Trail continues up another 0.4 miles to Skyline Blvd., we turned right onto the Lost Trail. This trail parallels Skyline as it works in and out of the tributary ravines of Jones Gulch, on its way over to the Hamms Gulch Trail. Along the way there were views across the valley to Mt. Diablo, some 40 miles distant. Western columbine was blooming along the trail, its bright red color complimenting the green theme.

Large Douglas-fir along the Lost Trail in Windy Hill Open Space Preserve
Large Douglas-fir along the Lost Trail

At the top of Jones Gulch, there is an impressive, old-growth Douglas-fir. At chest height, it is about as wide as Brett is tall. This would put its diameter at over 72″ and its circumference at over 220″, suggesting an age in the neighborhood of 350 years.

The run down the Hamms Gulch Trail was as good as the run up Razorback Ridge. Given the weather was nearly perfect for a hike or run, we were surprised to see only a dozen or so people on the trail.

From where we were parked the run worked out to about 8 miles, with about 1500′ of gain/loss. Here is a trail map of the area, and here is an interactive, 3D terrain view of my GPS track of the loop. The interactive map can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned. To change the view, use the control on the upper right side of the screen.

Some related posts: Breezy San Bruno Mountain Ridge, San Francisco Sights Trail Run, Miwok Wanderings

Back to the Stone Canyon Trail – Spring 2021 Update

View west from Mt. Lukens, across the Crescenta and San Fernando Valleys.
View west from Mt. Lukens, across the Crescenta and San Fernando Valleys.

It was a chilly 45 degrees in the canyon, and I had already resigned myself to having to wade across Big Tujunga Creek. But I didn’t even get my shoes wet. The water level was low enough that the large rocks placed across the creek were high and dry.

Low water made it easy to cross Big Tujunga Creek. April 4, 2021.
Low water made it easy to cross Big Tujunga Creek.

It was a good start to what was to be an excellent run and hike. As I gained elevation, it was evident there had been recent work on the trail. Trimmings from the brush along the trail were still green, and in several spots the tread had been freshly manicured. The higher I climbed, the more work had been done. In a couple of places, substantial washouts had been repaired.

Last year, the trailwork ended abruptly about halfway up the trail. Not so this year. An impressive amount of work had been done to clear the trail of a tortuous mix of dead scrub oaks and thorny brush. Without having to crawl over, around, and through those snarls, my roundtrip time to the summit and back was a full hour faster than last year. Many thanks to whoever worked on the trail!

Stone Canyon Trail on Mt. Lukens
Stone Canyon Trail

Although rainfall has been below normal this rain season, there were still some wildflowers blooming along the trail. Among them were bush poppy, chaparral currant, and hoary-leaved Ceanothus.

Here’s an interactive, 3D terrain view that shows a GPS track of the route up and down the Stone Canyon Trail on Mt. Lukens. The view can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned. Placemark and track locations are approximate and subject to errors.

Some related posts: Back to the Stone Canyon Trail, Mt. Lukens, Then and Now

Finally — a Few Wildflowers!

Bush sunflower

As of March 1, Downtown Los Angeles had recorded only 1.99 inches rain over the past eight months. Most of that was recorded in one storm in early January. It was the second driest July 1 – February 28 on record.

Following the January storm, temperatures warmed up and stayed relatively warm for much of the next 30 days. In the West San Fernando Valley the high temperature hit 89 °F at Pierce College on February 4, and was over 80 °F for 12 consecutive days. Some plants (and some rattlesnakes) responded as if it was Spring.

In mid February Winter returned, with cool daytime temperatures and cold nights. There were Frost and Freeze Warnings on several nights.

In March the ridiculously resilient ridge of high pressure over the West Coast finally relented, resulting in above normal rainfall. It took awhile, but the March rain and April sun eventually produced an assortment of wildflowers.

Here are some wildflower photos from recent runs at Ahmanson Ranch, Malibu Creek State Park and Topanga State Park.

Trail Games

Mountain bikers taking a break on the Strawberry Peak Trail.

The group of five mountain bikers first passed me at Strawberry Potrero, a picturesque area on the north side of Strawberry Peak. The circuit around Strawberry Peak is a favorite of MTBers and in recent years I’ve encountered bikes on the loop nearly every time I’ve done it. It’s also an excellent run and part of the Mt. Disappointment 50K course.

Josephine Peak and fire road from the Gabrielino Trail.
Josephine Peak and fire road. Click for larger image.

The trail segments that make up the usual loop are Josephine Fire Road, Strawberry Spur Trail, Colby Canyon Trail, Strawberry Peak Trail, Gabrielino Trail, and Nature’s Canteen Trail. Today, I was doing a variation of the circuit that swapped out some fire road for trail. Instead of parking at Clear Creek, and running up Josephine Fire Road, I parked at the Colby Canyon trailhead and ran up the Colby Canyon Trail. This variation joins the usual course at Josephine Saddle** and continues around the peak. (Another option climbs over Strawberry Peak.)

Stand of Bigcone Douglas-fir near Josephine Saddle that didn't burn in the 2009 Station Fire.
Stand of Bigcone Douglas-fir that didn’t burn in the 2009 Station Fire. Click for larger image.

I thought I’d seen the last of the mountain bikers, but found them taking a break near the beginning of the two mile, 750′ climb to Lawlor Saddle. We chatted about the great weather and the next section of trail. As I turned to continue, one of the riders asked, “Hey, do you need a GU or anything?” I told them I was good, and started running.

Mountain bikers expect to be faster than a runner — and they usually are — but there are certain situations where runners have an edge. This was one of them. The first half-mile of the climb to Lawlor Saddle is relatively steep. After that the trail backs off a bit, but is still a decent climb. Since I had a head start, I decided to play the “How Long Can I Stay Ahead of Them” game.

I didn’t know if they were going to play or not, but it really didn’t matter. It was a way of having a little fun and motivating myself to push a little harder and run a little faster.

Parish's goldenbush (Ericameria parishii var. parishii) along the Colby Canyon Trail.
Parish’s goldenbush. Click for a larger image.

Whether you’re doing the Mt. Disappointment race or not, the climb to Lawlor Saddle will tell you if you are having a good day or bad. Today I was having a good day. The temperature was about 30 degrees cooler than at this year’s Mt. D, and after the initial steep section I ran nearly every step to Lawlor Saddle. A couple of times I thought I heard the bikers behind me, but somehow made it to the saddle without being tagged.

But now I was in trouble. Just past Lawlor Saddle the uphill ends. The question wasn’t if they would catch me, but when. Just before the trail turned to the east I caught a glimpse of a bike at the saddle, so the when might be in just a few minutes. It would depend on how spread out the riders were and if they decided to take another break.

Hikers on the Strawberry Peak Trail on the flank of Lawlor Peak.
Hikers on the Strawberry Peak Trail. Click for a larger image.

From Lawlor Saddle the trail contours around the south side of Mt. Lawlor for a mile or so, winding in and out of one ravine after another. It’s not particularly technical, but I hoped the frequent turns might slow a bike. I pushed the pace as much as I could.

About a mile from Red Box the trail finished its traverse around Mt. Lawlor and dropped down a rocky section of trail to an abandoned Forest Service road. Foolishly I started thinking maybe, just maybe, I’d make it to Red Box ahead of them.

Only about a quarter-mile from Red Box and in sight of the parking lot, I heard the tell-tale jingle-jangle of a bike bell. It wasn’t far behind me, and I moved to the side of the trail to let them pass. As the lead bike rolled leisurely past, he commented, “Hey, we weren’t sure we were going to catch you!”

The game over, I settled back in for the last few miles of the run.

Some related posts: Strawberry Peak, Switzer’s and the Old Colby Trail; Strawberry Peak Circuit; Strawberry Peak Summit Loop.

Holly-leaved cherry, a favorite of coyotes and black bears in Southern California.
Holly-leaved cherry, a favorite of coyotes and black bears in Southern California.

** The location of Josephine Saddle is currently mismarked on Google Earth and Google Maps. The saddle at the top of the Colby Canyon Trail has long been known as Josephine Saddle. It is marked as such on the U.S.G.S 7.5 Minute Condor Peak Quadrangles from 1959 to 2012. It is called Josephine Saddle in John Robinson’s authoritative guidebook Trails of the Angeles and numerous other guidebooks and route descriptions.