I was running down a narrow trail at Ahmanson Ranch, concentrating on the irregular terrain, when I suddenly found myself jumping over something on the trail. As my consciousness caught up, it asked,
“Was that a tarantula?”
“What tarantula has a stripe of orange on its back?”
Landing, I stopped, and looked back up the trail. Totally unperturbed, a female tarantula hawk wasp, its bright orange wings gleaming in the sun, was diligently working to move its paralyzed prey to a nearby burrow.
The quintessential elements of a nightmare, I watched as the large wasp assessed the huge spider. I could hear the question as she turned away from the spider, and then reading the ground with her feet and antennae, determined if she could drag the beast uphill over a small bump. Then, question answered, she proceeded to do so.
Where did the trail go? Rejuvenated by substantial Winter rains, the whitethorn was not only impinging on the trail, but also my arms. I took my running sleeves out of a pocket of my pack and pulled them on. That helped, and I was able to push through some thorny limbs to the next clear section of the path.
When following an overgrown trail I’ve learned to trust the “sense” of the trail. Even if it doesn’t look like there is a route forward, if you just take a few steps a seemingly impassible trail often becomes passable. I sometimes look at the trail behind me to confirm I’ve really been following a trail, and am continuing its path. If it doesn’t open up, I backtrack to see where I went wrong.
Winding through the thick brush along Strawberry Peak’s northwest ridge, I was happy to see that all of the Poodle-dog bush along the route had finally withered and died. Poodle-dog bush is fire-follower that causes dermatitis in many people. It became very widespread in the San Gabriel Mountains following the 2009 Station Fire. Reported reactions varied from a very mild rash to a severe rash with blistering. The troublesome plant must serve some role in the fire recovery process, but I’m glad its cycle is near its end.
Finally reaching the steeper part of Strawberry’s fragmented northwest ridge I climbed up the initial sandy ledges to an area of somewhat better rock, taking care not to slip on the ball-bearing grains of decomposing granite. Generally, the rock improves somewhat with height. Higher on the ridge, I enjoyed doing a couple of optional boulder moves that were a little more technical. (I’d done these before and knew they were not a dead-end.)
Reaching the top of the ridge, I could hear conversation and laughter above me. From the summit ridge I could see there were people on and near the summit. I threaded my way to the summit, greeting the hikers along the way. On the summit, a small dog said hi, and I treated my new friend to an obligatory neck scratch.
In nearly five decades of doing the peak, I’d never seen so many people on the peak. I had forgotten that Angeles Crest Highway was closed at Red Box due to a rock slide. With snow in the high country and the great Spring weather, Strawberry Peak was a very popular place.
Running down to Red Box I’d encountered many more hikers, some smiling, some not, but most were enjoying being on the trail. That’s the thing about the outdoors, it just feels good to be out there.
The sun had not yet risen and the poppies along Danielson Road were still tightly furled against the morning’s chill. The purl of Upper Sycamore Creek resonated in the canyon below — a wonderful tone that in recent years has too often been squelched by drought.
I was running to the Old Boney Trail and the start of the ridge that follows along Boney Mountain’s western escarpment to the massif’s huge summit plateau. Several of the Santa Monica Mountains highest peaks are on this plateau, including the range’s highest peak, Sandstone Peak.
In December I’d climbed this route to check the impact of the Woolsey Fire on the area. From the top of the ridge I’d been disheartened by what I saw. Tri Peaks and Sandstone Peak and much of the top of the Boney Mountain massif were a blackened, barren mess.
Now, three months later, I was headed back to Boney Mountain and would continue to Sandstone Peak for the first time since the fire.
Parked in a turnout on Mulholland Hwy, I finished putting on sunscreen and then pushed the Start/Stop button on my watch to dial in the GPS and pair my HRM. Outside, it was a chilly 43 degrees. Sunrise was nearing and the strengthening March sun was forecast to push temps well into the 70s.
In the aftermath of Woolsey Fire, I’d returned to Malibu Creek State Park to see the wildflowers; gauge the response of the creek to heavy Winter rains; check on the health of the redwoods along the Forest Trail, and assess the ongoing recovery of the burned chaparral.
Today’s run of the Bulldog Loop would be a follow-up to two runs in the park in December 2018, which found a fire-ravaged landscape just beginning the long process of recovery.
The Ray Miller Trailhead in Pt. Mugu State Park marks the western end of the Backbone Trail, a 68-mile scenic trail along the spine of the Santa Monica Mountains. The Ray Miller Trail’s long, winding descent into La Jolla Canyon is a favorite of runners and hikers, and a fitting end to those traversing the BBT from east to west.
My run this morning was to the Ray Miller Trailhead (and back) from Satwiwa, starting at the Wendy Drive trailhead in Newbury Park. The Wendy Drive Trailhead is very popular and is the starting point for many good runs, hikes and rides. To get an idea of the route options, see the detailed trail maps on the Pt. Mugu State Park page of VenturaCountryTrails.org.
Today I was looking to do a longer run, so didn’t take the usual route. On the way down Big Sycamore Canyon, I skipped the turns at Wood Canyon (Hell Hill), Wood Canyon Vista Trail (BBT) and Fireline Trail and at Overlook Fire Road, some eight miles into the run, finally headed uphill.
The top of the Ray Miller Trail is a stout 2.5 -mile climb from the bottom of Overlook Fire Road. Along the way there were excellent views of Sycamore Canyon, Serrano Valley and Boney Mountain.
About a half-mile down the Ray Miller Trail there is a popular overlook of the coast. The day was clear and there were stunning views of the Pacific and the Channel Islands. Brushed by whispers of wind, the cerulean blue Pacific filled my view for much of the descent to the parking lot.
It was an odd feeling to run down to the parking lot with runners who were cheerfully finishing their morning run, knowing that I had many more miles to go. After a quick stop at the water spigot, I turned, and sighed, and took the first steps back up the hill and toward Satwiwa.
Nearly to the top of the Beast, I was thinking how scraggly the valley oak at the top of the hill looked when my thoughts were interrupted by the cacophonous cawing of a raven perched in that tree. For the purpose of this story, let’s call him (or her) Ed.
That Ed would be in an oak tree, clamoring away, wasn’t so unusual. Ravens are loquacious birds that always seem to have something to say. As I crested the hill I mimicked his vocalizations, and in so many words, we exchanged greetings.
I ran past the oak, expecting Ed to quiet down, but the exclamations continued behind me. After a few seconds Ed flew past, toward the trailless center of Lasky Mesa — caw, cawing all the way.
I expected that would be the last I would see of Ed, and thought how unusual his behavior had been. His pronouncements were very persistent and seemed very urgent.
I continued to run on the dirt road on the south side of the mesa. As I ran, I watched Ed flying above the grass and brush about 70 yards to my left. His flying was a little erratic and he continued to caw. Crazy bird…
As I watched, Ed turned and started flying toward me. At first I thought, “Interesting.” He was some distance away and I thought surely he would turn. But he continued to fly directly at me, ranting all the way.
I stopped running. Ed had not changed course and was making a beeline for me. He was flying lower than usual, and I began to wonder if I should be concerned. Was this bird OK?
Spellbound, I watched the bird’s intentioned approach and was astonished when Ed swooped past me and deftly landed on a “Restoration Area” sign three or four feet from where I was standing.
Ravens are BIG birds, and I started to talk to this one like it was a black lab.
“What’s wrong big guy?”
“What are you trying to tell me?”
The raven watched me, repeatedly cawing, cawing, cawing. Clearly he was concerned; clearly he was trying to tell me something. I just did not understand.
In a rush of feathers, Ed took flight. He crossed the road, flew back over the brush ahead of me and to my left, and swooped low to the ground.
And that’s when the coyote burst from the brush in front of me and scurried across the road, Ed in chase.
I shook my head and grinned. Ed had been trying to tell me there was a predator nearby!
It’s common for birds and other animals to sound an alert or even pester a predator, but Ed had behaved more like a devoted dog worried about his friend.
Animals often have stories to tell, we just have to listen.