This variation bypasses the last couple of miles of Las Lajas Canyon by using a relatively new trail that splits off the Coquina Mine Trail and connects to the Marr Ranch Trail.
It adds about 1.5 miles and a few hundred feet of elevation gain to the Chumash – Las Llajas Loop but gets you up and out of the canyon and on a ridgeline with excellent views of the surrounding terrain.
I’ve always wondered who maintains the connector trail and happened upon that person on this morning’s run.
At times the site of a religious colony, a grit mine, an oil field, and a housing development, Las Llajas Canyon is now part of the Marr Ranch Open Space and Rocky Peak Park. Its oak groves, gurgling stream, varied plants, and unique geology make it a popular place to hike, run or ride.
According to California Place Names, Las Llajas might have originated from a misspelling of the Spanish word “llagas,” which literally means sores or wounds. Perhaps this was a reference to the area’s natural oil seeps. These would have been an important resource for the Chumash and early settlers.
The trailhead for Las Llajas Canyon is on Evening Sky Drive in Simi Valley. From the trailhead, it’s about 3.4 miles up the (mostly) dirt road to a windmill and oak-shaded trail junction. From the junction, a connecting trail crosses the creek and then climbs steeply to Rocky Peak Road. A strenuous 9.2 mile loop — Chumash-Las Llajas Loop — follows this route.
There are also some less-used side trails in Las Llajas Canyon. A use trail on the canyon’s east side starts about 0.4 mile from the trailhead and connects to Rocky Peak Road near the highest point in Rocky Peak Park. A very steep, eroded hill marks the beginning of the route. The trail ends at a large cairn near Rocky Peak Road. Fossiliferous limestone, composed of seashells, is found here. It is similar to that found at Coquina Mine.
About a half-mile up the trail splits — the Coquina Mine use trail switches back to the right, while a trail connecting to the Marr Ranch Trail continues straight ahead. After the switchback, the Coquina Mine trail traverses across a steep, rocky face that overlooks Las Lajas Canyon and then continues to the top of the peak. As the trail winds up the mountain, there are bits and pieces of rusted mining equipment and abandoned dig sites — signposts of success and failure on the meandering trail of time.
“Thank you so much for this extraordinary image of a P&H 206! Our company built Model 206 machines during the 1920s and 1930s. They were offered in shovel configuration, such as the machine you discovered in Southern California, and also in construction crane, dragline, clamshell, pile driver and backhoe options. It is amazing to behold such a well-preserved Model 206. The arid environment must be a factor.”
“During the last 20 years there has been irregular production from deposits of shell limestone on Rancho Simi, north and east of north from Santa Susana. The quarries are on hills 2 1/2 miles apart and 1 to 2 miles from the Los Angeles County line.”
The report goes on to summarize the operation at Coquina Mine:
“In 1929 Tapo Alto Shell & Fertilizer Company leased the deposit and produced limestone until 1935. They dug limestone with a 1/4-cubic-yard gasoline shovel, and screened and crushed it in a plant having a daily capacity of 15 tons. The principal product was poultry grit…”
“Present quarry is 200 feet long by 70 feet wide, with a 40-foot face. Material is handled by gasoline shovel, having a 1/4-yard dipper, into a l 1/2-ton truck which hauls it about 200 feet to the brow of the hill where it is dumped into a chute 300 feet long. This chute empties into a hopper which discharges into the boot of an elevator; to trommel screen, 4-mesh, screenings to bin, thence to elevator and Cottrell vibrating screens ; products to two-compartment bin ; over-size from trommel to rolls and bin. The plant is so arranged that either product can be put on dump by means of a conveyor. Plant is operated by 25-h.p. Fairbanks Morse gas engine. Plant has a daily capacity of about 15 tons. Products are — 8 + 10-mesh for chickens and — 10-mesh for little chicks.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. To change the view, use the control on the upper right side 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?