The photograph above was taken a few steps off the Backbone Trail, between the Corral Canyon Trailhead and Mesa Peak Motorway fire road. Also in the area was a set of table and chairs that might be used for an ocean-view card game or a lunch break.
These scenes were about halfway through a variation of the Bulldog Loop that starts/ends at the Cistern Trailhead on Mulholland Highway. The route follows the Cistern, Lookout, and Cage Creek Trails down to the Crags Road Trail, just east of where it crosses Malibu Creek.
A permanent bridge used to span the creek, but after being washed out several times in Winter floods, a “seasonal” bridge was put in place. The seasonal bridge is removed when there is a threat of flooding, such as during the rainy season.
This morning, the temperature in the canyon was in the mid-thirties. That was cool enough that I didn’t want to get wet, and I hoped the removal of the bridge had been delayed. But several days of rain were in the forecast, and as I neared the creek, I could see the bridge now lay alongside trail.
I took a few tentative steps into the dense brush and stopped. It was just too overgrown. I backtracked a few feet to the overlook at the top of Lake Vista Trail and reconsidered. If it was this overgrown all along the ridge, it was going to take a long time to get to the summit.
I was trying to get to the top of “Lake Vista Butte,” a high point along a prominent ridge of volcanic rock that stands between Reagan Ranch and Malibu Creek. The ridgeline and summit provide a unique perspective of Malibu Creek, Century Lake, Goat Buttes, Malibou Lake, and much of Malibu Creek State Park.
I dove back in, walking on top of a dense mat of dried deerweed and then working around a thicket of laurel sumac. Even if it was buried in a tangle of chaparral, it helped to know there was a path along the ridge. As I worked east along the ridgeline, the path would briefly emerge, only to disappear under another mass of scrub and brush.
In places, enterprising orb-weaver spiders had constructed intricate webs across remnants of trail. Their artwork was easy to spot in the morning sun, and even though their webs blocked the trail, they could not be disturbed. At least the spiders were out in the open. A rattlesnake could be anywhere in the rocks and brush and might not be kind enough to give a warning.
The route along the ridge wasn’t technically challenging, but like the spider’s web, required patience to complete. Low in the sky, the morning sun complicated the route-finding, making it more difficult to see sections of the trail and link them together. Far outweighing these inconsequential difficulties were the exceptional views of Malibu Creek State Park’s crags, canyons and mountains while traversing the ridge.
As often happens, the return to the Lake Vista Trail took less time than the ascent. Back at the overlook, I began retracing my steps down the Lake Vista and Deer Leg Trails and over to the top of the Cage Creek Trail. I was headed down to Malibu Creek to check the condition of the Forest Trail.
The Forest Trail is the “Walden Pond” of Malibu Creek State Park. Bordered by Century Lake on one side and the steep slopes of a rocky butte on the other, it is a contemplative place and one-of-a-kind habitat. It is home to towering coast redwoods, sprawling live oaks, sweet-smelling California bay, and water-loving California sycamores. Deer, ducks, bullfrogs, herons, hawks, falcons, and other wildlife may be seen here.
Fallen trees have been accumulating on the Forest Trail for months. On my last visit, following T.S. Hilary’s passage, another large oak had fallen near the beginning of the trail, making it unusable. Today, I was happy to find that the trees had been cleared, and the Forest Trail could be followed to its end at Century Lake Dam.
Recently, while doing the Bulldog Loop in Malibu Creek State Park, I noticed a peculiar plant about a half-mile up the Bulldog climb. The linear, red-tinged “petals” were unusual in the early morning light. I snapped a photo of it, planning to identify it later.
When I looked at the photo later that day, I couldn’t ID the plant. Hoping to get some hint about its identity, I tried various “AI-powered” searches and apps. This included Google Lens, Bing Visual Search, Pl@ntNet, iNaturalist Seek, PlantSnap, Flora Incognita, LeafSnap, and others. The most common matches were air plants such as Tillandsia ionantha and various species of paintbrush.
This wasn’t a huge surprise. The AI-based applications were having the same problems I was having — they were not “familiar” with this particular stage of the plant’s life cycle. They also were not keying on an important element of the image.
After a few days without any progress identifying the plant, I headed back to Malibu Creek State Park to take a closer look at the plant.
That turned out to be more challenging than expected. Even though I had the plant’s GPS coordinates, the time of day was different, with different lighting. The plant was also less colorful than before. I walked up and down a 30-yard stretch of Bulldog fire road several times before finally seeing it.
It turned out the plant was one with which I was familiar — Purple Clarkia (Clarkia purpurea). The title photo is after the plant has flowered and all but a terminal cluster of leaves on the stem have wilted. The 8-grooved, elongated-football-shaped structures intermixed with the leaves are ovaries. These are distinctive. A human expert would have immediately zeroed in on these.
The flowers of Purple Clarkia are usually much larger than seen here. They are typically purple-pink with a wine-red spot on each of the four petals. However, the color of the flowers varies, and wine-colored flowers are not uncommon. The size of the flower also varies. Jepson mentions that the subspecies intergrade extensively.
Using the photo of the plant in flower, some of the AI-based apps identified the genus as Clarkia and/or the species as purpurea, or at least included Clarkia among their suggestions.
The seasonal bridge across Malibu Creek is back! No sketchy log to test your balance or thigh-deep water to wade through — just walk across.
This afternoon I’d returned to Malibu Creek State Park to check on the bridge, count the surviving coast redwoods on the Forest Trail, and see what was happening on the Lost Cabin Trail.
When running the Bulldog Loop a couple of weeks ago, I did a quick check of some of the redwoods on the Forest Trail but skipped the back half of the trail. Today, I crawled through the downed trees blocking the trail and checked the rest of the trees.
I counted seven surviving redwoods. Several of these are multi-tree groups consisting of two or more trees. These family groups were counted as one tree. One of the trees, and perhaps more, was naturally germinated. Most of the trees looked healthy, but appearances can be deceiving.
One redwood is just a few feet from the Crags Road Trail. It’s on the right side of the trail, just past the seasonal bridge, when going west on Crags Road toward the M*A*S*H site. The unique conifer is easy to spot among the other trees.
The start of the Lost Cabin Trail is on the left as you enter the M*A*S*H site going west on Crags Road. Like the Forest Trail, it is less used and isolated but has a character all its own. Today, the Lost Cabin Trail was a trove of brightly colored wildflowers.
Update May 5, 2023. Did a run this afternoon in Malibu Creek State Park and the seasonal bridge across Malibu Creek on the Crags Road Trail is back in place!
As I approached the M*A*S*H site, I could see some people taking photos. I stopped to say hi, and without skipping a beat, one of them asked, “Did you wade across the creek?”
He was asking about the creek crossing where Crags Road crosses Malibu Creek upstream of Century Lake and east of the M*A*S*H site.
There’s a substantial log spanning the creek at the moment, and I wanted to answer that I danced across it with my eyes closed. But instead, I explained that I decided to wade — and for sure keep my phone dry — rather than take a chance of falling uncontrolled into three feet of water, ker-splash.
Speaking of which, this morning, I talked to a mountain biker who saw the bridge pulled off to the side of the creek before any flooding had occurred and thought it may have been hauled away. Good news! According to the Malibu Creek Docents, the bridge is seasonal and was designed to be portable. It was removed and stored before this Winter’s rain. It is expected to be reinstalled when the threat of flooding is over — which should be soon.
After crossing Malibu Creek and before continuing to the M*A*S*H site, I took a quick detour on the Forest Trail. Bordered by Century Lake on one side, and steep, rocky slopes on the other, the Forest Trail has a character all its own. It’s a wonderful place to observe, reflect, and enjoy nature. It’s also home to several coast redwoods. Unfortunately, less than half the trees originally growing along the trail survived the 2011-2015 drought. This morning, a redwood that died several years ago had fallen and was partially blocking the trail near its halfway point.
As has been the case in most of Southern California this Spring, the wildflowers on this run were spectacular. Canyon sunflower was particularly prevalent, with many thousands of the bright-yellow blossoms covering the hillsides burned in the 2018 Woolsey Fire.
Also exciting was my first rattlesnake encounter of 2023. I was running down Castro Peak Mtwy Fire Road from the Bulldog “T” when I saw something in the road that looked like a partially exposed root. As I neared, I could see it was a very dark — almost black — Southern Pacific Rattlesnake.
The snake was stretched out straight on the road, basking in the sun. As I approached, it did move, and it did not rattle. Usually, snakes in this state are pretty docile, and I can cautiously walk a few feet behind them. Yikes! This one was super-aggressive. In the blink of an eye, it turned and moved toward me, doubling back on itself. I jumped a mile! It coiled but still did not rattle! It must have recently emerged from its Winter hideaway.
April 26, 2023 Update. As it turns out, the shiny, new bridge on the Crags Road Trail that made it easy to cross Malibu Creek was not washed away! According to the Malibu Creek Docents, the bridge was designed to be portable, and was removed and stored before this Winter’s rain. It is expected to be reinstalled when the threat of flooding is over — which should be soon.
The flood was the result of a series of three increasingly wet storms between December 30 and January 10. During that period, the Malibu Canyon RAWS recorded about 13 inches of rain. In the last storm of the series, 6 inches of rain was recorded in about 33 hours.
The flooding along the Crags Road Trail from the Forest Trail junction to the M*A*S*H site was similar to the February 2017 and December 2021 events. In the January 2023 event, more debris was deposited on the trail, and sections of the trail were obliterated. That stretch of trail is popular, and a new use trail is already taking shape.
Rainfall and runoff were even higher in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties. The Rose Valley RAWS recorded over 22 inches of rain for the three storms. According to preliminary streamflow data, the Ventura River Near Ventura reached a new record stage height of 25.42 feet on January 9. The Sespe Creek Near Fillmore gage malfunctioned at the peak flow but reached at least 20.38 feet.