Category Archives: pt mugu state park

After the Woolsey Fire: Boney Mountain and Pt. Mugu State Park

During the later stages of the Woolsey Fire one of the big questions was how far west in the Santa Monica Mountains would it burn. Would it consume Pt. Mugu State Park only five years after the Springs Fire ravaged the area?

The answer to that question became far less clear following the big flare-up in the Sandstone Peak – Boney Mountain area on November 13, and the subsequent advance of the fire into the eastern part of Pt. Mugu State Park.

The Woolsey Fire was fully contained on November 21. A bit of good news in the midst of a whole lot of bad was that fire maps showed the north side of Boney Mountain and most of Pt. Mugu State Park had been spared. That’s what today’s outing was about — checking if the conditions on the ground on the north side of Boney Mountain and in Pt. Mugu State Park matched up to fire maps and data.

First up was the climb of Boney Mountain’s Western Ridge (Mountaineer’s Route) from Wendy Drive. Except for a little spillover along the crest at the top of the ridge, it was a relief to find that the Western Ridge route and its companion route, the Cabin Trail, were essentially unburned. Both of these routes are used to reach the popular high point along the crest that is generally regarded as “Boney Mountain.” The DEM-based elevation of this point is about 2935′. I enjoy climbing up the Western Ridge and descending the Cabin Trail, so it was good to know that option is still available.

While the north side of Boney Mountain didn’t burn, it was a different story to the south of the crest. The drainage between the top of the Western Ridge and Tri Peaks, and beyond, was badly burned. The last time this area burned was in the 1993 Green Meadows Fire, so the fuel load had been relatively high. From what I could see, the burn severity was generally on the high side of mid-range, but with patches of unburned, low, and more severely burned terrain.

In Pt. Mugu State Park aggressive firefighting and the effects of the 2013 Springs Fire generally — but not entirely — restricted the Woolsey Fire to areas that were not burned in 2013. Much of the Chamberlain Trail did not burn in 2013, and the Woolsey Fire followed this swath of 25-year-old growth westward, burning nearly all of the Chamberlain Trail, as well as the steep slopes to the north of the trail. About half of the large bowl forming Boney Mountain’s western escarpment was burned. As was the case after the Springs Fire, Blue Canyon could once again be at risk from flash floods and debris flows, should a heavy or extended rain event occur.

The westernmost tongue of the Woolsey Fire, near Blue Canyon, reached to within 0.5 mile of the Big Sycamore Canyon Road. For the most part, the fire was held east of the Old Boney Trail. There were several fire retardant drops along this front and the Old Boney Trail was cut into a firebreak/access route. It looked like the dozers came in from Serrano Road. It boggles the mind to think of the logistics required to move firefighting personnel and equipment into wildland areas.

The west side of Serrano Valley and Serrano Canyon turned out to be OK, although you could see where the fire had burned part of the valley and the southwest slopes of Boney Mountain.

Running north on Sycamore Canyon Road, other than the tracks of heavy equipment, there was little to suggest the extent of the devastation to the east. My route back to Satwiwa and Wendy Drive included the Two Foxes Trail, and Upper Sycamore Trail. Except for the Chamberlain Trail, a segment of the Old Boney Trail, and part of the Blue Canyon Trail, other trails and roads in Pt. Mugu State Park appeared to be unaffected by the fire.

Here are a few photos taken along the way. Some additional photos were added from a December 22 run on the Old Boney Trail.

Woolsey Fire Preliminary Burn Severity and Selected Trails

Google Earth image of a preliminary burn severity map for the Woolsey Fire from NASA Earth Observatory with selected trails added.

The Google Earth image above shows a preliminary burn severity map for the Woolsey Fire from NASA Earth Observatory, as posted by NASA’s Rehabilitation Capability Convergence for Ecosystem Recovery (RECOVER) web site on November 15, 2018. Here is a larger version of the map.

The initial burn severity estimate is based on a Burned Area Reflectance Classification (BARC) derived from satellite data before and after the fire. In the map above the burn severity classes are high (red), moderate (orange) and low (yellow). Note that areas within the fire perimeter that are not included in these classes may still have burned. Also note the fire was still burning when this assessment was made.

GPS tracks of the Backbone Trail and some other trails in the region have been added. Trail and placename locations should be considered approximate.

Related post: Woolsey Fire Map with Perimeter and Selected Trails

Woolsey Fire Map with Perimeter and Selected Trails

2018 Woolsey Fire Map with Perimeter and Selected Trails

The Google Earth image above shows a recent perimeter for the 2018 Woolsey Fire along with GPS tracks of the Backbone Trail and some other trails in the region. The Hill Fire perimeter and 2013 Springs Fire perimeter (purple area) are also shown. Trail and placename locations should be considered approximate. Here is a larger version of the map.

The perimeter was was downloaded from GEOMAC and timestamped November 18, 2018 at 5:59 a.m. If the timestamp of the perimeter of the displayed map doesn’t match, try refreshing/reloading this page. The perimeter has been refined and the acreage is a slightly less than previously specified.

As of November 21, 2018 6:11 p.m., the Cal Fire Incident Page for the Woolsey Fire indicated that the fire had burned 96,949 acres and was 100% contained. The fire started on November 8, 2018 2:24 p.m.

Running Between the Raindrops

Boney Mountain from Serrano Valley
Boney Mountain from Serrano Valley

The misty rain had momentarily turned to sunshine. As I ran along the trail, rain-soaked sage glittered in a rainbow of colors. The peaks above me were still shrouded in gray clouds, but the sunlit valley below glowed bright and green. Streams that had been dry on New Years, now burbled and bubbled restlessly. My shoes and socks were soaked, not from stream crossings, but from the cold, wet grass overgrowing the trail.

Dense patches of shooting stars covered wet hillsides and milkmaids lined shady sections of trail. Paintbrush, Indian warrior, California poppies, larkspur, chocolate lilies, bladderpod, encelia, lupine, nightshade, wild hyacinth, phacelia, bigpod ceanothus and wishbone bush had also started to bloom.

The day not only encouraged the accumulation of miles, but of the sensations and emotions of the outdoor experience; and that feeling of well-being that emerges somewhere between the trailhead and the top of the last climb.

Here are a few photos taken along the way.

La Jolla Valley & Mugu Peak from Wendy Drive

Pt. Mugu from Mugu Peak.

The scat appeared to be a day or two old, and was much bigger than a coyote’s. It was full of fur and could only be from one animal — a mountain lion. The spot had been used before, and it probably wasn’t a coincidence that this was one of the few points along the trail with a good view and nearby cover. I looked into the brush and wondered if unseen eyes looked back.

The sun was well above the horizon, but the first gusts of a developing Santa Ana wind kept the morning cool. No one was on the trail ahead or behind me, and the best I could tell, I was the only two-legged creature within sight.


Spring in La Jolla Valley. Boney Mountain in the distance. March 2002.
Walking slowly from the spot, I surveyed the secluded valley. Perched on the edge of the coastal mountains, La Jolla Valley is extraordinary. Surrounded by wind-sculpted peaks, it is situated above and to the west of Big Sycamore Canyon. Its bottom is carpeted with areas of native and non-native grass. Only a tiny percentage of California’s native perennial grasslands remain, and like the big trees, they are relics of the past. Preservation of this native grassland is probably due to the valley’s proximity to the ocean, and its unique microclimate.

Here, trails have been run and peaks climbed for thousands of years. (Charcoal at an archaeological site in the valley has been dated to a maximum age of 7000 B.P.) Above me a raven calls, and Spirit-like, a gust of wind rustles through the grass. Respectfully, I continue running in the direction of Mugu Peak.

The run from Wendy Dr. was more moderate than expected. The first 3 miles of Sycamore Canyon Fire Road are paved, and whether on the fire road, or the single track trails that parallel the road at times, a fast pace can be maintained down to the junction with Wood Canyon Fire Road.

The Wood Canyon Vista Trail/Backbone Trail takes off right (west) from Sycamore Canyon Fire Road a short distance past the Wood Canyon Fire Road junction. It is moderately graded and very runnable. At it’s top a short zig right (north) on the Overlook Fire Road leads to the La Jolla Valley Fire Road, which can be followed left (west) down into La Jolla Valley.

Many, many variations of this course are possible. Here’s a trail map from the La Jolla Valley Natural Preserve web page. Depending on whether you want the beta, a little time in Google Earth should help clarify the options. This particular course worked out to about 21 miles, with about 2200 ft. of elevation gain/loss. Here’s a Google Earth image and 3D interactive view of a GPS trace of my route.