Category Archives: santa monica mountains

A Displaced Bridge, Exceptional Backbone Trail Views, and a Card Table Along the Bulldog Loop

Rock formation along the Backbone Trail. Photography by Gary Valle'

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.

A log spanned the creek where the bridge once stood. Using a suitable stick as a hiking pole, it was easy to cross the log, stay dry, and continue the loop.

Some related posts:
Best Trailhead to Start the Bulldog Loop?
Bulldog Loop Plus the Phantom Loop
After the Woolsey Fire: Bulldog Loop

The Western Santa Monica Mountains from Topanga Lookout Ridge

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The sun had risen, casting a warm morning light on the Santa Monica Mountains. Overnight, low clouds flowed inland through Malibu Canyon, emphasizing the peaks and covering the valleys.

Backbone Trail below Saddle Peak.
Backbone Trail below Saddle Peak.

I had just started up Topanga Lookout Ridge and was less than a mile into the Topanga Lookout Ridge Loop. Rain had muddied the ground and cleansed the sky, producing crystal clear views in every direction.

The view of the western Santa Monica Mountains extended from the top of the Tapia climb on Mesa Peak Motorway, past Castro Peak, to Boney Mountain and the highest peak in the Santa Monica range — Sandstone Peak.

In my mind, I traced the route of the Backbone Trail along the crest. My route would take me to the Backbone Trail, but this morning I would enjoy running only a few of its sixty-eight spectacular miles.

Some related posts:
Topanga Lookout Loop, Plus Saddle Peak
Looking for Snow on Topanga Lookout and Saddle Peak
Topanga Lookout Site and the San Fernando Valley

Apple Galls on Scrub Oak Along the Stunt High Trail

Apple Galls on Scrub Oak Along the Stunt High Trail

The eye-catching colors of apple galls are like nothing else in chaparral and impossible to miss. These are on scrub oaks along the Stunt High Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains.

The galls are chemically induced by the larva of the California gall wasp, which uses the gall for food, protection, and to pupate. The rose color appears to result from exposure of the gall to sunlight.

I was descending the Stunt High Trail after visiting Saddle Peak while doing the Topanga Ridge Loop. As in other parts of the Santa Monica Mountains in which I’ve run following Hilary’s deluge, the trails were somewhat more eroded than usual but in OK shape.

Some related posts: Scrub Oak Apple Gall, Looking for Snow on Topanga Lookout and Saddle Peak, Topanga Lookout Loop, Plus Saddle Peak

Trailer Canyon – Santa Ynez Canyon Trail – Trippet Ranch Loop

Santa Ynez Canyon Trail in Topanga State Park.
Santa Ynez Canyon Trail.

 

The 17.5-mile Trailer Canyon – Santa Ynez Canyon Trail – Trippet Ranch Loop is a longer version of the venerable Trippet Ranch loop from the Top of Reseda. It might also be called the Three Vistas Loop because it visits three high points in Topanga State Park with 360-degree, panoramic views.

Eagle Rock from Temescal Peak in Topanga State Park.
Eagle Rock from Temescal Peak.

The run starts and ends the same as the Trippet Ranch Loop. After running up to the Hub on Fire Road #30, instead of continuing straight on Eagle Springs Fire Road, this route turns left on Temescal Ridge Fire Road. The fire road is followed up to where the Backbone Trail single-track forks left off the road. The Backbone Trail is followed a tenth of a mile east, where a path leads up and left to the top of Temescal Peak.

The view from this little peak is superb. On a day with good visibility, the view can extend beyond Mt. Baldy to San Gorgonio Mountain and San Jacinto Peak. The next overlook on this route, Temescal Lookout, is about a half-mile (as the crow flies) to the south. The third overlook, Eagle Rock, is about a mile to the west.

Scarlet larkspur along the Santa Ynez Canyon Trail.
Scarlet larkspur.

From Temescal Peak, the route returns to Temescal Ridge Fire Road. I usually follow the use-trail back down and across the Backbone Trail and then continue on the use-trail to the fire road.

The next stop, Temescal Lookout, is about a mile from the top of Temescal Peak and just off Temescal Ridge Fire Road. When doing this loop, I run up a dirt access road on the north side of the lookout and then descend a use trail on the south side. Once the site of a fire lookout, it also has an excellent view. This photo of Downtown and San Jacinto Peak was taken from the viewpoint.

A pool on Santa Ynez Creek. July 2023.
Pool on Santa Ynez Creek.

Once back on Temescal Ridge Fire Road and headed south, it’s less than a half-mile to the turn-off down Trailer Canyon Fire Road and then another 2.3 miles down to Michael Lane in Pacific Palisades. On the way down, there are good views of where the loop is headed next — Santa Ynez Canyon. A large part of Santa Ynez Canyon was burned in the May 2021 Palisades Fire.

After turning right (west) on Michael Lane, the street is followed around and down to Vereda de la Montura. A right turn here leads to the Santa Ynez Canyon Trailhead in about a quarter-mile. This is where some route-finding fun begins.

Scarlet monkeyflower on a tributary of Garapito Creek.
Scarlet monkeyflower.

Heavy rains in December 2021 washed out sections of the Santa Ynez Canyon Trail. During the 2022-2023 rain season, the trail took it on the chin again. The good news is the trail sees a lot of use and the washed-out sections are becoming reestablished. There was still a little running water in the creek. Part way up the canyon, I was surprised to find pennyroyal blooming along the trail.

A bit more than a mile from the trailhead, the Santa Ynez Canyon Trail climbs out of the bottom of the canyon and up onto a broad ridge. Another mile of uphill, and it tops out at Eagle Springs Fire Road. After turning left, it’s less than a half-mile down to the Trippet Ranch parking lot.

Humboldt lily along the Garapito Trail.
Humboldt lily.

The previous weekend I’d done the Trippet Ranch Loop, so knew what the expect on the remainder of the run. Other than being a little overgrown, the Musch Trail was in reasonable shape. There were still some late-season blooms of showy penstemon, yellow monkeyflower, and white snapdragon along the trail. This time of year, the round pincushions of buckwheat are common. Water was available at the start of the Musch Trail and at Musch Camp.

Reaching the top of the Musch Trail, high clouds kept the temperature comfortable as I worked up Eagle Rock Fire Road. At the turn-off to climb Eagle Rock, digger bees had established a temporary colony on the fire road. In my experience, these bees are not aggressive, BUT many sources — such as this news item from ISU Extension and Outreach — say the female bees can sting.

Hiker ascending Eagle Rock in Topanga State Park.
Hiker ascending Eagle Rock.

Eagle Rock is the third viewpoint on the loop, and the most popular. The massive rock formation overlooks Santa Ynez Canyon and has an airy, 360-degree view. On a clear day, Santa Monica Bay, Palos Verdes Peninsula, and Catalina can be seen to the south. On weekends, it’s rare to find the top empty. The summit had just been vacated as I climbed up and was reoccupied by another hiker as I walked down.

Returning to Eagle Rock Fire Road, I turned right and continued northeast a tenth of a mile to the top of the Garapito Trail.

Plummer's mariposa lily along the Garapito Trail.
Plummer’s mariposa lily.

A little more than three miles long, the Garapito Trail is one of my favorite trails in the Santa Monica Mountains. Several sections of the trail are overgrown at the moment. At one point, not too far from Fire Road #30, it was necessary to bushwhack through a dense patch of six-foot-tall giant rye grass.

Two lilies listed on the CNPS Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants of California were blooming along the Garapito Trail — Plummer’s mariposa lily and Humboldt lily. Both plants have a Rare Plant Rank of 4.2, which indicates they are of limited distribution and moderately threatened in California. Thanks to our very wet rain season, the eye-catching red of scarlet larkspur was unusually prevalent along the trail.

Redberry along the Garapito Trail.
Redberry.

The Garapito Trail ends at Fire Road #30. Normally the route would cross the fire road and follow the Bent Arrow Trail to dirt Mulholland, but the trail was damaged by rainy season storms and is still closed.

Turning left onto Fire Road #30, I retraced my steps from earlier in the morning and in a few minutes was back to the trailhead at the Top of Reseda (Marvin Braude Mulholland Gateway Park).

Explore the terrain of the Trailer Canyon – Santa Ynez Canyon Trail – Trippet Ranch Loop using our interactive, 3D trail run visualizer. It’s like being there! 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.

Some related posts: Trippet Ranch Loop Plus the Santa Ynez Trail, Garapito Trail Runs, Go Figure, Trippet Ranch Wildflower Run, Eagle Rock – Topanga State Park

Soggy Shoes, Soppy La Jolla Valley, and Sensational Wildflowers

Approaching Mugu Peak from La Jolla Valley
Approaching Mugu Peak.

After doing a climbing /trail running combo in Pt. Mugu State Park last Sunday, I headed back to Wendy Drive this morning to do a trail run to Mugu Peak and back.

The plan was to get in a long run (20 miles) with fewer “get your feet wet” stream crossings, and also check out the conditions on several trails I hadn’t done this year.

Boney Mountain (left skyline) from Mugu Peak
Boney Mountain (left skyline) from Mugu Peak

So much for keeping the feet dry! The temp was in the mid-30s when I turned off Big Sycamore Canyon fire road and onto Wood Canyon fire road. The main creek draining Sycamore Canyon cuts across the fire road here, and there was no way I was going to get across it without wading. Some smaller stream crossings followed, ending with Wood Canyon Creek.

My shoes were squish-squashing loudly as I started up Hell Hill. The 600′ climb was almost enjoyable with the cool temperatures. Partway up, a slurry of rock and mud had flowed from the hillside onto the road — the soil saturated from storm after storm.

California poppies mixed with lupine along the Mugu Peak Trail
California poppies mixed with lupine along the Mugu Peak Trail

Several trails/roads converge at the top of Hell Hill, and I turned right onto the fire road that leads to the La Jolla Valley Loop Trail. I like to do Mugu Peak as part of a counterclockwise loop that combines segments of the La Jolla Valley Loop Trail and Mugu Peak Trails.

Long stretches of the La Jolla Valley Loop Trail between the walk-in camp and Mugu Peak were sopping wet. I’ll be curious to see how quickly it dries out, but today (April 2) it was really, really wet.

La Jolla Loop pond in La Jolla Valley in Pt. Mugu State Park.
La Jolla Loop pond is rarely this large — or even a pond.

Mugu Peak was pretty much as it always is on this side — busy and steep. The steepness of the “Direct” trail helped wring the water from my Ultraglides and Injinji socks. By the time I reached the top, my feet were only damp.

Mugu Peak is VERY popular, and there are almost always a few people taking in the wide-ranging views from the summit. Most do the short, steep hike from PCH on the Chumash Trail. A few start at the Ray Miller Trailhead — or like I was doing today — the long route from Wendy Drive.

Vivid red paintbrush along the La Jolla Loop Trail in Pt. Mugu State Park.
Vivid red paintbrush along the La Jolla Loop Trail

Although I usually climb the peak, two other options are worthwhile: the loop around the ocean-facing side of Mugu Peak and
the loop around La Jolla Valley.

The wildflowers along the Mugu Peak Trail and La Jolla Loop Trail were fantastic. California poppies were plentiful on the south-facing slopes. The vibrance of the bright orange poppies could not have been better accentuated than by purple lupine. Yellow bush sunflower, royal blue phacelia, and rich red paintbrush also decorated the trail.

Bright yellow collarless poppies along Danielson Road.
Bright yellow collarless poppies along Danielson Road.

I followed my usual route on the way back to Wendy — returning to the Hub, descending Hell Hill, retracing my steps in Wood Canyon, then following the Two Foxes single-track trail north to a short connector to Sycamore Canyon Road. This is near the Danielson Multi-Use Area. Once on Sycamore Canyon Road, the route back was the same as last week — up 1.8 miles of paved road and then onto the Upper Sycamore Trail. After that, up Danielson Road and across Satwiwa to the Wendy Drive trailhead.

Here is an interactive, 3D terrain map of my GPS track to Mugu Peak and back from Wendy Drive. 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.

Also, see the archived maps of Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa and Pt. Mugu State Park from the NPS website, and the maps of Pt. Mugu State Park on VenturaCountyTrails.org.

Some related posts: Out and Back Trail Run to Mugu Peak, Running to Serrano and La Jolla Valleys from Wendy Drive, Busy Mugu Peak

Between Storms on the Backbone Trail

Fresh new leaves of poison oak hanging above the Backbone Trail
Fresh new leaves of poison oak hanging above the Backbone Trail

When one of the runners coming down the Rogers Road segment of the Backbone Trail saw me coming up the trail, he commented, “At least now we know the trail goes through!”

He was only half-joking. With all the wet weather, trails may not only be wet and muddy but might be flooded, severely eroded, blocked by trees and debris, or destroyed by runoff, mudslides, or slope failures.

Water droplets on bedstraw (aka cleavers) along the Backbone Trail
Water droplets on bedstraw (aka cleavers) along the Backbone Trail

It had rained the previous two days, and more rain was forecast in a day or two. I was on this stretch of the Backbone Trail because I wanted to check out a use trail near High Point (Goat Peak) in the Santa Monica Mountains. I could do that by slightly modifying the route described in “Racing the Weather to High Point (Goat Peak) and Back.”

Two use trails connect to the High Point trail near High Point. Both are on the east side of the ridge. When traveling northbound from High Point, the first trail encountered is the “Rivas Ridge Trail.” Its junction with the High Point trail is on a hilltop, a bit more than a tenth of a mile north of High Point. The junction with the other trail — aptly named the “Great Escape” — is about a tenth of a mile north of the Rivas Ridge trail junction and a quarter-mile north of High Point.

Marine layer clouds in the Los Angeles Basin
West L.A and advancing marine layer clouds in the Los Angeles Basin.

Instead of doing the run as a pure out and back, on the way back, I took the Great Escape down to the Backbone Trail. This short use trail connects to the Backbone Trail about 0.4 mile south of “The Oak Tree.” It was an interesting trail to explore and only added about a third of a mile to the regular out-and-back route.

To show this variation, I’ve updated the interactive, 3D terrain view of the High Point (Goat Peak) Out and Back from the Top of Reseda.

Fuchsia-flowered gooseberry along the Backbone Trail
Fuchsia-flowered gooseberry along the Backbone Trail

The condition of the Backbone Trail between Fire Road #30 and The Oak Tree was about what you would expect during such an active rain season. There were a few slimy, slippery spots and some eroded stretches of trail. My shoes and socks were already soaked from the wet grass along the trail by the time I reached The Mud Puddle. This was good because I didn’t waste any time looking for a way around the flooded section of trail — I just waded right in. Nearby, a short section of trail had collapsed in a slide, but there was enough of a shoulder to easily go around it.

With the wet rain season, everything is growing like crazy. This includes poison oak, which was already dangling into the trail in several places. More wildflowers were beginning to bloom. This scarlet-red Fuchsia-flowered gooseberry was blooming along the Backbone Trail near its junction with the High Point Trail.

Some related posts: Racing the Weather to High Point (Goat Peak) and Back, High Point (Goat Peak) Via the Rivas Ridge Use Trail, Goat Peak and the High Point Trail