Category Archives: topanga state park

An Upper-Level Low Sunrise, Shower, and Sunset

Sunset in West Hills, CA, associated with an upper-level low off the coast of Southern California.

It was about 15 minutes before sunrise when I started my run from the trailhead at the “Top of Reseda.” After running up to Mulholland and partway down Fire Road #30, I could see a batch of tropical-looking clouds to the southeast. These were associated with a cutoff upper-level low that had formed off the coast of Southern California on Halloween.

The behavior of cutoff upper-level lows is difficult to forecast. They are usually separated from the general west to east flow and typically wobble around like a spinning top. A cutoff low can remain off the coast for several days or more. Just where they wobble can dramatically impact the weather. So far this morning, the only effect of this weak low had been to embellish the sunrise with a few clouds, but such lows can be capricious, and this one was no exception.

My first stop was going to be Temescal Peak, and I picked up the pace a bit, curious to see how the clouds and sunrise might look from that viewpoint. Temescal Peak is just off the Backbone Trail, near its junction with Fire Road #30/Temescal Ridge Fire Road. On a clear day this tiny peak affords an exceptional 360-degree view that can include Mt. Baldy, San Gorgonio Mountain, San Jacinto Peak, Mt. Pinos, Hines Peak, and other area landmarks.

Sunrise over West L.A. from Temescal Peak in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Sunrise over West L.A. from Temescal Peak in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Turning left at the Hub, it didn’t take long to get to Temescal Peak. Westward from the peak, a veil of smoke could be seen in the vicinity of the Maria Fire. Nearby, some of the canyons in the area of the Getty Fire were filled with a smoky haze. In the distance, a few mercurial clouds were scattered across the eastern sky.

At the time, I couldn’t tell if the clouds were approaching or receding, developing or dissipating. Returning to the Hub, I turned left on Eagle Springs Fire Road and began the descent toward Trippet Ranch. On the way, it became clear the clouds were headed my way. By the time I’d run to Trippet Ranch and up to the top of the Musch Trail, the band of clouds covered much of the eastern sky.  Virga streamed from the bases of some of the clouds, and  I wondered if a few rogue drops might be reaching the ground.

Developing clouds associated with an upper-level low along the coast of Southern California.
Developing clouds from near the top of the Musch Trail.

Over the remainder of the run — past Eagle Rock and through Garapito Canyon — the clouds continued to move overhead. A few drops of rain found me near the end of the run, but the most pleasant surprise occurred on the drive home, when showers dampened the  streets of the western San Fernando Valley.

There had been no rain in the Los Angeles area this October, and the showers reminded me of the erratic nature of Autumn precipitation in Los Angeles. Even though “normal” rainfall in October at Downtown Los Angeles (USC) is 0.66 inch, no one familiar with L.A. weather is surprised when October is dry. Over 143 years, Downtown Los Angeles has recorded no October rainfall 26 times, 0.10 inch or less 54 times, and 0.25 inch or less 74 times.

The upper-level low continued to influence the day’s weather, and while the low remained mostly offshore and didn’t generate any more showers in the West Valley, it did produce a colorful sunset!

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Visualizing Trail Runs and Other KML Data Using Cesium 3D High Resolution Terrain

Cesium ion 3D view of San Gorgonio Mountain

Google discontinued its Google Earth API/Plugin in January 2017. That technology was used on PhotographyontheRun.com for 3D visualizations of trail runs, fire data, and other data.

I’ve been looking at alternatives since then, and have recently implemented an interactive viewer using the CesiumJS and Cesium ion components of the Cesium 3D Geospatial Platform. No browser add-on or plug-in is required. The viewer uses the Cesium World Terrain high-resolution global terrain tileset, with resolutions to 0.5 meter. The West Coast of the US is one of the areas covered by this resolution.

Following are example 3D visualizations of some of my recent runs. The views are interactive and can be zoomed, tilted, rotated and panned. Click/tap the “?” in the upper right corner for help manipulating the scene. Mileages and elevation gains/losses are approximate.

San Gorgonio Mountain Trail Run (21 mi, 4700′ gain/loss)

The initial view is of San Gorgonio Mountain from the northeast, showing the trail to the summit and the Sky High Trail. The large cirque held one of several glaciers on San Gorgonio Mountain. The GPS track is from a run in September.

San Gorgonio Mountain Trail Run and Lake Fire Burn Area

Another view of San Gorgonio Mountain with the 2015 Lake Fire burn area added. The initial view is from the northwest. The GPS track is from my run in September.

Bulldog Loop Variation (17 mi, 3250′ gain/loss)

The initial view of this popular loop is from the northeast. This variation starts/ends at the Cistern Trailhead on Mulholland Hwy. The GPS track is from a run of the loop in September.

Three Points Loop Around Mt. Waterman (20 mi, 4000′ gain/loss)

The initial view is from the Buckhorn (east) side of the loop. The loop includes a segment of the PCT in Cooper Canyon. The GPS track is from a run in October.

Top of Reseda to Parker Mesa Overlook (18.5 mi, 3100′ gain/loss)

The initial view is from the northeast, on the Valley side of the route. The Musch, Garapito and Bent Arrow Trails were done on the way back from Parker Mesa. The GPS track is from a run in October.

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Hollyleaf Redberry Along the Sage Ranch Loop Trail

Hollyleaf Redberry Along the Sage Ranch Loop Trail
Hollyleaf Redberry

As is usual, it’s been hot and dry in the Los Angeles area this summer. Most of the low elevation wildflowers have come and gone, and the last measurable rain at Downtown Los Angeles (USC) was more than 90 days ago.

Holly-leaved cherry along the Backbone Trail
Holly-leaved cherry along the Backbone Trail.

Even so, there are still some colorful reminders of our wet 2018-19 rain season sprinkled along the trails of the Santa Monica Mountains and Simi Hills.

In the wake of all that rain, and the blooms that followed, several chaparral shrubs have had large crops of berries and fruit, among them hollyleaf redberry (Rhamnus ilicifolia), holly-leaved cherry (Prunus ilicifolia), and toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia).

Are they edible? While all three plants were used as food sources by indigenous populations, knowledge of appropriate use and preparation is essential for safe consumption.

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Plummer’s Mariposa Lily Along the Garapito Trail

Plummer's mariposa lilies (Calochortus plummerae) along the Garapito Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains. June 29, 2019.

When I run to Trippet Ranch from the Top of Reseda, I like to take the fire roads out and single-track trails back. The trails I use to return to the Top of Reseda from Trippet are the Musch, Garapito, and Bent Arrow Trails.

Scarlet larkspur along the Garapito Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Scarlet larkspur along the Garapito Trail.

I don’t think I’ve seen as many Plummer’s mariposa lilies (Calochortus plummerae) along the Garapito Trail as I did this last Saturday. Like many other plants this showy lily seems to have benefited from the wet 2018-19 rain season and generally cool Spring temperatures.

The Plummer’s mariposa lily has a CNPS Rare Plant Rank of 4.2, which means it has a limited distribution and is moderately threatened in California. It’s not necessarily rare within its range, but its range is limited to a small area of Southern California.

Among the other wildflowers along the trail were numerous large patches of Scarlet larkspur (Delphinium cardinale) and Farewell-to-spring (Clarkia bottae).

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Rainbow Along the Garapito Trail

Rainbow Along the Garapito Trail

There sure have been a lot of raindrops and rainbows lately. It seems like every run I do my shoes get muddy — and there are even creeks to cross!

Last year on this date, Downtown Los Angeles (USC) had recorded only 2.55 inches of rain since July 1. This year we’ve received 16.69 inches, and as I’m sure you’ve heard, there’s more on the way.

It may seem like a long time since Los Angeles has been this wet, but actually it’s only been a couple of years. Year before last we’d received 18.5 inches of rain by this date. We need about 1.81 inches of rain from this week’s system to catch up.

Recognize this section of the Garapito Trail? See the large embankment along the right side of the trail? In 2005, during the second wettest Rain Year in LA on record, the hillside slumped around 12′. The trail is on top of the section that dropped.

During the 2004-2005 Rain Year Downtown Los Angeles recorded 37.25 inches of rain!

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Ceanothus at Sunrise

Bigpod Ceanothus in Topanga State Park

Bigpod Ceanothus is normally the first of the Ceanothus species in the Santa Monica Mountains to bloom each year. It is a foundation species in the range and can be found along most trails. These were along Fire Road 30 (Temescal Ridge Fire Road) near the beginning of a run to Trippet Ranch.

In some years it seems every shrub in the chaparral is a big pod Ceanothus and the hillsides are carpeted in white. Along a trail thick with the blossoms you may notice a subtle earthy fragrance with a spicy edge. On that same trail in the Summer, you may be startled by a loud “Pop!” when a heated pod explodes, releasing its seeds.

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