Category Archives: upper las virgenes canyon open space preserve

Looking for the Highest Point of Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve

View south from windmill hill in Upper Las Virgenes Open Space Preserve

From the top of the hill, the blue-sky view extended all the way to Saddle Peak and the Pacific. The gray-green chaparral was brittle and dry, and the grasslands sun-bleached. Rain was in the forecast, but for months, little had fallen. It was the day after Christmas, and I was near the northern border of Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve. Fourteen years ago, nearly to the day, I had run to the same hill. That rain year had also been dry, and the area had looked much the same.

The Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Trail climbs steeply to windmill hill
Steep fire road to “windmill hill.”

Today’s run had started at dawn at the Victory Trailhead. It had been cold in the canyons for the first few miles — in the low 30s — but eventually temps had warmed. I had run west in East Las Virgenes Canyon, taken a connector trail to Las Virgenes Canyon, and then run north on the Upper Las Virgenes Canyon fire road past Bell Canyon to “windmill hill.”

The hill is labeled with an elevation of 2124′ on the 1967 Calabasas topo map. The top of an old windmill has been placed on its summit. The windmill wasn’t there in 2006, and I wondered if it was from the infamous Runkle Canyon well. From the top of windmill hill I could see the high point of Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve, a quarter-mile or so to the northeast.

High point of Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve
High point of Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve

Located at its northeastern corner, the point with the highest elevation in the Preserve is a hilltop that’s just south of “hill 2160” on the Calabasas quad. Marked by a prominent pine tree, hill 2160 is on Santa Susana Field Laboratory property. It overlooks an area of the SSFL where a partial meltdown of an experimental reactor occurred in 1959.

Leaving windmill hill behind, I ran east down the hill, and then north along the fire road toward Albertson Mtwy. I was still debating whether to do the side trip to the Preserve’s high point. There was no path or trail to the high point, and the upper part of the slope was thick with brush. After running past the hill and nearly to Albertson Mtwy, curiosity finally got the better of me. I turned around and ran back to a place on the fire road where I could access the high point.

View south from the high point of Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve
View south from the high point of Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve

There is a survey marker on the high point labeled “N.A.A.V. INC. L.S. 2379 1953.” This is where the Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve, SSFL and Runkle Ranch properties meet. According to 3DEP Lidar data, the elevation of the high point is about 2162′.

The side trip to the high point and back took about 20 minutes. After returning to the fire road, I continued down to the junction with Albertson Mtwy, turned left, and followed it west to a junction with an Edison powerline service road. This road meanders south through a rugged canyon, and then climbs up and over a prominent ridge with some spectacular sandstone rock formations.

Mountain bikers in the backcountry of Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve
Mountain bikers in the backcountry of Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve

After topping out on the ridge, the service road descends to the junction of the Sheep Corral and Cheeseboro Ridge Trails. Today, I followed the Cheeseboro Ridge Trail south to the Las Virgenes – Cheeseboro connector. Once back in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon, I retraced my route from earlier in the day back to the Victory Trailhead.

Here is an interactive, Cesium 3D terrain view of most of the 20-mile route. The bushwhack to the Preserve high point and an exploration of the Norway Trail aren’t shown.

Some related posts: Upper Las Virgenes Canyon – Cheeseboro Ridge Loop, Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Backcountry, Trail Run and Hike to Peak 1842 at Ahmanson Ranch

Trail Run and Hike to Peak 1842 at Ahmanson Ranch

Trail toward peak 1842, the highest point of Ahmanson Ranch

The hill marked with an elevation of 1842′ on the USGS 7.5 minute Calabasas quadrangle appears to be the highest point of the portion of the Ahmanson Ranch property that was going to be developed.

I usually start the 2+ mile trail run to the peak by ascending the Hill Climb Trail — a short, steep hill a little west of the kiosk at the Victory Trailhead. A less steep trail can be found a little farther to the west.

Once at the top of this initial 120′ high hill, I try to run — without walking — all the way to the ridgeline just west of the peak. Whether I walk or not, it’s a fun run with excellent views of the area.

From the ridgeline at the top of the single-track trail, there is usually some sort of a use trail to the top of the peak. The location and clarity of the path varies from year to year. The area can be very overgrown. It’s worth taking the time to find and stay on a use trail. Earlier this December, I encountered a rattlesnake while trying to follow an old route through the brush.

Here’s a Cesium interactive, 3D view of my route.

Note: The Ahmanson Ranch project property and Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space were combined to create Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve.

Ladyface, Sun and Clouds

Ladyface, sun and clouds from Lasky Mesa

The photograph of Ladyface and the setting sun was taken from Lasky Mesa during an afternoon run in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (Ahmanson Ranch).

Related post: Longer Late Afternoon Runs

Winter Sky: Cirrocumulus Clouds

Cirrocumulus clouds from Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve, also known as Ahmanson Ranch

Cirrocumulus clouds form at high altitude. They are primarily composed of ice crystals but also contain supercooled water droplets.

The photograph of cirrocumulus clouds was taken in Las Virgenes Canyon on a trail run from the Victory Trailhead of Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve, also known as Ahmanson Ranch.

Some related posts: Pattern Change Ahead, Fallstreak Hole, Rainbow Colors in Cirrus Clouds Over Los Angeles

A Dry and Dusty Start to the Los Angeles Rain Year

dry and dusty Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (Ahmanson Ranch)

Except for a teaser storm system in early November that brought a smattering of rain to the metro area and some snow to the mountains, the Los Angeles rain year is off to a parched start.

As of December 1, Downtown Los Angeles (USC) has recorded only 0.11 inch of rain since July 1. Along with 1995, this is the 7th driest start to the rain year over the 144 years weather records have been kept in L.A.

Update December 29, 2020. In the first significant storm of the rain year, Downtown Los Angeles recorded 1.82 inch of rain, bringing the rainfall total up to 1.95 inches. The storm total was more than generally forecast, but L.A. is still about 2 inches below normal for the date. The rain does move 2020 out of contention for the driest first six months of the rain year.

Update December 20, 2020. The period July 1 – December 20, 2020 is the driest on record (for that date range) for Los Angeles. As of December 20, the rainfall total for Downtown Los Angeles (USC) remains at 0.11 inch.

While “past performance may not be indicative of future results,” I was curious to see if, historically, a dry start to the rain year has generally resulted in below average annual rainfall.

There have been 16 years in which Los Angeles precipitation was 0.25 inch or less for the period July 1 to December 1. Rain year precipitation (July 1 – June 30) for those years varied from a low of 4.79 inches in 2017, to a high of 23.43 inches in 1937. Overall, these years averaged 11.34 inches of rain annually, which is 3.66 inches below the current normal of 14.93 inches.

Whether or not annual rainfall this rain year is below normal we’ll have to see. An important consideration is that La Nina conditions are present in the equatorial Pacific. This doesn’t necessarily mean less rainfall in the Los Angeles area, but taking into account a number of factors, the Climate Prediction Center is projecting below average precipitation this Winter in Southern California.

The title photo of silhouetted mountain bikers is from this afternoon’s run at Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (Ahmanson Ranch). The image is an example of a “silhouette illusion.” Are the riders going toward or away from the camera?

Northern Harrier on Lasky Mesa

Male Northern Harrier on Lasky Mesa in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve

I turned the corner, and about 60 yards away, a large, gray hawk was sitting on a fencepost. It looked like it might be a male northern harrier. I stopped and took a couple of photos. If it flew away, at least I might be able to confirm the ID.

In my experience, northern harriers are shy birds, and in most of my previous encounters, the birds have been on the wing. Moving closer, I walked a few steps, took a photo, walked a few more steps, then took another shot. Astonishingly, I was only about 20 yards from the bird, and it did not fly.

That’s when I heard the fast-paced footfalls of another runner approaching from behind. I held my breath and continued to photograph the harrier. Whether spooked by my presence or the approaching runner, the bird had had enough, and he finally took flight.

Northern harriers, and harriers in general, are unusual birds. They have evolved to subsist in open areas such as grasslands and marshes. Their physical features reflect the requirements of efficiently hunting in these habitats.

Northern harriers are adapted to use vision and sound to hunt their prey. Like owls, they have a facial ruff and asymmetric ears that are used to amplify and locate sounds made by prey. They also are reported to have feather adaptations for flying more quietly.

They are powerful, acrobatic birds. Their wings and tail are extraordinarily large for their body size. In aerodynamic terms, they use variable geometry to maximize lift or glide as needed. In slow flight, they can turn on a dime, leaving virtual skid marks in the sky. During strong Santa Ana winds, I’ve seen them dynamically soaring (like an albatross) on slightly-sloped Lasky Mesa.

One time I photographed a pair of northern harriers hunting on Lasky Mesa after sunset. It was a surreal experience to watch them in the diminishing light. They appeared to be working cooperatively, and their hunt was successful.

Some related posts: Northern Harrier Turning to Strike, Another Red-tailed Hawk Encounter, Kestrel Encounter