Old Santa Susana Stage Road

Old Santa Susana Stage Road

Running or hiking up the Old Santa Susana Stage Road, if you stop and listen carefully, you may hear a sharp whistle, a raspy shout, or a few choice expletives echoing from the canyon walls. It would have taken a barrage of such oaths, and a lot more, to get a stage up and over this harrowing grade.

The image of the Simi Pacific Coast Stage in the book Simi Valley: A Journey Through Time, helps to complete the mental picture. Steep, narrow, and unforgiving, the Stage Road must have produced stark terror in more than a few passengers.

Established in 1861, the “Devil’s Slide” stage road was a link in the Pacific Coast Stage Line between Los Angeles and San Francisco. It follows the route of the original Spanish trail connecting the San Fernando and Santa Buenaventura Missions. Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, the route is said to have been “an old Indian trail,” connecting Chumash communities in Simi Valley to Gabrielino communities in the San Fernando Valley.

Old Santa Susana Stage Road is located in Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park. The park was created in 1998 to protect the Stage Road and other cultural resources in the area. A General Plan characterizing the purpose and long-term vision for the park is in under development, and through a series of meetings, public input on the plan is being requested. The second such meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, June 20, 2006 at 8:30 P.M. at Chatsworth Park South. See the General Plan web page for additional details.

There is currently no “official” trail leading to the Stage Road. Since the area was burned in the Topanga Fire last Fall, it’s important to stay on existing dirt roads and trails to help promote recovery, and avoid damaging sensitive habitat or species.

(Photograph from a run on February 19, 2006.)

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Elegant Clarkia

Elegant Clarkia (Clarkia unguiculata) is also known by the common name Farewell to Spring.

This showy, if somewhat bizarre looking, flower (Clarkia unguiculata) blooms late in the Spring, and is also known by the common name Farewell to Spring. It adds a refreshing dash of color to the hills of Southern California, as they turn from green to golden brown. The plant appears to be an excellent indicator of Spring rainfall. In a drought year it might only be a foot tall, but in a rain season with a wet Spring, some stalks may reach 6 or 7 ft.

This photograph was taken among Live Oaks, near Laskey Mesa, on a run in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (formerly Ahmanson Ranch).

Related post: Rain Gauge

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PCT Above Windy Gap

Mt. Williamson from the PCT above Windy Gap.

Mt. Williamson from the PCT above Windy Gap

Update May 21, 2009. Angeles Crest Highway (SR2) has since been re-opened to Islip Saddle, and through to Wrightwood.

There’s more of a wilderness feel in the Angeles Forest high country today. A big chunk of Angeles Crest Highway is closed. From Eagles Roost to Mt. Baden-Powell, and back again, the absence of vehicle noise has been startling. There have been no squealing tires, warbling sirens, or red-lined RC51’s echoing up from Highway 2. Instead, the loudest sound is Little Jimmy spring water splashing at my feet. High on a ridge, a Clark’s Nutcracker tells me I’m in the mountains. and overhead, the wind plays quietly in the boughs of an immense Incense Cedar.

It’s been a blazing, triple digit day down in the valleys, and even at 8000 ft. the south-facing slopes have been warm. Chased by the warm weather, several PCTers trek northward; hoping that by the time they get to the Sierra the passes will not be choked with snow. Most have seemed enthusiastic, and eager to face the challenges ahead.

The crux of this day’s adventure looms around the corner at Islip Saddle. The steep 1.5 mile climb to near the summit of Mt. Williamson, and 1.5 mile descent to Hwy. 2 will retrace earlier miles of my trek. A mirror image of this morning’s pleasant ascent, this afternoon’s climb will be a cruel and evil twin. The 1200 ft. elevation gain will bring the day’s total to around 7000 ft.

Descending to the parking lot at Islip Saddle, I automatically look for my car. The lot is empty. Tufts of grass growing in in the pavement cracks waft in the breeze. A couple of PCTers rest in the shade of the restroom. A bird sings a cheerful tune from a nearby tree. I head on up the trail…

Today’s photograph is of a nice downhill section of trail at about 8200 ft, northbound on the PCT, above Windy Gap. That’s Mt. Williamson in the background. I was surprised I didn’t run into anyone that was doing Mt. Williamson. Williamson Rock is in the area closed by the Forest Service to protect critical habitat of the mountain yellow-legged frog, but Mt. Williamson is outside of the closed area (PDF Map). The Hwy 2 closure is about 0.25 mile west of Eagles Roost, and only adds about 2 scenic miles to the round trip up Williamson. If your favorite hikes or runs start at Islip Saddle, here’s a topo map of the area that shows the approximate mileages from the locked gate on Hwy 2 to Islip Saddle. For more information regarding the closure of Williamson Rock, see the  Access Fund Williamson Rock page for more information.

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Caterpillar Phacelia

Caterpillar Phacelia (Phacelia cicutaria)


Caterpillar Phacelia (Phacelia cicutaria) was prevalent at Sage Ranch prior to the 2005 Topanga Fire. It may be somewhat more widespread than I’ve generally seen, but this could be due in part to last year’s record rainfall and this season’s late rainfall. It doesn’t appear to be a fire follower in the same sense as Large Flowered Phacelia, Star Lily or Dicentra, whose populations have increased dramatically this year.

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Spring Growth

New growth on a Big Cone Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga macrocarpa) in the San Gabriel Mountains.

Bright green highlights new growth on a Big Cone Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga macrocarpa) in the San Gabriel Mountains near Josephine Peak and Strawberry Peak.

These peaks are popular lower elevation summits, that can be snow-free in Winter, or a blast furnace in Summer. Josephine Peak (5558 ft.) was once the site of fire lookout, and a fire road leads from Clear Creek Station to its summit. From the west, via Clear Creek or Colby Canyon, Strawberry Peak (6164 ft.) is a more difficult ascent that requires careful route-finding and rudimentary rock climbing skills. Many hikers prefer to do Strawberry from the east, starting at Red Box.

The day this photograph was taken, I wasn’t climbing Strawberry Peak, but instead was running a circuit around the peak. Part of the Mt. Disappointment 50K course, the circuit is an excellent 15 mile loop with an elevation gain/loss of about 2700 ft. Here’s a Google Earth image and Google Earth KMZ file of a GPS trace of the Strawberry Peak Circuit. A longer variant of this route is described in Fall Leaves on Bear Creek and Strawberry – Bear Canyon Loop.

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Giant Rye

Giant Rye Grass (Leymus condensatus) can grow several feet tall.

Giant Rye Grass (Leymus condensatus) is a member of the grass family that can grow several feet tall. These, out at Sage Ranch, are in the 5-7 ft. range.

Later in the year, after its large green blades turn brown, they have a peculiar, almost ghostly, way of rustling in the wind; sounding as if an animal or person has gently moved through them. (Photograph from a run on May 26, 2006.)

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Images taken on trail runs, and other adventures, in the Open Space and Wilderness areas of California, and beyond. All content, including photography, is Copyright © 2006-2018 Gary Valle. All Rights Reserved.