Bee Fly On Western Wallflower


Bee Fly on a Western Wallflower (Erysimum capitatum).


The fuzzy critter with the beady eyes is a Bee Fly. Its darting, hummingbird-like movements caught my eye while running on the Tumamait Trail near Mt. Abel (Cerro Noroeste) on Sunday. It was feeding on a Western Wallflower (Erysimum capitatum). Fully consumed by the morning’s experiences, I had been marveling at the vibrant yellow of Wallflowers along the trail.


With only a cursory glance, someone might mistake a Bee Fly for a bee. It does buzz. But the resemblance is superficial. It is smaller than a Honey Bee, and more thick-bodied. It has long legs, and a long proboscis to collect nectar. These can be seen in the inset photographs.


Looking at these photographs it struck me that there probably is a relationship between the length of the Bee Fly’s proboscis, and the length of its legs. It can be seen in the photos that the Bee Fly uses its legs to grasp a plant while flying and feeding. This helps stabilize its flight, conserves energy, and enables a quick escape from a possible predator. It would seem that the legs have evolved to be just long enough to accomplish this task.

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Vincent Tumamait Trail

Mt. Pinos from the Vincent Tumamait Trail

Mt. Pinos from the Vincent Tumamait Trail

There are several options for runs and hikes in the Mt. Pinos area. On the long side is the 25+ mile run from the lower McGill trailhead to Mt. Abel (Cerro Noroeste) mentioned in Snow Plant Still Life. Another valley-to-summit adventure is the approximately 20 mile out & back run/hike to the summit of Mt. Pinos from Three Falls Boy Scout Camp in Lockwood Valley.

This day I was looking to escape the heat of the San Fernando Valley, but do something a little less ambitious than either of those runs. The North Fork would be too hot, and McGill to Abel too strenuous. Instead, I opted for a third alternative, the Vincent Tumamait Trail between Mt. Pinos and Mt. Abel. By doing a short side trip to the spring at Sheep Camp, I could carry one water bottle and keep things simple.

The route, including the spur to Sheep Camp, works out to be about 14.5 miles, with 3000 ft. or so of elevation gain. There’s a lot of up and down as the trail works its way along the forested ridge, and past the broad summits of Sawmill Mountain and Grouse Mountain.  The trail ends at the Cerro Noroeste road, but it is not difficult to find a way up the steep slope above the road to the summit of Mt. Abel.

In kayaking there is saying that you “never run the same river twice.” The same is true of trails. Each experience on a particular trail is unique. This would be a day of unblemished blue skies and tired legs, the subtle scents of sun-warmed pine needles and Jeffry Pine on the air. A day of bounding deer, Paintbrush reds, and Wallflower yellows. It would be one to contemplate the fallen trees of Cerro Noroeste, the peculiar shape of the Larkspur leaf, the intricacies of the snow plant, and the hummingbird flight of the Bee Fly.

The photograph is a glimpse of Mt. Pinos from the saddle west of the peak. With sufficient snow cover, and the right conditions, I’ve enjoyed good skiing on these slopes, as well as along the ridge leading to Sawmill and Grouse Mountains. Here’s a view of Grouse Mountain from near Mt. Abel.

Here’s a Google Earth image and Google Earth KMZ file of a GPS trace of my route.

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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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Chumash Rock


Rock formation northwest of the Chumash Trail.
Rock Formation Northwest of the Chumash Trail


Practically any objective can make a good excuse for an adventure. Each time up or down the Chumash Trail, I pondered the prominent rock formation northwest of the trail, and wondered what I might find there.


My first thought was to find a direct route across the deep canyon that parallels the Chumash Trail. Recons from a couple of points on the trail revealed that the this was a bad idea. Sections of the canyon that looked passable from above were incised, with crumbling, near-vertical walls. A Plan B was required.


A look at a topo map suggested it might be possible to access the ridge on which the formation was located from Las Llajas Canyon. An advantage of this approach was that, if it worked, it would be part of a loop. A cool January morning, I decided to give it a go.


From Las Llajas Canyon, an old overgrown roadbed led up a side canyon to a point where there was no obvious route. The canyon bottom did not look promising, and steep slopes bounded both sides of the canyon. After scrambling several hundred feet up a south-facing slope, I found a deer trail that seemed headed in the general direction I wanted to go. This game trail was the key. Its route reflected the cumulative experience of deer in dealing with the terrain issues I faced. It turned out to be remarkably efficient, and appeared to represent the path of least energy needed to reach the main ridge. That is, if you’re a deer. At one point I was forced to backtrack and climb above the trail when it crossed a steep, exposed slope better suited to those with four legs and cervid hooves.


Once up on the main ridge, it didn’t take long to reach the rock formation. According to the Dibblee geological map of the area, the formation is positioned on the south branch of the Simi Fault. The steeply inclined beds of river cobble seen in this photo might have been deposited as part of a fan delta some 60 million years ago. This Paleocene age cobble is also encountered at several places along the Chumash Trail.


Near the summit of the formation some chiseled inscriptions  were found. They were very weathered. The most prominent might be either a “93” or “33” over the top of a “W,” and another is perhaps a “DH.” It’s hard to tell.


Of the three high points comprising the formation, I scrambled to the top of two. The eastern-most summit (on the far right when viewed from the Chumash Trail) is wholly comprised of cobble and looked like an accident waiting to happen. Here’s a photo from near the summit of the formation, looking back down the ridge.


As I climbed down from the summit to a saddle northeast of the rock formation, I spooked a deer and it bounded into a brush filled gully. Continuing up the ridge, it eventually intersected Rocky Peak Rd. at its high point near some bivalve fossil beds. According to the Dibblee map, these are much younger than the rock formation’s river cobble, and may have been deposited in shallow marine conditions or lagoons a couple million years ago.


At Rocky Peak Rd. I had the option of returning via Las Llajas Canyon, but opted to complete the approximately 8 mile route via the Chumash Trail. This Google Earth image  shows most of the route. (Photographs from hike & run on January 29, 2006.)

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Owl’s Clover


Owl's Clover, in this case Castilleja exserta, is a fairly common California native.


A close view of Owl’s Clover reveals the probable reason for the name — fat little purplish-pink owls, crowned with a tinge of yellow, perched amid the purplish-pink of this unusual blossom. Here’s an even closer view of one of the individual flowers, showing its remarkable structure.


Owl’s Clover, in this case Castilleja exserta, is a fairly common California native that seems to prefer the margins of dirt roads and other disturbed areas at lower elevations. It’s in bloom now in the Santa Monica Mountains and Simi Hills. I noticed some on the Bulldog loop while running the Malibu Creek Challenge on Saturday, and also while doing a short run out a Sage Ranch Sunday.


This photograph is from a run at Sage Ranch on May 2, 2005.

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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 © 2006-2017 Gary Valle. All Rights Reserved.