April 24th to 28th – Big Sur

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 24 – Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground – Arrival and Valley View Trail

12 Rancho Simi Trailblazers gathered at the Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground along the Pacific coast of California. Half of the group came in recreation vehicles; the other half set up their tents on three adjacent campsites. We then walked along the campground road adjacent to the Big Sur River amid a forest of giant Coast Redwood trees to the trailhead of the Valley View Trail (traversing the short Nature Trail along the way).

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As the shaded trail rose steadily uphill we were treated to an increasing variety of blooming wildflowers and we eventually reached the upper end of the trail where we had views of the Santa Lucia Range and Big Sur Valley. We retraced our steps as we made our way back to our campsites, thus completing a 5.7-mile hike with over 650’ of elevation gain/loss in a truly lovely environment.

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THURSDAY, APRIL 25 – Andrew Molera State Park: Creamery Meadow Trail, Ridge Trail, Panorama Trail, Bluffs Trail, and Spring Trail

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After breakfast, we carpooled to the Andrew Molera State Park trailhead parking lot on the southwest side of Hwy 1. Shortly after we followed signs for the Beach Trail from the parking lot, we reached the Big Sur River where we switched to water shoes and then waded carefully through the cold above-the-knee flowing water.

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After switching back to hiking boots, we hiked along the Creamery Meadow Trail (dirt road) admiring the blooming wildflowers and the towering ancient-looking trees along the way. Upon reaching a fork in the well-maintained dirt road, we turned left and almost immediately went left at the next fork onto the [Pfeiffer] Ridge Trail, another well-maintained dirt road that climbed inexorably upward onto the ridge; there was a fantastic display of blooming plants on both sides of the road. Eventually the slope of the road lessened and we entered a heavily wooded area through which the trail passed and the road became a trail that “ended” at the south park boundary marked by a fence. After enjoying a rest break and admiring sweeping coastal and mountain views, we turned right and hiked down the Panorama Trail toward the ocean (more great views and lovely wildflowers) to its junction with the Bluffs Trail which descended parallel to the coast to its junction with the Spring Trail. We followed the narrow Spring Trail down to a wide sandy “pocket” beach where we took another break and enjoyed the beach/ocean environment. Continuing our hike, we headed back up the Spring Trail to the Bluffs Trail and followed it and then the Creamery Meadow Trail back to Big Sur River where we again changed footwear to facilitate its crossing (the water was still cold!). We returned to our campsites having completed a truly beautiful 9.5-mile lollipop loop hike with 1,660’ of elevation gain/loss.

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FRIDAY, APRIL 26 – Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park: Liewald Flat Trail AND Buzzards Roost Trail

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After breakfast, we began a hike that included two trails in a figure-eight configuration. We started by walking on the campground road along the Big Sur River but without crossing the river to the opposite side as motor vehicles were required to do; instead we stayed on the same side of the river as our campsites.

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Eventually we reached the trailhead (for both hikes) and followed the trail as it passed under Hwy 1 while sticking to the river. The heavily forested trail rose gradually to a fork on its left (leading to Buzzard’s Roost), but we continued straight ahead passing the presently unused group campground and continuing on to an oval-shaped meadow (Liewald Flat) and the adjacent Fernwood Campground and Resort. After wandering around the Fernwood area, we continued our loop around the pretty meadow and returned to the aforementioned left fork (now on our right).

We then began hiking up the Buzzard’s Roost Trail (a lollipop loop itself) in a clockwise direction through the wooded mountainside (lots of wildflowers). When we reached Buzzard’s Roost there were few trees so we had views of the Santa Lucia Mountains and toward the Pacific Ocean. After a lunch/rest break we completed the loop and then returned the way we had come (skipping the Liewald Flat part) and arrived having completed a very pleasant 5.5-mile hike with 1,150’ of elevation gain/loss.

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After lunch several of us carpooled to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve where we paid the $10 entrance fee and then drove westward straight through the Natural Reserve to the Cypress Bay parking lot. We then braved a strong chilly wind and explored the trails above Cypress Cove and Headland Cove noting (and photographing) the marine flora (Monterey cypress and a surprising array of various hardy wildflowers) and fauna (seals, sea otters, sea lions, and cormorants) as well as awesome views of the rocky shoreline and its coves. We then drove to the southern end of the paved road and hiked the Bird Island Trail where we saw hundreds of cormorants nesting as well as sea otters in an estuary. We hiked an estimated two miles with 150’ of elevation gain/loss.

Pfeiffer Beach – While several of us were visiting Point Lobos, others explored Pfeiffer Beach. The road (Sycamore Canyon Road) leading down to the separate-fee-required parking lots near the beach is not signed but it’s a very short distance south on Hwy 1 from the entrance into Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground. Those who went there explored tide pools among other things.

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SATURDAY, APRIL 27 – Garrapata State Park: Soberanes Canyon Trail AND Soberanes Point Trails

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After breakfast, we carpooled to the undeveloped Garrapata State Park (no road sign on Hwy 1 announcing it) and parked in a good-sized unpaved parking area along Hwy 1. We then undertook a two-part hike, one on each side of the highway (the trailheads were across Hwy 1 from each other).

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FIRST We began hiking the Soberanes Canyon Trail as it followed Soberanes Creek upstream (crossing it 7 times) into a forest of Coast Redwoods, gaining elevation along the way. It was very peaceful and there were again lots of beautiful wildflowers. Eventually we reached a point where the trail was closed “due to poor and potentially hazardous trail conditions.” We reversed direction and returned to the trailhead. SECOND We crossed Hwy 1 and began hiking the Soberanes Point Trails, mostly a loop along coastal bluff trails which provided us with views of “a myriad of crenelated coves, hidden beaches, and rocky points” and lots of beautiful wildflowers (particularly poppies). At one point we spotted a vulture down near the water in a cove eating a dead animal. When we reached the south side of the loop, we hiked up a short side trail to Whale peak with its 360-degree views (but we saw no whales). Returning to the loop trail we hiked back to our vehicles and returned to our campsites, having completed a combined 5.3-mile hike with 1,090’ of elevation gain/loss.

Since the annual Big Sur International Marathon was scheduled for Sunday morning (4/28) from just south of the entrance to our campground north to Carmel along Hwy1 (and there would be some delay in being allowed to use Hwy 1 that morning), most of us headed home after Saturday’s hikes, having spent about four days in one of the most beautiful spots on earth. If you haven’t spent time (several days) exploring Big Sur, it should be on your “bucket list” of things to do.

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April 13th – Santa Cruz Island

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Eight eager hikers assembled around 7:00 a.m. at the Island Packers facility in Ventura Harbor with their hiking gear, looking forward to exploring Santa Cruz Island, the largest (96.5 square miles) of the five islands in the Channel Islands National Park (in comparison, Santa Catalina Island is 74 square miles). Shortly after 8:00 a.m. our trip across the Santa Barbara Channel began. Luckily the channel was relatively calm, though we were riding into the waves.

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Anacapa Island (1.1 square miles) was visible to the south. At one point as we crossed the channel, we encountered a very large pod of frisky dolphins. We disembarked at Scorpion Anchorage on the east end of the island, happy to be on firm ground again. After a short briefing by park personnel (during which there were warnings of fines and other punishment for misdeeds), we walked a short distance to rest rooms and a few picnic tables where we regrouped and prepared for our hike. The environment was quite attractive due to 2019’s “wet” beginning with lots of greenery on the hillsides and lots of blooming plants (particularly some coreopsis and lots of white morning glories).

We began our hike by following Smuggler’s Road as it climbed over 700’ to a trail (dirt road) junction. Along the way we were treated to lovely ocean and land views; in addition to many large clusters of morning glories, we were greeted by lots of blue dick and some pretty Island poppies. The temperature was quite conducive to hiking uphill so it was very pleasant as we did so. Shortly after we passed the junction with the trail up to El Montanon peak, Smugglers Road descended to Smugglers Cove, a lovely sandy bay on the eastern edge of the island with a nice view of Anacapa Island; shade was provided by many large eucalyptus trees (and there was a nearby privy).

We sat at a picnic table to enjoy lunch; we had an ocean view along with the noise of waves breaking on the sandy shore. Soon we were approached by a couple of Island foxes (they’re about the same size as a house cat) who “posed” for photographs [actually they were waiting until it was safe to check to see if we’d left any crumbs for them to eat]. After lunch we walked along its “driveway” to an old ranch house (built in 1889). It was fenced to keep “tourists” out, but its unique timepiece – a sundial applied vertically to the front of the house – was quite visible and it still showed the accurate time (except that it wasn’t designed to account for daylight savings time in 1889!). We spotted several patches of lupine near the ranch house and there was evidence on a nearby hillside of the olive grove and nut trees that once flourished there.

We had elected NOT to climb El Montanon (1,808’) is the highest mountain on the island that is accessible by the public; the views from the peak are said to be spectacular, including other islands in the Santa Barbara Channel and the coastline of Southern California. It is accessed via Montanon Ridge and High Mount and (according to those who have hike it) has stretches of narrow trail flanked by pulse-raising drops along the volcanic slopes. This hike (which we did not take) is 9.5 miles with 2,547’ of elevation gain/loss.

We returned to Scorpion Anchorage the way we came, enjoying the views but wishing the temperature had not increased as much as it had as we headed uphill. We investigated the small “museum” and then hiked up Scorpion Canyon to check out both the Lower and Upper Campgrounds (both appeared to be very nice). After spending some time on the beach, it was time to gather for boarding an Island Packers boat for our return trip which was more pleasant since we were going “with the waves.” At one point, as we re-crossed the channel, we encountered three 20-plus-foot-long basking sharks, the second largest living sharks. “The basking shark is the second-largest living shark, after the whale shark, and one of three plankton-eating shark species, along with the whale shark and megamouth shark. Adults typically reach 6–8 meters in length. They are usually greyish-brown, with mottled skin.”

We disembarked on a dock in Ventura harbor having hiked 8.2+ miles with over 1,700’ of elevation gain/loss and returned home. Everyone agreed that our outing had been a great success! NOTE: Some of the blooming plants we saw during this outing were coreopsis stands bursting with yellow blossoms, lots of white Island morning glory, purple blue dick, and orange Island poppy plants).

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April 6th – Towsley Canyon Loop

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20 hikers met at the “Ed Davis Park at Towsley Canyon” section of the 4,000-acre Santa Clarita Woodlands Park this morning. It was perfect hiking weather, never exceeding 70 degrees. Our hike began on the dirt road leading to the Sonia Thompson Nature Center, and crossing Towsley Creek on a concrete bridge, where we began our counter-clockwise hike on the Towsley View Loop Trail. Recent storm damage re-routed the trail somewhat where the trail narrows.

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After passing through The Narrows section of Towsley Gorge, the trail quickly gained elevation, via multiple switchbacks along the well-shaded shaded eastern slope of the canyon. The verdant north-facing slopes of the Santa Susana Mountains rose steeply to the south. The single-track trail passed through sage scrub, stands of California walnut and bay laurel trees, and scattered oak trees as we made our way to the 2,450′ high point on the trail from where much of the Santa Clarita Valley was seen visible. The hillsides were adorned by many blooming wildflowers, including Fiddleneck, Lupine, California Poppies, Blue Ceanothus, Blue Larkspur, Fiesta Flower, Purple Nightshade, Indian Paintbrush, and Wild Sweet Pea. It was evident that the bloom had not yet peaked. Missing in recent years, were the Chocolate Lilies. Several beautiful examples adorned the higher elevations of trail this morning. The trail then dropped into shady Wiley Canyon, which we followed downstream to a junction with the Canyon View Loop Trail rising along the northern flank of the mountain, before descending to the Sonia Thompson Nature Center. After a brief rest, we returned to our cars at the trailhead and headed home, after enjoying a very pleasant 6.7 mile hike, with over 1,450′ of elevation gain/loss.

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