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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March 30th – Santa Paula Canyon

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On a pleasant early spring morning 12 hikers began an out-and-back hike in Santa Paula Canyon from the trailhead on Highway 150 a few miles northwest of Santa Paula, a quaint town located in the agricultural Santa Clara River Valley and referred to as the “Citrus Capital of the World” for its orange, lemon, and avocado groves.

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The initial portion of the hike involved skirting the campus of Thomas Aquinas College, the Ferndale Ranch, avocado groves, and an oil field with mountains looming in the distance. Then we reached the swollen, swiftly flowing Santa Paula Creek which we carefully crossed to reach the trail on the other (north) side. We then followed the trail upstream toward the waterfall (our original destination), enjoying the sound of the creek (on our right) and gorgeous displays of swaths of wildflowers which covered much of the mountainside to our left (west) [refer to the photos accompanying this report]. It quickly became apparent that the 2019 rains had severely damaged sections of the trail which slowed our progress upstream. We eventually reached a point on the trail where the old dirt road/trail that leads up to the Big Cone Campground on the opposite (east) side of the swiftly flowing stream was supposed to be. We sent a scouting team across the creek (to the east side) to look for evidence of the old dirt road, but there was none (at that point). The trail ahead (on the west side) appeared to deteriorate even more so we decided to abandon trying to hike further upstream and returned the way we had come (again enjoying the wildflower display), completing a lovely 6.5-mile hike with 675’ of elevation gain/loss.

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March 23rd – Happy Camp Canyon

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16 hikers gathered at the Donut Delite parking lot and carpooled to the trailhead at the eastern end of Broadway Road in Moorpark. It was a calm and partly cloudy day, not too warm, and just perfect for a hike. Happy Camp Canyon Regional Park was once home to several Indian groups. Later is became part of the expansive Strathearn Ranch, owned by a Simi Valley pioneer family.

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Evidence still remains from when the land was a cattle ranch and vacation spot. Today, Happy Camp is a 3,000 acre wilderness area, managed by the MRCA (Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority), under an agreement with the County of Ventura. With almost 18” of rainfall so far this season, there was a prolific wildflower showing. The list was long, but included Owl’s Clover, Fiddleneck, Bladder Bush, Tanzy Phacelia, Chaparral Currant, Curly Docks, Prickly Phlox, Popcorn, Mustard Evening Primrose, Strigose Lotus, Purple Nightshade, California Poppy, Blue Dick, Scarlet Bugler, and three varieties of Lupine. We followed the canyon to the picnic benches and returned the way we came, having completed the 9.8 mile hike, with about 1,000′ of elevation gain/loss. We all agreed the wildflowers made this a very special hike.

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March 9th – Beaudry Loop

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14 hikers carpooled to a not-so obvious trailhead along Beaudry Boulevard, at the northeast base of the Verdugo Mountain Range in Glendale. The hike began following a flood control channel on the left, and after a half mile, came to the intersection of South Beaudry Motorway to the left and North Beaudry Motorway to the right. We decided to do the loop in a counter-clockwise direction, expecting a bit less elevation gain. Our climb to the ridge-line was slow and steady, as more and more of the San Gabriel Mountains came into prominent view, along with the expanse of the city below.

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There was much evidence of erosion along the trail, including a landslide that almost obliterated a section of the fire road, certainly from the recent rains. Tongva Peak (2,656 feet) was the next milestone on our hike. Named commemorating the Gabrieleno ~ Tonga Community of Wiqanga Native Americans, the peak is an important Los Angeles area broadcast site, and the home of “World Famous KROQ.” A clearing just past the peak offered an expansive view in all directions, and was the half-way point along our hike. There we rested, enjoyed our time with expanse, and marveled at the majestic clouds remaining from the previous storm. We left the peak and continued down the ridge to the South Beaudry Motorway. As we started to loose elevation, we found a short offshoot from the main trail, covered with wildflowers. In evidence were Red Maids, Meadow Nemophila, Fiddleneck, Filaree, and Sticky Monkey Flowers. We dropped elevation quickly, proving our wise decision to do the loop in a counter-clockwise direction. Soon after the flood control catch-basin came back into view on the right, a young-looking coyote quickly crossed the trail and was soon out of sight. Completing the 6.2 mile loop, with close to 1,600′ of total elevation gain, we were again back at our cars’ knowing that our first time on this trail was well worthwhile.

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February 23rd – Mentryville Park and Pico Canyon

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12 hikers carpooled to a dirt parking area about 0.4 mile outside the entrance to Mentryville, located in Pico Canyon in the north end of Santa Clarita Woodlands Park (only a few miles from Towsley Canyon). Mentryville was an oil boom town in the 1880’s and was home to over 100 families until the early 1930’s.

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Pico Canyon was the site of the first commercially successful oil well (Pico No. 4) in the western United States. Several historic buildings are still standing in Mentryville including Charles Mentry’s grand 13-room mansion, a one-room school house, and a small barn. After taking a quick tour of the “ghost” town, we headed southwest along the paved road into shady Pico Canyon with its towering walls and a pleasant stream until we reached Johnson Park (“the party place for oil miners of more than a century ago”) where we dallied for a while. As we continued further into the canyon, the paved road made a sharp switchback to the northeast, became a dirt road, and we began climbing up out of the canyon. As we gained elevation our views of the surrounding rugged landscape with green mountainsides (thanks to recent rainfall) steadily improved. As we continued southeast toward the road’s upper end we had excellent views of the transverse range of the Santa Susana Mountains as well as some snow on distant peaks in the San Gabriel and Topa Topa Mountains. The road ended in a wide flat mountaintop area which was at one time the home of the Union Oil Company’s Odeen #1 oil well, but is now the home of a lone picnic table with two benches where there was a large group of cub/boy scouts who had reached the summit shortly before we did. After a leisurely snack/rest break, we returned the way we came and reached our vehicles, having completed an 8.5-mile hike with about 1,450’ of elevation gain/loss on what had turned into a very nice day for hiking.

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January 26th – Johnson Motorway to Rocky Peak

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18 hikers met at the trailhead on Iverson Road just outside the gated southern entrance to Indian Springs Estates in Chatsworth on a mild winter morning with a wind advisory. After following the easement through the upscale gated community, we reached the beginning of the unpaved Johnson Motorway (once a toll road).

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The trail (an old dirt and sandstone roadbed) rose westward until it met a short “driveway” leading north to the ruins of the ranch house that was built by Ann and Neils Johnson who were the first English-speaking homesteaders in the San Fernando Valley; they had built their primary home in “Chatsworth Park” in the 1870’s. It should be noted that we were “assaulted” by strong intermittent winds at times during the hike, although there was little or no wind during more than half of the hike. Leaving the ruins, we followed the Johnson Motorway as it passed through a landscape of dramatic rock formations, climbing steadily, but not steeply, toward the Rocky Peak Fire Road. The temperature rose (but was still pleasant) as the sun ascended and we soon removed our jackets. After 3.5 miles we reached the fire road where we took a short snack/rest break while we enjoyed the scenery including lots of green hillsides. We then headed southward along the Rocky Peak Fire Road enjoying views of interesting rock formations and Simi Valley to the west. A short spur trail led us eastward to an overlook of the San Fernando Valley near Rocky Peak. We took another break while we enjoyed views as diverse as snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains, Santa Cruz Island, and the tops of tall buildings in downtown Los Angeles. We soon retraced our route downhill back to our vehicles and returned home having completed a pleasant 9.5-mile hike with about 1,900’ of total elevation gain/loss.

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January 19th – Las Llajas Canyon and Chumash Trail Loop

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21 hikers met at the Las Llajas Canyon trailhead on Evening Sky Drive in Simi Valley on a cool winter morning. We began our hike by descending a short paved section of road into the canyon bottom; from there a wide graded dirt road followed a streambed north through the canyon, crossing the streambed three times.

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The stream had a little water in it and a trickle was slowly moving downstream; there were also several separate mud puddles in the road itself. The steep canyon walls provided shade and a refreshing breeze as we enjoyed an easy 3.5 mile trek up the canyon. Nearing the Poe Ranch gate, we took the right (east) fork and continued up the dirt road leading to an abandoned oil field which has been “cleaned up” (purposefully stripped of all remaining aboveground equipment/pipes) and then on up to a junction with the Rocky Peak Fire Road, savoring the views back down the canyon and of the surrounding area along the way. After reaching the Rocky Peak Fire Road (where a majestic oak tree has died and crashed to the ground), we turned right and headed south toward the upper end of the Chumash Trail. Along the way we passed Fossil Hill (named for the shells of sea creatures left behind when the area was under a vast sea). We enjoyed panoramic views of mountains and canyons to the east, south, and west including some snow atop a peak in the distant San Gabriel Mountains. The nearby mountainous terrain was covered with pretty bright green grass that had seemingly appeared overnight. Upon reaching the upper end of the Chumash Trail with its “Chumash Trail 2.7 miles to Flanagan Drive trailhead” sign, we stopped briefly before rapidly descending the familiar trail into Simi Valley; along the way down we spotted two red-tail hawks and a vulture. We then turned right (west) and followed a short connector trail to a closed-but-not-locked gate in a fence at the east end of Evening Sky Drive. A short walk along Evening Sky Drive took us back to our vehicles, having completed a very pleasant 9.6-mile hike with over 1,900’ of elevation gain/loss.

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January 5th – Devil Canyon to Browns Canyon Road

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21 hikers met at the hike’s starting point on Poema Place in Chatsworth on a cool winter morning. As our hike began we descended along a fairly steep “use” trail into the heavily shaded bottom of Devil Canyon where we followed the remnants of the Devil Canyon Motorway upstream as it frequently crisscrossed the sometimes wet (thanks to recent rain) creek bed.

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We spotted lots of interesting sandstone-rock-cliff formations and chalk dudleya “liveforever” plants as we made our way up to the large dam at the trail’s junction with the mouth of Ybarra Canyon. After a brief rest break we continued upstream along the occasionally muddy, but mostly dry, trail which from this point on had been transformed a few of years ago from single-track to a “one-lane” dirt road [the reason for this not being apparent though several short dirt “side roads” and one long one heading north have also been created]. As the canyon widened we passed by grass-covered hillsides dotted with oak trees. When we reached the upper-canyon Cathedral-like oak woodland, the trail reverted to its natural undisturbed state (including lots of fallen oak trees, presumably killed by wildfire and drought). Upon reaching Brown’s Canyon Road we turned right (east) and hiked a short distance uphill where we took a break and enjoyed views to the south. We then retraced our route and returned to our vehicles having completed a very pleasant 9.6-mile hike in this unique canyon with about 1,300’ of elevation gain/loss.

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