Author: Phil Houtz

Adventure: Sign Up Now and You Could Be One of the First People to Mountain-Bike on the Moon

Photo via

Photo via

It’s one bunny-hop for a man (or woman) but it’s one giant lunge for mankind. announces an out-of-this-world travel package for mountain bikers giving you a once in a lifetime opportunity to explore some of the gnarliest single track in the galaxy. Check out Evo’s moon biking offer here. [Via pinkbike]

Also – Awesome Gear Announced in April

All-Sport Performance Lederhosen

Who knew that lederhosen would return as the ultimate multi-sport performance wear? (With a ball-tight fit and moisture wicking no less.)

A Backpacking Tent So Light It Fits in Your Shirt Pocket

You’ve seen all the buzz about tiny houses. Now it’s tiny tents with REI’s Gulliver line of micro-tents.


Minimalist Trail Sandals

The Chaco Barefoot-Z sandal takes minimal running shoes to the logical extreme.

One final note on all this amazing gear – check the date on the post.


[Via REI blog, Gear Junkie, Runblogger]

What Does It Take to Make a City More Livable? Not as Much as You’d Think


Market St, Philadelphia via Urb-i

A collective of urban designers and an economist based in Brazil have assembled an amazing collection of before and after photos showing  improvements to urban landscapes.  

One thing that is immediately clear when you start browsing the gallery is that it doesn’t take massive construction – or demolition – to make a city more appealing, walkable and vital.
Urb-i via CityLab

Ballinger Canyon Jeep Trails

Ballinger Canyon Moonrise

Ballinger Canyon is a high desert Off Highway Vehicle area similar in terrain to Hungry Valley, but about half the acreage. Ballinger has 11 jeep trails interlaced with about two dozen ATV and motorcycle trails. There are two main roads through the canyon, both easy to moderate with a few more challenging connectors.

Entrance to the canyon is off Highway 33 near-ish to route 166.

On this trip I arrived mid-afternoon to do some hiking in the canyon. I drove Trail 24, an easy road with mostly soft soil that is compacted into a billowy washboard ride…something like riding a jetski on a choppy day. I hiked up Trail 14, an ATV-only trail, and a stiff uphill to boot. But the trail wends through a nice pine habitat and there are some beautiful views.

I made it back to the Jeep about 4:30 pm. And I really didn’t want to drive all the way back down 33. Now, here’s where good map skills would come in handy! I’ve got an aging DeLorme map book that shows Ballinger Canyon road (NF-9N10) cutting all the way through to Cerro Nordeste–which would take me into to Frazier Park. As a matter of fact, Google Maps also shows 9N10 connecting to Cerro Nordeste.

If I had paid a little better attention to the map posted at the park entrance, I could have spared myself a wild ride. The trail map makes it pretty clear that there are no through routes. But my made it look like I was within spitting distance of the highway so I gave it a try.
Now, trail 24 is marked as an easy route, but as it climbs eastward up the canyon it starts getting damp and rutted. There was snow on the sides of the road and in places the mud had been whipped into a froth. In a few places there was barely enough width to the trail for a Jeep and a wrong touch on the gas could easily have sent me skidding into a big ditch. I had visions of getting high-centered and spending a frosty night trying to dig myself out in the moonlight.

Did I mention that it was getting dark by the time I hit the end of Trail 24? And yes, Trail 24 comes to an end with a big red timber closing off the drive.  In the dark it was a little challenging to navigate the maze of trails that often petered out into a motorcycle track. Finally I decided to bite the bullet and slog back the way I came.

Overall it was a fun ride, in a white knuckley sort of way. I think I might wait until Spring to go back. It is supposed to be one of the best areas to view wildflowers.

Southern California BMW i Series Owners to Attempt World Record April 2


Photo by Lothar Spurzem via Wikimedia

Photo by Lothar Spurzem via Wikimedia

BMW i series owners (i3, i8, X5 40e) are gathering at the Long Beach Formula E race this Saturday April 2, 2016 to organize the longest parade of BMW cars in history. The previous record was set in 2008 by 178 BMW Isettas (the car pictured above), arguably much cooler than an i3 which has been compared to a grumpy porpoise.

As geeky as all this sounds, if it helps promote cleaner transportation it’s probably worth giving it a whirl. Register here if you are a licensed BMW i series owner and want to take part in this fiasco. (Imagine a couple hundred electric vehicles trekking to Long Beach and then looking for a place to plug in.)


10 Must-See Bay Area Outdoor Spots from SF Gate

Photo: Photo: Michael Furniss, Courtesy SF Gate

Photo: Michael Furniss, Courtesy SF Gate

  1. Tahoe, Heavenly’s Skyline Trail
  2. Santa Cruz Mountains, Silver Falls/Golden Cascade
  3. North Sierra foothills, Feather Falls
  4. Marin, Sky Trail
  5. Fern Canyon, Prairie Creek Redwoods
  6. Wildcat hilltop via Tilden in the East Bay Hills
  7. San Pedro Ridge
  8. Pardee Lake

The article includes photos, descriptions, phone numbers and web links for all locations.

You could also add to the list some closer-to-home Bay-Area locations like Stinson Beach,  Ohlone Wilderness trail, and Robert Louis Stevenson State Park.

Ventura County Day Hike – Sisar Canyon

Topa Topa from Sisar Canyon

The Topatopa bluffs run from West to East, serving as a gigantic reflector for the Ojai valley. They are a numinous presence in much of the surrounding county. I can see them from my house. This weekend, however, is the first time I’ve hiked anywhere close to them.

To hike the Sisar Canyon trail you take Highway 150 from Santa Paul (or Ojai if your so inclined) and turn North on Sisar Road. Travel up the road a mile or so, continue bearing right where the asphalt ends. You’ll come to a gate.

Sisar Road gate

The first three and a half miles are well-traveled road. There are two water crossings in the first mile or two, an easy rock-hop to get across. I was a little surprised to meet a man driving a late model Subaru down the hill, but there is a residence a few miles back.

The road is popular with mountain bikers and equestrians, so keep your eyes and ears open on the blind curves. It’s a two mile hike to the overlook that commands a view of the Oxnard plain on one hand, and Topa Topa on the other. Another mile and a half you come to the head of Trail 21W08 which goes up to Sespe Creek. The sign is shot up and naked of paint, but you can read the raised lettering to see that Sespe is some 13 miles beyond. Closer is White Ledge Camp, a shady campsite with firebox. The trail to White Ledge is a long half mile. It looked to me like a trail crew had been this way just a few days earlier. Branches were trimmed and the path was smooth and level with some fresh trenches for runoff. There are a few narrow spots, not a place I’d want to go on horseback, especially not after a heavy rain. But it was clear that someone had done just that–hoofprints sunk deep in the trail near some very steep drop-offs.

At one spot there is a huge slag heap of rosey sandstone. It looks as if someone had been quarrying the area. I’d be interested to know what cause this, it certainly looks man-made.

All in all the hike from the gate to White Ledge is an eight mile round trip.
Trail to White Ledge Camp

Addendum: Sometimes you’ll find this hike by searching for Topa Topa Mountain. On maps it is listed as Topatopa Mountain. It’s a little confusing, seeing that place names in Ojai are listed as Topa Topa.

Originally published March 7, 2007

Where You Are is What You Are

World\’s largest drawing used GPS

I stumbled across a provocative label on Mark Bernstein’s site, coupling the phrase “Where you are is WHAT you are” with the caption “Weber’s Qualitatvie Analysis Tools.” As best I can tell, Weber refers to sociologist Max Weber and “Where you are is WHAT you are” is a quote from Constantin Stanislavski related to his affective memory system of acting. The notion is that if you want to act the part of a jealous prince you use your imagination to return to a set of circumstances where you felt jealousy. The feelings were not the key, it is your response to the circumstances that is the key.

Environmental psychologists call this “place identity.” A person’s memories and sense of self are attached to particular places. This is one reason why going “home for the holidays” is filled with emotion for so many people.

If we are the sum of our memories, and if our memories are rooted in a particular place then, yes, where we are is who we are. And if we want to better know ourselves, then one way to start would be with understanding our own particular place.

Originally posted April 2, 2010

Agoura Hills Day Hike – Liberty Canyon to Cheseboro Canyon


This year’s late winter rains make this Spring a perfect time to get out into the Santa Monica mountains for some hiking. This particular track starts at Canwood Street just off the 101 Freeway at Liberty Canyon Road. It’s an easy hike over a spur trail out of Liberty Canyon through a shady oak grove and on to Cheseboro Canyon where the trail gets quite wide and flat. If you’re planning on biking then be advised that this first leg gets pretty narrow and there’s a short steepish section with loose scree.

There is enough parking for two or three cars at the trailhead. If this is full you can park in the shade under the freeway or drive a few miles back into Cheseboro Canyon and park at the Modelo Trail parking.

The highlights of this particular hike are the large groves of Valley Oak that provide plenty of shade along the way. This season’s wildflowers are sprinkled all about the hills. At about two miles you come to the 1890s Morrison ranch house with the remains of a cattle stockyard. Continue heading North, there’s no reason to take the road to your right unless you want to explore the coyote track that doubles back to Liberty Canyon.


When you get about a quarter mile past the ranch there are numerous side trails. I prefer to stay in the canyon because the ridge trails are steep and not particularly scenic. I did a 6.7 out-and-back but the trails up Cheseboro Canyon keep going on and on.

Pack a lunch and a blanket and this would be a great place for a picnic/hike.

More details at Gaia GPS.

Stabat Mater – Soundtrack for Good Friday

The Stabat Mater is an 18th century hymn to Mary, the mother of Jesus. The text was put to music by a number of composers but Pergolesi’s treatment has the right mixture of sorrow and lyricality to be absolutely transcendent. The duets for soprano and alto just give you the chills – they scratch an itch somewhere between your grief-bone and your ohgodyesyesyes-bone.

For more about Pergolesi read Micheline Walker’s wonderful post. Visit Wikipedia for text and translation of the Stabat Mater.

Make a Bow and Arrow the (Really) Old Fashioned Way

When society collapses you’ll be glad you have these skills. Primitive Technology shows how to make a lethally effective bow and arrows using just a few stone tools.

It doesn’t end there. The (as far as I can tell) nameless maker behind Primitive Technology serves up a baker’s dozen tutorials on how to do sophisticated things with a few paleolithic tools. Make a poisonous bean non-poisonous, weave baskets with plant fibers, make a mud hut with a central-heated floor.

The blog posts and videos are all clear, straightforward and completely understandable. I only have one question – with all the time this guy spends shirtless in the wild, how does he stay so white?

[Via Kottke]

How to Survive a Mountain Lion Attack: Take Your Wife


Jim Hamm is lucky that his wife, Nell, kept her head while a mountain lion had a deathlock on his. The 70 year old hiker was attacked by the lion while hiking in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Nell tried stabbing the cat in the eye with a ballpoint pen but the pen broke. Then she tried beating the lion with a big stick. Finally she jammed the butt end of the stick up the lion’s nose and that convinced the animal to let go of her husband.

One thing the Hamms did that helped them survive was to talk ahead of time about the possibility of a lion attack. It’s something to think about if you’re considering hiking in the Santa Monica mountains. It wouldn’t hurt to read up on the standard advice–don’t try to run away, appear to be huge, make a lot of noise, fight back aggressively when approached.

But if you really want to know how to survive a cougar attack, consider this: the Holy Spirit is more than one billion times faster than a cougar.

(cf. Man rips leopard’s tongue out)

[Photo via]

Originally published February 1, 2007

The Most Dangerous Roads in the World




In some parts of the world roads are almost an afterthought. People want to get from point A to point B and there’s a piece of land that a coyote walked through once. Why not make it a road?

It was once said of the infamous Mosquito Pass in Colorado (the highest motorway in the US) that when a freight driver met a passenger coach, the freighter would get the right-of-way. This was because of the difficulty it would take to recover a load of freight that went over the side. If a passenger coach tumbled over you simply had to bury your cargo where it fell.

So enjoy these harrowing drives, and if you happen to navigate one of these roads (and live to tell the tale) let me know in the comments:

15 Crazy Roads

22 Roads Most Dangerous Roads in the World Worth Avoiding

 The Best, Worst and Deadliest Roads in America

Hike to Two Trees

Two Trees

Two Trees, Ventura’s favorite spot for vandalism, is a quick but stiff hike with an amazing panoramic view at the top. This hike is on private property and foot traffic is not allowed.

Perched on rolling hills like twin sentinels over the town, these trees have become an icon for the preservation of nature and open space. But the truth is that Two Trees aren’t natural at all. They are blue gum trees (eucalyptus globulus) imported from Australia. Thirteen of these trees were planted at the request of property owner Joseph Sexton in 1898. Sexton, who resided in Goleta, thought of California as a kind of empty canvas that needed to be filled with exotic plants from other countries. He is perhaps best known for introducing Evil Pampas Grass to the state.

One Tree

In 1903 a brush fire destroyed eight of Sexton’s trees. This fire also set off a gas flare from a hidden natural oil deposit that killed Ralph Lloyd’s horse and touched off Ventura’s oil boom.

Five trees remained at the top of the hill until 1940 when a few Halloween pranksters hacked down three of the trees. Marcel “Slim” Sap, owner of the local Motor Mart and vigorous civic booster, replanted the three deceased trees and all was well until 1956 when football hooligans cut down one of the orginal trees and two of the replacements.

Even though Two Trees is on private land, a lot of Venturans seem to feel the landmark is part of the public trust. And others still see it as a blank canvas–to be painted with spray cans and fat black markers. Pen knives. Nails. Glass. And in one case I’d guess a hatchet was taken to the bark to carve “Blake + Lindson.”

A friend confessed to me today that she, too, tried to leave her mark on this spot. She and her best friend in high school struggled up the steep hillside dragging a trash bag containing a douglas fir and thirty pounds of soil, along with two shovels and a flashlight. In a sweaty fit of midnight skulduggery they planted the fir between the two gum trees.

And that’s the story of how Two Trees almost became Three Trees.

Previously published November 20, 2006

Two Trees with Paint