Category: Frontier

Hike of the Week – Cheseboro Canyon

One of five coyotes in a pack at Cheseboro Canyon

This week’s hike was four easy miles, out and back, in Cheseboro Canyon. One of the highlights was an encounter with a pack of five young coyotes, as you might be able to see in the grainy enlarged iPhone snap above. These coyotes are extremely well fed this year, judging from the quantity of furry scat along the trails.

I’ve blogged about Cheseboro Canyon before. The main trails are broad and flat. Sometimes people ask me where to hike with young children. Cheeseboro Canyon is a great place to hike with kids, provided you keep an eye open for fast moving moutain bikers.

This year there is considerable growth in vegetation in the area, meaning long pants beat hiking shorts if you want to protect yourself from ticks and foxtails on the side trails. The trails are well marked but if you don’t have a map in hand it’s easy to take a loop you weren’t counting on – as Bruce will tell you on Homer’s Travels.

Ventura County Trails has a good overview of hiking and mountain biking trails in Cheseboro Canyon. The guides are oriented to cyclists but it’s a good place to start if you want to explore a pocket wilderness that’s freeway-close.

iPhone Logs Your Every Move – Only Not that Well

This week’s big iPhone news was that the device tracks your every move and stores it on your PC when you synch with iTunes.

The discovery of this location tracking freaked out a bunch of people including Al Franken who is demanding an explanation from Apple. Franken is concerned that unauthorized snoops could easily discover a person’s home address, location of a child’s school, doctors office and other confidential information.

This revelation did not trouble me too much. Like David Pogue, I have nothing to hide. But I figured I might as well download the free iPhone tracker application and see what my PC might reveal if I was ever indicted for terrorism.

I was a little surprised at what I discovered. Using the iPhone Tracker application I can see that my computer does indeed keep a record of trips I’ve made to Stockton, Santa Barbara, Calabasas, Orange and Westwood. But what it does not do is reveal any precise locations. There is no way to pinpoint my home, my work, my child’s school or my doctor.

There were a couple of other surprises as well. The secret hidden iPhone log does not appear to have any record of a trip to San Luis Obispo that we took a few months ago. But it does seem to indicate that I spent some time at the Mendota Airport, though I don’t recall ever having done so and have no clear idea where Mendota is. The log file also has me in a suburb of Las Vegas this past July on a date when I was in a meeting in Camarillo. With my iPhone.

What this tracking data seems to represent is celluar and WiFi nodes that my iPhone has contacted. If you pass through an area your iPhone will log a wide grid of available cell nodes. Somebody looking at my log could tell that I’ve been in the Sacramento area but they can’t tell exactly where. Nodes are activated in Lodi (where I went) but also in Tracy, Brentwood and Manteca (where I didn’t go.) For some reason airports show up in the log with amazing frequency – even if I’ve only come within thirty miles of them.

Yes my iPhone is tracking me. But not in a way that anyone would find useful, except for someone who is looking to improve network connectivity perhaps. I’ve got much more to fear from my Garmin…or Facebook.

Free National Park Guides for Your iPhone/Android (April 24 Deadline)

In honor of National Park Week, Chimani is offering free downloads of their popular National Park smartphone guides. They have a selection of apps for both iPhone and Android. The Android apps, usually $4.99 are discounted to 99¢ but they also have free “Lite” versions.

Kerry Gallivan, founder of Chimani, says that his company’s guides are designed to be essential equipment for travelers:

I like to think of these apps within the tradition of the telescope or astrolable of our adventuring ancestors instruments to help us navigate the natural world (terrain and trails) and provide insight into its workings (the weather, moon phases, tides). All of this information is presented on an intuitive user interface that is visually well designed, includes professionally designed maps, up-to-date and well-researched content, high quality photographs and rock-solid programming.

The apps include detailed maps, driving tours, park schedules and info to assist photographers. They’re definitely worth a look.

Chimani Parks smartphone apps via TUAW

What’s in Your (Survival) Backpack?

Fire starting tool



Jaymi Heimbuch puts together an industrial-strength survival pack, the sort you might need to survive a Haiti-style disaster. There are plenty of good resource links here, plus lots of chatter in the comments. Heimbuch’s main complaint? This first aid, survival kit tips the scales at 30 lbs. (Hint, go with LED flashlights and lose the D cell batteries.)

If you want to travel lighter, or in be prepared in case you get separated from your backpack, search and rescue specialist Michael Neiger lists the essential survival tools you should carry in your pocket.

Photo by Ken Bruker

Uncharted Territory Now Charted by Fascinating Maps

square earth theory

This map proves the Earth is square

There’s a peculiar comfort in a map – it extends the boundaries of our consciousness to the furthest regions, giving a clear picture of relationships that might otherwise be lost in the murky fog of our lizard brains. Maps bring to light new possibilites. Maybe I can get there from here… and reveals existing boundaries …and maybe I can’t.

Strange Maps is a fascinating site with over 400 unusual maps and counting. Some of these maps are quite useful, such as the map of privately owned public spaces in San Francisco. This particular map reveals secluded parks, plazas and gardens that the public is welcome to enjoy…and might not otherwise discover. Other maps take us into the imagination such as this sketch of Jonathan Swift’s Brobdingnag, into the world of serendipity with startling maps found in nature and info-graphics of all sorts.

With ascents of Everest as common as an escalator ride to the hosiery department at Macy’s, it may be true that there are no new frontiers. But Strange Maps shows us a few territories that are still worth exploring.

Via Boing Boing

Wildlife Photo Winner: Three Wolves and a Moon

Jose Luis Rodriguez may have faked this year’s most amazing wildlife photo but he could be responsible for the year’s most awesome meme: three wolves jumping over a fence under a full moon. The photoshopped version of Rodreguez’ photo comes from, a site that recycles NSFW, crude, lewd and silly images, by way of the more down-to-earth Rob Haggart who dares to ask the question, why did this cheesy photo win in the first place? Perhaps from here on out, wildlife photo awards should go to photogs who truly appreciate wildlife – such as the chimps who just shot a feature film.

Still, what could be better than a t-shirt featuring three wolves jumping over a fence under a full moon – except for a bacon facial?

How to Keep a Firm Footing in Icy Weather


There’s nothing worse than going for a morning stroll only to find yourself with the “rubber side up” as they say. Black ice, slippery sidewalks and refrozen snow can be a game-changer for people (like myself) in a certain demographic. I don’t make it to the snow very often, and when I do I’m usually at a conference grounds…which means plenty of opportunity to slip up and fall hard.

Here are some great ways to keep your footing in slippery situations:

Yaktrax (pictured above): These things are great on refrozen snow and slippery pavement. I’ve worn the same pair for four seasons now. Two caveats: take them off indoors, they are very slippery on tile floors. They tend to slip off your feet when walking through drifted snow, but a shoelace “leash” is a low-cost remedy.

Yaktrax Pro

Yaktrax Pro: Mostly the same as regular Yaktrax but with a heavy duty instep strap to keep them on your feet.


Stabilicers: These nonslip soles attach to your boots (see thumbnail above) and come recommended to me by a meter-reader who wore these through a number of seasons and praised them for their traction and durability. Rugged construction with replaceable spikes.

Kathoola MICROspikes

Kathoola MICROspikes: One step below full crampons, Katahoola MICROspikes are the hands-down choice of hikers and trail-runners. The chunky spikes hold well on the trail, but might pose a hazard on smooth concrete. They will also take a bite out of wood steps and decks.

Mysterious Sphinx of Malibu Found?

boney bluff aka sphinx of mu

Is this the Sphinx of a lost civilization?

The ruins of a lost civilization are overlooked by hikers on a daily basis in the mountains above Malibu…at least that is what Robert Stanley claims.

My mission last week was to explore part of the Santa Monica Mountains and see what, if anything, I could find that supports Stanley’s notion that a lost civilization of Lemurians once inhabited this area…something ripped from the pages of a Thomas Pynchon novel.

One of the difficulties in conducting this expedition lay in the sketchiness of the details. Stanley hasn’t posted much on the subject. Under the title Megalithic Monuments of Mu, Stanley noted that he found ancient ruins in the hills above Malibu. He also notes that he found “megalithic monuments” in the area. There are a half dozen pictures posted in his article but he doesn’t explain the pictures or how they relate to the monuments he found. A caption states “the Sphinx face overlooks the Mu.”
The implication is that an early civilization carved a monumental face in the sandstone somewhere in the Santa Monica mountains. But Stanley never actually says this. The authors of Weird California hedge on the claim by saying “There was also a huge rock outcropping that resembled the outline of a human face staring out to the Pacific, which Stanley dubbed the Sphinx.

The Plan

Enter the park from the north and view the area from Conejo Peak. This should be the area where the ruins are located, according to a newsgroup posting that located them about one mile north of Cracked Roch (Split Rock).

The Adventure

It turns out that the trail to the top of Conejo Peak is pretty steep – over 1,000 feet climb in under two miles. A bit much for this early in the season. One very cool feature of the hike is the mountain lion capture area along the connector trail between Danielson and Staber roads. A series of three traps, appearing to be in disrepair, along with the bones from the trap bait (deer carcasses) are placed along the trail. A creepy sight, it made me feel like I had stumbled into the Lost Elephant Graveyard from the Lion King.

lion trap in santa monica mountains

The Result

From Conejo Peak you can clearly see Robert Stanley’s Sphinx (pictured above) well to the south. I thought it would be more difficult to find, seeing that Stanley quotes an archeologist who had explored the area on several occasions but was never able to find this feature.

(It should be noted that the Sphinx, and presumably the remainder of the ruins, is west of Split Rock, not north as a newsgroup poster claimed.)

It don’t know the area well enough to identify the outcropping, but I believe it is called Boney Bluff, due west of Sandstone Peak. It looks like an interesting area to explore and seems to be a favorite with climbers. For what it’s worth, I don’t believe there is an actual face carved into this mountain. More likely it is a mimetolith…a rock that has a shape resembling something else.

Further exploration is necessary!

Searching for the Lost City of Mu

View Larger Map

Is it possible that there is a lost civilization in the mountains above Malibu? Robert Stanley seems to think so. In 1985 he discovered evidence that convinced him that a pre-Chumash civilization once inhabited the region. The book Weird California fleshes out some of Stanley’s observations, noting that he discovered walls, ramparts and foundations that didn’t match the work of any known civilization. In fact, the artifacts of Mu are so unusual that modern archeologists disregard them.

Where are the ruins of Mu that Stanley found? Shrouded in mystery. According to Weird California, Stanley is reluctant to disclose the location, fearing that treasure seekers will ruin the ruins. He did, however leave a few clues:

The site of Mu is overlooked by a megalith that looks like a Sphinx. It is not far from Malibu and…

robert stanley's sphinx

….he left a map:

Unlike most subjects, the more I try and research the Lost City of Mu, the less I find. There is one tantalizing tidbit from the archives of a New Age newsgroup – the 40,000 year old city of the Lemurians can be found near the Pacific Coast Highway, one mile north of the “Cracked Roch picnic area.” (This would be Split Rock on the Mishe Mokwa trail.)

This is hardly a “remote section” as WikiAnswers puts it.

If there’s anything up there, it should be fairly easy to find…

Where to Camp in Ventura County

car camping

Whether you’re coming from out of town or just need a quick overnight outdoors break, there are more places to camp around Ventura than you might imagine.

The Real Cheap Sports blog has a comprehensive list of campsites in Ventura county. They list phone numbers, locations, amenities and fees. By the way, Real Cheap Sports has an awesome assortment of Frisbees, including the only night time disc I’ve ever seen. You can check out Real Cheap Sports sales here.

My favorite camp spots from their list are:

McGrath State Beach (the sand dunes are great)
2211 Harbor Blvd. Oxnard, CA
5 miles south of Ventura, off Hwy 101 via Harbor Blvd.
174 campsites. RVs up to 45 feet. No hookups. Set between river banks and sand dunes. $25 per night. Open year round. 805-654-4744. Reservations 800-444-7275.

Steckel Park (All-new facilities. Tent camping, I believe, is first-come, first served)
8080 Mistletoe Road, Santa Paula, CA
First come, first served. Open year round.
RV, tent, group sites. BBQ, firepits, electrical hookups, restrooms, showers, water. Reservations two weeks out. 805-654-3951

Some camp spots not on their list:

Camp Comfort
Once a haven for hobos, this county park has been redone. Close to ghostly Char-man bridge.
11969 North Creek Road, Ojai. Hwy 33, S.E. on Hermosa Road. 654-3951
Host, Restrooms/Water
Picnic Family, Group, BBQ/Firepits
Activities Playground, Horseshoe Pits
Camping Firegrate, Showers, Laundry

Kenny Grove Park
Funky and near Fillmore. Half the park has long-term camping.
823 Oak Ave.
Fillmore CA 93015
Phone: 805.524.0750
GPS: 34.4069, -118.9467
RV sites
Amenities: Bathhouse, tent sites.

While technically not in Ventura County, Point Mugu State Park has some great camping…and they have WiFi!

And if you have an RV (including a VW bus) you can always camp at WalMart in Oxnard. We tried that once for fun with the kids. Really noisy because of the parking lot sweepers. Here is a list of WalMarts that don’t allow camping.

If you have any other favorite spots to pitch your tent, let us know in comments.

Minivans – the Number One Choice of Bears Everywhere

Minivan opened like a soda can

Minivan opened like a soda can

The number one choice of discriminating bruins? According to the LA Times black bears in Yosemite have come to think of minivans as their own personal “meals on wheels.” Minivans roll into the park wafting the aroma of spilled Cheerios and milk, and the bears seem to have learned that the classic Mom-missile is your best bet to find a secret stash of Frosted Mini Wheats.

Cheseboro Canyon Hike

Cheeseboro Canyon Trail

Cheseboro Canyon is part of the Santa Monica Mountains Recreational area, and part of a larger network of clearly marked trails in an open space surrounded by suburban sprawl. You can find a good map of Cheeseboro Canyon here. The area is popular with mountain bikers and equestrians. It is likely to be a speedway on a sunny weekend.

I hiked to Shepherd’s Flat late Sunday evening, sharing the trail with a handful of cyclists and trail runners. The first part of the hike, Cheseboro Canyon Trail, follows the valley floor northwards. The trail is smooth and quite wide with stands of shady oaks.

At about 3.5 miles you come to Sulphur Springs. Here the trail narrows and the topography gets much more interesting. The soil takes on a reddish iron-rich hue and the hills are covered with boulders. You leave the live oak habitat for scrub oak, much of it scarred from the Topanga fire of 2005.

From Shepherd’s FlatCheeseboro Ridge I headed back by way of Cheseboro Ridge. There are nice views of the Santa Monica mountains to the South West and the Las Virgenes Open Space immediately to the East. But at this point the trail itself is a hot, dusty trudge along a service road for the high tension power lines. There are at least three stiff climbs, not something I wanted to see after pounding out six miles.

Next time I might hike in on Cheseboro Ridge and hike out on the canyon trail.

There are a good number of geochaches stashed in this region. I popped coordinates for three geocaches into my GPS, but without a decent map of the area–in my pre-trip planning I did a Google search for variety of misspellings: “hike Cheesebro canyon” and “hiking trails Cheseboro canyon.” I found hits. But no maps.

Suffice it to say that the geocaches I was looking for were not in Cheseboro canyon, but in the next canyon over in the Las Virgenes area. So I came up empty handed.

Because I misunderestimated how long the 10 plus mile “round trip would”  take me, I wound up getting back to the trailhead well after dusk.  Aside from my general unease about Dementors stalking me in the darkness there was a heart-bursting moment when I stopped under a live oak to glance at my GPS.  A murder of crows exploded from the branches above me.