Tag: Trails

Trail Notes: Ballinger Canyon and Deer Park Jeep Trails

Shrubby Brushweed in Bloom Along Trail 24

Despite drought conditions this year, the Shrubby Brushweed plants are covered with yellow flowers in Ballinger Canyon. Other flowers blooming in the canyon are Hareweed, Phacelia, and Bush Lupine. It’s a different story in Quatal Canyon to the south where hardly any wildflowers are blooming at all.

On this trip to the Ballinger OHV park I was hoping to enter Deer Park Canyon from Highway 33, using Trail 23W31 marked as a through 4WD route on the Ballinger Canyon route map. It appears that Trail 23W31 is on private property. Trails 40 and 46 are both gated at approximately the place where the vertical black line intersects them on the map below.

Trail 23W31 Deer Park Canyon

I wound up scouting a number of trails, outline in lime green on the map below. (Click on the picture for a larger view.)

Ballinger Routes 24, 36, 40, 46

Trail 24 is an easy trail through high desert territory. The road is sandy, rocky and heavily “moguled,” making for a bumpy ride in places. The easternmost part of the trail includes a slight climb among scrub oak and pinyon pines. The trail is narrower here and more interesting. In wet weather it can be challenging, with deep ruts that could leave you high centered if you slipped off the trail.

Trail 40 includes some sections of moderate difficulty, with a steep climb up the ridge overlooking Deer Park Canyon. I’m assuming the moderate rating comes from a couple of pretty steep scrambles. I imagine some of the hillclimbs (and descents) could get pretty hairy following a big rain. In dry conditions these hills aren’t anything a little 4WD Low can’t handle. The trail is quite narrow in places, giving excellent views of the canyons on both sides.

Trail 40 travels a narrow ridge with no shoulder on either side.

Trail 46 follows a gentle grade to the floor of Deer Park Canyon. More moguls here and a few narrow places.

Trail 36 follows a wash along the floor of Deer Park Canyon. It’s a fun ride between steep walls in places. There was quite a bit of Bush Lupine in flower along this trail.

Bush Lupine in Bloom in Deer Park Canyon

As I said above, Trail 40 and 46 are gated, meaning that you can’t use them to exit to Highway 33 as maps indicate. But they are good for some nice out-and-back exploring. There were a handful of bikers and ATV riders in the park on this beautiful Saturday in Spring, but most of the time I felt I had the trails to myself.

Originally posted April 9, 2007.

Jeep Trail to Big Caliente

Santa Ynez Crossing

The drive to Big Caliente isn’t challenging enough to be a good Jeep trail, and it isn’t smooth enough to be pleasant. But when you finally make it to the floor of Blue Canyon, you feel like the time was worth it. The canyon is a large meadow area with sycamore and oak with the Santa Ynez river meandering down the middle.

The road is passable by almost any vehicle (I saw more than one Camry making the trip). Several concrete water crossings might pose some difficulty after a big rain, but it isn’t until you get to the last water crossing on 5N16 that you really need some clearance. Here the water was over a foot high, well over the sills of some passenger cars.

The attraction of this drive is the hot springs at the end of 5N16. There you’ll find a cement tub about the size of a home spa, some cinder block changing rooms that have seen better days and a pit toilet. The water in the springs is a good 170 degrees and the setting is nice, although perhaps too much traffic on a weekend. Google maps show a 4WD road near 5N16, but I didn’t see it on this trip. Most of the roads, such as the continuation of Murieta Canyon Road were gated. The Los Padres rangers keep these closed so that they don’t get churned to oblivion during the rainy season.

Blue Canyon has a number of hiking trails and campsites that would be worth further exloration.
Big Caliente hot spring

Here’s a Google Pedometer map of the route.

Originally published February 24, 2007

Trail Notes: Quatal Canyon Jeep Trails

Quatal Canyon Road is Smooth and Wide

Entering from Highway 33, just south of Ventucopa, Quatal Canyon Road is the superhighway of Jeep trails. After several hours of bashing my brains out on the moguls in Ballinger Canyon it was actually kind of nice to be on a smooth dirt road for a change. (I really have to install some anti-sway quick disconnects.)

The first five miles or so is private ranch land on both sides of the road. After this the road narrows and becomes rugged washboard. Fortunately Trail 106, Quatal Canyon Corridor, comes along pretty soon and you can drive in the sandy wash, keeping your fillings intact.

Looking toward Cowhead Portrero (?)

This picture is taken along OHV Trail 106 after it leaves the Quatal wash, looking toward Cowhead Portrero. Note the red color of the soil here, washed down from the hills visible in the upper left part of the picture. These mountains are deep, vivid red. At this point the trail starts to gain elevation. Pinyon pine become more common. By the time the trail reconnects with Quatal Canyon Road, you’ve reached a Jeffrey pine habitat.

At the end of Quatal Canyon Road where it connects with Cerro Noroeste Road there is a small camp ground with picnic tables and fire pit. I didn’t notice what restroom facilities were available, if any.

The Pio Bureau photoblog has some nice shots of some labrynthine areas of Quatal Canyon, a great place of canyoneering. Geological surveys of the area have turned up mammalian fossils, making it a likely place for some amateur paleontology.

Originally published April 11, 2007.

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.

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

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

Hike of the Week – Peter Strauss Ranch

Peter Strauss Ranch

Ranch House at Peter Strauss Ranch

Peter Strauss Ranch is a great place to explore, picnic and introduce kids to hiking. The 0.6 mile Peter Strauss Trail is one of the best places in the Santa Monica Mountains to hike with children who are at that awkward age – too big to lug in a backpack carrier but not quite ready for a march to Bataan. The trail is shady, well maintained and an easy hike. There is ample evidence of wildlife on the property but a peacock is the fiercest animal you’re likely to encounter. The grounds are peaceful but on a nice day you’ll have to put up with the constant thrum of motorcycles on Mulholland.

For more ambitious hikers and explorers there is a connector to Malibu Lake and from there you can head over to Paramount Ranch or to the Malibu Creek area.

One of the nice things about using Strauss ranch as your trailhead is that the parking lot is a mere stumble from The Old Place, a colorful and historic watering hole. Boutique prices but the food is good and the atmosphere is intriguing.

Directions:

30000 Mulholland Highway, Agoura Hills, CA, 91301

Take the Ventura Freeway (U.S. 101) to Kanan Road exit. South on Kanan Road 2.8 miles. Turn left on Troutdale Drive to Mulholland Highway. Left on Mulholland Highway 400 feet then right into the parking lot.

More photos of the area at Geek Hiker.

Peter Strauss Trail

Peter Strauss Trail is shady, well-kept

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!

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.