Gary Valle's Photography on the Run
Images taken on trail runs, and other adventures, in the Open Space and Wilderness areas of California, and beyond. All content, including photography, is Copyright © 2006-2014 Gary Valle. All Rights Reserved.
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# Wednesday, March 11, 2015

California poppies along the Two Foxes Trail in Pt. Mugu State Park

Poppies along the Two Foxes Trail in Pt. Mugu State Park. From Sunday's run to Mugu Peak and back from the Wendy Drive trailhead in Newbury Park.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015 1:49:47 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Sunday, March 08, 2015

hummingbird moth feeding on spreading larkspur

I was on the way back from Mugu Peak and about four hours into my run. I'd stopped at an exposure of Miocene age shale along the Upper Sycamore Trail. The gray-brown rubble is home to an intensely blue-purple wildflower called spreading larkspur (Delphinium patens ssp. hepaticoideum).

Click for animation I'd just snapped a series of bracketed exposures of one patch of the flowers when suddenly there was the bumblebee-on-steroids buzzing of a hummingbird in front of me.

At least I thought it was a hummingbird. It sounded like a hummingbird and was about the right size. Its blurred wings were shaped like a hummingbird's. It flew with the precision of a hummingbird, darting from flower to flower, deftly feeding on each blossom's nectar using its oddly shaped beak.

Click for larger image But it wasn't a hummingbird -- it was a hummingbird moth -- a white-lined sphinx (Hyles lineata). I'd read about hummingbird moths, but to have one suddenly appear and start feeding on a larkspur plant I happened to be photographing was extraordinary.

Apparently the problem of feeding on the high-energy nectar in certain types of flowers is sufficiently definitive as to have produced a very similar evolutionary solution in wildly different organisms.

The sphinx moth is described as flying like a hummingbird, but which lineage produced this elegant solution first? It may have been the moth! A trace fossil of a sphinx moth found in Early Eocene Asencio Formation of Uruguay appears to predate the earliest known Oligocene fossils of hummingbird-like birds! In any case it appears that both hovering moths and birds co-evolved with the flowering plants on which they feed and pollinate.

Related post: Hummingbird Stories

Sunday, March 08, 2015 8:25:24 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Saturday, January 31, 2015

La Jolla Valley from Mugu Peak

I had to stop running and take it all in. Soaked by recent rains, La Jolla Valley was renewed and green. To my right a meadowlark warbled its silvery call, and in the distance at first one and then another bird followed in song.

Isolated for weeks by the closure of Pacific Coast Highway and Pt. Mugu State Park, the La Jolla Loop Trail was trackless and in places overgrown. Wet with dew, the mustard choking the trail had soaked my shoes and socks.

Sprinkled among the greens were whites, purples, pinks, reds and yellows of the first stage of a wildflower explosion. A sweet scent drifted on the breeze. Running in the valley was like running in a remote and seldom-visited wilderness.

There had been much to see on the run from Wendy Drive. Before the Park closed in December I had surveyed the aftermath of the December 12 flash floods in Sycamore Canyon, Blue Canyon and Upper Sycamore Canyon. One of the reasons for today's run was to see what had happened in this part of the Park.

Wood Canyon parallels Sycamore Canyon and is probably its largest tributary. Based on the height of the debris piled against the trees, the flash flood that roared down Wood Canyon must have been astounding! Looking down the stream course reminded me of flash floods I'd seen on creeks and streams during the El Nino's of 1997-98 and 2004-2005.

Bowl-shaped La Jolla Valley is an independent drainage, separate from Sycamore and Wood Canyons and their tributaries. It acts like a huge rain collector and funnels all the runoff down deeply cut La Jolla Canyon to the ocean. In La Jolla Valley all the creeks were scoured by the flash flooding and the small footbridge west of the group campground was washed out. The vernal stock pool on the Loop Trail above La Jolla Canyon was once again full.

It's no surprise that the December flash floods washed out the trail in La Jolla Canyon. I can't think of a steeper and more narrow canyon in the park.  The flow must have been phenomenal! The La Jolla Canyon Trail is closed and barricaded at its juncture with the Loop Trail. Here is a trail map of the area from the La Jolla Valley Natural Preserve web site.

In recent years the drought has dramatically reduced the number and variety of wildflowers blooming in the Santa Monica Mountains. Not so this year. Since October 1 Camarillo Airport has recorded 7.0 inches of rain, which is about 92% of normal. Last year over the same period only 0.84 inch had been recorded.

Many species are already blooming and many more will be blooming soon. On today's run I saw shooting stars, encelia, lupine, nightshade, monkeyflower, paintbrush, California poppy, bladder pod, wild hyacinth, phacelia, wishbone bush and more. A small patch of chocolate lilies were in bloom along the eastern segment of the Loop Trail.

La Jolla Valley and Mugu Peak can be busy places, but today it was just me and the meadowlarks.

Update February 3, 2015. According to the Ventura Star six miles of Pacific Coast Highway from Las Posas Road to the Sycamore Cove Day-use Area reopened today providing access to Pt. Mugu State Park from the south. Note that the La Jolla Canyon Trail is still closed and likely to be for some time.

Some related posts: Pt. Mugu State Park Debris Flows and Flash Floods, Wendy Drive - Mugu Peak Challenge, Laguna Peak, La Jolla Valley, and the Channel Islands

Saturday, January 31, 2015 11:49:42 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Wednesday, December 31, 2014

View of Blue Canyon from Boney Mountain

The photo above was taken from the edge of the western escarpment of the Boney Mountain massif in the western Santa Monica Mountains. The western side of the mountain is a huge bowl that funnels runoff into Blue Canyon. Blue Canyon can be seen on the left side of the photograph. It is a tributary of Big Sycamore Canyon. More than 60% of the Blue Canyon drainage was burned in the May 2013 Springs Fire.

In the early morning hours of Friday, December 12, 2014, a very strong cold front, enhanced with moisture from an atmospheric river, produced a line of strong storms that produced rain rates in the Springs Fire burn area as high as 2 inches per hour. This resulted in widespread flash floods and debris flows in the burn area, much of which is in Pt. Mugu State Park. Mud and debris flows originating from the burn area inundated homes below Conejo Mountain and closed Pacific Coast Highway.

This slideshow includes photos of the aftermath of the flash floods and debris flows in Blue Canyon, Sycamore Canyon and Upper Sycamore. These were taken on a trail run on December 14, 2014. Also included are some NWS Los Angeles/Oxnard tweets and some additional meteorological images and info.

Note: According to the Pt. Mugu State Park web site, the Park is closed until "at least January 12, 2015."

Wednesday, December 31, 2014 2:22:30 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Sunday, December 14, 2014

Rock formations along the western-most ridge on the north side of Boney Mountain in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Rock formations along the western-most ridge on the north side of Boney Mountain in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Sunday, December 14, 2014 9:45:17 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Saturday, March 15, 2014

Headlamps of runners in the Coyote Backbone Trail Ultra on the Rogers Road Trail.
Runners on the Backbone Trail at About Mile 2 of the Backbone Ultra

Last year I ran the Coyote Backbone Trail Ultra and enjoyed everything about it -- the trails and scenery, the runners, the volunteers, the approach of the organizers, and just the general vibe of the event. The Backbone Ultra team did a superb job, and as far as I know there no major issues. Nobody got lost or seriously injured. The runners and volunteers were respectful to the environment and everyone I talked to had a great time participating in the event.

Still I wondered. Because of its complex logistics and administrative requirements would there be a 2nd annual Backbone Trail Ultra? Then on August 22, a little after lunchtime, the news was posted -- there would be a "Game 2!" I needn't have worried, RDs Howard Cohen and Mike Epler were on it!

On March 15 at 6:07 a.m., at Will Rogers State Park, under the light of a 99% full moon, myself and 46 other runners in the first start group began our Backbone Trail adventure.

In the weeks leading up to the Backbone Ultra I'd been closely watching the weather. Two weeks prior to the run the area was inundated by the most rain in 48 hours since 2011. There had been some concern that heavy rainfall in the Springs Fire burn area in Pt. Mugu State Park would severely damage trails. That didn't happen.

Ten days out it looked like an upper level low might affect the area. That didn't happen. As the event neared, the forecast trended drier and warmer -- much warmer. Friday as I was getting my drop bag ready, @NWSLosAngeles tweeted "Still expecting high temps to approach records at some locations this weekend" along with this graphic. That did happen!

On Saturday, the first day of the event, Santa Ana winds pushed the temperature at noon at Malibu & Piuma to 86 degrees -- 16 degrees higher than during last year's event! Note that this is the temperature in a ventilated, white-painted box several feet off the ground. The "in the sun" temperature, near the ground, on south-facing slopes was likely in the 90's. Even more telling, the temperature at Circle X was in the 80's from noon until 5:00 p.m. and at midnight was 74 degrees!

It must have been something to be on the Backbone Trail at its highpoint near Sandstone Peak in the middle of the night, with 100 mile visibility, a full moon and warm weather. I am really bummed to have missed that! I didn't get to experience it because I had some kind of heat-related issue and dropped at the Encinal Aid Station at around mile 43.

This is the first time heat has kept me from completing a run or race. So what was the problem? Probably a combination of things. I don't think I was under-trained or over-trained. I hadn't just had the flu or a cold. My taper seemed OK. It wasn't under-hydration, at least not in the first 30 miles. My best guess is that anticipating the heat, I drank too much early on. Not having trained much in the heat this year probably also contributed. It's hard to know for sure. Sometimes it's just not your day!

Although I didn't get to the finish this year, I still very much enjoyed the miles I did run on the Backbone Trail. Here's a slideshow of some images taken along the way.

It is a tribute to the many people that helped support the Backbone Trail Ultra that -- by a substantial margin -- there were more volunteers than runners! Many thanks to:

- RDs Howard Cohen & Mike Epler and their team Fred & Lauren Case, Willie Roland, Tres Smith, Erica Gratton and Dan Dicke.
- California State Parks and the National Park Service.
- Trippet Aid: Rene Canizales and the New Basin Blues.
- Stunt Aid: Alison Chavez/Amy Chavez and the SoCal Coyotes.
- Piuma Aid: Art Byrne and the Trail Runners Club.
- Corral Aid: George Plomarity and Patagonia.
- Kanan Aid: Paul Van Zuyle and his leprechauns.
- Encinal Aid: Bill Kee and wife Paula and the Coyote Cohorts.
- Mishe Mokwa Aid: Manley Klassen and wife Mara and the Coyote Cohorts.
- Sycamore  Aid: Puerto Mauricio and the Coyote Cohorts.
- Finish: Erica Gratton & Janna Williams and the Conejo Valley Trail Runners.
- Breakfast: Luis Escobar, Jerry Gonzales and team.
- Medical: The Josepho Team and Ventura County Search and Rescue.
- HAM radio operators at each of the aid stations and the finish.
- Volunteers at the road crossings at Stunt, Piuma, Malibu Canyon, Latigo Canyon, Encinal Canyon, Mulholland Highway and Yerba Buena times 2.
- Sweeps: Kathy Higgins, Rene Canizales, Erin Chavin & Pedro Martinez, Ken Hughes and Jack Fierstadt.
- All the Course Markers & Safety Patrols.

Some related posts: Backbone Training Run 2014 #1, Backbone Training Run 2014 #2, Run, Lop and Shiver, Backbone Ultra 2013

Saturday, March 15, 2014 1:17:25 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Saturday, January 25, 2014

Backbone Trail Ultra Training Run #2 2014
Rock Formations Along Wet Fork Arroyo Sequit from the Backbone Trail

The Coyote Backbone Trail Ultra was one of the most enjoyable runs I did last year. The low key approach with the emphasis on the experience rather than the clock was the perfect fit for my first 100K+ run. To be able to run the entire Backbone Trail with great support, company and entertainment was fantastic.

Today's run -- the second of four 2014 Backbone Ultra training runs -- was from Kanan Road to the Mishe Mokwa trailhead near Circle X. This approximately 15 mile segment is one of the most scenic on the Backbone Trail with expansive views and superlative sections of single track trail. The 850' climb from Encinal Canyon to Etz Meloy Motorway is so well-graded you (almost) don't realize you're gaining elevation.

I was looking to get in some extra mileage and it turned out running cohort Ann Ongena was as well. Ann was marking the course for the training run, so the plan was to do the Kanan to Mishe Mokwa segment and then continue from Mishe Mokwa another 13 miles or so to the Wendy Drive trailhead in Newbury Park.

Saturday, January 25, 2014 2:51:06 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Sunday, January 05, 2014

Strong winds on Mugu Peak

Offshore wind events have been frequent this rain season. They often follow "inside slider" systems that miss Southern California and take a more inland track over the West. The result is more wind and less rain.

Los Angeles wrapped up calendar year 2013 with the least amount of rainfall on record. When talking about rainfall in Southern California it is more common to refer to the "water year" which runs from July 1 to June 30. Our rain season generally runs from October to April, so the water year includes all the months of a particular rain season.

So when was the driest water year in Los Angeles? It was just a few years ago, in 2006-2007 when only 3.21 inches of rain was recorded. There were also many wind events in that dry rain season, and like this January not a lot of green in the hills. To date we have had less rainfall this water year than in 2006-2007!

For the most part this Fall and Winter I've been able to work around the wind events and do runs that more or less escaped the wind. I thought that was going to be the case again today. The predicted offshore event seemed to be behind schedule and when I left for the Wendy Drive trailhead there wasn't much wind.

There were stirrings of an offshore breeze at the trailhead and I commented to a hiker that I hoped the winds would hold off until later in the day. The plan was to do the out and back run from Wendy Drive to Mugu Peak. Because of the myriad of route choices, this is a fun run to do as a time challenge. What is the fastest route? Try it and see.

Things looked good all the way down Sycamore Canyon and into La Jolla Valley, but the wind started to pick up as I worked toward Mugu Peak.

Once on the peak it was like flipping a switch on a wind tunnel! I was ahead of my PR to the peak by several minutes and I was trying to push the pace. That was not happening and several times I had to pause and put a hand down as I staggered in the middle of a big step.

I caught up to a couple of people just before the final steep push to the summit. The wind flow was not as turbulent and gusty here and one of them started to run. With each stride the dust streaked from his shoes and I stopped to take some photos and this HD video snapshot.  The smoother winds didn't last for long, and neither did the running.

Mugu Peak's next door neighbor to the west, Laguna Peak, has recorded a wind gust of 125 mph. In this photo from Boney Mountain Mugu Peak is on the far left and Laguna Peak has the communications equipment on the summit. Today I'd estimate the strongest gusts on Mugu Peak were in the range of 50-60 mph. The winds were strong enough that the sewn end of a fluttering strap was like a whip and just as capable of raising a welt.

I spent zero time on the summit and was very happy to get back down to La Jolla Valley.

Some related posts: Wendy Drive - Mugu Peak Challenge, La Jolla Valley & Mugu Peak from Wendy Drive

Sunday, January 05, 2014 8:40:39 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Saturday, December 07, 2013

No big deal, so the temp was in the low 40s and it was a little windy... and rainy... and my work gloves were sopping wet... Yes, Victoria did say she hadn't been this cold since leaving Russia, but how bad could it be -- Mike and Jeanne were wearing SHORTS. I quietly whimpered and lopped off another limb of encroaching chamise. If I kept lopping maybe no one would notice how much I was shivering.

Logistically, the Chamberlain Trail segment of the Backbone Trail is one of the more challenging trails in the Santa Monica Mountains to maintain. It's difficult to get all the tools and people to the trail and out again and still have time to do a few hours of work.

Coordinating with the Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council, Howard Cohen, RD of the Coyote Backbone Trail Ultra, rounded up a bunch of trusting folk that will do just about anything if running in the mountains is involved.

Starting at the Wendy Drive trailhead runners hoofed it over Boney Mountain to the top of the Chamberlain Trail -- about a two hour run/hike -- then lopped, and sawed and cleared their way down the trail until told to stop. Then they ran back to their cars.

If the smiles (of relief?) at the end of the day were any indication, good, clean fun was had by all -- even if it was a little damp and chilly.

Here are a few additional photos from the adventure. Click for a larger version of the photo.

Boney Mountain

Front Moving In

Soups On

Chamberlain Trail

Wrapping It Up

Clearing Clouds

After Work


Jeanne & Howard

Clearing Clouds Panorama
Chamberlain Rock Panorama
Saturday, December 07, 2013 12:51:18 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Saturday, October 19, 2013

Crown-sprouting laurel sumac in Pt. Mugu State Park following the Springs Fire.

Trying to understand the behavior of wildlife can be perplexing, particularly when it involves human interaction. Sometimes I just shake my head and wonder what an animal is thinking.

I was in the middle of a 13.5 mile loop in Pt. Mugu State Park, chugging up the Old Boney Trail in the Boney Mountain Wilderness, about 2.5 miles past its junction with the Blue Canyon Trail.

From time to time I've been checking the progress of recovery in Springs Fire burn area. Ecologically the area is very complex and as a result of the varied terrain, habitats, vegetation patterns, soil moisture and burn severity, the rate of recovery has also been varied.

The recovery has been further complicated by the season of the fire -- just before Summer -- and by below average rainfall. Taking into account the unusual circumstances, the sprouting of sycamore, oak, walnut, bay, red shanks, laurel sumac, toyon, mule fat and other plants has been surprisingly robust.

The stretch of the Old Boney Trail I was on now had been severely burned. It was along a steep, rocky canyon that still looked quite barren. Many chaparral plants sprout from surviving roots following a fire, but some plants such as the bigpod Ceanothus in this area must regrow from seeds which sprout following Winter rains.

With the lack of vegetation I was a little surprised to see a California Towhee land on the rocky trail a few feet ahead of me.

The California Towhee lives in the chaparral and I see them frequently on trail runs. It is about as nondescript as a bird can be -- gray-brown and little smaller than a dove. They have a peculiar habit of emerging from the brush, scurrying a few feet along a trail just ahead of a hiker or runner, and then darting back into the brush.

Inexplicably this particular bird carried this behavior to the extreme, scampering along the trail just ahead of me for more than 2 minutes, eventually pausing on some rocks along the trail and watching me pass. The time from the first picture of the bird on the trail to the last was 2 minutes 14 seconds. That's one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, all the way up to one hundred thirty-four-Mississippi.

I often see towhees in pairs and sometimes with rabbits when both are foraging. The rabbit acts as an early warning device for the bird and vice versa. Did the towhee see me as a really big rabbit? All I could do is watch the bird and wonder.

Some related posts: Chasing Towhees and Other Rainy Day Activities, Coyote Tag, Coyote Tag II, Hawk, Bobcat and Rabbit

Saturday, October 19, 2013 8:53:35 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Monday, September 02, 2013

Mugu Peak in Pt. Mugu State Park

It was humid -- Atlanta in the Summer without air conditioning humid. I was sopping wet from head to toe and had just wrung out my high tech shirt like it was a cotton wash rag. Sweat just wasn't evaporating.

The humidity is often low when it's hot in Southern California, but not today. I was at the Danielson Multiuse area on my way back to Wendy Drive after doing Mugu Peak in Pt. Mugu State Park. Because of its moderate elevation gain the 21 mile run (round trip) to Mugu Peak is a good one to do back-to-back with another run when training for a longer event. Today's run was a follow-up to a 20 mile run in the San Gabriel Mountains yesterday.

When I got back home I checked some Remote Automated Weather Stations (RAWS) to see just how humid it was. At the Circle X RAWS at 10:10 am the temperature was 86°F, the dew point 70°F, and the relative humidity 59%. Further inland at the Cheeseboro RAWS at 10:38 am the temperature was 91°F, the "in the sun" temperature was 97°F, and the dew point was 65°F. Those are conditions you might find in Hawaii or the Southeastern U.S. in the summertime.

The NWS uses the Heat Index as a guide for issuing alerts related to heat. In practice runners will find that the Heat Index doesn't do a very good job because it makes assumptions that don't necessarily apply to runners -- for example that you are in the shade and walking. According to the NWS "exposure to full sunshine can increase heat index values by up to 15°F."

I've found the dew point to be an easy to apply indicator of humidity on hot days. If the air temperature on a run is in the neighborhood of 90°F I start to notice the humidity at a dew point of around 55°F. At a dew point of 60°F the humidity is definitely noticeable, and at a dew point of 65°F and above the humidity is increasingly oppressive.

Some related posts: After the Springs Fire: A Run Through Pt. Mugu State Park, Back on the Backbone Trail, Wendy Drive - Mugu Peak Challenge

Monday, September 02, 2013 1:50:39 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Chamberlain Rock on the Chamberlain Trail segment of the Backbone Trail

The large split rock on the Chamberlain Trail segment of the Backbone Trail is a familiar landmark to those that run and hike the trail. It marks the half-way point on the 3 mile, 1600' climb from the Old Boney Trail junction to the Tri Peaks Trail junction.

The rock is volcanic in origin and part of a volcanic sequence known as the Conejo Volcanics. According to the Dibblee geologic map of the area the material of which the rock is composed was probably deposited as a lahar (volcanic debris-flow) about 16.1 to 13.1 m.y. ago.

Here's a link to a couple of videos of lahars on YouTube. After watching the violently churning rocks and debris in the videos it's easy to see why the rocks embedded in this volcanic matrix are broken into angular pieces and full of stress fractures.

There is a memorial plaque on the rock in tribute to Henry Chamberlain. A 1991 Los Angeles Times article characterized Chamberlain as a wealthy Los Angeles industrialist and rancher.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013 8:46:24 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
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