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.
# Monday, July 04, 2011

Humboldt lily in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon

Was looking to get in a short run this morning and decided to check if any Humboldt lilies were blooming in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon.

The last time I'd seen Humboldt lilies bloom here was June 2006, following an unusually wet Spring and a two year period in which Downtown Los Angeles recorded 50+ inches of rain. 

This Spring some months were wet and some months were dry, but December 2010 was the wettest in Los Angeles in 121 years. Add to the mix that the last two water years Los Angeles recorded above average rainfall, and it seemed there was a pretty good chance the Upper Las Virgenes Canyon lilies would be in bloom.

I'd seen lily stalks in other areas in recent weeks, and some blooming Humboldt lilies in the San Gabriel Mountains, but when I checked Upper Las Virgenes Canyon in early May, there had been none. But today there was -- right in the middle of thorny patch of blackberry bushes.

Also blooming in the canyon were California wild rose and the non-native plant moth mullein -- so named because of the similarity of the flower's anthers to the fuzzy appearing antennae of a moth.

Related post: Humboldt Lily

Monday, July 04, 2011 4:53:33 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Sunday, July 03, 2011

Mt. Baldy from Mt. Baden-Powell
Storm-damaged Lodgepole Pine and Mt. Baldy

I was at the turnaround point of an out and back run from Islip Saddle (6593') to Mt. Baden-Powell (9,399'), and had descended a short distance down the south ridge of Baden-Powell to enjoy the ridge top view. It had been a good run so far. It was windier and cooler than expected, but that was a good thing. Temps in the valleys were forecast to top 100 degrees today.

I'd been surprised to find no snow on Baden-Powell. In good snow years, remnants of snow will typically last until at least the 4th of July. There was a patch here and there last year, and sizeable drifts in 2005. This year a little remained on the north face of Mt. Baldy, but that was it.

Even if no snow remained, there was evidence it had been a tough winter. It looked like an unusually severe ice storm had struck the area. Normally resistant to such damage, a stout lodgepole pine had had two of its limbs ripped from its trunk, peeling away a thick layer of bark and cambium. On the other side of the peak, near the Wally Waldron tree, an apparently healthy limber pine had collapsed.

If I had been surprised to find no snow on Baden-Powell, I was even more surprised to find no one on the summit. That wouldn't last. A number of hikers were working their way toward the peak from Islip Saddle and Dawson Saddle, and I was sure others were on the way up from Vincent Gap.

After visiting the Wally Waldron tree, and chatting briefly with a hiker, I turned eastward on the PCT -- next stop Throop Peak!

Some related posts: Islip Saddle - Mt. Baden-Powell Out & Back, Running Hot & Cold

Sunday, July 03, 2011 7:35:32 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Canchalagua (Centaurium venustum)

Relatively uncommon in the areas in which I run, the vivid rose-purple of Canchalagua (Centaurium venustum) is always a treat to see. Not only are its colors eye-catching, it's petals are unusually uniform and precisely formed, which makes the flowers stand out even more.  A closer look reveals bizarrely shaped anthers, which are fluted and spiraled.

The plant is reported to have been used medicinally, but according to Chumash Ethnobotany by Jan Timbrook & Chris Chapman, based on the field notes of John P. Harrington, it wasn't clear whether it was "a remedy of the old-time Indians, or of the whites."

Here's an advertisement from an 1852 volume of the American Whig Review, in which Canchalagua was specified as an ingredient of the patent medicine "Dr Rogers' Compound Syrup of Liverwort, Tar and Canchalagua." (The document was digitized by Google as part of the Making of America Project.)

Wednesday, June 29, 2011 9:55:36 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Monday, June 27, 2011

Jeffrey pine near Grouse Mountain

The tree above is a mature Jeffrey pine we passed descending Grouse Mountain on our trail run Sunday. In a clearing, the crown of this tree has become so large and asymmetric its trunk has become bowed. (Brett is standing by the tree to give an idea of its size.)

Jeffrey pines can vary in stature from the stunted and wind-blown tree photographed by Ansel Adams in Yosemite to this champion big tree in Trinity National Forest that is over 200 ft. tall.

Depending on the rigors of its environment, Jeffrey pines and other conifers may stop gaining height, but often continue to increase in girth, expand their crowns, or grow near or along the ground.

Trees may be shaped through the actions of wind, fire, pollution, rain, snow, ice, flowing water, lightning, hail, sunshine, UV radiation, soil creep, animals, insects, plants, fungi, geology, and more. We were wondering what caused the contorted shape of this tree near Sheep Camp.

Here are some additional examples of trees that have been shaped by their environment:
Monday, June 27, 2011 7:18:33 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Saturday, June 25, 2011

Nearing the summit area of Mt. Pinos

Enjoyed a combination Father's Day & July 4th visit from Brett over the weekend. Friday we did a fun run at Malibu Creek State Park and today we headed up to Mt. Pinos to get in a cooler, higher altitude run.

In addition to Mt. Pinos (8831'), there are three other peaks along the broad ridge traversed by the Vincent Tumamait Trail -- Sawmill Mountain (8818'), Grouse Mountain (8582'), and Mt. Abel/Cerro Noroeste (8280+'). I've run past the indistinct path to Grouse Mountain numerous times on the way to Mt. Abel, always commenting "someday I have to check that out." Finally, today we did.

On the way to Grouse we did the short detour to the top of Sawmill. Since my last visit the Chumash spirit tower on the peak had grown, no doubt from the many fine days and views enjoyed here. This morning the snow-covered mountains of the Southern Sierra could be seen above the haze of the San Joaquin Valley.

The ascent of Grouse was straightforward. Like Sawmill Mountain, it has two nearly equal height summits. We found a small granite crag northeast of the summit and climbed a short steep route on its west face. It had fun technical moves on mostly good holds, but in running shoes you had to pay attention -- especially on the downclimb!

On the way back to Mt. Pinos we stopped by Sheep Camp. The short side trip to this idyllic spot is essentially compulsory. It would be easy to spend the afternoon here, listening to the wind in the pines and the gurgling of the spring; smelling the sun-warmed pine needles; and enjoying the greens, yellows, reds and blues of Summer.

I always feel a little twinge of regret when leaving Sheep Camp, but it was a great day to be on the move, and soon we were back on the trail and enjoying that as well.
Some related posts: Vincent Tumamait Trail, Atmospheric Dynamics

Saturday, June 25, 2011 1:01:19 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Scarlet larkspur (Delphinium cardinale)

Another startling chaparral color is the red of scarlet larkspur (Delphinium cardinale).

From this afternoon's (warm) run up the Chumash Trail to Rocky Peak Road in Rocky Peak Park.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011 11:04:14 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Poison oak mixed in with English ivy, blackberry and other greenery

It's not unusual to be running along a nice, shady section of trail and wonder if it WAS poison oak you glimpsed in that tangle of greenery your leg just brushed against.

Here's a larger view with a couple of the areas of poison oak marked.

From a run on the Forest Trail in Malibu Creek State Park a couple of weeks ago.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011 10:12:51 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Monday, June 20, 2011

Clubhair mariposa (Calochortus clavatus)

The electric yellow of a clubhair mariposa (Calochortus clavatus) is one of the most vibrant colors of the chaparral. These blossoms are along the Phantom Trail in Malibu Creek State Park.

From Sunday's run of the Phantom Loop.

Some related posts: Mariposa Yellow, Mariposa, Plummer's Mariposa Lily

Monday, June 20, 2011 9:01:21 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Sunday, June 19, 2011

View west toward Boney Mountain from the Phantom Trail
View West Toward Boney Mountain from the Phantom Trail

Following last weekend's Holcomb Valley 33 and yesterday's trail work, today I was looking to do something moderate. Without thinking too much about the condition of the Phantom Trail when I was on it a month ago, I decided to do the Phantom loop in Malibu Creek State Park. The eight mile loop is normally a favorite recovery run. The 1000' of elevation gain/loss is kind to tired legs, and the loop has varied terrain and great scenery.

The first five miles (Cistern, Lookout, Cage Creek, Crags Rd., Grassland and Liberty Canyon trails) are in decent shape, but portions of the Phantom Trail are really overgrown. The growth of the noxious invasive plant milk thistle in the Liberty Canyon area is the worst I've seen in years. At one point near Liberty Canyon the spiraling winds of a strong thermal picked up a countless number of the thistle's plumed seeds and carried them to who-knows-where!

The middle section of the Phantom Trail climbs up a shaded side canyon to a prominent ridge line. It isn't as overgrown. There is some very healthy poison oak that is sometimes difficult to avoid, but it's a pretty section of trail with a lot of green and a variety of wildflowers.

Once up on the ridge and for about the last 1.5 miles of the loop, the issue isn't with an noxious invasive, but with the native plant deerweed. It's so thick and brushy it's often difficult to see the trail -- or your footfalls, or ruts or rocks, or anything else on the trail.

While I wouldn't recommend this loop right now as a trail run, it was interesting to see (once again) how our wet rainy season has affected this area.

Some related posts: Invasive Thistle on the Phantom Trail, Milk Thistle Seed Heads

Sunday, June 19, 2011 8:35:23 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Saturday, June 18, 2011

Trail work on the Silver Moccasin Trail in Shortcut Canyon

If you have fond memories of the rustic running in Shortcut Canyon during last year's Mt. Disappointment 50K, hold on to those memories because this year you're going to be running on a bona fide, genuine trail.

Under the direction of trail maintenance guru Gary Hilliard, R.D. of the Mt. Disappointment race, 19 hard-working volunteers closed the final gap in this badly overgrown and damaged section of the Silver Moccasin Trail. Burned in the 2009 Station Fire, floods ravaged the canyon, and then soil conditions and above average rainfall combined to produce teeming plant growth.

Volunteers recovered most of the original trail, removing fallen limbs and trees, clearing overgrowth and debris, and restoring sections damaged by erosion and flooding. Large patches of stinging nettle, and some turricula (Poodle-dog bush) and poison oak were also removed from the trail.

See the  trail work schedule on the Mt. Disappointment 50K web site for the remaining trail work dates.

Here are a few additional photographs:

Road Maintenance

Mt Disappointment 50K Volunteers

Turricula Along Restored Trail

Silver Moccasin Trail

Done for the Day

Tools of the Trade
Related post: Trail Work and Tree Rings
Saturday, June 18, 2011 12:47:25 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Sunday, June 12, 2011

When you're a middle-of-the-pack runner doing a 33 mile race in the mountains of Southern California you have a lot of time to think. I'd already been running 5 1/2 hours, and what I was thinking about at the moment is that I wished I had spent the last week in Big Bear, Mammoth, or anywhere higher than the soaring 890' elevation of the west San Fernando Valley.

Why? The Holcomb Valley 33 Mile course is deceiving. Even though it has only one steep climb, and the total elevation gain/loss is only about 3600', it has the highest average elevation of any 50K in Southern California. Nearly 30 miles of the course are above 7000', and this translates to a big performance hit, especially for the unacclimated, middle-of-the-pack runner.

In addition to wishing I was acclimatized, I was also thinking that we'd lucked out again this year and the weather for the race was pretty comfortable. It was warmer at the start of the race than last year, and even though the midday temps recorded at Fawnskin were almost identical to last year, it felt a little warmer for most of the run. (The descent to, and climb out from, aid station #6 must be tough on a day in the eighties!)

And besides the altitude and weather, I was thinking it was taking a long time to get to aid station #7. It seemed I should have reached the Belleville miner's cabin by now. The cabin's at about mile 26 and only about a mile and a half from the LAST aid station.

Finally, the flat surrounding the cabin came into view. How different that view would have been 140 years ago. At the height of the gold rush Belleville was a boom town of thousands, and as the third or fourth largest town in Southern California had vied for the county seat! Somewhere across the flat was a large western juniper said to have been a hangman's tree.

Fifteen minutes later I was a happy runner; drinking cola, getting a bottle filled with ice and water, and kidding around with the aid station volunteers from Bear Valley Search & Rescue. They were outstanding -- as were all the volunteers!

After thanking everybody for being there, I turned onto the PCT and started to jog up the trail. Even though more than 5 miles remained -- more than half of it uphill -- it felt good to be on the last leg of the race and headed for the finish line!

Congrats to the overall winners Jorge Pacheco (4:20:13) and Vanessa Jones (5:45:16) and to all the runners that participated in the race. This year the median time (half the runners above, half below) was about 7:38:00.

Here's an interactive Google Earth flyover of the course that can be viewed in most browsers. (Google Earth plugin required.) Distances specified are based on my GPS trace from last year, and were calculated in SportTracks. Distances and placemark locations should be considered approximate. Here's an elevation profile from last year's post about the race.

Many thanks to Gary and Pam Kalina, Bear Valley Search & Rescue, the sponsors, and all the volunteers for a great race! For additional info see the Holcomb Valley Trail Runs web site.

Related post: Holcomb Valley 33 Mile Trail Run 2010

Sunday, June 12, 2011 9:55:16 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Saturday, June 11, 2011

Coyote Tag

I was deep in thought, but have no idea what those thoughts might have been. It was at that point in a run when miles, and thoughts, flow freely. The afternoon was warm and calm and the settling sun cast a golden hue on the blond, oak-studded hills. My footfalls ticked out a steady rhythm on the dirt road, and my mind was at ease.

My reverie was suddenly broken by the realization that a coyote was running with me. Not running yards in the distance, or in the brush off to the side, but five or six feet in front of me, as if restrained by an invisible lead!

It must have come from the tall grass along the margin of the road, but from my daydream-warped perspective had just suddenly appeared. I'm surprised I didn't stumble or start. But there was no hint of aggression or malice -- just a mischievous glance backward to see how I was going to react.

I didn't. I've had numerous encounters with coyotes, but this went so far beyond my other experiences, I didn't know how to react.

For more than 50 yards the coyote ran with me, keeping pace in lead along the deserted dirt road.

At some point I started to try and retrieve my camera from the small pack on my waist. The out of synch movement disturbed the delicate balance of this improbable scene, and I could see the change in the animal's demeanor.

Before disappearing into the cover, the coyote looked back a final time, and in so many words seemed to be saying "gotcha, you're it!"

(From a run Tuesday at Ahmanson Ranch, now Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve.)

Related post: Trickster

Saturday, June 11, 2011 2:42:23 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #