Western road trip 4: Idaho, Wyoming

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Kayak-view of Squaretop Mountain from lower Green River Lake in Wyoming’s Wind River Range.

Holy crap. It’s been more than six months since my summer road trip and I’m finally getting around to my post on the last leg — from Ketchum, Ida. to the Wind Rivers and Jackson, Wyo. Right now this area is under a ton of snow, but we experienced everything from record-breaking heat to thunderstorms, double rainbows and bluebird skies, along with superb kayaking, great food and not-so-great fishing.

TetonsFor those not keeping track, I took a month-long West Coast/interior mountains road trip in late June and early July and chronicled the California and Oregon coasts in Road trip part 1 and part 2, and Portland and the Columbia River Gorge area in part 3.

 

I would’ve posted something sooner, but a certain equine has been monopolizing my time lately. No complaints tho. Flash, Gelding Azteca of SoCal (not exactly Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron, but close) has been a barrel of fun

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That’s him at right…in California, not Idaho or Wyoming…but somehow I think he’d feel right at home on a Sawtooth Mountains ranch.

Speaking of the Sawtooths, these central Idaho mountains reminded us so much of our beloved home range of the Sierra Nevada that we trekked about 45 minutes there every day during our week-long stay in Ketchum.

View of Sawtooth Valley between Ketchum and Stanley.
View of Sawtooth Valley between Ketchum and Stanley.

Yeah, we got real familiar with Highway 75, which stretches about 60 miles between Ketchum and Stanley — a smidge of a town that has got to be in the most spectacular setting in the country (be sure to check out Stanley Baking Company’s amazing oatmeal pancakes). With mountains on both sides and the Salmon River winding along its length, the scenic byway is stunning pretty much the whole time and simply jaw-dropping as you go over Galena Summit, at 8,701 feet. And there’s plenty of recreation along the way, including numerous trailheads and several world-class drive-to lakes. That’s Pettit Lake shown below, with what we think is/was Bruce Willis’ house along the shoreline.

Steve kayak:Pettit L

Well-kept ranches abound in the Wood River Valley, and with Sun Valley Resort just up the road, Ketchum is kind of a rustic Aspen, but with more cowboy hats than fur coats. It makes the perfect base for outdoor adventures, with the Big Wood River, Warm Springs Creek and Trail Creek all within a fly cast. The Sawtooth Valley is the headwaters of the renowned Salmon River.

Palomino on ranch near Stanley.
Palomino on ranch near Stanley.

One day, we rented bikes at Sturtevant’s in Ketchum and rode them along the Wood River Trail to Sun Valley, stopping to fish along the way before checking out the iconic Sun Valley Lodge. The trail is a first-class example of how the county recreation district has its act together. The 32 miles of year-round paved trail has numerous river access points and connects Sun Valley and Ketchum to Hailey and Bellevue further south. And then there’s the 19-mile Harriman Trail further north near Galena Lodge. I don’t know of many areas that have their outdoor recreation shit together to this extent. It’s impressive.

Ketchum
Downtown Ketchum.

At any rate, after several weeks of stifling heat in Oregon — and even in Ketchum for a few days — a couple storms rolled through and left us with (mostly) bluebird skies and puffy clouds. And — this being early summer not long after the spring snow runoff — there were swarms of mosquitoes. On our first hike in the Sawtooths, an easy 4-mile-roundtrip to Fourth of July Lake, I made the major tactical error of not bringing a long-sleeved shirt (too hot!) and leaving my bug juice in the car. I paid the price with itchy skeeter-bitten arms that were swollen like Popeye’s for the rest of the trip.

Sawtooth Lake flowers

Sawtooths daisiesBut the upside to all that moisture was green, green meadows and tons of wildflowers, a welcome sight to us drought-weary Southern Californians.

And speaking of Fourth of July, is there any better place to spend it than a small town in the West? We’d spent the last few Independence Days enjoying the holiday in Bend, Ore., a tough act to top. I’d have to say, Hailey (Ketchum’s more down-to-earth down-valley neighbor) ranks right up there. After the Old West parade down its main street during the day, we returned that night for the rodeo — Idaho’s version of Friday Night Lights.

Hailey rodeo crowd

Hailey rodeo

Over the next few days, we kayaked, hiked and fished throughout the Stanley Basin and Sawtooths (tho scenic, we done got skunked on that front).

Steve fish:Stanley

The week’s highlight hike was the 8.5-mile roundtrip to Sawtooth Lake, which sits at an elevation of 8,430 feet just southwest of Stanley. Right from the start at the Iron Creek Trailhead, we ran into alternating rain and thunder and had to calm our frightened pit bull, Blue, who hid under a rock along the trail:

Blue/Sawtooth Lake

But luckily we persevered, and despite the weather (which cleared after we got to the lake) and 1,700 feet of elevation gain, it was well worth it. Postcard-perfect Sawtooth Lake is one of the most popular and most photographed in the Sawtooths, and for good reason:

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Sawtooth Lake

When planning this trip, we were unsure how accessible the lakes in the Sawtooths would be, but it was well worth lugging the kayaks all the way from SoCal. During our week there we also paddled at beautiful Alturas Lake and at Redfish Lake, with its funky old-time resort. (Hint: bring your own lunch).

The kayaks take a rest on the shore of Alturas Lake.
The kayaks take a rest on the shore of Alturas Lake.

After a week, it was time to head to Wyoming, and we had to tear ourselves away from Ketchum. If we didn’t have reservations in Pinedale, we’d probably still be there. Our spirits lifted on the drive to Wyoming, though. Miles and miles of hayfields eventually led to the geological wonderland of Craters of the Moon National Monument, a wild landscape of desert scrub, lava fields and cinder cones.

View of the Great Rift, a 52-mile-long series of fissures that last erupted 2,000 years ago.
View of the Great Rift, a 52-mile-long series of fissures that last erupted 2,000 years ago.

Along the way, we passed through funky towns like Arco, Idaho, the “first town to be lit by atomic power” (the mysterious-looking Idaho National Laboratory is nearby). And the photo gods blessed us with alternating bands of storms and amazing clouds:

Dark sky:Idaho rd

After countless photo stops, we finally made it to Wyoming. Following a quick stop in Jackson (the Disneyland of the Rockies, IMO), our base for a few days would be Pinedale, a no-frills western town just about the polar opposite of Ketchum. We totally lucked out as it was the weekend of the Green River Rendezvous, a celebration of all things Mountain Man (no sign of Leo, The Revenant or any man-eating grizzly, tho this guy showed up at a state fish & game wildlife display):

Grizz display:Pinedale

And of course, there was a parade:

Pinedale parade

We’d been wanting to visit the nearby Wind River Range for a long time and figured Pinedale would be a good base. We got a basic taste of the Winds, but the best way to experience these wild mountains is probably by backpack or horse pack trip, so we’re filing that away for the future. We got a history of the area after a visit to the Museum of the Mountain Man (of course), and did a day trip to Green River Lakes for more kayaking and fishing. The lakes are the headwaters of the Green River, the main tributary to the Colorado River.

Green River
Green River, en route to Green River Lakes near Pinedale, Wyo.

Trout were rising on the river as a storm rolled in, but nobody rose to our bait.

Green River fishing

We were treated, however, to an amazing double rainbow:

Wyoming rainbow

We skedaddled from that fishing spot after: A. the rain started; B. we heard gunshots; and C. a driver passing by told us he’d just spotted grizzly cubs not far from our turnout.

After a few days in Pinedale, we ended the trip grandly, at Grand Teton National Park. We lucked out yet again, meeting up with Canuckian friends on their own road trip from Ottawa to Vancouver. We spent far too little time in this amazing park of spectacular scenery and even more kayakable lakes.

Steve kayak:Jackson L
A peaceful paddle on photogenic Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park.

We camped a night at Jackson Lake’s Colter Bay, one of the few times we made last-minute camping reservations. And the only time we got rained on while camping during the entire trip. After a fun presentation about grizzly bears at Jackson Lodge, we squeaked in dinner before the rain started, grilling fabulous fresh kabobs from Jackson Whole Grocer.

On our way out of the park the next day, we stopped at photogenic Jenny Lake and the adjacent lodge:

Jenny Lake

And so, after a month on the road, it was time to head back to California. Logan, Utah would be our next stop, then St. George and on to SoCal. I’d love to say we drove off into the sunset shown below, but this was one of many in the Sawtooths, a fitting end of another perfect road trip day:

Sawtooths sunset

Tunes, trails and blooms at Joshua Tree

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Namesake trees in Joshua Tree National Park, on the Barker Dam Trail

A little late with this post, so maybe file away the info for next spring, because before long it’ll be baking in Joshua Tree National Park — a wonderland of boulders, namesake J-trees and wildlife in the transition zone of the Mojave and Colorado deserts about 140 miles east of Los Angeles and 50 miles beyond Palm Springs. And keep in mind, if you do decide to go this summer and want to camp, some campgrounds at the park are closed until October.

Pappy sign

A show at Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown was all the excuse we needed to visit the desert in mid-April — lucky for us also the start of wildflower season. Jenny Lewis put on a fabulous show under the stars at Pappy’s — for SoCal music fans, this is a must-visit destination — and we combined that with some R&R at Rimrock Ranch and hiking and photography at J-Tree.

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The entrance to Rimrock Ranch.

If you’re a music fan, a bit of a desert rat AND love funky, eclectic places to hang your hat, Rimrock Ranch is the place for you. We rented one of the dog-friendly cabins and had the place pretty much to ourselves for a couple days. The owner, Jim, is an accomplished bass player and occasionally holds impromptu concerts with some pretty big names at the ranch. He’s also a big-time repurposer of found objects, and nothing seems to go to waste:

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A wall of old bottles.
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A barbed wire heart at the entrance.
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The swimming pool!

Built in 1947, Rimrock Ranch once housed actors filming westerns at nearby Pioneertown. Jim Austin, who co-owned a surfwear company, eventually bought the rundown 10-acre property and has been renovating it ever since. There are several small cabins, and he also rents out Hatch House, an eco-friendly modern structure he built with recycled materials.

License plate wall in Hatch House.
License plate wall in Hatch House.
Ocotillo outside Hatch House.
Ocotillo outside Hatch House.

Oh, and for those on a budget, there’s a funky Airstream trailer (the purple-fur-lined interior is a must-see) that rents for about $62 a night:

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Larger groups can rent The Lodge for about $230 a night:

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But back to the real reason we were there (other than music): the desert, hiking and wildflowers. It’s only about a 15-minute drive to Joshua Tree from Rimrock and we entered at the park’s West Entrance, off Highway 62.

With not a lot of time, and a dog in tow (they’re not allowed on park trails and have to stay within 100 feet of picnic areas, roads and campgrounds), we kept the hiking to a minimum for this trip, but still managed to stretch our legs and take in some of the desert beauty that J-Tree is known for:

The view from Keys View.
The, um, view from Keys View.

Climbers love Joshua Tree, and for good reason. Ever wonder why the boulders there are so fractured and blocky? Chalk that one up to volcanic activity. A form of magma called monzo-granite (yup) rose from deep within the Earth, and as it cooled, horizontal and vertical cracks formed. Voila — a climber’s paradise:

Joshua Tree National Park
See the climber?

 

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Joshua Tree National Park
A perfect climber cubbiehole.

It was cool enough to leave our pooch Blue in the car, so we decided on the one-mile Barker Dam loop trail, which passes through classic J-Tree habitat and is a perfect quick and easy hike. There’s usually a reservoir about halfway through the loop, but it’s completely dried up — thanks a LOT, drought.

Barker Dam Trail

Along the way, we passed numerous beavertail cactus in full fluorescent-pink bloom:

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We saw some rock art, but I have a feeling it was of recent vintage:

Joshua Tree pictographs

After our not-so-grueling hike, it was time for lunch, and we ate at the Hidden Valley picnic area, one of the only spots where dogs are allowed:

Blue, Joshua Tree

On our way out of town, we finally stopped at Pioneertown, the old movie set where westerns were filmed back in the day. There’s not much to it, but it’s fun to poke around the old buildings…

Pioneertown

…and try the camera’s sepia filter…yikes, not sure that works:

Pioneertown sepia

And, being the land of found objects (things do seem to preserve well in the desert’s dry heat), we came across some funky art installations:

Pioneertown typewriters

And with that, we rode into the sunset…

Pioneertown sign

 

Trans-Topanga trek

Hikers heading away from Parker Mesa, back to the East Topanga Fire Road.
Hikers heading back to East Topanga Fire Road from Parker Mesa.

Well, this hike doesn’t exactly traverse Topanga State Park in its entirety, so “trans-Topanga” is a bit of a stretch. But stretch it does — between Topanga Canyon and a trailhead close to the Pacific Ocean.

Most L.A. hikers know of or have been to popular Parker Mesa, an overlook atop a bluff in Topanga State Park with sweeping views of Santa Monica Bay. Many make the 3.2-mile trek from the park’s headquarters at Trippet Ranch in Topanga Canyon, and probably an equal number slog up the much steeper 4.3 miles from the Los Liones trailhead a few blocks up from Sunset Boulevard in Pacific Palisades.

My pal L. and I decided on a slightly different alternative: start at Los Liones, hike to Parker Mesa, and then instead of turning around, continue on to Trippet, for a total of 6.8 miles. Of course, this requires two cars and shuttling between the trailheads. As eco-unfriendly as that may sound, it’s something I’ve been wanting to try since listing it as an option in “Take A Hike Los Angeles,” and the always-game L. was up for the shlep. And hey, at least I drive a hybrid.

Here’s the perfectly awful map I cobbled together, since my MotionX iPhone app failed to record the trek. The blue squiggle is our route, with Trippet Ranch at the top of the image and Los Liones somewhere near the bottom. “End” is Parker Mesa:

Parker Mesa

We met at the Vons on PCH at Sunset Blvd. and made the short drive to Los Liones. If you haven’t been there, it’s easy to miss — if you get to Paseo Miramar, you’ve gone too far. A little under a half-mile up Los Liones Drive, there are several parking areas on the right side. We parked L.’s car there and I drove us the 15 minutes to Topanga. Being the cheapskates that we are, we opted to skip the $10 fee at Trippet and parked on a nearby street.

We walked into the park and headed the short distance to Trippet Ranch. For those who might not realize it, 11,500-acre Topanga State Park is located entirely within L.A. city limits and, according to the park, “is considered the world’s largest wildland within the boundaries of a major city.” So guess what that means? You’ll have plenty of company.

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It had been a number of years since I’d been to Trippet Ranch, and finding East Topanga Fire Road —  the route that would take us to Parker Mesa and beyond — was not easy. Here’s one of the information signs to nowhere:

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After a bit of confusion we tracked down a ranger, who pointed the way to a junction where we could pick up the trail. Now, that’s better:

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Starting at Trippet makes for a gentler climb than coming from Los Liones. It’s a mere 330 feet of elevation gain to the Parker Mesa turnoff from this direction, compared to a whopping 1,300 feet of gain coming from the ocean side of the trail at Los Liones.

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There are lush canyon views from Trippet all the way to Parker Mesa. In mid-spring, hillsides were emerald green. About 2.5 miles in, a sign on the right marks the spur trail to Parker Mesa. Turn right onto the spur, and it’s 0.5-mile to the mesa, which, at an elevation of 1,525 feet, offers stunning views toward Santa Monica on a clear day, and not half-bad ones even on a less-than-clear one:

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There’s a bench and plenty of room to spread out at the overlook, where there are 360-degree views of Santa Monica Bay, stretching from the Palos Verdes Peninsula to Malibu. It was a bit hazy the day we were there, but Catalina Island is visible on clear days.

After soaking in the views, we headed back on the spur trail to the fire road and took a left to the Los Liones Trailhead. White canopies of big-pod ceanothus umbrellas the trail this time of year:

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About two miles from Parker Mesa, we kept our eyes peeled for the Los Liones Trail sign. There, we took a right and headed another two miles to the trailhead. It’s a fairly steep downhill, making us glad we took the way-easier climb in from Topanga. All in all, a successful traverse.

Los Liones trail sign vert

 

Why did the mountain lion cross the road?

Female lion P-33 at kill site in the western Santa Monica Mountains, where she fed by herself on a deer for about an hour before her mom and brother showed up.   Courtesy of National Park Service
Female lion P-33 at kill site in the western Santa Monica Mountains, where she fed by herself on a deer for about an hour before her mom and brother showed up.
Courtesy of National Park Service

Well, to get to the other side, of course. The “road” being the 101 Freeway, and the big cat being P-33, a 16-month-old who recently left her mother and was the star of some stunning photos from the National Park Service’s Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. (Beware viewing if you’re squeamish: there are images of a dismembered deer.) The NPS has been tracking her and her two siblings since they were four weeks old.

And now big sis has miraculously made it across the Ventura Freeway. She crossed on the Conejo Grade from the Santa Monica Mountains to the Camarillo area on March 9 sometime between midnight and 2 a.m.

This is hugely significant for mountain lions and the people who research them because a successful crossing of such a huge barrier like the 101 is a sign that there’s hope for maintaining the long-term genetic health of the population.

P33_Crossing_March2015

It’s all about connectivity of habitat for these SoCal mountain lions — being stuck south of the 101 leads to inbreeding and lower genetic diversity. A number of big cats have been killed trying to cross the freeway, including one recently at Liberty Canyon, north of Malibu Creek State Park. This is also where the only other known successful crossing by a lion occurred since the NPS started started studying them in 2002, and it’s where NPS is proposing to build a wildlife crossing over the freeway.

Some Angelenos may recall the famous mountain lion in Griffith Park known as P-22, who was made famous in National Geographic photos in 2013, and was thought to have crossed the 101 and 405 Freeways heading east. He wasn’t wearing a tracking collar and he’s likely not to reproduce because he’s believed to be the only lion there and is hemmed in by so many freeways on the eastern end of the Santa Monicas.

As a hiker in these mountains, it’s always in the back of mind that cougars are in the vicinity, so I’m vigilant the trail. The area where P-33 ended is pretty agricultural but I’m guessing she’s in the mountains north of the freeway just west of Wildwood Park in Thousand Oaks. That park, by the way, has some great hiking, including a nice loop hike to Paradise Falls. It seemed like lion territory when I was there, so I’m not surprised P-33 was attracted to it. Here’s hoping she’s not too hemmed in by suburbia (aren’t we all?), avoids cars and people, and lives a long, fruitful life.

Blue’s first Sierra adventure

Blue-San Joaquin
Blue along the Middle Fork San Joaquin River, near Upper Soda Springs Campground.

Guest post from Blue, the pit mix rescue we first heard from in May…

Hi again, everyone. Just wanted to report on an awesome trip I took to this place with really big rocks and lots of water. My folks call it the Sierra Nevada. I call it a bit overwhelming but really cool. The hiking I really dug; the water kind of scared me, frankly.

First we hiked along a big river and stopped a bunch of times so my humans could do this really boring thing called fly-fishing. It’s where you stick a big pole in the water and just stand there. There were lots of great smells so I was on high alert, but boy, watching them do that fishing thing was really dull. The water was cold and fast, so I didn’t get too close but did take a couple drinks and wow did it taste good.

Another day we took a really long walk (note from editor: 3 miles each way along the River Trail out of Agnew Meadows) to a place called Shadow Lake. I was really excited about this hike. It had all the canine requirements: tons of trees to sniff, water to keep an eye on and nice cool temperatures so I didn’t pant too much. Here I am telling everyone which way to go:

Blue-Shadow sign

We walked and walked and walked some more until we got to this part that went back and forth straight uphill. I think they’re called switchbacks. Sometimes there were even stairs built out of rock:

Blue-Shadow steps
You mean I have to climb up those?

When we finally got toward the top I could see a creek and waterfall (scary) that was coming out of Shadow Lake:

Then we got to the lake, which was sooooo pretty. All sparkly and stuff. I got so excited but had no interest in hopping in the water. Very cold. And of course, scary. My humans did some more of that fishing thing:

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Then it was time to head back down. I really don’t understand the whole switchback thing. How come you can’t just run straight across the rocks?

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Here I am on the trail. Yeah, I have that “Don’t mess with me” look, but I’m actually very friendly:

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Anyway, I was really tired that night and didn’t even worry too much about any of the other dog smells and barking back at the condo. That usually gets me really upset but I was so frickin’ tired, I was like, whatever.

The next day it was time to go home, but on the way back we stopped at another cool place called Bishop Creek. My peeps had to yet again do the stick in the water thing (this time fish were actually caught, which I found mildly entertaining). My bro’ Sammy and I just hung out and took a snooze:

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Time to, yawn, plan our next trip.

Winter drought equals early Sierra summer

Red's sign

Ahhh, summer in spring. That’s the Eastern Sierra right now, thanks to an exceptionally low snowpack — 18% of normal as of the final seasonal measurement on May 1. At Tioga Pass in Yosemite National Park, the April 1 figure was 33% of normal. Right now, everything below 10,000 feet is pretty much snow-free.

Tioga Road opened on May 2 — the earliest opening since 1987. We drove it right after Memorial Day and snow was sparse in the park at about 9,000 feet, but still clung to the upper-elevation slopes. Tioga Lake was a gorgeous mosaic of breaking-up ice:

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We stopped at Tuolumne Meadows to fish and snap some photos. The Tuolumne River was flowing mightily, flooding over its banks in some spots. We took the obligatory pix of deer in the meadow and Lembert Dome:

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It’s such a gorgeous time of year at Yosemite. We usually visit Tuolumne in the fall, when the river’s low and vegetation is changing color. It was nice to see plenty of water in the river and green grass instead of brown.

Back in Mammoth Lakes, it was typical spring shoulder season weather: warmish (60s-70s), sunny days and cool nights in the 40s. In other words, perfect hiking and fishing weather. We had easy access to the Lakes Basin and the Red’s Meadow area, but as a story in the Mammoth Times reported, some areas weren’t open yet due to a bureaucratic snafu between the Inyo National Forest and its concessionaire who runs some facilities. Apparently the Forest Service hasn’t adjusted its opening schedule to account for climate change.

We tried getting to Horseshoe Lake and were surprised to see a locked gate restricting access. With our new rescue dog Blue in tow (more on her first Sierra trip in a future post), we didn’t feel like sharing the road to Horseshoe on foot with so many off-leash dogs, so we opted for Plan B: a hike from Upper Soda Springs campground (closed) to fish along the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River:

San Joaquin

The fishing could’ve been better — we need to brush up on our early-season/high-water technique — but we had the trail to ourselves and the weather was fabulous. We returned to the Red’s Meadow area a couple days later to hike to Shadow Lake from Agnew Meadows, again seeing hardly anyone on the trail. I think Blue will be doing a guest post on this hike in a future installment:

Blue on Shadow Lake trail

It can be tough to get a handle on what’s open and what’s not at this time of year, but calling the Inyo National Forest for updates is a good idea because their online report isn’t always up-to-date. Their visitor center is right on Main Street in Mammoth Lakes and can be reached at 760-924-5500.

For a look at Tioga Road’s (and Glacier Point Road’s) opening dates and April 1 snowpack since 1980, check out this page on Yosemite’s site, which isn’t always easy to find. The park’s current conditions are online and their information number is 209-372-0200.

Cheeseboro Canyon: Spring north of the 101

Palo Camado view
View of Palo Comado Canyon from the Ranch Center Connector Trail

Although this hasn’t been the greenest of springs in Southern California, one of the lushest hikes around (usually) is Cheeseboro Canyon, near Agoura Hills. Forget hiking here in the summer when it’s Dante’s Inferno. Late winter and spring is when Cheeseboro shines like an emerald gem.

Cheeseboro track copy

We usually do an out-and-back hike about three miles in on the Cheeseboro Canyon Trail to Sulphur Springs — which is great if time is of the essence — but a few weeks ago we opted for an 8.3-mile loop incorporating Cheeseboro and Palo Comado canyons. The canyons are in the northernmost section of the National Park Service’s Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, technically part of the Simi Hills. It was a great trek but, um, took a bit longer than I thought it would.

Cheeseboro trees

After an initial gentle ascent, the first mile of trail/fire road is mostly level. If you’re an oak tree lover, you’ll find this canyon heavenly. The grass-covered hillsides are peppered with valley oaks and coast live oaks. The slopes were just greening up when we were there, and in a good-rain year they’re vibrant yellow with black mustard, the nonnative plant that’s so well adapted to our Mediterranean climate. We blamed the paltry winter rains on the complete lack of mustard, but parts of the valley floor and hill grasses were verdant green.

We headed 2.5 miles on Cheeseboro Canyon Trail and turned left on to the Ranch Center Connector trail. This 1.1-mile trail is moderately steep and connects the two canyons, offering up gorgeous views, including the Baleen Wall rock formation, directly northeast.

Cheeseboro-Baleen

These canyons were once home to cattle ranches and were grazed for more than 150 years. Hence the abundance of nonnative plants, which took over when native plants couldn’t adapt to the overgrazing. Ranchers eventually killed off the grizzlies that once roamed the hillsides here. Today, the area is a mecca for birdwatchers — keep your eyes peeled for hawks and other raptors, which prey on the canyon’s small mammals and reptiles.

From the Ranch Center Connector, we headed left (south) on Palo Comado Canyon Trail, which eventually bends east (called Palo Comado Connector on the NPS trail map). The views felt more primitive and less expansive in Palo Comado, the trail undulating past a horse property near a turnoff to Smoketree Avenue — an alternative route that eventually leads to Kanan Road.

Cheeseboro sunset

We stayed on Palo Comado as light faded and coyotes began to howl. Palo Comado Connector — an old ranch road — lead to Modelo Trail, which provided views of both canyons. By now it was nearly dark and we skedaddled along the Modelo Spur back to the parking area.

This is one of the NPS areas where dogs are allowed and you won’t wander on to dog-restricted state park land. Keep in mind that horses and particularly mountain bikers also frequent these canyons, so be sure to keep Fido on-leash (plus, it’s a big ticket if a ranger catches you off-leash).

Shameless self-promotion for “Take A Hike L.A.”

Book cover:frontWell, somebody’s gotta do it.

If you’re a hiker in the L.A. area and totally bored on a Monday night, stop by Distant Lands travel bookstore in Pasadena tonight at 7:30 p.m. for a talk and slideshow by yours truly on Moon Handbooks’ “Take A Hike Los Angeles.” Hey, the digital version is cheaper….I didn’t realize that!

Anyway, it’s 86 hikes within two hours of the City of Angles and I know you’ll enjoy it cuz it’s a super high, high quality guidebook with lots of great info and fab photos.

End of self-promotion. Enjoy!