What you see here is the photo I took at the summit of Rocky Peak. At 2,750 feet, this rugged promontory, well-deserving its petrological title, is the third highest point in the Santa Susana Mountains which form part of the northern boundary of Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley.
If you want to enjoy the same vistas I gazed out upon from this lofty aerie — once, by the way, part of the vast real estate holdings of entertainer Bob Hope — your desire can easily be satisfied. All you need is a stout trek pole, sturdy boots, a boonie cap with a chin strap, three water bottles, two chicken sandwiches, a backpack full of Cuties™ mandarin oranges, an iPod loaded with I, Sniper, a Bob Lee Swagger novel by Stephen Hunter, a smartphone equipped with GPS, a camera for bringing back the proof of having reached the summit and the iron determination to plod wearily up thousands of feet of not-too-step yet all-too-steep much-fissured fire road.
My little guidebook calls the Rocky Peak Road an easy hike. So it is. Easy to take exit 32 off the Ronald Reagan Freeway. Easy to park in the turnout located to the south on Santa Ana Pass Road. Easy to cross north on the bridge over the Freeway to reach the trailhead.
After that less easy: an hour and half of glute-stressing climbing, followed — after a chicken sandwich break en plein air during which you can admire the view of the Pacific far to the west — by a wobbly-legged descent of similar duration. But not too demanding, even considering the cold, unceasing, buffeting wind way up top which may possibly slap you so silly that you, too, forget to snap the evidentiary photo celebrating your conquest.
Half-way twixt summit and trailhead — at the juncture of the Rocky Peak Road and the Hummybird Trail — a thoughtful park ranger has installed a restful bench.
Posted in Exploration, Hiking, L.A., Reading, Thillers
Tagged Hiking, I Sniper, Rocky Peak, Rocky Peak Road, Rocky Peak Trail, Santa Susana Mountains, Stephen Hunter
High above the San Fernando and Simi Valleys, but not all that high, the jumble of sandstone boulders known as the Simi Hills sits quietly, thinking its long dull geological thoughts. Adventurers desiring to share those thoughts may do so easily by hiking a loop upon its crown known to the Chumash as the Sage Ranch Trail. We pilgrims two made that journey yesterday and now returned, we here spread before you the photographs taken amid the aromatic chapperal, circling hawks and largely decorative clouds.
The prime object of our exploration was a fabled rock formation known to the Chumash as Turtle Rock because of its uncanny resemblance to a rock. We did not gain that object. Great winds blew us back in a maelstrom of dust, frustrating our attempt to “capture the Turtle.” The elusive tortoise escaped our probing lens. Other fabled rock formations were less fortunate. See:
This is the fabled and elusive natural formation known to the Chumash as “Dinosaur Rock.” Legend has it the rock comes alive once every seventeen years and spits a single pebble. The direction of the pebble’s flight, its color and shape, and various other qualities and conditions prevailing at the time of Dinosaur Rock’s brief awakening, are said to accurately predict the weather over the next seventeen years. At the time of our obsevation Dinosaur Rock spit no pebble and so we remain “agnostic” regarding the truth of the legend.Without leaving the main trail, travellers may look in awe upon the chunk of stone known to the Chumash as “Owl Rock” though, of course, the Chumash used their own word for it: Eulengebirgsklumpen. The legends associated with this natural wonder are suspiciously similar to those associated with Dinosaur Rock — coming alive, spitting pebbles and so on — leading ethnologists to wonder — and not for the first time — whether the Chumash were “pulling their legs.”
Before howling winds drove us back to the parking lot (parking fee: $5), we trembled before the Rock Giant. This wonder — we hesitate to call it a “natural” wonder — is but the top, the head, of a Rock Giant buried in the Simi Hills long ago by a great Shaman — or so the Chumash say with perfectly straight faces. The unwary traveller must be kept at a distance from the murmuring creature by a barbed wire fence lest he succumb to the sweet entreaties of the Rock Giant to “come closer… closer…” and be ground to powder between stone jaws.
How to Get There.
Go to the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles. Are you there? Okay. There’s a north-south street running along the west side of the Valley called “Valley Circle Drive.” From the 101, take Valley Circle north. From the 118 take it south. Either way you go, when you get to Cardinal Wolsey Street — there’s a big sign for Boeing and Rocketdyne (they used to test rockets here) — turn and climb the steep twisty road for about 2.4 miles all the way to the top. There you will see a parking area and a sign letting you know you’ve arrived at the Sage Ranch Trail. A scary single-lane paved road with a sharp drop-off into a ravine at the bottom of which lie dozens of smoldering SUVs carries you another half-mile to an upper parking area with a picnic table (if you do hunger) and a port-o-poddy (if you do not).
Our Thanksgiving hike took us along the Yearling Trail and the Deer Leg Trail, both on the old ranch operated by Ronald Reagan in his Death Valley days. We chose it because the LA Times hiking trails guide book, Days Hikes Around Los Angeles, described it as “level,” but the guide book either fibbed, or used the special California defininition of the word “level,” i.e. “not level.” See how the ground slants up out of the right side of the picture? Well, the Deer Leg Trail veers up that grade and grows steeper as it climbs up a 400 foot hill. At some points it was steep enough for some pitying soul to have built stone steps into the trail. Still, it was shady and if the enclosing riparian growth blocked most views it was cool (literally) and it smelled spicy like pepper and sage.
The rest of the trail wasn’t so great. The Yearling Trail was more of a runoff than a trail. Untended, deeply rutted and rock strewn it required nimble stepping to avoid twisted ankles. What rankled most was the promise in the LA Times guidebook of a “duck pond.” The map even showed a cute little silhouette of a duck enjoying the pond. Our eager hearts braved the tennis ball sized rocks in the path just to see the duck in the pond. But those hearts sank upon seeing the stark truth: No pond and no duck; only a weed-choked declivity and mocking crows.
The LA Times guidebook was nearer the mark with its description of the first part of the trail, the “unpaved Yearling Road, lined with stately eucalyptus trees.” In fact, the road is paved, but the eucalyptus trees are there and stately as advertised. They’re the best feature of the otherwise bleak trail with their shedding outer bark, gleaming white inner bark, and aromatic slender leaves.
These trees, I assert confidently, are the “gum trees” that merry, merry Kookaburra sits in laughing according to the Australian song, unless I am very much mistaken, in which case they are not.
Well, we got our exercise, I suppose, and certainly our sinuses were cleared by the airborne oils of the stately eucalyptuses, but no return trip is on the agenda. Compared to the mind-blowing hikes elsewhere in these hills and vales the Yearling and Deer Leg trails are kind of shabby. Also duckless.
UPDATE: I just found this web page among the many put up by California Department of Parks and Recreation that suggests an explanation for the present sorry state of the Reagan Ranch portion of Malibu Creek State Park: it’s in transition; they’re raising money to convert it into the Ronald Reagan Equestrian Campground at Malibu Creek State Park.