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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Black Star Canyon in the Summertime

I don’t want to merely reiterate everything from the video that I recorded from Friday’s hike in Black Star Canyon (I’ll put it at the end of this post.) I will repeat however, that I decided to hike Black Star Canyon on Friday. I’ve been yearning mountain trails for quite a while now, and being that I cannot access some of my favorites, I decided to venture out to Black Star Canyon --  which is fairly local, but I have very little experience with. I have hiked to Black Star Falls (which was wonderful). But I have never ventured past that turnoff on Black Star Canyon Road.

The reason that I don’t venture into Black Star Canyon is firstly because there are so many other wonderful trails at my doorstep. But also, my lack of enthusiasm for visiting this canyon was mainly due to a couple of unruly residents, one who had brandished guns at hikers and mountain bikers. The overall unwelcome attitude was well-known. I guess though that I haven’t been keeping up with news. I did not know it until my hike on Friday, that those residents no longer live in Black Star Canyon. I remember reading that one of them had been jailed. Now though, the cabins are all behind the electrified fence of Edwards Ranch.

(Edwards Ranch? I’m at a loss. I cannot find out anything about this property (yet). All I can say is that it appears the owner has many acres in the base of the canyon behind his or her’s electrified fences. I can’t see any crops, or even buildings for that matter. If you are reading this and know about the ranch, please comment below. I have searched quite a bit on the internet and can’t find anything concerning the goings-on behind the electrified fence of Edward’s Ranch.)

But yet there’s more about the canyon’s history. More as in the canyon is said to be haunted. Something happened in 1831 around The Hidden Ranch area (not called that then) in Black Star Canyon. I have found a variety of stories. The story with the most specific information says that  a group of Shoshone horse thieves terrorized the Californios (Spanish colonists of California) who lived in the area. The Shoshone were in fact not local, but lived in the Los Angeles area. Anyway, those Californios contracted a mountain man named William Wolfskill (who later developed the Valencia orange and became the largest wine producer in the region.) Best I can tell from various website sources, Wolfskill tracked the horse thieves from Los Angeles into Black Star Canyon where they fought at an area now known as Hidden Ranch.  Reportedly, most of the Shoshone were killed on sight. None of William’s men were killed, or in fact even injured. I found other stories with slight variations, and others say that this story is completely fabricated. Never happened.

And then years later in Black Star Canyon, in the area that is known as Hidden Ranch (same place where Wolfskill reportedly killed the Shoshone Indians) there was another deadly confrontation -- this time between two families: The Hungerfords and the Greggs. The two families were horse ranching families in Back Star Canyon. An argument occurred over the price of a horse that ended up with a shootout. Mr. James Gregg died from multiple gunshot wounds. This story is verified and appears to have actually happened. (There was a court case and such).

In addition sometime during  the 1970s, supposedly (I say supposedly because I cannot find any news articles to confirm this story) a school bus driver drove his bus off a cliff in Black Star Canyon. The bus driver, a teacher, and most of the children are reported to have been killed. There are other eerie reports too. I found a few websites that give vague reportings of Klu Klux Klan presence in the canyon (though I don’t know of any timeframe). And there was also a terrible incident in 2001 that I can collaborate with news articles from the time. In 2001, four teenagers ventured into the canyon under darkness. Not such a good idea. Some members of a notorious gang terrorized the teens, beating the boys unconscious and raping the girls. (LA Times article here)

Of course, I have no way of knowing how accurate these stories are. But this is a place relatively unexplored on my end. And since my regular lovely mountain spots are closed due to The Holy Fire, Black Star Canyon seemed like a good choice for my Friday afternoon hike. And it was . . . until it wasn’t. And when it got too hot. It wasn’t. Simply put. The weather was just too warm for me. And so instead of the original 15 miles that I thought that I would attempt, I turned back early, finishing up with 8 miles. I will return to Black Star Canyon in the winter for sure!

Some pictures from my hike (video at end):
IMG_4075IMG_4077IMG_4084IMG_4087IMG_4090IMG_4096IMG_4097IMG_4113IMG_41159 7 189 7 18a

Monday, September 3, 2018

Another One for the Summer (& in the Afternoon to Boot!)

Saturday morning (9/1), I slept in (as I do lately – I still have not recovered from my 17 days off from work). I believe that it was about 12:30 when I took off in my truck for Aliso/Woods Canyon.  Being that the weather was damn hot, there were plenty of parking spaces on the street outside of the ranger station. This meant that I did not need to pay for parking, and as I cannot afford yet to even repair my truck, that came as a welcome (despite the very small amount our county parks require for parking – it all adds up!). As I prepped outside my truck, a woman  sitting low in a car parked next to me hollered out to a passer-byer, “Is there a river in that park?” No, the passer-byer didn’t see a river. Hmmm.  A river? Oh Boy. that was it on the subject, the passer-byer didn’t mention the creeks (which I did mention to the two ladies in the car who were smoking hashish out of a glass pipe).

So, Aliso/Wood Canyons has two year round creeks running through the park. One creek is in Aliso Canyon and the other in Wood Canyon. The two creeks meet it seems at perpendicular angles. Wood Creek dumps into Aliso Creek, which runs all the way to the Pacific Ocean rat Aliso Beach in the city of Laguna Beach. In all the years that I have been visiting these canyons, I have never seen either of these creeks dry (though low they can go!). And though they can flow quite heavily, I would never call them rivers.

Aliso Creek Trail:IMG_3996

Like I have already mentioned, it was dang hot out there in Aliso Viejo on the first day of September.  Even so, there were your usual amount of warriors out trekking across the trails. One group that I saw off and on, was a group of 3 or so dads and ten or so little guys (probably about 10 years old) riding their way up Wood Canyon. I also got to check in with some of the burned area. There’s new growth already in some areas. The fire fortunately did not ravish Wood Canyon (but I have not seen Dripping Cave or Coyote Run trails yet because they are closed).

I didn’t see any of the large animals (like coyotes or deer), but I saw plenty of rabbits, road runners and lizards. And on the topic of lizards, I saw several horned lizards, which are a new finding for me in these canyons. Then toward the end of The Big Loop at Aliso/Woods Canyons, I came up on a baby gopher snake. It was a beautiful little creature, which I’ve pictured further down below.

Wood Canyon regrowth:IMG_4001Some more Wood Canyon:IMG_4007IMG_4012

Anyway! The first 4.5 miles were delightful. They were hot, but much of Wood Canyon provides good shade. The 4.5 mile marks the end of Wood Canyon. After marching up Cholla Trail, I took the rolling hills of West Ridge to Top of the World in Laguna Beach. I do not recall the time that I arrived at Alta Laguna Park, but I do recall that the weather was beginning to change. The sun still shined brightly, but there was a cool onshore breeze coming in. What bliss! The onshore breeze is the most wonderful thing about living on the coast. So, that made the remainder of my hike just utterly pleasant (not to mention that fact that I had very few inclines to deal with after the half-way point.)

The weather changed at the 7 mile mark which is Top of the World, or rather Alta Laguna Park in Laguna Beach. The breeze got a littler cooler and each time lasted a little longer. And so, I trekked through the Laguna Beach Top of the World neighborhood to enter the park again over in Aliso Canyon. On the way, I passed a pasture of goats surrounded by a make-shift electrified fence. I fought against an urge to touch the fence to see just how much the jolt would be. On meadows, I met a gopher snake, and also stopped in more than one place to listen to the wind blowing through the trees.

It was almost like a different day when I arrived by at the truck. It was like a cool autumn and not a hot summer day like when I started.

12 miles, 1,319’ feet elevation gain

West Ridge:IMG_4019


Goats near Meadows Trail:IMG_4036IMG_4055IMG_4056IMG_4058

Wind Blowing through the trees on Meadows:IMG_4059IMG_4060

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Bommer Ridge

I don’t teach on Fridays (for the entire fall semester!). Not that I don’t like my profession (I love it). I just get worn out, and am looking forward to the three day weekends (when I don’t teach on Saturdays, which is approximately every other week, plus none on holiday weeks, and you can be assured that there are plenty of holiday weeks to make my schedule ideal).

Yesterday though (Friday, 8/31/18) I had a monthly staff meeting in the morning. I went dressed for a hike (a pair of shorts that I picked up from the ground next to my bed, a black tank top, and trail running shoes) And I’m sorry, I couldn't help but apologize for my attire. I did however, drape a poncho-like shawl over my shoulders to help masquerade my grungy trail clothing.

As I sat through that two hour meeting, I could not help but think about the last time I visited El Moro Ridge in Crystal Cove. I was struck by the number of ridges beyond mine that I did not know (they all pointed out toward the Pacific Ocean). I figured that Bommer Ridge had to be one of those, as I know from past trail runs, that Bommer turns and runs perpendicular to the Pacific Ocean. But what were those other ridges? Why don’t I know every single trail in this park? I thought to myself: this must be fixed.

Friday afternoon after my meeting, I decided to drive through Laguna Beach, which is touristy and lovely (ocean views the whole way), and I got pulled over. I knew immediately when the squad car pulled up behind me that I was going to be delayed. I knew because I do not have current tags on my truck. The policeman (who was respectful and straightforward with a tinge of kindness) knew from his computer check in the squad car that I had paid my registration, I just do not have tags. And I do not have tags because my truck did not pass the smog certification. Until I can afford to get my truck serviced, I will not receive the tags. This of course is at the top of my list (as in very soon, but other things come first, like my son’s EEG, which our health insurance covered none of), but alas, I was guilty, and fully expected a ticket. The policeman asked all sorts of questions, and said that I was very believable (which is easy to do since I just answered the questions truthfully). Turned out, he didn't ticket me, and wished me luck in getting the truck up to state qualifications. Ya. I’m gonna need that luck.

So back to business, hoping that I didn’t get pulled over again . . . Friday’s plan -- take Bommer Ridge to its end for an estimated 10 mile out-and-back. As it goes nowadays when I make it out to the widerness, my feet did not hit the dirt until about 1:30 pm. It was damn hot. Naturally, I decided from the onset that I would hike to keep the effects of the heat well managed. I’m much too old to put myself through the crap I used to put myself through. I guess now, I am tamer.


So, Bommer Ridge was pretty much empty. I saw an occasional mountain biker, a runner or two, a couple of hikers -- at most a half dozen other people out there on my route, which meant that I was pretty much alone. And alone, it is so very lovely at times. In Aliso/Woods (my usual coastal trails) I can go for thirty minutes, an hour at max without seeing another person on the trails. But in Laguna Wilderness, I can go for two hours, even more, without seeing anyone (especially on a week day, and a warm one at that).

So, how does one go about marching along the same trail for several miles, only to turn around and march back to close it up? Well, it’s very much like getting behind the wheel of your car and just driving for the sake of driving. Just moving forward. Whether I’m hitting the road running, driving, or hiking I pretty much get the same thing out of it -- big open road (or trail) up above that I get to conquer. On Bommer Ridge, I could see trails laid out miles in front of me -- long hot exposed trails surrounded by a carpet of coastal chaparral. I cannot adequately relay the satisfaction that comes with seeing the long road ahead of you, and then thirty minutes, an hour or more later, you are there (by your own accord!). That mindless movement forward to a set destination oddly thrills me. 

The beauty was immense, even with all of that brown shrubbery. The blue of the Pacific Ocean perfectly frames that summertime brown we have in Southern California. The browns also seem to match the mood of the hot temperature. It’s what I’ve grown up with. I’m used to it, andIMG_3981 can see the beauty in it if I pay attention. The best part of my hike on Bommer Ridge was when I turned off my ipod and listened to nature. Far from the road and other people, there was silence, which is never really silent. There’s actually a noise in silence, a low level calming noise, kind of like a soft hum. I make a point of it to take some time listening to the silence on most of my hikes and runs. On Bommer Ridge on this hot summer day, the silence was golden!

Bommer Ridge (plus a little of Laguna Bowl) total miles: 9.9’

Elevation gain: 1,142 (which is pretty good for rolling hills!)