Monday, March 29, 2021

Stomping Grounds

IMG_6913A lot of people head out first thing in the morning to hike, bike or run in the coastal hills. But with the weather as cool as it has been and the time change, if I’m going local, I really have no reason to get out at the crack of dawn. Saturday (March 30) I had plenty of time to wait until rush hour in the coastal hills ceased before I hit the trails. By the time I arrived to my regular stomping grounds, that is Wood Canyon, the crowds had gone home. There were a few stragglers out for an afternoon ride or stroll. Best thing was, the weather was still chilly and quite breezy too..

IMG_6916I could not possibly count the amount of times I’ve hiked or run Aliso and Wood Canyon Trails. Well, I suppose I could count my blog posts (but that would not include the lost MySpace posts Confused smile plus I don’t want to do that). But I can approximate. I’ve been wandering these trails regularly for about 15 years, and to use an estimate of once per week, that would equal 52 times a year, and 52 multiplied by 15 equals 780. Now, I’ll knock of 280 just because and I come up with 500; I’ve wandered the trails in these canyons about 500 times. This is why I call Aliso/Wood Canyons my stomping grounds.

IMG_6953I didn’t plan where I’d hike on March 20. Nowadays, I decide as I go when I’m in my stomping grounds.  On Saturday, I set off into Aliso Canyon and turned off onto Wood Canyon, and waited to see where my feet would take me. They took me to Cave Rock Trail where I stopped by my favorite caves. Then they took me to Coyote Run where I hiked up Nature Loop and took a side trail to a fine lookout over two canyons. I was about to climb down and head off to one of my secret places when I heard the voices of 3 or 4 teenage boys hiking up the trail. Perched up above them between the crevice of two giant boulders, I had a perfect view of the boys though they could not see me. Not wanting to surprise the lads last minute, I decided to answer one of the boy’s when his question to the others about where this trail led went unanswered. After that we chatted a bit. It was a fun interaction. They knew a lot of secret trails in the park, which of course they do right? I bet these trails are probably their stomping grounds too. Anyway, I told them what I knew about this trail and they switched places with me in my perch to explore more while I headed off to my secret place.

Sometime later one of the boys met up with me at my spot, and he described what they had discovered past where I had been perched up in the crevice. And then he was off again. By the time I headed off to take RockIt to West Ridge, all four of the guys were at the spot, thanking me for showing it to them. But they would have found it no doubt without me.

IMG_6957The interaction with these teens brought back a memory that hit me as I hiked up RockIt. It’s funny how things seemingly forgotten suddenly come to mind so many years later. This memory was a flashback to the 80s, to my old stomping grounds, an equestrian wilderness area called Walnut Creek below Frank G. Bonelli Park. I probably didn’t hang out at Walnut Creek 500 times, but this place was definitely my stomping grounds for about 5 years through my late teens and early twenties. On the day that flashed into my memory I was dragging a big leaf plastic bag behind me as I filled it with trash strewn about an area that we called Dragon Lake (due to a boulder allegedly shaped like a dragon). Up hiked these young boys, teenagers, too young to drive. They hung with me for a while and I ended up giving them a ride to a grocery store nearby. I know that sounds odd, but those were the days when people hitch-hiked. I hitched hiked. I picked up hitch-hikers. This was not a regular habit but I thumbed rides enough to have several such experiences. I’m not excusing the behavior (because it definitely seems reckless now), just explaining it. So, the boys came out of the store with bags full of candy and I gave them a ride back to the park. After I dropped them, I drove on and parked in another part of the trails so that I could get back to solitude and picking up trash. After some time, and a trash bag nearly full, I finally made it back to Dragon Lake, which I had left clean a few hours earlier. But it wasn’t so clean anymore. The place was littered with trash. Candy trash. The same candy that the boys I had driven to the store had purchased earlier. Ha! I couldn’t help but laugh but was also annoyed. I remember feeling a little deflated as I hiked around the “lake” picking up their candy trash and shoving it into my bag. Looking back, I got a good chuckle over the replay in my mind of this long forgotten experience. 

After that delightful memory, I continued on my climb until I reached Mathis Trail. I took that back down into Wood Canyon trying to find evidence of a trail the boys I met earlier said they found. So engrossed in visually locating that trail (which I eventually did) I grew a little distracted and nearly stepped right out in front of a biker. When I heard him holler, I immediately jumped out of the way (embarrassed!). And then that’s when I heard my name – the guy that nearly hit me was my old trail buddy Michael! What a great surprise and an awesome way to wind down this fantastic hike. Boy do I have lots of great trail memories with Michael. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other, a few years in fact, so I was very happy to “run” into him.

I finished up this lovely spring afternoon / early evening hike at precisely 6 pm. 10 miles, 2,229’ elevation gain.

Walnut Creek, my old Stomping Grounds
(picture most likely taken between 1985 and 1987)


Friday, March 26, 2021

Santiago Retreat Stations of the Cross

In between Black Star and Silverado Canyons is a canyon named Baker’s Canyon. I’ve hiked there just once some years ago on Good Friday up to a giant cross up on a hill there that you can see all the way from Black Star Canyon. Naturally, I have been wanting to get back to Baker’s Canyon but that is difficult being that much of the land is on private property. That is until Lent. During Lent, the Santiago Retreat sets up “Stations of the Cross” for the public to hike. And so Friday, March 19, I was on it! I believe that this is more of a Catholic tradition, and I am not Catholic. I will say that I like this tradition of hiking the stations of the cross. The total hike measured only about 2 miles, but the climb was steep!  Afterward, they served a Lenten Feast (fish fry) at the bottom of the mountain that was on-going from 3 to 7pm. It was delicious! 


Group photo of me and my husband:


Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Giving Chiquito Falls Trail Another Try

Tuesday, March 16, I took another trek to Chiquito Falls. They are still dry, even with recent rain  but the trail, as usual, magical. 9.5 miles with 2,500' of elevation gain is pretty tough hike for the distance. I HIGHLY recommend this one -- technical single-track the entire way. Most likely, especially on a weekday, you will have the trails entirely to yourself. It’s a little spooky sometimes. But I get over those episodes quickly.I try to remain always alert in desolate areas. Funny though that these trails are so desolate. The parking is super easy in the big lot across the street from the Candy Store on Hwy 74.  I did see one biker on this trip. After I had hung out at the falls for a good long while, maybe half an hour, a guy on a bike rode in. As I hiked out, I looked back and could see that he took the exact same seat that I always take right above the falls.

On San Juan Loop:IMG_6809IMG_6811IMG_6815IMG_6816On Chiquito Trail:IMG_6818IMG_6823IMG_6842@ Chiquito/a FallsIMG_6855IMG_6863IMG_6868

Thursday, March 18, 2021



Saturday, March 13, I got out early for some trail time after two days of rain. The storm brought snow to our local mountains. Though I love hiking through snow (a light snow), my only possibilities of hiking in the snow were: 1) Maple Springs out of Silverado (which was under voluntary evacuation due to mudslides), 2) Trabuco Canyon/Holy Jim (which is still closed from #HolyFire), or 3) Drive to the top of the mountain to Blue Jay campgrounds (which was not a good choice for a few reasons, mainly because I kind of hate driving the windy Ortega Highway, especially the part when I’m right up against a cliff and the driver behind me is riding my tail, pressuring me to drive faster!) All other locations, if it got any snow, I figured most likely would have melted by morning.  And so I chose a location that few people would choose mainly because there’s so few places to park – Santiago Truck Trail (STT). What a lovely, lovely desolate trail.

I was on the road early enough to find parking in a turnout up Modjeska Canyon not too far from the trailhead. Having checked the weather ahead of time, I expected cold. I didn’t quite imagine though that it would feel this cold. The weather reports said 38F in Silverado, so I’m going to go with that (but it seemed colder!)  I know 38F is not so cold for a lot of people. For this native Californian, it’s pretty cold. And I wasn’t prepared, so I had to walk back to the truck for more warmth. (I guess that means I was prepared being that I had warmer accessories back at the truck.)

And so, with an insulated beanie and much warmer buff (doubled up with my thinner buff), my journey continued to “Old Camp” via STT. It makes my heart glad to even think of the loneliness of this trail. From the start, I took the high single track, though it had been bulldozed and was difficult at first to locate. It’s important that I take this high trail on the way out – it’s my habit, and I love, love, love the “backbone” portion pictured above (first picture).

Talk about quiet. I saw only a couple of people in those early hours. They rode bikes. Through the clouds that covered the peaks, I could see snow on the slopes. The Main Divide I am certain was covered with snow. As for STT, a few small patches of melting snow dotted the shady side of the road as I approached my turnoff point at Joplin. That was it as far as snow. I could hear the creek flowing strong far below my trail and in the distance across the canyon a small waterfall flowed over the boulders (@ approximately mile 5) that I plan to try and reach some day soon. 



At times the weather grew so cold and the clouds so dark that it felt eerie. Hard to explain really. The word “spooky” comes first to my mind. Nature is surreal even more so during these eerie times. I was happy to see anyone that I met along the trail, as first, they were a confirmation that I was not so crazy to be out on this lonely trail by myself, and also because it was comforting to see the face of another person after travelling in silence for some miles. After mile 4, human sightings became rare. I came upon a group of several young men headed down to “Old Camp”. A lone male hiker with poles passed me at one point on Joplin Trail.


The turnoff to “Old Camp” @ Joplin Trail is at about mile 6 on Santiago Truck Trail. At that point, I’d already hiked some significant hills, so the joy was instant upon reaching this junction. The relief of finally reaching this point was short-lived however, because after a short descent, the ascent begins once again. It’s two and a half miles to “Old Camp” at this junction. A very long 2.5 miles. But the last mile, so delightful it was, doesn’t really even count. On that final mile descent into “Old Camp”, the moss appears in thick mounds beneath the trees which are also covered in a moss carpet. Lush green ferns fill in the spaces between rock and moss and the wonderfully aromatic Bay leaf trees begin to appear on the landscape in abundance. I stopped to cut a small branch of the Bay Leaf to take home with me, as I always do.

Heading Down Into “Old Camp”


By the time I arrived to “Old Camp”, the cyclists who had passed me along the way had already passed me on their way out. As expected, I was completely alone down in this little shaded paradise next to the stream. I remained in that general area for quite some time, knowing that I was pushing it as I always do time-wise. I ate breakfast, unpacked and re-packed, explored some, took pictures and I also just sat. I sat and waited. Waited for what? Nothing. I just waited. And I listened. And I prayed. It was spooky down there I admit. But it was also peaceful and a little magical. I will say that I was quite pleased when a young couple rode in on their bikes and set up their spot not too far from me, closer to the stream. It was nice talking to people after being silent for so long.

Total miles for this adventure: 17 with 3,000’ of elevation gain

The remainder of the story in pictures:

Down By “Old Camp”:IMG_6672IMG_6682IMG_6687IMG_6691IMG_6695IMG_6699

The long hike back:


Monday, March 15, 2021

Ten Tough Miles

We got a couple of days of rain in the first week of March, so when it let up, I headed out to Chiquito Falls (off of Ortega Highway in the Cleveland National Forest). The creeks had a little bit of water, mainly big puddles between the boulders but the falls were dry. I expected as much; we didn’t get a lot of rain. But I didn’t do this hike for the falls, though lovely the falls are when they flow! I did this hike for the beauty and the fact that the out-and-back to Chiquito Falls is a tough ten miles. And sometimes, I just need tough.

The route: San Juan Loop to Chiquito Trail to the falls & back, 9.5 miles, 2,295’ elevation gain.

A Photo Diary, March 5IMG_6404IMG_6414IMG_6427IMG_6431IMG_6433IMG_6434IMG_6439IMG_6462IMG_6465IMG_6473IMG_6475IMG_6476IMG_6480IMG_6482IMG_6485IMG_6488IMG_6489IMG_6493IMG_6497IMG_6502IMG_6511IMG_6515IMG_6520IMG_6538IMG_6550IMG_65553 5 213 5 21a