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Bound for the Pines in the Mountains of Ojai

November 11, 1990|JOHN McKINNEY

The Chumash Indians called this tranquil place, backed by the Topatopa and Sulphur mountains, Ojai, which means "nest."

Its meditative setting has spawned an artists' colony, a music festival and a number of health resorts. The environment has attracted the metaphysically minded, too; the hiker can look down on the Krotona Institute of Theosophy on one side of town and the Krishnamurti Foundation on the other.

Horn Canyon Trail was reportedly one of Krishnamurti's favorite walks. He sometimes told the tale of how in his younger days he befriended a mountain lion along this trail.

Today, Horn Canyon is still an inspiring walk--even if you don't talk to the animals. The canyon itself is a shady retreat watered by a seasonal stream. Climbing out of the canyon, the trail offers fine views of Ojai Valley.

The Pines, the appropriately named goal of this hike, is a pine tree plantation. Local historians disagree on who planted the pines.

Some say Jacinto D. Reyes, an early forest ranger, established an experimental plantation three miles up Horn Canyon. Other historians credit early settler Howard Bald with nurturing the pine seedlings.

The Pines burned in the 1932 Matilija Fire and again in a 1948 blaze.

For many decades, the pines have been planted--and replanted--by students from Thacher School, the well-known private school at the mouth of Horn Canyon.

Today, The Pines is a National Forest Service trail camp and welcomes hikers with shade and trickling spring.

Directions to trailhead: From downtown Ojai, drive east on Highway 150 (Ojai Avenue). About three-fourths of a mile from the center of town, you'll see a Los Padres National Forest Ranger Station on your right. The station, open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, has maps and information.

Continue a short distance past the station and turn left on Gridley Road. After three-tenths of a mile, turn right on Grand Avenue and drive half a mile to McAndrew Road. Turn left and drive another half a mile.

Although McAndrew Road bends left to join Thacher Road, continue straight into the Thacher school ground and park in an area assigned to visitors.

The hike: From the school's visitors parking lot, walk toward the mountains along the asphalt road about 100 yards. At a signed fork directing you to "Gymkana Area and Jameson Field," angle right onto a dirt road, which leads another 100 yards through an orchard to a gated dirt road on your left.

This dirt road, with a Forest Service trail sign, is the beginning of Horn Canyon Trail.

The wide dirt path ascends up-canyon. On your left is the Thacher School Observatory. Behind you, after a quarter-mile of travel, is a fine view of Ojai Valley.

On good days you can understand why the valley was the setting for Shangri-La in the 1937 movie "Lost Horizon."

Branching from the main path are a couple of narrow ones, used by student horseback riders.

Horn Canyon Trail crosses the seasonal creek a couple of times. (Given the severity of the drought, it might be a long time before hikers get wet crossing this creek and an even longer time before visitors can cool off in its pools and cascades.)

During autumn, the sycamores along the creek show off their fall color, and during spring, wildflowers line the trail.

After a long mile, the road ends and Horn Canyon Trail becomes a narrow path that ascends steeply up the west wall of the canyon. The trail, stabilized by railroad ties, soon leaves the shade of the oaks and sycamores and climbs hot, exposed slopes.

The Pines, a green island floating atop a sea of gray chaparral, seem tantalizingly close when you first spot the stand from a bend in the trail.

Actually, you'll have to climb steeply another half a mile before you reach the welcome shade of the conifers at an elevation of 3,260 feet.

Take a snooze on a bed of pine needles, splash some spring water on your face and enjoy the little trail camp.

Serious hikers will continue ascending steep Horn Canyon Trail onward toward Topa Topa Ridge.

From The Pines it's a very long mile climb to Forest Road 4N15 and another mile climb to Forest Road 5N08. Another long mile up this road is Chief Peak.

Less serious hikers may wish to return the way they came, enjoying the scenic trail and its panoramic vistas of the Ojai Valley.

Hiking / Ojai Foothills Horn Canyon Trail Where: Los Padres National Forest. Length: 6 miles round trip to The Pines, with 1,800-foot elevation gain. Terrain: Steep canyon. Highlights: Fine Ojai Valley views. Degree of Diffculty: Moderate tostrenuous. For more information: Call the Ojai District, Los Padres National Forest, at (805) 646-4348.

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