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RECREATION : Country Roads : Leaving the car behind and cycling off along a 22-mile loop that begins in Camarillo offers a new perspective on the passing farmland.

February 05, 1993|R. DANIEL FOSTER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Something wonderful happens when you banish your automobile and cycle off into the unknown. Landscapes, previously seen through car windows like so many passing television images, unfold like a pop-up book when experienced on a bicycle.

Rolling farmland and citrus groves are the main attraction along the easy 22-mile country loop that begins at Dos Caminos Park in Camarillo.

The route intersects Rancho Las Posas, Rancho Margarita and Rancho Santa Clara del Norte, three of 19 ranches in Ventura County that were deeded by the Mexican government in the 1830s to soldiers who fought in the war against Spain. The ranches, still independently owned, once raised cattle, but now grow citrus, avocados, flowers, strawberries and vegetables.

Begin your trek by cycling out of the Dos Caminos parking lot straight onto Vincente Avenue. Continue for three blocks to Antonio Avenue and take a left, then a right on Las Posas Road. After a quarter of a mile, turn left on Somis Road (called Lewis Road to your right), a nice stretch of black asphalt that parallels the old Southern Pacific railroad line. You'll spot several rail and lumber yards to your right, and fields laden with strawberry and celery on your left.

Within one mile on the right is M & H Produce, should you care to grab a fistful of cherries for your journey. Partners Mateo Cabian and Hector Perez recently bought the two-acre enterprise after moving from Guadalajara. They grow corn and strawberries and also sell watermelons, cantaloupe, apples and apricots.

Continue for a quarter of a mile past the stand to North Street and turn left, which takes you through a residential stretch. Within one mile, the road curves to the right and dead-ends into a tractor yard at California 118.

Turn left on 118, then right on Bradley Road for views of an idyllic countryside dotted with matilija poppies. Rows of orange trees stripe distant tan hills, and mountain lilac hug the narrow road with bursts of purple. Cars are scarce, so enjoy the quiet and don't forget to breathe in the sage and fennel.

You'll no doubt notice the Somis Nut House on your right before turning right on Bradley Road. It's hard to resist not stopping with a sign that reads, "OOOH NUTS!"

The Ventura Walnut Shelling Co., a family-run business, goes back 34 years to when walnuts were grown in the San Fernando and neighboring valleys. All that's left now is, well, this nut house.

It's actually a gift shop stocked with dozens of varieties of nuts, homemade peanut butters, trail mixes and candy. The Resnik family still operates a shelling plant on the two-acre premises, but nuts are now bought from Central Valley orchards. Check out the wooden map of "Nuts Grown Around the World" on the shop's east wall.

After cycling nearly one mile north along Bradley Road, take a left on Berylwood Road. You'll spot a Paramount Citrus sign on your right as you turn.

The company grows mostly lemons in this area, but some avocado orchards also line the route. The road rises and dips for 1 1/2 miles past a tractor yard, orchards and a corridor of oleander bushes.

At the T intersection, fronted by a mammoth stand of eucalyptus trees, take a right on Aggen Road and then bear left--your only option--on unmarked La Loma Avenue. This rolling, four-mile expanse dissects the ranchos. Check out the large blue-and-green-tiled sign that announces Rancho Margarita on your right, about one mile down the road.

Tired? Prop your bike against a towering eucalyptus and dig into your cache of nuts and strawberries. Stretching before you are slender windmills that seem to sprout from the landscape.

Near the end of this route, La Loma jogs left into La Vista Avenue and dead-ends at California 118. Turn right onto the bike lane on 118 and follow the winding, downhill road past flower farms, fronted by snowy fields of baby's breath during spring, for two miles to Wright Road. Look for the pale yellow house smothered with hollyhocks that stands on the southeast corner. Turn left on Wright Road and cycle for one mile beneath a windbreak of ash trees, just to the left of acres of fledgling pepper plants.

Turn right on Beardsley Road for one mile and then left on Central Avenue, riding for another mile before passing over the Ventura Freeway. Take a left on Ventura Boulevard and cycle for two miles to Las Posas Road and turn left. Pass back across the freeway, cycle half a mile and veer right (still on Las Posas) until you come to Crestview Park.

Within a few blocks, you'll spot the Pleasant Valley Museum on your right. It's worth a stop to see the giant copper 200-gallon still that dates back to Prohibition. Chumash Indian artifacts and other regional curiosities are also on display. The museum is open Saturdays and Sundays only, from 1 to 4 p.m.

It's a three-mile ride back to Antonio Avenue along Las Posas Road. Turn right on Antonio Avenue and right on Vincente Avenue and you're back at Dos Caminos Park.

Where and When Location: 22-mile rancho-run bike ride. Getting there: Travel west on the Ventura Freeway toward Camarillo. Take California 34, Lewis Road north, for about two miles to Upland Road. Turn left on Upland, which immediately turns into Las Posas Road. Continue for a quarter of a mile to Antonio Avenue. Turn left, drive two blocks to Vincente Avenue and turn right, continuing for three blocks to the parking lot of Dos Caminos Park, found at the end of Vincente Avenue. Call: (805) 642-1591 for a free map of Ventura County bicycle routes.

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