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A Walk Through the Wild West End of Catalina

June 20, 1993|JOHN McKINNEY

Like the Wild West of the mainland, Catalina's west end has attracted its share of gold-seekers. Twin brothers Nathaniel and Theoples Parsons (for whom Parson's Landing is named) were two such men.

The Parsons and other hopeful miners began constructing "Queen City" on the western coast of Catalina Island in 1863. The ambitious Argonauts were booted off the island, however, by the Union Army, which was surveying for a possible Indian reservation.

Wild animals still roam the isle's west end. In particular, goats have denuded the hillsides; the resulting erosion has created a land and wildlife management problem. A more welcome sight for wildlife lovers are American bald eagles soaring over the rocky cliffs near Land's End: The Catalina Island Conservancy is reintroducing the big birds to the island.

This hike ascends Silver Peak, highest promontory on the west end of Catalina; visits Starlight Beach, and returns via a coastal trail that overlooks a number of coves and sand strands.

Directions to trail head: From Long Beach or San Pedro, Catalina Express (310-519-1212) ferries visitors 22 miles across the sea to Catalina Island--first to Avalon, then along the coast to Two Harbors. (Service is also available direct from San Pedro to Two Harbors.)

To get to the Parson's Landing Campground, you can walk seven miles along West End Road or take a shore boat from Two Harbors as far as Emerald Bay. It's a great boat ride with superb coastal views. Shore boat schedules are partly coordinated with the arrivals of ferries and cost about $4 per person one way. Boat rides are scheduled throughout the week. Call Two Harbors at (310) 510- 0303 for more information.

The hike: From the Parson's Landing Campground (a little beach, a lot of campsites, a seaside picnic area), join the trail east, which soon junctions with West End Road. Go east (toward Two Harbors). After half a mile of hiking, you'll meet Boushay Trail, a dirt road ascending to the right (south).

Climbing the brushy hills, the road winds two miles to a ridge line and a meeting with Silver Peak Trail. The trail, a dirt road, extends along the backbone of the mountain range. You could head southeast down to Two Harbors, but this day hike turns right (northwest) and begins ascending toward Silver Peak.

You'll climb past some barren red badlands whose primary denizens are prickly pear cactus and wild goats. A milelong hike will leave you some 50 yards below the summit of Silver Peak. Clamber past scattered ironwood trees to the top. If it's a clear day, enjoy mainland and ocean views; if it's particularly clear, you might even spot Santa Barbara and San Nicholas islands.

Now Silver Peak Trail descends, deteriorating into a steep, bulldozer-cut path. Your abrupt descent brings you to a junction with the coastal road. Beach connoisseurs will turn left and hike a mile down to Starlight Beach, one of the most remote on the Catalina--in fact, on the entire Southern California--coast.)

If you turn right, the dirt coastal road dips in and out of oak-shaded canyons and serves up great coastal views as it meanders east back toward Parson's Landing.

Take a hike with John McKinney's guidebook: "Walk Los Angeles: Adventures on the Urban Edge " ($14.95). Send check or money order to Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Dept. 1, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.

Catalina Island / Silver Peak Trail Where: West end of Island. Distance: From Parson's Landing to Silver Peak, 7 miles round trip, with 1,700-foot elevation gain; to Starlight Beach, 11 miles round trip, with 1,700-foot elevation gain. Terrain: Coastal hills. Highlights: Terrific island hiking; one of Southern California's most remote beaches. Degree of difficulty: Moderate. Precautions: Wear sun protection during summer. For more information: Contact the Catallina Chamber of Commerce and Visitor's Bureau, P.O. Box 217, Avalon, 90704, (310) 510-1520.

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