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JAUNTS : Up Close in the Backcountry : A park ranger will lead a 10-mile tour of the new public parkland--Palo Comado Canyon--which is way off the beaten track.


If you are undaunted by summer heat, here's the hike to take this Saturday: a 10-mile guided tour of oak-lined Palo Comado Canyon, that scenic swath of new public parkland in eastern Ventura County.

The National Park Service bought the canyon--which, along with China Flat, forms 2,329-acre Jordan Ranch--from entertainer Bob Hope last year for $16.7 million. The Park Service opened it to hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians in November.

But the picturesque canyon is a little tricky to reach. The Park Service hopes to provide better access eventually, but for now access is through neighboring Cheeseboro Canyon, another chunk of public park land. That means you have to hike about two miles before you even get to the fire road that winds up into Palo Comado.

One way to learn the route and see some backcountry scenery in both canyons is to join Park Service Ranger Mark Boehler on Saturday's hike.

Boehler is meeting hikers in the parking lot of Cheeseboro Canyon at 8:30 a.m. for the outing, which he expects will last about six hours. Temperatures in the canyon earlier this month hit 110 degrees, so hikers should bring two or three quarts of water, as well as lunch.

From the parking lot, Boehler will start out on the Modello Trail, now the main access into Palo Comado. The trail follows a rather steep ridgeline, then goes up and down some grassy hills to the north, finally coming to the turnoff for Palo Comado. Then it's about a mile down into the canyon.

The canyon is a spectacular piece of land. Oak trees line the fire road, which climbs steadily as you hike through the canyon, providing astounding views along the way. Tiers of mountain peaks give it an Alps-like feel. The hillsides are dotted with rock outcroppings.

One reason the canyon is such a valuable natural resource is that it is more than a wildlife habitat: It's a vital wildlife corridor, providing a link to other wild areas for animals such as bobcats, coyotes, deer and mountain lions. Hikers will likely see wildlife, especially hawks and eagles.

All the cattle from Jordan Ranch were removed when it became public land, but the hiking group will walk by the remains of the ranching headquarters. Then Boehler will lead the group onto a trail taking them by what he calls a graveyard for dead cows.

"It's kind of bizarre," he said. "There are all these bones from dead cows." How they got there he isn't sure.

From there he'll loop back into Cheeseboro Canyon, hooking into Sheep Corral Trail and then back out to the parking lot via Sulphur Springs Trail.

The hike won't go as far as China Flat, the beautiful meadow that rises out of Palo Comado Canyon and overlooks distant mountains. But it will take in some striking views, Boehler said.

Along the way he will point out some nifty features. "(Hikers) will see a unique oak tree, a hybrid really, a cross between a valley oak and a coast live oak," he said. "It's very strange."

He will also point out far-off Oat Mountain, a peak that rose 16 inches as a result of the Jan. 17 earthquake.


* WHAT: Ranger-led 10-mile hike in Palo Comado and Cheeseboro canyons in eastern Ventura County.

* WHERE: Hikers will meet in the parking lot of Cheeseboro Canyon. Take the Chesebro Road exit off the Ventura Freeway. Go north on Palo Comado Canyon Road and turn right on Chesebro Road at the stop sign. Follow it to the park.

* WHEN: Saturday, 8:30 a.m.

* CALL: (818) 597-9192.

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