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JAUNTS : For a Nearby Camping Outing, Head for Hills : The newly opened 624-acre Sage Ranch park offers something for hikers, bicyclists and equestrians.


Here's a new place to camp, without leaving Ventura County: the Sage Ranch at the east end of the county in the rugged, rocky Santa Susana Mountains.

Opened in May, the 624-acre spread with its 10 campsites is owned and operated by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, which spent $4.2 million to acquire the site.

But you don't have to be a camper to appreciate the place. For hikers, it has stunning views--but more than that, it has rocks, lots of them. It's filled with sandstone outcroppings, some of them huge, that are spectacular in themselves and give the park a unique feel.

The rocks and scruffy chaparral-covered hills give the area a real Western look, just like something out of the movies. The ranch was in the Sage family since the 1940s. The orange and avocado trees they planted are still there.

"It's an important property," said Rorie Skei, an official with the conservancy. "It holds a strategic position in the cross-mountain wildlife corridor. And it has access to urban areas."

In fact, the urban areas are quite visible from the top of the property, which has a nearly 360-degree view, encompassing the ocean, Simi Valley and the San Fernando Valley.

Adjacent to the property is Rocketdyne's Santa Susana facility, where the company does rocket engine testing and other research. If you take a two-mile loop trail around the perimeter of the ranch, you can't miss it.

Hikers can take a walk led by anthropologist Tom Maxwell from 2 to 5 p.m. Oct. 16. He will follow the loop trail, which is actually a dirt road starting at the base parking lot.

The park only has one trail now, which is also open to bicyclists and equestrians, but more are planned, Skei said. The campsites, in a secluded oak grove high on the property, are for tents only. Water and a chemical toilet are nearby. The cost per night is $10. Camping is allowed only on Friday and Saturday nights. Reservations are accepted but not required.

The spacious 4,000-square-foot home that the Sage family built on top of the property is off limits, except for a pay telephone outside. A ranger lives there, but eventually the house may be turned into a conference center, Skei said.

Getting to the ranch is a little tricky. It's located south of Simi Valley, on Black Canyon Road near Woolsey Canyon Road. From eastern Simi Valley, you can get to it via a two-mile stretch of Black Canyon Road or a three-mile stretch of Box Canyon Road, but both paved roads are narrow, windy and steep that might make some drivers nervous. The conservancy recommends a longer alternative route for Simi-area residents, following the Simi Valley Freeway east to Topanga Canyon Boulevard, then south.

From other parts of Ventura County, the best access is via the Ventura Freeway east to Valley Circle Boulevard, north to Woolsey Canyon Road and east 2.7 miles to Black Canyon Road. This route, which takes you past Rocketdyne, is marked with signs to the ranch.


* WHAT: Docent-led hike at Sage Ranch park.

* WHEN: 2 to 5 p.m. Oct. 16.

* WHERE: Sage Ranch is on Black Canyon Road near Woolsey Canyon Road in the Santa Susana Mountains south of Simi Valley.

* FYI: For information about the park or to make camping reservations, call (818) 999-3753; for information about the hike, call (310) 456-5046.

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