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VALLEY WEEKEND : JAUNTS : 70-Mile Backbone Trail Is Edging Closer to the Finish Line


Someday, hikers will be able to shoulder their backpacks and walk a 70-mile trail over spectacular mountaintops stretching from Pacific Palisades near Santa Monica to Point Mugu.

In fact, they can almost do it now. The Backbone Trail, linking a patchwork of parkland throughout the Santa Monica Mountains, is only 12 miles shy of that goal.

And that small gap is what Backbone Trail Month is all about. During November, the Mountains Conservancy Foundation draws attention to the trail's near-completion with weekly hikes and other activities.

If art is your thing, you can join the Allied Artists of the Santa Monica Mountains for a "paint-out" Saturday at Castro Crest, a picturesque spot on the Backbone Trail high above Malibu.

Artists will fan out in search of a scenic backdrop to paint. They won't be disappointed. Even from the parking lot, amazing sandstone rock formations and outcroppings stand out. For more secluded views, a five-mile trail loops from the parking lot down into a valley along a stream and back up along the ridgeline.

The "paint-out" isn't just for seasoned artists. "It's for the total beginner to the teacher to the student to the weekend painter," said Garrie Mar, director of development for the Mountains Conservancy Foundation. And anyone who doesn't want to paint can come along to hike and take a peek at some of the artwork.

The 12-mile gap in the trail is on the western segment. Crews are still building the link from Kanan Road to Encinal Road. The piece between Trancas Canyon and Circle X Ranch--at the Ventura County-Los Angeles County line--is still in the acquisition stage.

It will take another $4 million to complete, according to Mar, and that's where the Mountains Conservancy Foundation comes in. The nonprofit land-conservation group has promoted the trail during Backbone Trail Month for the last five years, but this year the foundation is beginning a campaign to raise public money for its cause.

When it is done, the Backbone Trail will be one of the longest urban wilderness trails in the United States. In Los Angeles County, it starts at Will Rogers State Historic Park in Pacific Palisades. It meanders westward through Topanga State Park, Malibu Creek State Park, and finally Point Mugu State Park, where it ends at the ocean.

Along the way, the trail takes hikers through oak and sycamore woods, along creeks with waterfalls and high on ridges with views to the ocean or urban valleys.


As part of Backbone Trail Month, the Sierra Club is leading a hike every Sunday throughout the month on portions of the trail. Three hikes scheduled this weekend are:

* Will Rogers State Historic Park to Deadhorse Trail head in Topanga State Park; 11 miles. Meet at 8:30 a.m. at Deadhorse Trail head, half a mile north of the post office in Topanga on California 27 (turn east onto Entrada Road; go 100 yards to parking lot on left). Car shuttle to Will Rogers.

* La Jolla Valley Loop; seven miles. Meet at 8:30 a.m. at the Ray Miller Trail head, 1 1/2 miles east of Mugu Rock, just off Pacific Coast Highway in La Jolla Canyon in Point Mugu State Park.

* Tapia Park, Castro Crest, Malibu Creek State Park loop; 14 miles (strenuous). Meet at 8:30 a.m. at Tapia Park parking lot on Las Virgenes/Malibu Canyon Road, located five miles from the Ventura Freeway or 4.7 miles from Pacific Coast Highway.

Hikers should bring water and lunch. For more information on these hikes and others scheduled this month, call (310) 589-2400.


* WHAT: Paint-out, in connection with Backbone Trail Month.

* WHEN: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

* WHERE: Castro Crest park, at the end of Corral Canyon Road, off Pacific Coast Highway.

* COST: Free.

* FYI: Bring art supplies, water and a sack lunch.

* CALL: (310) 589-2400.

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