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VENTURA COUNTY WEEKEND | JAUNTS

Rocky Oaks Park Offers Easy Access for Casual Hikers

Docents will lead a two-hour outing that includes a leisurely two-mile walk at the former cattle ranch site.

February 08, 1996|JANE HULSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If you are new to hiking and intimidated by the thought of heading into the wilds, ease into it with a trip to Rocky Oaks park in the Santa Monica Mountains.

This park, south of Westlake Village at the corner of Kanan Road and Mulholland Highway, is often overlooked by hikers seeking more rigorous, remote spots. But for families looking for a picnic spot or an easy trek, Rocky Oaks is a little-known gem.

Topanga Canyon Docents, who conduct local park tours, have been leading hikes here, and the word is getting out. The next trek is at 10 a.m. Saturday. The free two-hour outing includes a leisurely two-mile walk.

"It's a terrific park," said docent Claire Kaye. "It's got a pond, oaks, chaparral." Because it's only 197 acres, it's manageable for children or inexperienced hikers.

Rocky Oaks used to be a cattle ranch. When Kanan Road was built, Los Angeles County bought the ranch to use it as a base for the huge construction project. After the road was finished, the county turned the park over to the National Park Service about 15 years ago.

Tucked in a valley, the site has little to remind anyone of its ranching history--or its construction equipment days. Once the project was finished, the spot was restored to its natural state.

The only ranching reminder is a pond nestled in the middle of the property that was built for the cattle. The docents have dubbed it Kermit's Pond.

It's a picturesque spot and the highlight of the walk. Cattails and tall reeds border the water. Ducks, coots, an occasional heron and other birds hang out there.

It was here that Kaye once came upon a startling scene during a sunset hike in July. As she approached the pond, she could see what looked like little balloons all over the water. She raised her binoculars.

"They were bullfrogs--hundreds of them," she said. "Just their heads were above the water. They were all faced in the same direction, toward us. They didn't make a sound. It was a very strange sight."

During her hike, Kaye stops at the pond for a break to give people time to bird watch or eat a snack. Picnic tables are located here.

You'll see a fenced area near the pond. The rare pentachaeta lyonii grows there, a tiny sunflower no bigger than your pinky finger.

*

Because the park is bordered on two sides by roads, you often hear the hum of traffic. But it's not distracting.

The main trail takes you through a grove of large oak trees with a small amphitheater where couples exchange wedding vows.

It winds up along a chaparral-covered ridge that offers views of the Conejo and San Fernando valleys. The park is surrounded by mountains. With stables nearby, it's a favorite of horseback riders.

Kaye takes her groups on a side trip up a canyon to a spot the docents call "the grotto." A creek trickles through here, and at one point huge chunks of volcanic rock rest over the water giving it a cave-like look that children like to explore.

Wildflowers, including wild roses, bloom here in the spring and summer. This spot is at the foot of "the mitten," a sandy-colored volcanic rock formation that looks just like, well, a mitten.

Near here grows an amazing oak tree. It's in a cool grove of moss-covered trees, the favorite of docent Daphne Elliott. The blackened tree was struck by lightning. Its trunk is virtually hollow. But the tree was able to shoot out a healthy limb that thrives like a whole other tree.

"I call it indefatigable," Elliott said.

DETAILS

* WHAT: Two-mile walk.

* WHERE: Rocky Oaks park, located at the intersection of Kanan Road and Mulholland Highway, south of Westlake Village, in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. (Entrance is on Mulholland.)

* WHEN: 10 a.m. Saturday.

* HOW MUCH: Hike is free; no charge to use the park.

* CALL: (818) 707-8540.

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