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VALLEY WEEKEND

Hikes Under Night Skies Put Nature in New Light

Walks teach kids and adults to rely more on their senses. The outings are also a way to get exercise after work and beat the daytime heat.

May 30, 1996|JANE HULSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Hiking at night: Crazy, right?

Who would opt for the rigorous uncertainties of night over the clarity of broad daylight? Apparently a lot of folks. There are a slew of evening hikes and outings for night owls who want a different kind of wilderness experience.

In fact, there are owl hikes, full-moon hikes, stargazing hikes, even marshmallow-roasting hikes.

Don't get the idea that these hikes are a flashlight brigade. Sure, hikers bring their flashlights, but generally they don't turn them on unless there is a necessity. The whole idea is to experience the wilderness at night without artificial light. Besides, it's usually not as dark as you might think.

"Your night vision is pretty good," said Sharon Hardee, a naturalist with the Conejo Recreation and Park District. And when there is a full moon, you can actually see a moon shadow. "There really is such a thing."

A word of caution here: Don't head for the hills alone after dark. It's unsafe, and most parks are closed at night. Stick with an organized group. There are plenty out there--and for some, you'll have plenty of company.

The Conejo district really packs them in for some of their other night hikes. The cost is minimal, generally $3 or $4. The popular "Saturday Night S'Mores" draws 100 kids and parents who hike a mile into Wildwood Park for a marshmallow roast with stories and songs around the campfire. The next one will be June 15 from 6 to 8:30 p.m.

The district's full-moon hikes--a 2 1/2-mile loop to Lizard Rock in Wildwood Park--draw up to 60 people. The next one is Friday from 7 to 9:30 p.m.

Hardee also runs a series of owl hikes in Wildwood Park, with the next one scheduled from 7 to 9:30 p.m. is Saturday. For this two-mile jaunt, she also brings some stuffed owls and an audiotape of owl sounds.

"People have the idea that all owls have the same sound," she said. "But there really are some bizarre sounds that owls make."

Peter Rice, another naturalist for the district, is no stranger to the night. He has been leading "Night Awareness Hikes" in Wildwood Park for 10 years. He scoffs at the idea of using flashlights, except when necessary.

"The Native Americans didn't use flashlights," he said. "If we let our eyes adjust, we can see as well as the owls." On this two-mile trek for all ages except very young children, Rice discourages the use of flashlights, except where footing is tricky at a couple of spots on the trail.

His whole pitch is to get hikers to develop their night sensory awareness. He urges them to listen for night sounds, such as frogs, crickets, owls and coyotes. On the two-hour walk he tells them about the plants, animals, Chumash and constellations. He also tells a few stories and plays a few games. His next hike is on June 8 at 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.

For more rugged hikers, the Rancho Simi Trail Blazers lead evening hikes at the east end of Simi Valley on Thursdays and Sundays. The night schedule was adopted more to beat the heat and accommodate working people than to offer a different kind of wilderness experience. But it's done that too, according to the group's Mike Kuhn.

"It has a charm to itself," he said. "You can see the glow of the starlight and moonlight off the rocks." The lights of Simi Valley and the San Fernando Valley below are spectacular.

"I'm always startled that we're up here enjoying this and others are down there watching TV," Kuhn said.

*

On Thursdays, the group hikes the Chumash Trail at 6 p.m., and on Sundays it's the Rocky Peak Trail at 5 p.m. Both are about five miles round-trip and draw anywhere from a handful of people to a real crowd.

Hikers always take flashlights, but use them infrequently, partly because they can blind other hikers. But sometimes the clouds are so low that so you can't see your hand in front of your face, Kuhn said. Then they are absolutely essential. Also, in some places, the footing is tricky.

Night hiking calls for a little more agility too, he said. "You walk along with your knees bent--your depth perception is poor at night. You have to concentrate on where you're putting your feet. It tends to be more tiring."

Here are a few more night hikes in the month of June:

On June 15, the Malibu Creek Docents will put on an evening hike in Malibu Creek State Park for all ages over 5. This is a two-mile walk that begins at 7 p.m. and is followed by a campfire marshmallow roast. It runs about 2 1/2 hours, and the cost is the usual $5 parking fee. For information, call (818) 347-1817.

The Agoura-based Wilderness Institute organizes astronomy hikes and full-moon hikes in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. The next starlight hike is June 15, 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.; $15 for adults, $10 for youth. Full-moon hikes are scheduled for Saturday and June 30 (the latter also being a blue moon hike) from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Also on June 30 is a Women's Full Moon Walk from 6 to 10 p.m.; this event, which is $25 per person, is more of a evening workshop and includes the walk, stories and moon and goddess lore.

DETAILS

TAKE A HIKE: Here are a few places that offer night hikes or outings. Most require advance registration. Call to sign up and get location information:

* Conejo Recreation and Park District, Outdoor Unit, (805) 381-2737.

* Rancho Simi Trail Blazers, (805) 584-4400.

* Wilderness Institute, (818) 991-7327.

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