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JAUNTS: Ventura County

Back Country Abloom

Thank that cool, rainy weather for lingering show of wildflowers.

April 23, 1998|JANE HULSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If the weather has kept you from trekking into the back country, don't worry that you've missed this spring's lush wildflower bloom.

It's still there. Thanks to heavy rainfall and chilly temperatures, the show is not only better than usual, it's lingering longer.

"It looks pretty good," said Sheila Braden, seasonal ranger for the National Park Service in the Santa Monica Mountains. "The weather has been so cooperative--cool--delaying their fading." If the colder weather continues, "We might have good flowers into June," she said.

That's good news for hikers frustrated by trail closures and a lousy climate the past few months. Heavy rainfall has washed out some trails, but there are plenty open now for wildflower viewing.

Not only that, the rainfall has brushed the mountains with a lush green hue and pumped new life into local waterfalls.

One must-see waterfall is in La Jolla Canyon in Point Mugu State Park along the Pacific Coast Highway. The deluge of rain played havoc with this narrow gorge, further opening it up, so you now see a voluminous double waterfall. (It's safer to pay the $2 parking fee here instead of parking on busy Pacific Coast Highway.)

The one-mile hike to the waterfall also offers a nice wildflower display--deer weed, morning glories and sunflowers, especially. Unfortunately, the rain damage has forced closure of the trail at the waterfall so hikers can't take advantage of the usual floral display farther up the trail in La Jolla Valley.

As for the best show in town this season, the honors go to Leo Carrillo State Park on the coast near the Ventura and Los Angeles county line, according to Braden and others.

She compiles a weekly report called "What's Blooming in the Santa Monica Mountains," and as of last week she was praising Leo Carrillo with three out of three possible stars.

"At the beginning of the season there was every kind of lupine," Braden said. "I called it lupine fields of blue, gold and white." Poppies are likely still in bloom, along with many other varieties. She recommends the two-mile loop up Willow Creek Trail and on Nicholas Flat Trail.

Another area nearby that scored high with Braden is the Circle X Ranch, off the coast up Yerba Buena Road. On the Grotto Trail to Happy Hollow Camp, more than 75 flower varieties have been spotted. The 6.5-mile Mishe Mokwa Trail here has some nice spots, and for those elusive chocolate lilies, there may be some left on the interior hillside of this trail, just past the first trail split.

If you'd rather take in the view from a car, Braden recommends a scenic drive on Mulholland Highway, from Las Virgenes Road on the east side of Malibu Creek State Park to Stunt Road. Keep an eye out for spreads of fire hearts, with their creamy white blossoms atop tall stalks with fern-like leaves. These and other "fire followers" only make an appearance after a fire has wiped out other vegetation.

Another fire-damaged spot that should produce a bumper crop of wildflowers this year is along the spur trail from Malibu Creek State Park's group camp to Tapia Park.

"The fire followers are just starting to come out there," she said last week.

While the foul weather has produced a hearty crop of wildflowers, it's also created a spectacular crop of poison oak, so watch out. It's made a mess of some of the back-country trails; some are still closed. Others are still wet.

"It's hard walking this year," said veteran hiker Milt McAuley, who has written books on wildflowers in the Santa Monica Mountains. But he said the bloom is pretty good this year, better than last year.

"There are some surprises this year," he said. One is in Upper Hondo Canyon, south of Calabasas, where the yellow bush poppies are flourishing. "There are millions of them, 8- to 10-feet high," he said. "I couldn't believe it." The best access to the trail is off Saddle Peak Road, less than a mile from the intersection with Stunt Road and Schueren Road, but parking is extremely tight and the bloom may have faded some.

In Los Padres National Forest, the bloom is good but landslides have made it impossible to get to some of the back country. Hikers are urged to stick with the front-country trails, such as Santa Paula Canyon, Sisar Canyon and Gridley.

Creeks are high, warned Terry Austin, a resource forester in Los Padres' Ojai office, but hikers willing to tough it out may see bush poppies, California poppies, lupine, monkey flower, morning glories and fiesta flowers. Keep in mind that California 33 is closed above Wheeler Canyon, and Matilija Road is off-limits as well.

The heavy rainfall has produced a bumper crop of wildflowers on the Channel Islands, and rangers are seeing more of the rare varieties. Last year, only 30 blue-flowered Phacelia were spotted.

"This year, there are hundreds of thousands of them," said Carol Spears, spokeswoman for the Channel Islands National Park.

BE THERE

Here are some guided wildflower hikes and activities:

Saturday, 10 to 11:30 a.m., Arroyo Verde Park, Ventura; $4 per person. For information and reservations (a must), call the city of Ventura, (805) 658-4726.

Saturday, 8 to 9 p.m., outdoor slide show of wildflowers at Malibu Creek State Park; $5 parking fee. For information, call (310) 457-8142.

Sunday, 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., wildflower hikes, Malibu Creek State Park. For information, call (310) 457-8142.

Saturdays, 9 to 11:30 a.m., free weekly wildflower walks in Wildwood Regional Park in Thousand Oaks. For information, call Conejo Recreation and Park District, (805) 495-2163.

Sunday, 2 p.m., Sage Ranch, south of Simi Valley; no cost. For information, call Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, (310) 589-3200.

For more wildflower information, call:

Theodore Payne Foundation wildflower hotline, (818) 768-3533.

National Park Service, Santa Monica Mountains, (818) 597-9192.

Los Padres National Forest, Ojai district, (805) 646-4348.

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve near Lancaster, (805) 724-1180.

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