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HIKING

Santa Monica Mountains dressed in blooms

March 30, 2003|John McKinney | Special to The Times

When the Santa Monica Mountains get enough rain at the right time, the wildflower bloom is impressive. This year looks to be excellent, with spectacular floral displays from Malibu to Point Mugu.

This week I'll detail five of my favorite wildflower walks in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. For more information on any of these places, call the recreation area at (805) 370-2301 or visit the "What's Blooming" section at www.nps.gov/samo. You also can stop by a visitor center, 401 W. Hillcrest Drive in Thousand Oaks, open weekdays.

My favorites:

* Malibu Creek State Park: Wildflower lovers head for the park's Reagan Ranch section. Good rains yield lots of flowers in the grassy meadows, once owned by Ronald Reagan. During the 1950s and '60s, he owned a 300-acre spread here.

You'll start by walking up a service road to a junction with two paths: the Deer Leg Trail, which leads into the woods, and the Yearling Trail, which winds through a meadow. The paths run parallel and are connected by side trails, so you can fashion loops of varying distances.

Look for hummingbird sage, lupine, purple nightshade, ceanothus and carpets of miner's lettuce in the woods. The meadow is bedecked with blue larkspur and California poppy.

Distance: one to three miles.

Directions: From U.S. 101 in Agoura Hills, exit onto Kanan Road and drive south three-quarters of a mile. Turn left on Cornell Road and follow it south to Mulholland Highway, where you'll park in the lot off Cornell and walk up the service road.

* Paramount Ranch: The same inviting meadows, creeks, canyons and oak woodlands that have been used by moviemakers since the 1920s are also attractive backdrops for a spring hike.

Not far from the movie set used for countless westerns are short trails leading to terrain painted in two colors. Alfilaria, better know as filaree, adds a lavender hue. Goldfields and fiddlenecks turn a nearby meadow yellow. Lovely chocolate lilies grow near the trail.

Distance: one-half to one mile.

Directions: Exit the 101 onto Kanan Road heading south, turn left onto Cornell Road and proceed 2 1/2 miles to Paramount Ranch.

* Leo Carrillo State Park: Milt McAuley, author of "Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains," took me on the walk to Nicholas Flat five years ago, and I've been coming back annually ever since.

Nicholas Flat is one of the best spots in the Santa Monica Mountains for spring wildflowers, McAuley explained, because it's the meeting point for four plant communities: chaparral, grassland, coastal scrub and oak woodland.

Along park trails, keep an eye out for shooting star, hedge nettle, sugar bush, hollyleaf redberry, purple sage, chamise, blue dick, golden yarrow and fuchsia-colored gooseberry flowers. After you've finished the 1,600-foot rise to Nicholas Flat, look for wishbone bush, encelia, chia, Parry's phacelia, California poppy and scarlet bugler.

Distance: seven miles round trip.

Directions: Follow Pacific Coast Highway to Leo Carrillo State Beach, at the Los Angeles County-Ventura County line. The park is north of the beach. Look for the Nicholas Flat trail head sign a short distance past the park entry kiosk, opposite the day-use parking area.

* Charmlee Wilderness Park: Most of this park is a meadow perched on the bluffs above Malibu. Lupine, Indian paintbrush, larkspur, mariposa lily, penstemon and California peony combine with coastal views to create a pretty picture.

Look for hummingbird sage, canyon sunflower, monkey flower and fiddleneck along the trails. In places where wildfires have burned part of the park, you may see caterpillar phacelia, fire poppy and California golden poppy.

Distance: three miles or less.

Directions: From Pacific Coast Highway about 12 miles north of Malibu, turn north on Encinal Canyon Road and drive 4 1/2 miles to the park.

* Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa: To see the wild west side of the Santa Monica Mountains in full bloom is to understand why the Chumash were able to thrive: This land is bountiful.

Hikers today can see a landscape of blue larkspur, pitcher sage and wild rose growing along a creek, fiddlenecks and California poppy flowering in the meadows, and lupine and golden yarrow blooming among the chaparral.

Distance: 1 1/2 miles.

Directions: From U.S. 101 in Newbury Park, exit onto Wendy Drive and head 2 3/4 miles south. Turn right onto Potrero Road and drive one mile, bear left on Reino Road and then turn left into the parking lot for Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa, a Native American cultural center. The Satwiwa Loop Trail starts nearby.

John McKinney offers other tips at www.thetrailmaster.com.

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