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Pete Thomas ON THE OUTDOORS

It's a solitary place, but far from confining

December 01, 2006|Pete Thomas

My shadow's the only one that walks beside me...

-- "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" by Green Day

---

Ever have the feeling you're the only person on Earth?

Or the only being on Earth?

It's that kind of afternoon, eerily so, in the southwest portion of Point Mugu State Park.

The Green Day song floods my mind as I do indeed walk a lonely road, or in this case a lonely Fire Road Overlook Trail.

Not a creature is stirring. No squirrels, rabbits, hawks, snakes, lizards, coyotes or deer. Even more perplexing, no humans.

And this is a pleasant fall afternoon!

Ah, but the vistas. I had heard that this vast wilderness layout, at the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains, afforded some breathtaking views, and it's true.

To the east is tree-lined Sycamore Canyon, through which its namesake trail bisects much of the 15,000-acre park, and its towering, chaparral-covered hillsides.

To the west, for those high enough on the western ridge, is a shimmering blue ocean that seems to span forever.

And fittingly, on this peculiar day, there are no freighters, fishing boats or sailboats within sight. Were it not for the car whizzing below on Pacific Coast Highway, I'd wonder whether I had entered the Twilight Zone.

I half-expect a T-Rex to come thundering over the ridge.

Worse yet, that song is stuck in my head but, alas, I give in and place lyrics where applicable. ...

... I check my vital signs to know I'm still alive and I walk alone ...

*

Actually, things are going mostly according to plan. With sore eyes caused by dry weather, I decided to stop staring at the computer and go for a walk in a park I had long planned on hiking.

I reached the Big Sycamore Canyon entrance, just north of the Ventura County line, at 2:15.

The goal was to find a lofty ocean overlook high on a hill, explore the interior for about two hours and make it back to the overlook in time to photograph the sunset.

But because California State Parks, the bureau in charge, is too broke to staff its front gates, I could not get a trail map and was essentially winging it.

I had hiked nearly a mile along Big Sycamore Canyon Trail to the Fire Road Overlook Trail, turned left and walked another mile up to the Scenic Trail Junction, and the Scenic Vista plateau.

This was the perfect vantage point. I'd continue up the fire road to the top of the ridge and hopefully find another path back to the plateau before dark.

Back on the fire road, walking upward and glancing to my right, I can see clear across much of the park and only imagine how spectacular this view would be in the lushness of spring. It would be a green day even Green Day could appreciate.

As for the song, I'm trying to forget it but my shadow, emerging taller and more prominently each time I pass through sunlight, won't let me.

I notice animal sign along the trail -- piles of scat, and lots of it -- but no animals. I spot and photograph what appears to be a mountain lion paw print, but it looks to have been stamped weeks or even months ago.

I notice people sign too -- footprints and bicycle tire tracks -- but after more than an hour in the park I have not spotted a soul.

But wait! A mile ahead, on this very trail, a human being is walking downward. Eventually, we cross paths and Justin Rall, 30, who is returning to the trailhead, remarks that he too is mystified by the absence of life.

On previous afternoons, he says, he has encountered steady streams of people and has seen at least one mountain lion and "lots" of coyotes and deer.

He informs me that the Ray Miller Trail cutoff is atop the ridge about a mile ahead, and he believes that it loops over and back down the ridge toward the Scenic Trail vista.

At this plateau junction, back in full sunlight, the view of the canyon is breathtaking, whereas that of the ocean is obscured by a dense white haze turned incredibly bright by the lowering sun.

Even my shadow seems to be squinting as we set upon the Ray Miller Trail, ultimately discovering, however, that it leads not to Scenic Vista but downward to the Ray Miller trailhead, nearly two miles north of Big Sycamore Canyon.

I have two choices: Go off-trail to my left, hope I can reach my vantage point, and risk getting trapped on this trail-less hillside after dark; or retrace my steps and hope to make it back before sunset.

I choose the latter, for safety's sake, and find myself at a near jog on the fire road, in the ominous shadow of the ridge, watching the last remnants of sunlight slowly fade from atop the far ridge opposite the canyon.

For the first time I no longer feel alone, knowing that darkness is when the predators go on the hunt. I quicken my pace and round each bend with hopeful anticipation, and breathe a huge sigh of relief when, finally, the Scenic Trail junction comes into view.

The sun is only now beginning to melt into the Pacific. It's an overly brilliant sunset, but from where I stand it's definitely a sight for sore eyes.

pete.thomas@latimes.com

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