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DOWN & DIRTY

Point Mugu: Nature in high-def

The viewing is fabulous and full-color at the beachside state park -- blue ocean, gray whales, orange and black butterflies and more.

September 09, 2007|Scott Doggett | Special to The Times

Point Mugu State Park, 60 miles north of downtown L.A. but a world apart, is so rich with natural attractions that on most days it gives white-knuckle mountain bikers an outstanding adrenaline rush, beachgoers seaside seats to see seals frolicking and campers scads of gigantic sycamores under which to picnic and play.

And that's not all: From February through April, park visitors may see Pacific gray whales cresting gentle swells; if it's a wet winter, whitewater crashing down boulders in the crease of a breathtaking canyon; and, from October to mid-November, thousands of monarch butterflies clustering in shaded groves, their wispy wings resembling miniature black-and-orange stained-glass windows.

The park's 15,000 acres of wilderness encompass the western reaches of the Santa Monica Mountains to the edge of the Pacific. Much of the area is rugged: Rocky canyons lined with coast live oaks, chaparral and coastal shrub feature 70 miles of prime hiking trails and nearly as many miles of dirt fire roads (shared by hikers, bikers and horseback riders).

The park has two popular campgrounds, Sycamore Canyon and Thornhill Broome Beach.

Campers who prefer mountains and mountain activities will want to stay at Sycamore Canyon, half a mile or so inland from Pacific Coast Highway. Most of the park's trails can be reached from the campground, which has not only huge, shade-providing trees but also restrooms with flush toilets and showers. (Hot water will cost you 75 cents.)

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, October 17, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
Point Mugu: An article in the Sept. 9 Travel section about Point Mugu State Park reported that it is north of downtown Los Angeles. The park is west of L.A.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, October 21, 2007 Home Edition Travel Part L Page 3 Features Desk 1 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
Point Mugu: A Sept. 9 article on Point Mugu State Park reported that it is north of downtown Los Angeles. The park is northwest of L.A.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, October 21, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
Point Mugu: An article in the Sept. 9 Travel section about Point Mugu State Park reported that it is north of downtown Los Angeles. The park is west of L.A.

If you start a hike from the campground, you'll pass through a wetland as you ascend a gradual slope into an increasingly dry terrain inhabited by mule deer, coyotes, bobcats and skunks. The views of canyons and the ocean are staggering, and temperatures are temperate: Daytime highs this close to the coast rarely reach triple digits.

Ferns and miner's lettuce give way to chaparral-covered hillsides. And those blossoms? State park interpreter Kristen Perry asks visitors not to pick them; many are endemic and endangered. The flowers can be identified at a free nature center beside the unnamed road that leads from PCH to the campground. A crouching cougar is among the center's stuffed displays; at least one live cougar roams the park, Perry says, so parents should not leave children unattended.

Sycamore Canyon Campground is popular with families, so expect to hear children playing. Also, its 58 campsites are close together, and noise travels easily from one site to the next.

Sandwiched between the surf and PCH for nearly two of Point Mugu's five-mile coastline is Thornhill Broome Beach Campground. Unlike Sycamore Canyon, this chain of 69 campsites is primitive: Amenities are limited to chemical toilets, roadside spigots every 100 yards or so and one fully exposed cold-water beach shower (near Campsite 47). There's also no shade.

But what Thornhill Broome lacks in amenities it more than makes up for in natural beauty -- or, as longtime visitor Tara Douglas put it, "serenity." The Azusa resident and a friend, Sheila Hockenhull of West Covina, have been coming to Thornhill Broome for 25 years, first with their kids and now by themselves. Although the sites are drawing increasing numbers of RV campers, Douglas and Hockenhull continue to pitch their tent on the sand.

The two were happy to relate some of their encounters with the park's wildlife, such as gulls reminiscent of "The Birds" that took hot dogs, burgers and chicken legs right off their flaming grill. "Don't turn your backs to them," Douglas said.

Another time, Douglas nearly stepped on a seal pup that had come ashore in the night and plopped down in front of her tent. It was barely able to lift its head and open its eyes. It attracted a crowd of campers. Shortly before sunset, the pup worked its way back to its mother and siblings, which had spent the day watching from the surf.

No stingrays or jellyfish swim in the waves off Thornhill Broome, says lifeguard Jeff Barrett, who has worked here for five summers, but there are recurring rip currents, which can pop up anywhere along shore and carry swimmers out to sea.

Few swimmers are strong enough to get back to shore while inside a rip current. However, Barrett advised, most rip currents are only about 10 yards wide, so if you find yourself being carried out to sea, swim parallel to the shore a minute or two and then swim back in.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Setting up camp

BASICS

Reservations are a must at both campgrounds. Contact Reserve America, (800) 444-7275, www .reserveamerica.com. Check for last-minute cancellations. You can't reserve a specific campsite. A ranger will assign one upon arrival.

Sites 2, 15, 17, 18, 20, 22, 25, 29 and 32 at Sycamore Canyon are under shady sycamores.

At Thornhill Broome, most of the sandy beach turns to rock before reaching the surf. If a straight sandy shot to the water is important to you, request a site near the southern end of the campground.

DRIVE TIME

Point Mugu State Park has several entrances, but the campgrounds are close to 9000 W. Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. Sycamore Canyon Campground is half a mile inland from that address. Thornhill Broome is two miles north of Sycamore. Plan on 70 minutes of driving to reach the park from downtown Los Angeles.

TO LEARN MORE

Point Mugu State Park, (805) 488-1827, www.parks.ca.gov.

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