12 April 2016

Devils Canyon

Los Angeles County Trail

Oat Mountain seems like a place to go to see some flowers and Devils Canyon looked like a fun and challenging way to get there. The first challenge is where to start since the trailhead seems to be within a gated community. The geocachers have a suggestion, so I took it and parked in a small dirt lot beside a larger, fenced lot. There is a trail up and around the side of the fence and an old road down into the canyon. Both look, at first glance, to be well used. My impression when looking before was that the trail stays high, but the canyon is lush and tempting, so down I go. The road bed twists steeply down and has not fared well as a road, but is still an excellent path. Someone is thinking of building here and there are strings strung up between stakes. I walk down between the phantom houses and into the bottom of the canyon and suddenly everything is green and wet and bird song.

old road
A tiny canyon ahead and a fading road to get to the bottom of it.

purple sage
A blast of purple sages.

The trail splits, one for upstream one for down but no continuation between the two. I turn up and it is narrow now, but still distinct. There is water in the creek as the trail crosses it. Poison oak is sometimes just a little bit too close, but I can avoid most of it. An unexpected stand of tule grass obscures one short section and a large fallen branch makes progress difficult in another section. At one point, it does turn up the creek bed, but it is where the water is underground. Overall, progress up this rough, but well used trail is slow. Still, the prints on it include horse hooves.

creek with water
A trickle of water sinks into a gravel area as the trail climbs the right bank.

There are a few trails back out of the canyon toward the houses to the southwest. They are tempting to get away from the threat of poison oak, but if they go to another trail that travels along or just to some back fence is a mystery. When on the other side of the creek, the trail passes by steep sandstone cliffs with small caves. Sometimes it is high enough from the water level to start to look dry, but mostly it is full of trees and lush. And then there is a huge flood control measure up ahead and it climbs out into the chaparral to join a road. That is what I am expecting to come across eventually.

downstream an into the sun
Looking back over the small canyon full of trees.

holding back the trees
One of two massive check dams for flood control along this canyon.

The road is much better traveled. It drops down to the back side of the check dam and continues upstream. At first, this is in gravel that looks like it could be the stream bed. The trail braids through the stuff. Soon enough, the gravel captured by the check dam is replaced with dirt and the willows growing in it by trees.

willows in the gravel
A dip of disturbed gravel shows the trail through the debris collected by the check dam below.

everlasting in mud and sandstone
A cliff side garden.

stream and path
And a stream side trail.

Along the way, I do still manage to not quite find the trail forward and wander up a deeply suspicious trail out of the canyon again. It is just another connection to the houses above. From inside the canyon, the houses are almost invisible. Just past that, there is a much better trail up which is probably the other side of the Santa Susana Pass Trail.

rocky bottom for a moment
A spot of harder rock generates a few shallow pools.

two houses at the top
A pair of houses are a brief reminder that there is a neighborhood close by.

The trail briefly takes on the character of a road as a second joins it near the second check dam. Past it, things quickly dwindle again. There is an old gate standing wide open, but it no longer has anything to latch to. Past it, the canyon opens up and the road becomes a little more distinct. The bird song continues although now the occasional plane overhead can be better heard.

small meadow
A few small meadows full of oaks can be found.

There is a witness post up on a hill. The hill is steep, but it is not that far, so I go for the scramble. There is no reward for it except spotting another one on the other side of the creek and up at the top of the cliff. In the other direction, there seems to be a somewhat new road, or at least newly maintained, winding down the tiny little tributary canyon. That is curious. I am not expecting any roads until this one ends at Las Llajas.

yarrow under an oak
A clump of yarrow enjoys the shade of an oak beside the tributary. A little different angle and the road can be seen.

From here, the road is sufficient for driving. There are more roads in from the east and this one divides in confusing ways. I make guesses as I go and they seem to work out. There are workers loading cut oak logs from a dead tree on the right branch just over a hill at a spot I chose left. A flat spot surrounded by old railroad ties set upright seems an odd initial construction for something. Regularly, there are more witness posts along the road and up on the hill. One of the more accessible ones even pans out for a section corner.

used road
A section of passable road leads into a wide maintained section on the left and more passable stuff down the hill to the right.

One last road comes in from the east and all the tire tracks vanish from the path. The next section appears to have some use and a lightly used access road, but nothing like the previous section. The trees seem a little more dense, but that might be because the canyon closes in a little before opening up again. The hills start to get grassy and near signaling the end of the canyon.

grassy hills
The grassy hills do not seem to be covered with the expected flowers.

posts ahead on the road
A pair of posts, part of another gate, are another signal the road is almost finished.

The road ends at another. There is a small, half hidden sign beside the open gate saying "trails" and pointing back the way I came. It is probably a bit of a hint, but I am looking for a way up Oat Mountain now. I take the sharp right and start to climb at a more noticeable pace. The land actually flattens out a little into low hills in a delicate green.

oak spattered hills
The far hill is the high point of my Las Llajas hike, so I am recognizing the area some now.

more oaks in grasslands
More grassy areas ahead.

The geocachers put a cache out here, too, a fair bit south of the road near a fence line. It is a good viewpoint for the canyon and surrounding area including Rocky Peak. The fence is only just now going in, extending from a quarter section corner. More construction. What is the area coming to?

Oat Mountain
Oat Mountain up ahead, but no big fields of flowers. Some of the peak is accessible to hikers.

Devils Canyon and Rocky Peak
Overlooking Devils Canyon. Rocky Peak is a dark point along the far visible range.

over the ridge into Las Llajas Canyon
Out to Las Llajas Canyon.

There is good road from here. I follow it around to one last gate, which is locked. The building that was in the satellite photographs is a house. With peacocks. That explains the mournful cries I have been hearing but could not quite remember. There is a man out in the yard unloading something. I could be bold and ask if I may pass through, but instead let him answer no already by not asking. He finishes and heads off and I turn around.

swarming termites
Termites swarming over a burned log.

Going in this direction, it is easier to notice the old road with a well worn track up it. I dither some more, then try it. Unfortunately, it shows more and more signs of being maintained by cows. Near a spring that was once fenced, the tracks on the road diverge. One dives into the nearby creek bed through a cow sized tunnel in the branches. The other starts climbing back and forth right up the mountain. It is definitely from cows, so I turn back again. Further back, there is one more old road climbing the hills, but I let that one go.

gopher snake
Another one of those crazy Los Angeles gopher snakes that suns itself in the shade.

Back at the junction, I could continue on to cross my path of a few months back for a few miles, then down Johnson Motorway. It would make a good loop as that motorway also connects to the Santa Susana Pass Trail. It was my plan B. I decide against and head back down the canyon. Not everything has to be a loop. It is good to experience the same thing from a different angle and in different light.

hollowed trunk with shoots
A truly giant walnut stood here once, but was almost entirely burned out. It still lives and grows at its old edges.

Back in the section with well used roads, there is an older man walking up the road who looks entirely too content to be this far away from transport without any water. More befuddlement, but it turns out he actually has answers. He is the rancher that owns the land this section of the road passes through. He says he is out to grow some native food and build a park. I am not certain what all that entails, but maybe cabins and definitely bathrooms are involved. It also turns out he is not far from transport at all as his ride comes down the hill to pick him up.

bee into purple sage
A honey bee slurps from the purple sage with a dusting of lavender pollen on its head.

off to the next flower
And it works around to more flowers.

Not too long after the rancher are a pair on dirt bikes. They look much more prepared for being out here with leathers and drinking hoses for their water. They seem to think that I do not since the first one stops and asks if I am alright. Concern is filling his voice, but he is willing to take my word that I am fine and rides off on his noisy contraption. This is certainly odd since the general public is not allowed anything motorized on most of these roads.

sticky monkey
The sticky monkey flower is blooming all over now.

Past all the unexpected roads and back to the expected junction, I turn up it for a little more poking around. This was intended to be my route back down off Oat Mountain. I had thought the road looked more like a road at this junction from traffic from this direction, but I was wrong. The road dwindles even more quickly here. Some of it has been lost outright and the track follows the stream bed instead.

overgrown road into a canyon
A peek into a new canyon along another overgrown road bed.

This trail splits again. There really are a lot more trails out here than I expected. Mine is to the left and I go that way until movement across the trail in front of me catches my eye. I stop and it stops. Another gopher snake? The markings look a little more genuine. The head just a little wider. I step sideways a little to see the tail still hiding in the grass. There are the expected rattles. I wait, but the snake will not move. I stomp the ground a bit hoping it will decide the best course near a big animal is to move along, but it curls instead. The old road bed here is clear except for grass, so I have room to move around it. Very slowly, I edge around and very slowly, the snake curves around keeping a pit pointed at me. With a careful look around, I back away until comfortable to turn and walk quickly.

Wildlife is fine, but this particular example does tend to frighten one.

oak in a meadow
A little bit of the canyon.

This road starts to look a bit more like a road too. I stop a short way before a stream crossing before heading back again. It does give me a different view of Oat Mountain. I still do not see wild flowers in the grasses up there.

Oat Mountain
Grassy Oat Mountain just ahead.

On the way back, I slow as I recognize the area near the snake. My pace is practically a crawl as I approach the actual spot. It is now just a memory to this location, but there is a deep feeling that to be safe, I need to avoid where the snake sat. Other than my ridiculously slow pace, I manage not to yield to such irrational thoughts.

wild rose
A few wild roses are open, but already wilting.

delicate, thin, long petals
Thin and long petals give this flower a weak look.

Dirt bike tracks at the junction paused and thought about going down this trail, but decided against it. A slightly different rumble is coming up the trail as I continue down past the junction. This new set of bikers is distinctly different from the previous ones. They are well dressed in all the ways that do not matter and none of the ways that do. Their bikes are a different kind of bike. The first stops to ask me where it is that he has found himself, and even turns off the engine to do it. They do not appear to have any water. I tell them what they want to know and continue on.

blue flowers
Another honey bee favorite.

shaded trail
Back into the little canyon with its little cliffs and tiny caves.

I keep to the road this time so I can go out the correct way. This brings me to trail around the back of the gated community complete with signs. Of course, they do indicate the motor bikes have no business being out here.

trail sign
Los Angeles County trail sign.

more hills
The other side of the canyon seems to have more roads above it. Oh, and that first set of bikes are on them.

This trail climbs upward along the back of the condominiums. Turning a corner, the little bit of walls and backyards does nothing to prepare me for the full onslaught of Los Angeles after the calm canyon travel listening to birds and bees. It is quite a transition.

highway meets freeway
The north end of Topanga Boulevard: highway 27 meets the Ronald Reagan Freeway. This serves as quite a reminder of where I am.

The trail continues eastward. A spur leads back west to allow taking in the view from the top of the hill. After the initial shock of the sudden noise of so many cars zooming past, it can be a good viewpoint. It dumps me out on the far side of the fenced area, now locked up, from where I parked. It is much easier travel compared to down in the canyon and can probably make one appreciate the time down there better for the extreme contrast.

mountains from the top
Sunset is coming, but this side of the pass is already in shadow. Johnson Motorway comes down past the upper right mansion.

Los Angeles City
Everything on the other side of the freeway is just a fraction of the City of Los Angeles.

©2016 Valerie Norton
Posted 18 Apr 2016

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