Savoring Spring, Bruin-Style
Published Apr 1, 2012 8:00 AM
UCLA Stunt Ranch Reserve: Take a Hike
Once the 19th century homestead of the Stunt family, this 310-acre biological field station tucked away in the Santa Monica Mountains has been a part of the University of California Natural Reserve System since 1995. Here, faculty and students conduct research, and visiting K-12 groups learn about California habitats, animals and the human history of the area. Access to the ranch itself is by permission only but the breathtaking beauty of the place is open to all via the Stunt High Trail.
There are several trailheads, including one beside the reserve gate. "The first thing that usually captures one's attention are sandstone formations that look like big slabs of bread laying on their sides," says Nancy Helsley, president of the Cold Creek Docents, which leads the environmental education walks at the reserve.
Soon, the hiker's senses become attuned to other aspects of the area's diverse plant and animal habitats. Says Helsley, "You're surrounded by craggy mountains with all these nooks and crannies of interesting things to see—chaparral, grasslands, meadows, oak woodlands and streamside habitats."
A bench along the creek trail offers rest. Providing ambiance are sycamore, bay and live oak trees. Spring brings the return of wildflowers, including purple and black sages, buckwheat, lupine, milkmaids and chocolate lilies.
From here, the trail winds into what Helsley calls a "baby canyon." "It looks like a giant used a knife to take a slice out of the earth," she says. "This pie wedge that is about 10 feet wide at one point gets cut a little deeper with each storm. It's a good place to watch erosion in action."
Continue up Backbone Trail to Saddle Peak and "keep an eye out for bedrock mortar, ancient Indian grinding holes," advises Helsley. And the pack-rat nests: "dam-like structures with little rooms—some for sleeping, some for waste and others for storing food."
Finally you emerge atop the mountain, where, Helsley notes, on a clear day "you can see Santa Monica Bay, West L.A., the Palos Verdes Peninsula, Catalina Island and the taller buildings in Long Beach."