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Star The Economics Section - Page A3 Star

January 10, 1997

Simi Valley Historic Hiking Trails

by Staff Writers, The Daily Republican Newspaper

PALO ALTO DESK - Great sandstone formations and metamorphic backdrops right out of a western movie are the background for a hike in the Sage Ranch Park. The park, perched high in the Simi Hills on the Los Angeles-Ventura county line, offers magnificent rural and metropolitan views from its 2,000-foot-high ridges.

The ranch setting served as the set for early Hollywood Western film makers. Those early films were very authentic. They used the ranch road, once part of the old stagecoach road that linked the San Fernando Valley with the Simi Valley. The name 'simi' was given to the region by the ancient Chumash Indian people of Coastal California.

At Sage Ranch native plants are well represented within the oak woodland of ceanothus, coffee berry and California buckwheat. Over-grown orange and avocado groves fill out the ranch's diverse flora.

Springtime wild flowers color the edges of the trailside. There are bush lupine, California poppy, sunflowers, cream cups and many more. Bracken and sword fern grow in the park's lush corners. Dry areas have prickly pear cactus.

Orrin Sage, settled this remote corner of Venture County as his cattle ranch at the close of World War II. It was once the wild, wild west. Now it rests between Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. Major freeways serve the area, like the Simi Valley Freeway on the north, the Ventura Freeway on the south, Valley Circle Boulevard and Topanga Canyon Boulevard on the East, and finally, California 23 on the West.

Bordering Sage Ranch to the south is the Rocketdyne Santa Susana Field Laboratory, established in 1958. Rocket engine testing can be a noisy business, so the company chose the site, then called Paradise Valley, because of its isolation. The company and its successor, Rockwell International, have tested systems for the Apollo, Delta, Jupiter and Atlas projects, as well as for the Space Shuttle. Engine testing continues today; on weekdays, hikers may be surprised to find the park's quiet shattered by a short (under 30 second), low, loud rumbling noise.

Rocketdyne's lab was the site of an early, glitch-prone nuclear reactor. The reactor was shut down long ago, but not before causing some low-level contamination of some of the nuclear research buildings. This accident, plus engine-cleaning toxic chemicals that seeped into the ground water, created a dilemma for the lab's neighbor Orrin Sage: In the 1980s when he wished to sell his ranch, he couldn't prove his ranch wasn't contaminated and thus couldn't market it.

The Mountains Recreation Conservation Authority tested soil, water and air quality and found no contamination. The agency purchased the ranch for parkland in 1990.

The views have changed considerably since the days when Sage's cattle roamed these hills; despite the addition of lots more civilization to the panoramic pictures, they remain spectacular. One good vista point is located a short distance from Black Canyon Road. From the east side of the road (opposite the park's main entrance), hike 100 yards up a trail to gain a grand view of the San Fernando Valley and the Santa Monica Mountains.

Sage Ranch Loop Trail also offers excellent views. I prefer a counterclockwise hike of the ranch, but the loop is a fine one whichever direction you hike it.

Directions to trail head: From the Ventura Freeway (U.S. 101) in Woodland Hills, exit on Valley Circle Boulevard and drive north six miles to Woolsey Canyon Road. Turn left (west) and proceed 2.7 miles to Sage Ranch Park. The park entrance is on the left, a short distance past the Rockwell International Santa Susana Field Laboratory, where Woolsey Canyon Road bends north and continues as Black Canyon Road.

The hike: From the parking area, walk up the paved park road past a hillside cloaked in an eclectic mixture of scrub oak, eucalyptus, orange and avocado trees. Alas, time, freezing temperatures, several drought years and Ventura County's restrictions on agricultural water use have not been kind to the orange and avocado trees.

You'll soon arrive at the "Campground Overflow Parking" lot and join the signed loop trail. The path winds briefly among oaks and drops into a cluster of sandstone boulders. Enjoy inspiring views north of the Simi Valley and the distant peaks back of Ojai. The trail curves south, drops into a boulder-filled bowl, crosses it, then passes sandstone outcroppings that look like giant skulls. A gentle ascent brings you by a far corner of the Santa Susana Field Lab's parking lot. The path climbs past some brush-engulfed avocado trees back to the parking area.


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