Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Hiking Vasquez And PCT

So far in my brief jaunt around Los Angeles, I would have to say that that my "home mountains" have been the Verduogs in Burbank. I have hiked numerous trails in and around the mountains and have really enjoyed the views and the hints of alpine despite the urban environment. However, perhaps my favorite area so far in all of LA is an area North of LA in the the Antelope Valley. I have hiked The Devil's Punchbowl and Devil's Chair and am looking forward to hiking more things named Devil. Of course, I couldn't turn down hiking one of the most famous areas in the Antelope Valley, the Vasquez Rocks.

Formed millions of years ago, shelter for Indians and settlers, these rocks jut out of the earth and make for spectacular scenery. Lots of movies and TV shows have been filmed here and indeed as you turn off the 14 and head toward the park, you pass many "movie" ranches on the road. 

I entered the park with the goal of checking out the rocks but also heading for the first time on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). 

I never heard of the PCT until I landed in LA but once I did, I knew it was the trail for me.  One of my online hiker buddies, Kolby hiked a significant portion of it last year and my appetite has been whetted.

Part of the PCT passes through Vasquez Rocks and allegedly there is a "golden spike" about 7 miles from the park commemorating the joining of the North and South trails into one PCT. I decided to go find that spike and get a sense of the PCT.

While the PCT makes it way through the park, if you want to go South, head to the faaar parking lot, as far as you can go. The trail isn't immediately seen from the parking lot but if you walk generally southeast you will enter a large field and eventually you will start to see posts like this that help guide the way through the park.

The PCT trail through the park is rather wide and hard to miss.

This is the only official trail through the park. I saw many people wandering through the brush and up on top of the rocks so feel free to wander and explore. If you do take this trail you get some great views of the rocks that makes this park so special.

The trail then starts dropping down into the canyons and gets you up close and personal with the rocks.

Also interesting in going along was numerous signs highlighting the various trees and plants that are in the park. Apparently a fire in 2007 really laid waste to a lot of the vegetation but the signs of regrowth are evident and there were plants to go along with the signs. Here was my favorite one just due to the combination of words.

Eventually after about a mile on the trail you get to a tunnel which leads under the 14 and gets you into the grasslands and hills of the PCT SOBO (southbound in PCT-speak). The tunnel is a little weird going through but a cool experience nonetheless.

When you come out the other side, you start going up and into the hills of the surrounding area. 

Be careful where you step because the PCT also serves as a game trail. As I was walking on it, I kept grumbling to myself "When will they pass the Coyote Diaper Act of Aught 12"? I mean really people, call your congressperson and get it done!

Now I have to be honest with y'all (when am I not?) but this trail was not exactly my favorite. The reason for this is because a lot of the trail is located midway on hills that snakes back and forth without many great views or ups or downs.

Here is an example of the trail

and another

However, when you DO get to the tops of hills (which the PCT doesn't lead to but there are side trails), the views are spectacular.

There were very few people on the trail but it didn't stop one old-timer (who was old in age only, he was in better shape than I was!) from remarking that there were lots of people on the trail that day. Considering I only saw 4 people other than myself, this is not an oft used trail so make sure you carry enough water and supplies because you are on your lonesome out there. 

Hiking on this trail also gave me a better sense of doing an entire or partially PCT trail. There are very few people so it is just you and your thoughts. There is also a lot of trail so you just keep going and going without necessarily an end point. However, there is something exhilarating about being out there and making your way around. I only got a small slice of what people like Kolby spend months doing but it was quite interesting. 

It was extremely windy in the Valley so when you go hiking around there, make sure you take your windbreaker. Even if it is warm, the wind will make you cool real quick.

The PCT is no the only trail in this part of the Valley. There are other use trails and truck trails for the powerlines which cross the PCT trail so be careful which one you are going on. I will say that some of these trails and good cut-throughs in certain places to cut down on the meandering around the hills in a horseshoe patterns. However it is probably better to make note of these trails and take them on the way back rather than getting off course heading out.

I kept hiking and hiking but I wasn't finding any golden spike. I also had a turnaround time which I was sticking to. If there is in fact this spike, I was probably a mile or 2 away from it but I wanted to stick with my gameplan so this is my golden spike. Anyone disagree?

Now aside from the occasional views there is other types of beauty on this trail. I don't want you to think otherwise. That's why I snapped 2 pictures of one of my favorite views thus far in hiking in SoCal.

Eventually you make your way back the way you came but be warned, leave a little extra gas in the tank because you will be going uphill for a mile or 2 and after hiking 6 miles out, you have to gear yourself up for that sucka.

Then you make your way along the middle of the hills again and start dropping back over the hills and going down toward Vasquez.

Back in the park, I ran into a guy training to be a docent for school groups so he filled me in on some cool stuff about the park like what Mormon Tea is (a thin needle-like plant that acts like ephedra and is actually used for tea) and that the town of Acton was actually going to be the state capital of California because there was so much gold in the area. Very fun stuff.

Overall, the hike alternated between grandiose and a little tedious. However, the beauty more than made up for the boredom and I highly recommend hiking in this area and the Antelope Valley in general.


  1. Here's my write-up of my hike from Vasquez Rocks to the Angeles National Forest. Turns out I didn't post any pictures of the "Golden Spike" on my blog, though. I'll add a picture of the spike, just for you. It's just a little monument--not an actual spike.

    I hiked it in March 2010 (just over two years ago) and didn't see anyone once I left the immediate vicinity of Vasquez Rocks.


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