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Hike 45 – The Grotto Trail & West Fork Berger Canyon | 100 Hikes

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Hike 45 – The Grotto Trail & West Fork Berger Canyon

Posted By on March 5, 2011 in Hikes, Photos | 0 comments

A tough, off-trail adventure in the Santa Monica Mountains.

I’ve been wanting to do this hike for a while now. Back on hike #27, I spotted from a distance what looked like a cave deep up a small canyon. Ever since then, I’d been thinking about returning for an off-trail expedition to check it out. On a cloudy day in August, a friend and I headed down the Grotto Trail in search of adventure.

We first went down to the Grotto itself since Becquie had not been there before. For a Sunday afternoon, I was surprised that we had the small underground pool to ourselves. In fact, we only saw three other hikers that day. We spent an half hour or so down at the Grotto before heading up the trail to start our off-trail journey. I figured the best way up the canyon was to follow the stream bed, now dry here in the late summer.

Going off trail wasn’t easy. The thick vegetation has claimed this area their own and protect it fiercely. Branches seemed to grab at our clothes and skin. Becquie wore shorts, which made the journey even more difficult, but I knew that if any of my friends could handle a tough off-trail hike, Becquie. (We met on Hike #21, my hardest hike to-date.). We detoured around patches of poison oak, parted waist-high bear grass, and tested the stability of the river rocks in the dry stream. With such lush vegetation, we were surprised to find signs of human occupancy. It seems that not too long ago, humans tried to tame this small canyon (labeled as Berger Canyon on my topo map) and create a camping area. In the 1950′s, this land was owned and managed by the Boy Scouts in an area called Circle X Ranch. It covered over 1,720 acres of land which included Sandstone Peak, Boney Ridge, and this area, known by the Scouts as Happy Hollow. In its heyday, Happy Hollow Boy Scout Camp could accommodate over 100 Scouts. Although Circle X Ranch still exists and is run by the National Park Service, Happy Hollow has long since been abandoned. On our tromp through the thick bush, we would find signs of the camp: picnic benches, a rusted machete blade, an old road to nowhere, the bridge connecting it to civilization long ago burned down and washed out. In the battle between Man and Nature, Nature has won back Happy Hollow. Humans were not welcome here anymore.

We figured this out soon enough and called the quest off. Maybe on another day I would make it all the way up Berger Canyon and see if there’s a cave. But that wouldn’t be today.

What I learned on the hike:

  1. We spotted a lot of cool nature on this trek: scorpions, tarantulas, lizards, and a large rattle snake!
  2. I found fresh mountain lion prints and coyote scat in the canyon. Although I’d love to see one of these timid animals on a hike, I’d prefer to see them when I’m not cornering them up a narrow box canyon. Besides, the cave I saw could be one of their homes, for all I know.

Resources:

  1. Localhikes – The Grotto Trail
  2. Hiking the Grotto Trail | Modern Hiker
  3. Map and Site Information: Circle X Ranch

Trip Stats:

  • Date of hike: August 23rd, 2009
  • Location: Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, California
  • Duration: 3 hours, 38 minutes
  • Length: 3.4 miles
  • Average speed: 1.8 mph
  • Vertical up: 917 feet
  • Altitude Down: 978 feet

This map was made with the data my GPS captured on the hike.
For a more detailed trip report map, check this out.

Photos:

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Becquie poses in the Grotto of Santa Monica Mountains.


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Our goal was to hike up this narrow canyon.


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I found this scorpion under a log. It's a striped-tail devil scorpion (Vaejovis spinigerus), a non-venomous scorpion commonly found in Southern California.


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A fence lizard allows a quick photo before it skitters off into the brush.


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A female velvet ant. Velvet ants are, in fact, wasps. Only the males have wings.


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I love the color of this tree.


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Remnants of the Happy Hollow Boy Scout Camp


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Can you spot Becquie in this photo? She is standing just 15 feet in front of the camera.


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Another Western fence lizard basking in the sun. Fence lizards are the most common lizard in Southern California.


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Wildfires in the 70s and 80s permanently shut down Happy Hollow Boy Scout Camp. This used to be a bridge which extended over the creek.


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Becquie stands next to an old bridge pier.


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Our trail was the stream bed. For a while, this was the clearest route through the canyon.


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A male tarantula on the prowl. This hairy fella was spotted on our drive out of the Santa Monica Mountains.


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Sunset from Westlake Village

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