Western Sycamore
(Platanus racemosa) silhoetted
against sedimentary rock outcrop
Circle X Ranch:
Santa Monica Mtns.
National Recreation Area

Ventura County

January 16, 2002

Circle X is one of my favorite areas to hike in the Santa Monica Mountains. Located on Yerba
Buena Road in the western section of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area,
Circle X is centrally located to some of the most spectacular scenic vistas in the Santa Monicas.
Several trails lead off from this area, including the Backbone trail and the Mishe Mokwa trail.
Despite the occasional cluster of ever invasive residential developments, this section of the Santa
Monicas imparts an inspiring "backcountry" feel....even so close to the city of Los Angeles.
Stellar sedimentary rock outcrops, remote valleys and gorges, and some awesome chaparral
plant communities makes this a must see for anyone interested in the outdoor environment.

Redshanks (aka. ribbonwood) (Adenostoma sparsifolium) and Ceanothus front the long
range view of Sandstone Peak and Boney Mountain. This photo was taken near Triunfo Pass
about one mile from the Circle X trailhead (and ranger station) parking area.

Formerly, Circle X (currently owned by the National Park Service) had a campground associated
with it. Long since shut down, the service road remained a useful hiking trail. Thinking this had
not changed, I brought my very good friend and hiking/plant buddy, Suzanne Guldimann, down
the beautiful (but steep!) Grotto trail with the expectation that we could loop around to the
campground access road and back to our car. Ha! The park service had destroyed the road. Not
wanting to return the way we came, we foolishly decided the churned up road couldn't be that
bad. One of our bigger mistakes. Indeed, Mother Nature could not have reclaimed the road
more effectively. Moral of the story: stay on real trails, and never mess with park
service "restoration" projects!

The ultimate destination is the "Grotto" springs area. Dropping about 800 feet in one mile, the
trail leading here is steep, following the west fork of Arroyo Sequit. Below the Grotto, the
canyon drops off at a more harrowing angle that clearly few have risked investigating.
Impressive (volcanic?) boulders and spring-fed seeps (that surely had salamanders peering at us
from the leaves?!) were very picturesque. Fragrant bay laurels (Umbellularia californica) and
western sycamores crowded over the grotto, enhancing the quiet and intimate feel of the area.


Revised: June 21, 2004

This site ©2004 Ann Dittmer.