Thursday, July 12, 2012

Neat rock formations, bubbling oil await Los Angeles-area hikers

Wiley Canyon Trail

Wiley Canyon Trail easily reached
via I-5 north of San Fernando Valley

Greenery amid the desert, unique rock formations and oil naturally seeping out of the ground await hikers on the Wiley Canyon Trail about a half-hour north of Los Angeles.

The trailhead to Wiley Canyon starts at about 1,400 feet above sea level in desert country. Thanks to the seasonal creek and climbing elevation, most of the canyon bottom is green in summer. It’s located in Ed Davis Park, which is nestled between the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys just off Interstate 5.

'Wiley Motorway'
The Wiley Canyon Trail actually is a section of the Towsley View Loop Trail, which zig-zags for 4.5 miles through the park. Canyon View Trail is a smaller, alternative path at the park’s northeast corner that links Wiley and Towsley canyons.

The trail cutting through Wiley Canyon is an old oil road; it’s even listed on some maps as the “Wiley Motorway.” Today, it’s just a walking trail, usually wide enough for two people navigate side by side.

Wiley Canyon is part of the Santa Susana Mountains and sits in a wide swath of land set aside for preservation by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. The canyon boasts mountain lions, black bear, bobcat, fox, mule deer and coyotes (though you’re unlikely to see more than birds and lizards during daylight). Grassland, sage, scrub, oak and walnut woodlands, and chaparral dominate the canyon and surrounding foothills.

A number of interesting geological formations exist in Wiley Canyon, which cuts through the Pico Anticline - an upside-down U fold in the rock layers in which the oldest rocks are at the center (or peak) of the formation. The seasonal creek’s water flow largely is responsible for cutting through and exposing the unique features of the Pico Anticline.

Geology and westerns
Wiley Canyon runs through the north flank of the Pico Anticline. The anticline is made up of thin beds of shale that have been turned up on their sides and in some cases twisted.

Wind and rain runoff combine to create small arches and wind caves in a sandstone wall alongside the trail. In addition, thanks to the geological formations and the erosion caused by Wiley Canyon's dry run, oil seeps run for several yards along the trail. The small of tar permeates the air around the pools.

About 5 million years ago, all of Wiley Canyon was under the Pacific Ocean. Plate tectonics during the past 2 million years shifted and folded most of sediment layers now exposed on the trails.

If Wiley Canyon looks familiar, you’ve probably seen something very similar in movies or television shows. A number of “movie ranches” where old spaghetti westerns were filmed are nearby – and they consist of virtually the same geological features and ecosystems. As hiking, see if you spot Black Bart behind the fourth boulder to the right of some peak.

See photo album of Wiley Canyon Trail.

Find out about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.