Monday, March 14, 2016

Tejon Ranch - Joaquin Flat

Map Track Link

Bird List

At over 270,000 acres, Tejon Ranch remains the largest contiguous private landholding in California - dating back to the land grant days before the state was a state. In 2008 an agreement was signed between the land owner and several conservation groups to put 90% of the ranch in conservation easement forever. The independent non-profit Tejon Ranch Conservancy was created to manage the conservation aspect. You can read more about it here. On Sunday we were fortunate to join a group hike organized by their outreach director Scot Pipkin.

The ranch is at the intersection of four major ecological regions in California: Central Valley, Sierra Nevada, Mojave Desert, and coastal California chaparral. This unique location creates an amazing diversity of habitats and wildlife. The spot for our hike started on the valley floor and climbed up into a beautiful rolling oak grassland. We drove in from the west side meeting up with Scot and the rest of the group at a locked gate. After arranging some car-pooling we headed off for the several mile drive to the hike location. We were in for the biggest surprise of the day, an area they call the Tejon Milky Way. As we drove up and entered the alluvial run-out of Tejon Canyon we saw a sight to behold - miles upon miles of wildflowers. The sandy soil of this large alluvial deposit is home to acres of spider lupine, popcorn flowers, and owls clover.  It was epic!

It was hard to tear ourselves away from the spectacle, but eventually Scot moved us along. We walked through almost a mile of the valley flowers before starting the ascent to Joaquin Flat up a winding dirt road. The ranch is very much still a lively cattle operation, so roads wind throughout for the cowboys to access the open range. We saw our share of free-range beef along with one feral pig and a herd of imported Rocky Mountain Elk (trophy hunting). Birding was very good with the expected oak grassland species like Oak Titmouse, Western Bluebird, Lesser and Lawrences Goldfinch, House and Purple Finch, and Western Meadowlark. The highlight of the day for the birders in the group was two soaring California Condors. It is always a treat to see these magnificent birds.

The soil type changed as we moved up, and with it the flower species changed. Fiddleneck was the dominant flower (with Blue Dick, popcorn flower, and others) in the grassy slopes. As we moved up in elevation we had even better overall views of the alluvial flower display.  Absolutely amazing. Across the valley we could see whole mountains covered in California Poppies, just waiting for the sun to come out so they could light up.

Stopping on a rocky prominence in Joaquin Flat we had a leisurely lunch. Afterward we continued a loop trail then took a side trip to a nice view on a small peak. The view looked down into the far southern end of the Central Valley, as it descends down the Grapevine and into Los Angeles. Returning the last couple miles on the same road we went up, we had eye-filling views of the valley flowers again. Back at the cars we ended the day with a comfortable 9+ mile hike through some of the best oak grassland landscape in California.  What a day!


  1. Fabulous photos! Janet Cupples

  2. Thank for taking so many great photos and sharing this unique area with us. Sure nice to hear this place will not get paved over!!