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!
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!