Friday, December 23, 2011

A Watershed Gives Birth To Rivers

Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve
We think of streams and rivers as flowing bodies of water, but we tend to give little thought to where the the water comes from. For the Los Angeles River the water collects in rolling mountains high above the valley floor. But because our climate fluctuates between drought and flood, the water coming into the Los Angeles River is historically intermittent.
valley oak
I recently had the opportunity to explore the mountains and valleys of the Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve at the western end of the San Fernando Valley. These rolling hills with ancient oaks have been ranch land and also the testing grounds for all of the major rocket engines that have taken Americans into space.


Up until a few years ago this area was closed to the public and the land was in dispute between developers, conservation groups and activists concerned about toxins (nuclear and chemical) that had been left on the land. Unfortunately, technology often comes with a price and in this case toxins in and on the land are being cleaned up, but some of the waste is best left undisturbed. The positive side to that uncomfortable notion is that development plans were shelved and the land was purchased by the state to become parkland and a wildlife corridor. 
white-crowned sparrow
The Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve offers beautiful vistas and an opportunity to stroll a more wild side of California. In December, small flocks of migratory meadowlarks forage in the tall grass while a harrier hawk flies ominously just over their heads. A coyote watched us from the rim of a hillside. While acorn woodpeckers were so busy stashing acorns in every nook of a twisted valley oak, that they didn't even notice they were being observed. 


When the rains come and drops gather on this open area, tiny streamlets will flow in three different directions. Some will flow slightly north and down into the Simi Valley wash, some will head directly west toward Malibu Creek and the ocean, and some will flow down Bell Creek in Bell Canyon to become part of the Los Angeles River.


To reach the Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve drive west on Victory Blvd. until it dead ends. There is a nice gravel parking lot and a $3 fee helps to maintain this slice of open land. Walk the watershed are get a feeling for how important open land is for gather wildlife and water.

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