Hey all you hikers, mountain bikers and outdoor enthusiasts: Please welcome Dr. Norm Herr, a local professor, who will answer your questions on this site.

We want to encourage you to get out and enjoy all the great open space in and around Santa Clarita, but we realize that in doing so, you may have some questions about things you see out on the trail.  Author, teacher, scientist, avid hiker and outdoorsman, CSUN Professor Norman Herr is happy to answer your most obscure questions about Mother Earth.  As you enjoy the beautiful Santa Clarita open space areas and have questions about flora, fauna, animals, rocks, etc., send them to Dr. Norm.  You may pose your question below; it will be answered on this page. If you wish to include a photo with your question, upload it to Flickr and share the link to the photo in your comment.

dr normA little bit about Dr. NormNorman Herr, Ph.D., is a professor of science and computer education at California State University, Northridge. He earned his doctorate from the University of California, Los Angeles, and has worked as a scientist, high school science teacher, college science instructor, science education consultant, and director of graduate programs in science education. Dr. Herr has published research in the field of science education, and has co-authored Hands-On Physics Activities with Real-Life Applications, and Hands-On Chemistry Activities with Real-Life Applications.  Norm is the author of the Sourcebook for Teaching Science. He grew up at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains and has spent untold hours exploring the California mountains.

Norm says: I could never decide which science I liked best, so I ended up studying them all! My job as a professor of science education unites my love for physics, chemistry, biology and environmental science with my love for teaching and research. I love to spend time outdoors, whether skiing, mountain climbing, mountain biking, backpacking, or hiking.

57 Comments

  1. Thomas
    July 29, 2014

    Hi Norm,
    I recently moved to Santa Clarita from the midwest. I’m big into archery but unfortunately my apartment doesn’t exactly have that same big backyard that was so common from my hometown.

    Do the open spaces here allow for archery in designated areas? They would be target tipped (non broad heads) and would be used for target shooting only.

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Site Admin
      July 30, 2014

      The City of Santa Clarita’s open space provides great opportunities for hiking, bicycling, dog walking or horseback riding. City Park rules, however, prohibit possession of dangerous weapons in the open space.

      Reply
  2. pennie burnham
    June 4, 2014

    I am looking for a hiking guide for June 8 th
    at Vasquez Rock for 30 people. our
    guide backed out at the last minute. please help

    Reply
    • Site Admin
      June 5, 2014

      Thank you for your question. Unfortunately, Dr. Norm is traveling and could not lead your hike. However, Santa Clarita’s Community Hiking Club provides a schedule of local hikes on their website. That address is http://www.communityhikingclub.org

      Reply
  3. Queeniesha
    May 11, 2014

    Hi I’m moving to canyon country I’m 18 years old would be moving in summer I want to know what’s the best area to jog and work out and closet to me thanks ..

    Reply
  4. Pennie Burnham
    April 4, 2014

    Hello Dr. Norm. I was hoping you might know of a good hiking location that would also be a good place for an outdoor yoga class. My hope is to offer my students and great hike and then a yoga class at our destination and then hike back down. It would need to be somewhere flat. Any Ideas?

    Thanks so much

    Reply
    • Site Admin
      April 14, 2014

      The City has many great places to hike and all have trails with varying degrees of difficulty. East Walker Ranch has a flat area near the entrance that might be an appropriate location to do yoga, however, you should make sure not to block the trail or entrance to the park. Also, the City owns the parking area at the front of Towsley Canyon, which might be another location for doing some yoga poses after a hike. Enjoy your hike.

      Reply
  5. Salvatore DiCamillo
    March 5, 2014

    It is incredible to me that so many beautiful and prisine areas exist so close to our community. Hiking, biking and nature walking are favorite passtimes for me and my family. Are all of the open space areas in Santa Clarita open to both bikes and hikers? How about horses? How about motorized vehicles? Thank you for taking the time to respond to me.

    Reply
    • Norm Herr
      March 7, 2014

      Most of the trails are marked with signs like the following )https://picasaweb.google.com/115480393371950231295/WidowersBenchesWestSanGabriels#5988318766330925682). Nearly all trails are closed to motorized vehicles, but open to hikers, mountain bikers and horses. Mountain bikers have to yield to hikers and horses. Hikers have to yield to horses. Happy biking, hiking and horse back riding!

      Reply
  6. Lenny
    January 24, 2014

    Hello Dr. Herr. I am a certified tree huger who enjoys SCV’s open spaces! Do you know of any restoration projects that I can get involved with in or near this valley?

    Reply
    • Site Admin
      January 29, 2014

      Lenny:
      The local Community Hiking Club does many restoration projects throughout the year. They are planning a restoration of a 30-year-old trail in the Angeles National Forest in March. Additionally, they regularly perform Micro-trash removal on the trails and Tamarisk pulls. Contact them at zuliebear@aol.com if you’d like to be involved.

      Reply
  7. Joe Powell
    January 9, 2014

    Norm, I have just started hiking again after having neck surgery last April. so far our hikes have been no more than 2 1/2 – 3 miles, with a little elevation climb. Most of our hiles have been up Tick Canyon at the end of Shadow Pines…. Could you advise me on some fairly easy hikes of about that length in other locations around the Santa Clarita Valley.
    Thanks,
    Joe (Gails Friend)

    Reply
    • Norm Herr
      January 13, 2014

      Hi Joe! There are lots of great hikes around Santa Clarita, but most of them involve some significant elevation gain. One of the flattest hikes is in Whitney Canyon (http://lamountains.com/parks.asp?parkid=65). This is a delightful hike through a broad canyon with a canopy of live oak trees. It is a great place for a gentle hike. In addition, there is another very flat trail in Quiqley Canyon, but there is not much shade. The Quigley Canyon hike is nice in the Spring if we have had ample rains as there are grassy fields and wildflowers (http://hikesantaclarita.com/where-to-go/quigley-canyon/)

      Reply
      • Joe Powell
        January 17, 2014

        Thanks Norm, I’ll Give them a try!

        Reply
  8. Chloe
    December 27, 2013

    Hi Norm,

    I just moved here with my family from Michigan, and I was wondering if there were any places to hike and see snow capped mountains?

    Reply
    • Norm Herr
      January 13, 2014

      Unfortunately this winter has been extremely dry, so it is difficult to see snow-capped peaks anywhere. In a normal winter, however, you can see snow covered peaks in the San Gabriel Mountains to the east of Santa Clarita, and in the mountains surrounding Mt. Pinos northwest of town. If you climb to the summit of Mission Peak or Sylmar Peak you can see snow on these ranges, and sometimes even as far north as the Southern Sierra Nevada Mountains. There are many routes to the summits of these peaks, and the trails can be found here: https://sites.google.com/site/widowersbenches/

      Reply
  9. JS
    December 16, 2013

    Not sure where to ask but where can I walk similar to beach walkway (like walking from Santa Monica beach to Venice beach walk ramp) or places where people walk for exercise. I’m not so sure about walking alone on trails.

    Reply
  10. Philip Scorza
    November 6, 2013

    I’m wondering if there are any hiking trails around Castaic Lake? Ones that walk around part or all of the lake rather than down to the edge of the water.
    Thanks.

    Reply
  11. Bill Kealey
    September 25, 2013

    Hi Dr Norm,

    I have a very interesting mini boulder that I found several years ago east of the 14 fwy between agua dulce and escondido offramps. It kind of looks like a big fossilized clam or something. In many of the holes and crevices I found many small shells and other marine things. I have been wondering what the heck this thing might be. Is there any chance of either bringing it to you or send you some pics without having to do the Flickr thing. Sorry but I just dont like using apps because of not trusting new technology that much. Any help would be great.

    Thank you,
    Bill Kealey

    Reply
    • Norm Herr
      November 1, 2013

      It is possible that you found a fossilized scallop. Does it appear like this: http://scvhistory.com/scvhistory/lw0060.htm?
      You can send me an email at norm.herr@csun.edu with the photo and I can take a look. I have found marine fossils in road cuts in the Santa Clarita valley.

      Reply
    • Norm Herr
      December 6, 2013

      HI Bill: Thanks for the post. Yes, I would like to see photos of the rock. There are many marine fossils in the Santa Clarita Valley region. By the way, a good website concerning the geology of the Agua Dulce region can be found here: http://www.scvresources.com/geology/aguadulce/. It would be great if you could post your photo in Flickr and paste the link in a message here.

      Reply
  12. Daisy Menton
    September 12, 2013

    I just discovered this website and am having so much fun exploring all of the open space areas. It is incredible to me that these beautiful lands are so close to a city. I’m pleased that our City had the forethought to buy these lands and prevent them from being developed. My question is regarding water. I love to hike where there are streams and creeks. Do any of our local open space areas have water year-round? How about seasonal?

    Reply
  13. Al Mendez
    August 1, 2013

    I have enjoyed hiking the East Walker Ranch property off Placerita Canyon and would be very interested to hear about the history of that property. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Site Admin
      September 16, 2013

      The City of Santa Clarita’s East Walker Ranch Open Space, located in Placerita Canyon, is just west of Walker Ranch, which was named for the area’s first homesteader, Frank Evans Walker in the early 1900’s. Many western films were filmed in the area that features cool, shaded oak groves and a seasonal stream lined with willows and sycamores. The Walker Family, consisting of Frank, his wife, and their 12 children, lived in two homes on either side of what is now Placerita Canyon Road, one a summer residence, and the other their winter home. The home on the northern side of the road, just in front of the City of Santa Clarita’s Golden Valley Ranch Open Space, burned down in 1918. The remnants of the home are still on the site. The family moved permanently into the home on the site of what is now Placerita Nature Center and lived there until about 1930.

      Reply
  14. Greg
    July 25, 2013

    I am wondering if the City or any other agency monitors wildlife for disease. I’ve heard that local birds have been found to have West Nile and am interested to know if this is something to be concerned about while hiking.

    Reply
    • Norm
      July 27, 2013

      West Nile Virus is a mosquito-borne virus. Birds serve as a reservoir host, so it is a concern when birds become infected. As of July 25, 2013, only five people in Los Angeles country have tested positive for West Nile Virus. None of these individuals were in Santa Clarita Valley. The Department of Public Health monitors the incidence of West Nile Virus in humans and in birds. The vast majority of the birds diagnosed with the virus were in the South Bay. Although West Nile Virus can cause serious illnesses, the likelihood of contracting the virus while hiking in the arid regions surrounding Santa Clarita is very small. If you are concerned, I encourage you to put on DEET or other insect repellant, especially at dawn and dusk around ponds and pools of stagnant water. Due to the very dry season, there are very few such pools in the local mountains, but in normal years there is more of a concern.

      Reply
  15. Chris
    July 5, 2013

    We are new to the area, and have three children (11, 9,9). We have never hiked before, so we are looking for entry level hikes and/or guide to take us on our first few hikes. Any suggestions??

    Reply
    • Dr. Norm
      July 9, 2013

      There are many nice hikes around, and most are much nicer in the winter and spring when everything is green and the weather is cooler. During the summer, I suggest hiking in the early morning or the evening. Towsley Canyon is a nice entry level hike. Towsley Canyon is in Ed Davis Park and can be accessed from the Old Road, just south of the Calgrove Exit on the 5.
      I suggest hiking up Towsley Canyon or Wiley Canyon (http://www.lamountains.com/maps/Towsley.pdf). In Towsley Canyon you will enter the Narrows, a fascinating geological formation known as the Pico Anticline. The anticline is tightly folded with flanks dipping to 70 degrees or more. The axis of the anticline is bisected by a number of earthquake faults which are visible if you know what you are looking for. If you travel up Wiley Canyon, you will reach the location of an uncapped oil well where you can see (and smell) oil mixed with water. Methan bubble emerge periodically, and it has the appearance of the LaBrea Tar Pits, only, much, much smaller. There used to be 31 oil wells in this canyon, and if you look about you, you can still see evidence of the oil drilling platforms and some miscellaneous equipment. Both of these hikes are short oil-and-back adventures, and if you desire more, make the complete loop as indicated on the map. If you do the big loop, be prepared for some climbing and bring plenty of water.

      Reply
  16. Boyd M.
    July 1, 2013

    In my experience, hikers and bicyclists and equestrians often clash on the trail. What is the property trail etiquette for these three user groups on our local trails? Do any of them have more of a right to be on the trails?

    Reply
    • Site Admin
      July 2, 2013

      All of the trails in Santa Clarita are multi-use trails. Our rules signs posted on the trails contain the yellow triangle etiquette diagram which suggests that bicycles should yield to both hikers and equestrians, and hikers should yield to equestrians. All three groups are welcome on the trails. Additionally, we have been promoting the “Make a Little Noise” campaign on this website and at public events and presentations to encourage people to let others know they are there. By attaching a bell on your bike, saddle, shoe, or backpack, this alerts that you are there, making the trail experience must safer for all. Free bike bells are available, while supplies last, at city Hall, 23920 Valencia Boulevard, suite 120.

      Reply
  17. Andy
    June 28, 2013

    Hi Norm I am a local bike rider in Quigley canyon and I was curious what the laws where about fixing the trails.When i say fixing the trails i mean is but taking a rake to clear any rocks that are in my way on the down hill.

    Reply
    • Site Admin
      July 2, 2013

      Andy,

      The City welcomes volunteer efforts such as clearing the trails of weeds and rocks. However because of the liability that the City and, you the volunteer might incur from performing work without notice, we request that you register as a City volunteer and notify us in advance of any work on the trail. You may register at http://www.santa-clarita.com/index.aspx?page=956 (see bottom of page) and then call the Parks Planning and Open Space Division at (661)286-4129 where you will be connected with a project coordinator. Once these initial steps are taken, subsequent volunteer efforts in Quigley Canyon would simply require a phone call to our office.

      We are happy to hear that you are enjoying the trails in Quigley Canyon and thank you for your efforts in caring for the open space.

      Reply
  18. Dana
    June 17, 2013

    I am enjoying reading the questions and your answers and I find them very informative. This may be a little off the trail (haha) but I am wondering about safety. What do you recommend for hikers should something happen such as an accident if there is no cell service?

    Reply
    • Dr. Norm
      July 1, 2013

      Dana:

      Cell service is spotty, particularly in the canyons. It is always a good idea to bring a cell phone, but never a good idea to rely upon it. The best thing is to be prepared for whatever you may encounter on the trail. The most common issues are dehydration and disorientation. Make sure to bring more water than you think you will need, particularly on hot days. Study a trail map prior to the hike and bring a copy with you. Let others know where you are going, and make sure they know the make and model of your car, as well as your license number so your friends can inform authorities if you do not return when expected.

      Reply
  19. Lou R
    June 16, 2013

    hi-I am a big rock hound. Any trails you would recommend to see unique rocks?

    Reply
    • Dr. Norm
      July 1, 2013

      The geology of the Santa Clarita region is complex. There is a good description made by structural geologist, Dr. Michael Ballard: http://www.scvresources.com/geology/scv_geology. This will give you an overview of the geology that can be seen on various road cuts and byways throughout the region. Some of the most interesting rock formations are in Towsley Canyon in Ed Davis Park (http://www.lamountains.com/parks.asp?parkid=10). I suggest that you hike towards “The Narrows” on the Towsley View Loop Trail and look for the large nearly vertical strata of the Pico Anticline. The Modelo shale in this region is very distorted and interesting for photos, but not for rock collecting. Towsley Canyon was the site of a very productive oil operation that helped fuel the Southern California Oil industry. Much of the terrain to the west of Santa Clarita is made of sedimentary rock and is of little interest to rock hounds. If you travel to the east, into the canyons of the San Gabriel Mountains, you will find more collectables. Placerita Canyon was the site of the first gold discovery in California, and the stream canyons have a variety of plutonic and metamorphic rocks. In generally, the best places to find interesting rocks are in stream canyons because erosive forces have brought together specimens from a large region. I hope this helps.

      Reply
  20. Mandy Ruben
    June 7, 2013

    Hi Dr. Norm, thanks for the column, I’ve learned a lot reading the questions and answers. I have one for you. My son is in boy scouts in Santa Clarita and I was wondering if any of the local open space properties offer overnight camping areas. I see a lot about day hiking, but I have not heard about any overnight camping in the SCV. Thank you.

    Reply
  21. Karen S.
    June 7, 2013

    I love to hike but I really don’t like snakes. What type of snakes are around our local hiking trails and what should I do if I encounter one? Are any of these species aggressive or if I leave them along, will they leave me alone?

    Reply
    • Norm
      June 7, 2013

      HI Karen. California is home to many species of snakes (http://www.californiaherps.com/identification/snakesid/common.html). The most common types of snakes in the mountains surrounding Santa Clarita are the gopher snake and the Western Rattler. The gopher is harmless to humans and pets, but rattlesnakes are dangerous. I have seen numerous western rattlesnakes on trails over my many years. The photos on the website I shared show what the Western Rattlesnake looks like. Snakes with triangular heads are venomous and should be avoided. Rattlesnakes coil up before they strike. They also rattle their tails and this rattling can generally be clearly heard if there is no background noise. Snakes will leave you alone if you leave them alone. In 50 years of hiking in the mountains of Southern California, I have seen hundreds of rattlesnakes, and none have ever been a problem. If you see or hear one, just back off. To avoid contact, stay on a trail and don’t walk through the surrounding brush.

      Reply
  22. Bill N.
    June 4, 2013

    Dr. Norm, I would like to see if you know how many different varieties of pines there are in Santa Clarita. I know I’ve seen a few types but I don’t know their names. Thank you for your time.

    Reply
    • Norm
      June 5, 2013

      A wide variety of pines are grown horticulturally in the Santa Clarita Valley, but none of them are native to this region. The Coulter Pine (Pinus coulteri) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coulter_Pine) can be found on the ridge tops of the San Gabriel Mountains south of Canyon Country. If you go towards Fraiser Park you will find abundant stands of Ponderosa Pine (Pinus Ponderosa) and Sugar Pine, particularly in the region surrounding Mt. Pinos. In the Santa Clarita Woodlands, south of the city, you will find abundant stands of Big Cone Douglas fir (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pseudotsuga_macrocarpa). This is not a pine, but it is a conifer (cone bearing tree). Look to the southwest as you travel over Newhall Pass and you will see large stands of this trees on the north faces of Mission Peak and Oat Mountain.

      Reply
  23. Maggie Reynolds
    June 4, 2013

    So glad to see a column like this! I was wondering if you know where in the SCV is the best place to hike to see wildflowers.

    Reply
    • Norm
      June 5, 2013

      Southern California is home to a wide range of native and non-native wildflowers (http://www.calflora.net/bloomingplants). Wildflowers are generally seen in greatest quantity in Spring in areas that have been recently burned. I would encourage you to travel into regions scorched by the Powerhouse fire (Lake Hughes Road, Elizabeth Lake Road, Bouquet Canyon Road, etc.) in March and April of 2014. In addition, next Spring you should hike to the summit of Mission Peak from O’Melveny Park (https://sites.google.com/site/widowersbenches/trails) in the Spring. This trail travels through grasslands with abundant lupine, black-eyed Susan, facelia, California poppy, and wild yellow mustard.

      Reply
  24. Rochelle
    May 30, 2013

    HI Dr. Norm,

    This is an off topic question but I was wondering if you would be interested or willing to be a guest speaker at an upcoming Community BBQ for a Canyon Country neighborhood. To share your wealth of knowledge with the adults and children that live in the hills up here? I hope to hear back from you.

    Best Wishes

    Reply
    • Kate Lessard
      June 4, 2013

      Dr. Norm is glad to be invited to your neighborhood. Unfortunately, he has conflicts this summer and will not be available for a presentation. He will keep your information and perhaps accept the invitation for a date in the future.

      Reply
  25. Melissa
    May 30, 2013

    I recently discovered our local hiking areas and now walk my dog on the trails weekly. I want to know if there is anything I should know about taking my dog out there. She’s on a leash and is up to date on all of her vaccinations, but I worry that I may not be aware of dangers she could encounter that are unique to the great outdoors.

    Reply
    • Norm
      May 30, 2013

      The two biggest dangers are ticks and rattlesnakes. Ticks can be quite a problem in the spring time. If you hike in the spring, please check your dog thoroughly after returning if she has walked through brush. Rattlesnakes are more of a problem in the summer time. The Western Rattlesnake is quite common, particularly on warm spring and summer days. It is best to have your dog on a leash so that she does not inadvertently stumble upon a rattler in the brush.

      Reply
  26. Bill and Bianca
    May 30, 2013

    We love the open space areas in the SCV and regularly hike and mountain bike. Do you have a recommendation for an easy family hike? We have family coming to visit this summer and they have an 8 year old and a 6 year old, so we need a hike they can do. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Norm
      May 30, 2013

      As you know, Santa Clarita Valley is surrounded by mountains, so most trails climb quickly from the valley floor. There are, however, a couple of nice flat trails that are good for hikers of all ages. Whitney Canyon offers a short, flat hike underneath a canopy of giant Coastal Live Oak trees and sycamore trees. Exit the 14 freeway at Newhall Avenue and park in the free Park and Ride. If you go through the gate there is a fee for parking. Take the left (north) trail heading east up Whitney Canyon to where it ends in a series of small waterfalls. There won’t be much, if any, water during the summer, but there is plenty in the winter and spring. Another easy hike is Towsley Canyon in Ed Davis Park ( 24255 The Old Road, Newhall. Park at the very end of the road and continue hiking up a beautiful shady canyon past some dramatic rock formations. The trail is flat for the first mile or so, and then starts climbing quickly.

      Reply
  27. Mary McMahon
    May 16, 2013

    Hi and thank you for this great column! I regularly hike the open space in and around the Santa Clarita Valley and see a great deal of poision oak, which makes me wonder if there is any other poisionous plants like that to avoid. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Norm
      May 16, 2013

      Posion Oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) is a very common plant in the shaded canyons of the mountains surrounding Santa Clarita. It is shrub or climbing vine that grows around the trunks of sycamore and oak trees. Poison oak leaves and contain an oil (urushiol) that cause allergic reactions in most people. Most people develop rashes when contacting the foliage or stems. Some other plants cause minor irritation, but they are rare and difficult to spot and nothing to worry about with respect to physical contact. A number of other plants are poisonous if ingested, particularly castor oil plant (castor bean, Ricinius communis), an invasive species imported from Eastern Africa. It produces ricin, a toxin which is in the news frequently. Another poisonous plant is Datura wrightii (angel trumpet) that produces large, trumpet shaped flowers. Datura is the source of a number of alkaloids such as atropine which is very toxic. The Chumash and Tongva tribes used this in a ceremony as a right of passage for young boys. Apparently many boys died during this ceremony. It is a hallucinogen and is extremely hazardous.

      Reply
  28. Joe
    May 14, 2013

    I was at a friends home in Sand Cny who claims their magnificent Oak Tree is 700 years old. Is this possible? Without taking a core sample of the tree, is there a way of estimating the age of some of our great trees?

    Reply
    • Norm
      May 15, 2013

      The two largest oaks in this region are Quecus Lobata, the deciduous valley oak, and Quercus agrifolia, the evergreen coast live oak. The valley oaks are known to achieve ages in excess of 600 years. In general, the coast live oaks live only 250-300 years. The science of dating the age of trees is known as dendochronology, and the most standard way to do this is by counting the rings from a tree-core. It is very difficult, however, to make sure you get the center of the tree in a core. You can estimate the age of a tree by its size, but there is a wide range of error.

      Reply

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