Hiking with Kids in the Santa Monica Mountains
"Satwiwa" means"the bluffs" in the language of the Chumash, and it was the name of a village that once stood on the banks of a small stream in this corner of the Santa Monica Mountains. The property became part of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in 1980; before that it was known as Rancho Sierra Vista, the name bestowed upon it by rancher Carl Beal, who had acquired it in 1937. It was originally part of the 48,672 acre Rancho El Conejo land grant deeded to former soldiers by the king of Spain.
In honor of its varied history, the property is now known as Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa. It is home to the Satwiwa Native American Indian Culture Center, a visitor center that features programs and exhibits dedicated to the culture of the Chumash. A reconstructed native village, including a large circular dwelling constructed of reeds and logs, is nearby. The modern ranch buildings used by the last private owner have also been preserved, and are used by the Park Service to house rangers and maintenance facilities.
This easy loop trail leads past the village reconstruction and into the hills that surround the broad, rolling grassland. It serves as a fine introduction to Chumash culture and its relationship with the natural landscape.
The trailhead is at the Satwiwa visitor center. To reach it, follow Highway 101 to the west end of Thousand Oaks and take the Borchard Road exit. Follow Borchard south of the freeway to Reino Road, turn left and go 2 miles to Potrero Road. Turn right and follow Potrero a short distance to the sign indicating the entrance to Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa. Park in the visitor lot and follow the road to the Culture Center.
The center is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and offers a good selection of maps and books about the area. It also houses a small museum. Water and restrooms are available.
The trail begins immediately south of the visitor center, next to the large reconstructed Chumash lodge. It leads gently uphill, heading east across the grassy hillside past a small pond frequented by waterfowl. In the distance, above and to the right, looms the volcanic outcropping of Boney Mountain. About 100 yards from the village site the trail forks. Bear right, crossing the drainage upstream of the pond and continuing through a field of ryegrass, vetch, poppies, wild radish, mustard and lupine.
At 0.3 mile you reach a junction. Take the center fork, heading toward a windmill visible on the hillside ahead. The trail climbs toward it along the course of an oak-shaded ravine that harbors a lush growth of poison oak.
At 0.4 mile the trail reaches a junction at the base of the windmill. Turn right, dropping back into the ravine and then climbing out the other side across a slope thick with laurel sumac and chamise. Blackened skeletons of oak trees indicate the path of a recent wildfire, the scars of which have mostly been erased.
The trail drops into another ravine at 0.6 mile and climbs out again. At 0.8 you reach another fork; go right. The trail ascends moderately through chaparral, bringing good views of the grassland below and the deeper cleft of Big Sycamore Canyon beyond, before beginning its gradual descent back toward the trailhead.
At 1. 1 miles the trail reaches an intersection. Turn right and follow the trail about 20 yards to another junction. Take the center fork and follow the trail the remaining 0.4 mile back to the visitor center, visible to the north.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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