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Arthur Ripley Desert Woodland State Park

Ripley Nature Trail

0.5 mile interpretive trail plus a few miles of freeform walking.

Believe it or not, Arthur Ripley Desert Woodland State Park hosts one of the last virgin Joshua tree forests in the Antelope Valley.

With its thriving Joshuas and junipers, accompanied by a thick undergrowth of buckwheat, beavertail cactus, sage and Mormon tea, the preserve is a reminder of how most of the Antelope Valley may have appeared to early travelers such as missionary Father Garces in 1776, or explorer John C. Frémont in 1848.
 
Located in far northern Los Angeles County, about three miles as the raven flies from the Kern County line, the park has yet to be plotted on most maps, and is all but unknown to most desert travelers. Poppy-lovers sometimes happen upon the park because it’s located just seven miles down the road from the famed Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve.

The Tehachapi Range, which separates the Antelope Valley from the San Joaquin Valley, forms the park’s impressive mountain backdrop to the north. Mile-high Sawmill Mountain in the nearby Angeles National Forest, rises dramatically to the south.

The State Department of Parks and Recreation seems content to leave well enough alone at Ripley. A single roadside sign (blink and you’ll miss it) identifies the preserve, whose only visitor amenity is a rustic outhouse (very scenically situated, by the way, amidst the desert flora).

The park provides habitat for abundant Antelope Valley wildlife (except for the long-gone antelope, of course). Quail, roadrunners, king snakes, rattlesnakes, kangaroo rats, coyotes and ground squirrels are commonly sighted within the park’s boundaries. Lots of black-tailed rabbits and the occasional cottontail hop down the numerous bunny trails that crisscross the preserve.

The park’s Joshuas are smaller than most; these yucca brevifolia belong to the smaller-than-average subspecies Herbertii. Struggling for nutrients in the preserve’s sandy soil, these Joshuas rarely exceed 14 feet in height.
Joshuas have a well-deserved reputation for assuming grotesque shapes and the trees at the preserve are no exception; in fact, their twisted limbs and torsos appear all the more weird because of their bordering-on-dwarf stature.

Farmer Arthur Ripley (1901-1988) willed 560 acres of his property to the state. He and many other farmers and developers cleared hundreds of thousands of acres in the western Antelope Valley for crops and subdivisions. Ripley, however, cared enough about this particular pristine desert woodland to protect it for future generations.

The park’s spring wildflowers in a good year include fiddleneck, scarlet bugler, coreopsis, goldfields, chia, blue dicks and filaree. Ripley’s bigger plants are generally more dependable bloomers. In spring, the beavertail cactus produces attention-getting magenta-hued flowers while goldenbush puts forth yellow daisy-like blooms. Greeting hikers is the fragrant blue sage, which raises long spikey arms covered with blue flowers. Star of the spring show, though, is the Joshua tree with creamy white blossoms festooning its uplifted arms.
 
Directions to trailhead: From Interstate 5, about 6 miles south of Gorman and 27 miles north of Valencia, exit on Highway 138 and head east 15 miles to Lancaster Road. Turn right (south). Follow Lancaster Road, which soon bends east, a bit more than 4 miles to the signed Arthur Ripley Desert Woodland State Park on the left (north) side of the road. Park carefully along the road.
 
If you’re traveling from the Antelope Valley, you’ll exit the Antelope Valley Freeway (14) in Lancaster on Highway 138 (Avenue D) and travel about 19 miles west to 210th Street. Turn south a mile to Lancaster Road.

From the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, continue another 7 miles west on Lancaster Road to the state park.

The Mojave Desert State Parks Visitor Center, located in a small shopping center in Lancaster, has desert information and a small bookstore. From the Antelope Valley Freeway (14), take the Avenue K exit and follow the signs.

The hike: A twelve-stop interpretive trail, keyed to a pamphlet available from the state parks visitor center in Lancaster, leads past some of the pre¬serve’s featured flora. (A brochure is by no means necessary to enjoy the trail.)

Ripley’s other rambles are of the do-it-yourself variety. Wander at will amongst the juniper and Joshua trees, inhale the sage-scented fresh air, and rejoice at the beauty of this wooded island on the land.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at www.thetrailmaster.com.