Happy Trails, Until Next Season’s Hikes

Bill Rice, a member of the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations, offered a prayer to “Grandfather Oak” for permission to enter his forest.

The great, gnarled oak is located at the entrance to one of the many twisting trails at Topanga State Park in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Some of Rice’s listeners might have feared snakes and mountain lions, but he assured them that Grandfather Oak “will alert our brother snake that we’re coming,” presumably gaining his protection during their walk.

Whether it was due to the oak’s intervention or not, the last nature walks of the season went off without a single hitch Sunday. The docent-led walks will resume in January.


Among the last visitors were members of Cub Scout Pack 118 in Northridge, led by Rice’s colleague, Gene Cheltenham.

Before their 90-minute walk was over, the Scouts had learned a lot about native plants and animals.

The most pointed piece of advice was a two-word command--don’t touch.

“Especially with kids you have to make sure they don’t touch the wrong stuff,” said Cheltenham, who led the nine Scouts up the Santa Ynez Canyon Trail, which winds through the southwestern portion of the park.


The first item on the “don’t touch” list was poison oak.

“It itches like crazy and you will itch for three weeks,” said Cheltenham, pointing to a shrub with shiny leaves.

Cheltenham also instructed the Scouts not to touch or step near the holes along the trail made by ground squirrels because snakes also use them as dens.

It went without saying that mountain lions, badgers and coyotes were also on the “don’t touch” list.


The children grew visibly nervous the more Cheltenham talked about the big mountain cats, but Cheltenham assured the group that they are safe during the daytime.

Nighttime is a different matter.

“If someone were to come out here at night, he’s going to be dinner,” Cheltenham said.