Rockin’ the outdoor Rorschach test

On the Trail


I’m out looking for some peace and quiet along a trail I’ve never traversed before in the Lang Ranch/Woodridge Open Space area in Thousand Oaks. The area is a quirky marriage of well-groomed subdivision and rugged trails. So there’s a bit of high velocity hiking required to out-distance the leaf blower and tree trimmer racket.

In a half-mile or so, I find myself looking not at uniform cinder-block walls draped in exotic trumpet vines but at natural rock outcroppings fringed in wild oats. The area is well-named, Sandstone Hills. Covered in sporadic oaks and partially exposed rocks of fantastical shapes, the hills sort of suggest rumpled, zaftig pyramids.

In one instance, time and the elements have stacked dense blocks of gray stone so that they resemble a teetering assortment of boxed Christmas presents. If a hiker sneezed, would all heck break loose and the teetering rocks go bouncing down the hillside, smashing into other rocks until a mighty boulder has been reduced to tiny bits.

One rock-laden hill’s uppermost adornment is open to interpretation. Just as people see different forms in clouds, the eruption of a lumpy rock mass at the summit is a prime Rorschach test. The sun was slanting triangles of shade beneath each protruding segment. My impression was of bullfrogs playing leap-frog, frozen in stone at mid-leap. Their enormous inflatable chins were defined by those shady triangles.

It’s not Mount Rushmore, but an abstract ode to amphibians. Either the bullfrog finial is a sculptural gem, or just a stack of weird rocks.

Lately I seem to have fallen under the influence of one of my kooky friends, who reads into every rock she picks up identifiable images, like a face or an animal. A touch of her nuttiness seizes me along the Sandstone Hills trail, for the rocks here are as expressive as they are dramatic. Gee, doesn’t that mushroom-shaped boulder bear an uncanny resemblance to “E.T.” from the neck up?

Wild oats spill like frothy ocean waves over what appears to be the sleek gray bulk of a humpback whale or submarine. Shadowy pocket-sized openings carved into the lower flank of one rock-strewn hill suggest ideal compartments for wildlife housing— kind of a Flintstones’ version of a prairie dog town. You expect dozens of furry heads to simultaneously appear at each natural window, offering either gestures of greeting or glares of annoyance to ward off busybodies.

Eventually I follow a narrow footpath leading into the cool comfort of the oak woodlands of the adjacent Oakbrook Regional Park. An impressive array of boulders has lodged amid the trees. On one massive rock I’m convinced I see one of my kooky friend’s “faces.” Alas, it’s not “stone age art” but a vandal’s handiwork—a smiley face carved into the rock’s mossy surface.

Glasser is a freelance writer and nature enthusiast. Reach her at