Distance: 7.5 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 2436' (peak 2400)
Elevation Gain: 1300'
Elevation Gain (in Sears Towers): 1.04
Round trip time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Recommended water: 64 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Santiago Canyon Road
Vulture Crags used to be a nesting area for California condors, about a hundred years ago. Now, it is just an interesting jumble of conglomerate rocks in the Santa Ana Mountain foothills. The Santiago Truck Trail, also known as "The Luge" in mountain biking circles, is the main route to the crags. The trailhead is on Modjeska Grade Road, but parking is not allowed anywhere on that road, forcing you to park about a half mile down the hill on Santiago Canyon Road. I noticed on the way up that both sides of Modjeska Grade Road were plastered with "No Parking" and "No Trespassing" signs. I suspect the trail is so popular with bikers that parking and traffic became a nightmare for the people that live on the road and they got aggressive enforcing their property rights. The net result is an extra mile round trip and 200' of extra gain. The first part of the trail is on private property, but a sign posted allows access through to the national forest land.
Santiago Truck Trail starts as a wide dirt road, then modulates between a single track and dirt road a few times before settling back into a wide road. About a mile up the road is a permanent metal barrier blocking motorized traffic. Mountain bikers need to stop and lift their bikes over the obstacle, which is only about two feet high in the lowest place. At about 3 miles, peak 2400 stands as the high point along the route. It is listed that way in Peakbagger, but my GPS measured it at 2436'. There was a fine use trail to the top so I took the diversion and found a tall pole at the top and a benchmark with a missing face plate. The peaklet is not named in Caltopo.com, but it must have been named at some point to merit the benchmark. The use trail continued down the other side back to the truck trail, leaving only a short stretch before vulture crags came into view. There is a flag pole with an American flag and a US Marines flag opposite the crags on the trail. A trail junction here leads down to Live Oak Road and there were two ammo boxes filled with registers for the trail bikers that frequent this spot. I dirtied up one of the bike registers with my hiker signature. The crags are a pretty cool looking formation. I scrambled up to the top for a closer inspection, then went cross country over the bump behind the crags to get back to the trail. I met two other hikers on the way back, and a dozen more mountain bikers. Be aware this trail is mainly used by bikers.