20 October 2007

Alamo Mountain

Los Padres National Forest

Decided to have an overnight on the mountain. Haven't been there for quite a few years now and the little car should have plenty of clearance for the fairly well maintained roads up there. So up I-5 to Smokey Bear Parkway and just sort of go strait to get to the entrance to Hungry Valley. Then watch out for kids on dirt bikes that are worse than jackrabbits since they'll come back around to jump out in front of you again.

I went up to the top of Alamo mountain some three times when I was a camp councilor near Fraizer Park and had been up there twice since, but not since the 4x4 died.

The road used to be a bit of a sand trap but it had gotten paved the last time I went so I figured they were probably taking care of the road and it would be fine to take the car up it. It's now mostly gravel, but still a very nice road. Especially considering it's going through an off road vehicular park. I guess it's nice they're taking care of it now since once that first summer I found myself rolling over some hills on a much nicer road that didn't keep on going past campgrounds telling me to go 15MPH. It's good to actually know where the road is.

The stretches outside the park in the national forest that were always paved have had the bad bits redone. They've even added paving after the river, right up to the sign saying it's not a fee area anymore. Which is right about the place where it suddenly got cold. It felt like someone had turned on my air conditioner.
With all the good roads, I even decided to go to Twin Pines campground, up a nice unsigned road I always used the 4 wheel drive low for. Even it was easily passable.

Once parked, first thing I did was extract a coat. It was getting cold! Then I was going to start supper but found that the pots had made it to beside the bag and not in the bag. This turns out to be an important distinction. No pasta for me, just cold cornbread and cashews. I had some cashews and pitched the tent just a bit down the remnant of old road that runs down from the campground. There was a stream next to the spot the first time I was there. Two fallen logs, too, but most the logs I remembered had turned into smooth lumps of black along the ground.

Cornbread was good, but pasta would have been better. It got dark and I pulled on all my warm stuff. The bit of wind was growing. I was fairly sheltered, but I could hear it in the trees. I got out my lamp and read for the evening, eventually taking shelter from the cold in the sleeping bag in the tent. The winds kept going strong all night and the cold just got worse.

Tonight I had neighbors, but unlike the drinking target shooting neighbors I had the only other time I'd shared the campground (and decided to leave in the late evening because of), these were only noisy in conversation and were even quiet in that by 9PM.

But then morning. The sun rose far south of my expectations. Another reminder of how late it is in the year. Also a signal that it wasn't going to get any colder. (Finally! It's cold enough now!)

The sunrise, as seen out the tent through the golden oaks.
As dawn breaks, from my tent I can see the sun rise far south of the summer days of memory.

This tree I'm under would be a great climbing tree.
Above me is a wonderful climbing tree glimmering in gold. It's good to be sheltered from the wind.

Breakfast of (cold) couscous with raisins and cranberries overlooking the valley. Luckily couscous just needs a little longer to sit when it is made with cold water instead of hot.

Overlooking Hungry Valley through the trees.
A cute little breakfast nook.

The old road I'm camped along continues up the mountain by switchbacks to a saddle near the peak. There in meets another road that goes between rock outcrops to the left and the peak to the right. Other than some fallen logs, the road has always seemed to be still passable. Now those fallen logs are black lines raised from the road surface, except for one that is merely well charred.

I brought my watercolors intending to paint on the peak. The winds were howling and would only be worse at the top, but I decided to go anyway. The climb up was... cold. I took off my cap and unzipped my jacket a little on the way. Otherwise I was perfectly happy to keep leggings and pants and fleece firmly in place. The winds did get worse.

Hungry Valley from Alamo Mountain.
The view of Hungry Valley from the top of Alamo mountain. The other direction is a little obscured by trees.

It's a bit of a wide, flat spot with an outcropping of rock. I found a nook behind the outcrop out of the wind with a bit I could try painting in view.

Trees and rocks at the top.
The rocks that are the highest bit of the mountain and a stout tree toughing it out next to them on the wide flat that is most of the rest of the peak area.

With hat back on and jacket zipped back up, it was cold enough not to want to deal with too many things, so I left the tubes of watercolor alone and got out the sepia Pentel brush pen instead. The results, of course, were a study in sepia.

Sepia lines and unrealistic shadows of rocks and tree.
The unfinished bit of painting I did on the peak. I kind of like the way the tree has ghostly branches as yet.

I found I was painting more with arm than fingers and decided to be finished with the image for now. Packing up took time waiting for the fingers to respond.

Burned tree with branch that tried out being a trunk and paid the ultimate price.
Another tree on the mountain top. This one had a branch try to become another trunk, but it paid the ultimate price for that vanity. The old fire was here too, as illustrated by the burned trunk.

Then down the mountain again. Out of the wind!

Last log on the road, a fire survivor.
The last log left to discourage folks from actually using the old road having survived the last fire where the others did not.

Fall colors and old burns.
More fall colors and remains from old burns.

More fall colors and old burning.
The tree in fall colors seems to have been missed by the fire that gave the pine on the left a bit more character.

Then with everything packed up again, I could take shelter in the car. It was actually starting to get warm enough to shed a layer once in the sheltered campground area. Time to leave Twin Pines.

Road out of Twin Pines.
The entry to Twin Pines. Okay, it isn't totally unsigned. Just no sign where one might be able to see it from the main road. Also, the road is very nice now.

Little scion seems happy to explore these well graded roads even if they get worse when not well traveled and there was still plenty of time in the day, not even lunchtime yet, so I turned to complete the circuit around the mountain top. Off to Flying Dutchman. I stopped by someone's car frame, or perhaps trailer frame (which oddly has no other parts near it, like axels) and checked out area on foot. Roads go everywhere in the nearby flat areas, but none of these are the maintained type. It's got a nice bathroom no one's shot up yet, which I guess beats the one in Twin Pines which is shot up, burned down, and finally filled in with concrete.

I checked out the jeep trail. It still looks steep and has sudden ups followed by more steep. I took the pickup down it once. I never had the guts to get my foot off the brake so I could have the control of the double low and scraped bottom three times. Each up meant starting down something I couldn't see and hadn't been able to see from above. About 200 yards along I'd had enough and turned around in a bowl just before one up. I vividly remember a multi-point turn that involved letting the truck coast back until the bumper hit the road then climbing the side again. Going up, I didn't scrape the bottom once proving that it was possible to travel the road in much better manner.

At the top, some guy told me he'd only ever heard of people taking bikes down it, never a car. Even the jeep convention in place that weekend parked at the top and walked. There was a little red jeep parked at the top to prove his point. The road is still signed for all vehicles including cars. Actually, I think a jeep could get down it.

Off roaders don't impress me. They go to riverbeds and the desert places like Hungry Valley that actually have a lot of smooth travel in spite of being "off road". They don't present anything like the navigational challenges of a good jeep trail like this one.

Then I walked straight out where I had driven in the dark one evening. Um, the rocks are easier to see with the shadows of the headlights? I found my way out to the point where I'd camped once. That day in the morning, there were what I thought were kind of fierce winds. Today it was worse than what was on the mountain top. I stood leaning back so far there would be no way to recover if the wind stopped, but it was required to keep from falling over the other way.

When I woke up that morning many years ago, I was greeted with a great new view.

The view from the far end of Flying Dutchman out to the west.
Years ago, I woke to find this view of a nearby bouldery valley with a sharp ridge beyond and valleys and mountains rolling along in the distance. It was a very nice view to find, even if a bit windy then and more so now.

Far below is a peak with a big sign on it. The jeep trail goes to a MacDonald peak, perhaps this is it. Actually, it seems to go quite a bit further on the map.

Tiny peak far below that is marked with a sign big enough to see by eye even though it is so far away.
A little peak far below marked with a sign big enough to spot by eye but a little hard to notice in the picture.

I walked around the edge of the point on a trail that past wanderers had beat. It doesn't actually go anywhere, it just looks around but that's alright because that's what I was doing. I found some shelter from the wind while rounding the rocks.

Further view as I round the point of rocks.
Walking around the rocks at the edge of the point opens up a more expansive view of the rolling hills beyond.

There's more victims of fire around here, but it's spotty and burning incomplete.

Burned tree with flowers growing.
A tree that became a victim of flames but with flowers sprouting out of the ashes around it.

Burned yucca.  Others that had survived showed evidence of burning too.
Many yucca were burned. Some were alive still, some dead, and a few had continued on to seed but were dead now.

I walked back to the car. Coming out from behind the rocks meant being back in the wind. I walked speed-skater style. It was easier to lean over and walk low than to push against the wind, and the low walking wasn't so easy. Got back into the car and continued the circuit around the mountain.

When I got to the spur road, I decided to let little scion rumble down it too. Actually, when I'd gone down it before and come to the locked gate at the end, the gate had been wide open and a lovely grassy road continued beyond. I sort of wanted to see what was on the road, but I was a good girl all those years ago. I still sort of wanted to see what was beyond.

Unfortunately, I came to the end of the road a little sooner than expected.

A huge tree has blown down over the road.
A huge tree has blown down across the road. Did I mention there was a bit of wind? Yeah, okay. Little scion can't duck as low as I can and is stuck on the other side.

No way forward for little scion.
Poor little scion doesn't get to rumble anywhere else new except the short bit of loop around the mountain left. The top of this tree had broken off sometime before this and it didn't extend all that far beyond the far side of the road from where it was originally standing.

And no good turnaround spot in sight. A guy coming up had tried to warn me, but I'd figured that being stopped by a tree or a locked gate (or a "locked" gate and an honest streak) didn't make much difference. He didn't mention the tendency of one side of the road to be cliff-like and the other to be edge-like and the road itself to be narrow-like (as it was most the way) just where the tree was. I backed up to a spot with a couple feet of shoulder and was thankful that little scion really is quite little.

As I rounded the hill at the end of the spur road where once I found some loony in a lifted truck trying to get himself so vertical as to get the truck to roll end over end, I spotted a very funny looking cloud over the next ridge occupying an otherwise spotless sky.

An odd sort of cloud thinkly filling the otherwise clear sky.
The very odd "cloud" that seemed to be quite thick in the otherwise cloudless sky.

Except... it just seems to be being generated to the left. Like it's billowing up from the ground and then dispersing a little as it is driven by the winds. And it's really quite a funny color, all things considered. Sort of pink... hold on... that's smoke... getting home might be difficult due to whatever conflagration is putting up that much smoke.

So it was a good thing that I was getting off the mountain. It was probably about time.
For some reason, people had felt the need to camp along this last bit of road before finishing up the loop.

Gold on the hillside below bits of smoke.
More California fall colors. A hillside dotted with gold and a pink cloud of smoke. The flame red can't be seen from here, but was clearly visible along one ridge while driving home along I-5. So were a bunch of fire fighters. Magic Mountain was barely visible in the smoke of what was apparently a different fire.

©2007 Valerie Norton
Posted 22 October 2007

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