Los Padres National ForestLocate the trailhead.
NIRA is a campground at the end of Happy Canyon road, which you can get to from highway 154 via Armour Ranch road. It is also a main entry point into the backcountry and a very common hike for us when I was young. It was also my first backpacking trip. We didn't get very far then, I think it was only about four miles in. It can be tough to go backpacking with an ill-equipped 9-year-old, you end up carrying her rather heavy slumber bag. This time, the area had been closed the previous two years due to fire damage. I was hiking again with my mom.
|A tree tested by fire. This one is still standing tall and strong even though the base has been well blackened by the passing of the flames.|
The trail starts off at the far end of the campground and crosses the river. I remember it being bigger. I remember many boots off crossings. The water was usually slow and not too far up the shins. I remember many crossings with boots on, too, but I was a very enthusiastic rock hopper in my younger years. It was an easy crossing.
Beyond there often wasn't much sign of fire. The immediate area seemed to be spared. Looking out over the hills, some could be seen to have a blackened tint. There was fire around here, just not everywhere.
|A small stretch of trail, some dead wood that would have burned well, and some hills in the background that did burn.|
|Some more close up fire evidence from a burned and fallen tree. It seems to be losing its evidence, though, as the bark is all stripping off.|
I sort of remember there being more trees, too. And there was that one bit that was always a little swampy and had rushes grown all around. It seems to have dried out a little now and there's a lot more meadow spots than there once were. Whole stands of trees appear lost.
|This stand had very few trees that looked to be actually growing.|
Little blackened rounds like burned pineapples marked yucca plants over two. Most of them also had a crown of green as they sprouted.
|The rather low water of the riverbed. More blackening, but it's getting harder to pick out.|
I also remember a "high road" and a "low road" in getting to the trail junction to Hurricane Deck, which was much further away and a bit more of an accomplishment to get to. The low road had a slide spot that often washed out and was always a bit scary to pass. Now it seems to be the only trail, although careful examination of the hillside finds a second trail climbing into the heat. Well, the heat didn't used to be as much at the bottom as at the top of small brush. The high trail appears to be the true one since it has been properly built but whoever went through setting the trail again didn't seem to notice or care about it. There is no longer a clear route for a bypass to the washed out slides.
We continued on past the low road and past the trail to Hurricane deck and a little further to a large flat. We had snacks a fair way off the trail toward the river. It showed that there's dangers for the trees here other than fire.
|This tree has to worry about erosion from the river flow when it is high. From the look of the roots, it must have been on an edge for quite some time now. The roots seem to have lost a bit to burning too.|
Although the little oddities can make for a fun bit to draw.
|My sketch of the tree.|
Then we returned the way we came. Speaking of what I remember of the trail junction, I recall the trail actually making it to the sign. It wasn't high on an eroded slope of a huge gully. You just walked along the trail that was quite normal and flat and you came to a sign and a branching.
|This sign doesn't seem as useful when it's far up a gully edge from the trail than when it was right on the trail. Yellow tape prevents people from trying the high road from this side.|
Then it's back along the sliding areas, some someone has attempted to buttress a bit but some still sliding freely. And then the long drive back.
|Traveling back on Happy Canyon. The colors got a little funny as the sun got close to the horizon. I had to just stop in the middle of the road and snap a few photos. Whimsical is just how I roll. Incidentally, the GORP site says this is paved.|
|This is what the Santa Barbara wine country looks like before they stick rows of grapes on it. At sunset. Nice funky colors on the far mountain.|
©2009 Valerie Norton
Posted 26 May 2009