18 June 2012

Dick Smith: Indian Creek

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trailhead.

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3

I packed up my gear and headed for Indian Creek, or as near there as I could get. There's always a locked gate between here and there, and at this time that closest gate is at Pendola. It is nearly the same distance to head down from Cold Spring Saddle at the top as to walk in from Pendola, skipping a mess of rough road that seems to get rougher every time I take it, but it is summer and all that elevation sounds hard at the end of the hike, so I drove the road. I actually got there the night before, driving in after a regular dinner, and hiked into P-Bar Flats. I was hoping for Mono, but it occurred to me while searching for the biffies in the dark that the intelligent person probably stops now while it isn't too terribly late and gets a good early start in the morning. I pitched the tent (just the bug shelter part) and hung the food and slipped under my sleeping bag in the nearly cool night. That was "day 0".

By morning, nearly cool had turned nicely chilly. I got breakfast together and packed up and a much better start than I ever would have got starting at home, plus no need to drive in and already 1.3 miles into the hike. It was cooler and much easier to see in the morning, so it was good I'd stopped. Then again, it was quickly warming where the sun fell. I continued down the side of the Santa Ynez river toward Mono, somehow seeming to be climbing as I did.

canyon as backdrop of canyon
The Santa Ynez river with the inescapable power lines rising up out of Blue Canyon as a backdrop.

trailhead for Blue Canyon
The unfamiliar end of the now fairly familiar Blue Canyon Trail. The sign just says Cottam is that way.

a bit of climbing road going down the Santa Ynez
Climbing over the gentle, grass covered hills.

Reaching a hilltop with an open gate and an information sign about the value of the land for clean drinking water (the original purpose of preserving this land) and preserving endangered species, I finally started to drop all the feet I needed to to get to the mouth of Indian Creek. On the way down, I thought I spotted a huge bridge in the distance, but never actually crossed one. I poked around Mono briefly. Someone had left a bit of backbone and ribs hanging on the fence that keeps the cars in the "parking lot" and not in the campground. Coming to a fork, I turned left, leaving the rightward destination of Little Caliente hot spring for after. Then I crossed over a series of very wide and dry creekbeds. It's late in the season, but that late? The sound of a motor coming down the road meant someone with a key for the gate was coming my way. I waved and chatted with the ranger briefly about water levels. He said it was spotty down here, but the flow was usually better above. I dodged two more vehicles following him, the third choosing to stop and talk too while his dog, noticing the truck slow, chose to take the chance to jump out to my brief horror. The dog survived it, but I was left having to point out to the driver that he'd lost a pup. The dog clearly was not having a good time in the back. A second dog in the cab seemed a bit happier and I wondered why they couldn't both ride there. It wasn't much longer before a canyon opened up to the north and my trail broke off from the road.

road sign and trail sign
A road sign set parallel to the road to inform drivers going either way where they might go from here but no indication why someone chose to put a sign here. Behind it, a trail sign headed "Indian Canyon Trail" says that Lower Buckhorn is in 4 miles, Buckhorn Road in 7, Little Pine Mountain in 10, and Indians Camp in 7.5 miles.

Turning down the trail, I write my bit in the trail register and then glance through the preceding pages. No one has been here for over a month who felt like registering. One class group of 20 came, but they seem to average 3. One came alone for quail hunting and didn't even spot a bird. I wonder who bad you have to be at looking to not spot a quail or two. I head out through a field of what I have called evil thorny things when they were long dried in Cottam Meadow but am realizing are thistle. Some are still in bright yellow, small compared to the big purple things that are my model for thistle, flowers. Most have become dried out evil thorny things.

purple flowery bits
Something a bit softer than a thistle.

Quickly, the trail passes a gaging station which had a bit of water trickling over it. I found a clean looking flowing spot and set about pumping some water for my nearly empty bag. There was an even nicer flow above the station. From there, the trail climbs some low hills rather than following the deep bends of the stream through the wide canyon. I turned left at an unexpected intersection that seemed equally well traveled and cut one more of those curves while missing an intersection that may have been the start of a fuel break once, although it is actually marked as a jeep trail. The shortcut didn't quite connect back up with the trail, but I found it after a little head scratching. The trail was wide and well traveled, at least at first, but almost utterly unadorned with boot prints. Sometimes there seemed to be a faint one, or maybe just a bunch of bird prints my mind was trying to find a pattern in. Sometimes the hard dirt held a print of boot or tire, the beginnings of a fossil.

furry and blue Mariposa Lily
Curly hairs all over this Mariposa lily of a more unusual variety than the trails I've been on recently.

a bit of well trod trail
Taking a look up the canyon that is currently and easy going wide thing with shallow sides.

a stalk very thick with the flowers
This must be the densest bunch of Humboldt lilies I've ever seen hanging from a single stalk.

The trail started to be a bit worse as the vegetation tried to close in on it. One creek crossing was difficult to find the route on the far side and I caught it a little way along. Looking back, it suddenly became very overgrown a few feet past where I had joined it. Eventually I completely missed a bit of trail where it then cut off a curve. I made my way up the streambed unable to find where it should go then eventually finding something. That something got worse as I went and I was eventually wading through waist high roses with no path at all. They required some very careful pushing through, and when pushing through didn't work since their downward facing daggers had taken a tight hold of my pants, I had to carefully lift away the branches while trying not to get my arms similarly trapped. They are horrible finger traps for the whole body. I dropped down into the streambed again and noticed the trail not too far further along, thus finding it again without ever knowing I'd passed a junction with Pie Canyon Jeepway.

a few pools along the otherwise dry stream
The creek may seem to have no flow, but the pools would quickly dry out without it.

gurilla camp in the sandy flood zone
A couple bits of a cute little guerrilla camp along the stream, but wouldn't be a safe place in high water.

After the missed junction, the trail started to feel more like an old road, which doesn't quite coincide with what is represented on the 1995 USGS which still has some of the former roads marked as 4WD routes. The tread meandered its way along a flat wide enough for a jeep to pass and the high growth was all well clear of the sides. Travel was easy for a bit, mostly, which was a nice change of pace. It was getting to the early afternoon, and the heat was getting a bit much, so when I saw a stretch of sun drenched grasses, I stopped under a tree and drew to encourage myself to wait out the heat a little. It worked briefly, then I continued on.

butterfly laying eggs on the underside of a flower
A butterfly that didn't seem very watchful for possible predators as it was fulfilling its final duty.

turtle hiding beneath rock and moss
A turtle that was watchful, but wasn't sure where it would go or if moving would be what attracted my attention.

The sunny bit was followed by a drop into a small tributary. Climbing out the other side, there was the sign for a connector trail to Pie Canyon so this was Buckhorn. Lower Buckhorn Camp is a short way up the trail, and then there is a climb over the ridge to get to Meadow Camp. I did have one difficult spot when the trail seemed to stop dead in thick brush, but it turned out to be very soft brush that bent easily as it brushed from knee to chest and I blindly walked the trail. I somehow missed Buckhorn Trail leaving as I went up, and the huge sign is completely obscured by brush along the old road cut. At the top, a fuel break continues up although the USGS quad shows it as a jeep trail. Ribbons marked the trail going down the other side. I felt extremely hungry by the time I reached Meadow and went ahead and made dinner at 4PM.

bees covering a bunch of little flowers
It looks like these flower must just pop open suddenly, none are just a little bit open. The bees seem to love them.

trail into Lower Buckhorn Camp
The route into Lower Buckhorn Camp, which is a little run down currently but could be spruced up with a little work.

large meadow with camp at the far end
Coming back into Indian Canyon, Meadow Camp is on the far side of a large grassy expanse it describes.

I didn't quite finish all of my rice and locked the pan around the leftover, packed back up, and continued up the trail on the north end of the meadow. The sign said it would be another 3.5 miles, one map said 2.2 miles and my estimate was 2.5 miles. If the sign was right, I needed to stop, but I was sure it wasn't. The trail travels through a canyon of hard chaparral and suddenly split. Each path looked equally valid and there seemed very little possibility there could be a path without a lot of hard work. I selected the left one and continued. It branched again. This time it was in a somewhat open area and the left, higher side seemed to be less traveled with sticks across it at the start and where it entered hard brush again, it seemed lower like a bear might use it. It also seemed to start climbing further on. I selected the right that time and dropped quickly and not altogether smoothly down to the creek. Ribbons marked the path sometimes, but these are left by fellow hikers and are not actually authoritative.

path and canyon
A view of Indian Canyon as the trail climbs some more.

little rattler
Something small and venomous I found coiled around in a 3" hole. It did not want to move and never rattled, but luckily was fairly far to the edge of the trail in a wide section.

an ex-deer
A skull someone likely found and placed on display in the cut bush edge of the trail.

Once down to the creek, the way got a little more difficult. Occasional crossings always yield a challenge to find the other side. Someone had written in the log that ribbons had been placed for each one, but I was finding only the ribbons along obvious stretches and next to me at crossings, never the ones on the other side. They were confirmation, but not informative. Further up the canyon, the trail would suddenly climb up some 40 feet to go along a short distance nicely above the water, but then would plunge back down. There were around a half dozen of these. Eventually it climbed up to the side of a meadow with the camp at the far end.

many layers
Some particularly prominent layers in one cliff rock.

old porcelin sign
It may say Indian Creek Campsite on the map or Indians Camp on the torch cut signs, but apparently it was once Indian Canyon Public Camp in the Santa Barbara National Forest era. This is home for the night.

My GPS clocked the distance at 2.6 miles, so my estimate seems to have been closest.  Upon reaching camp, I set up my tent, ate the last of my rice, hung up the food, and settled down with the darkening sky to sleep the night away. The previous night it had seemed like I'd forgotten how to sleep upon lying down, but I sort of remembered this night.

On to the next day.

©2012 Valerie Norton
Posted 22 Jun 2012

1 comment:

EMW said...

This is wonderful trip report covering one of those iconic corners of the Southern Los Padres. Through the 1970s up until the last time I hiked the area (spring, 1985) the route from the trail head sign in your picture (I don't remember the road sign but I have an old shot of the trail head sign) was very easy to follow to Lower Buckhorn and Meadow camp. Beyond that conditions deteriorated. There was a torch cut sign in Lower Buckhorn camp that hung from a tree (I have an old picture of that as well); it was inscribed (as you might expect) "Lower Buckhorn." I wonder if that sign is still located somewhere in the camp. Thank you very much for sharing this; with luck I will rectify my long absence from this area before too long.