06 September 2012

Wind Caves and ridges

Gaviota State Park

Locate the trail head.

The icons that indicate the predicted weather all turned to thunder storms the day before and were now promising rain, as was, if I'm honest, the sky. I drive toward the south end of Gaviota State Park, and right into the rain. Nothing particularly hard, but definitely rain and not mist. I drive out the other side of it, too. Strips of blue sky can be seen out over the point, but not quite in a way that implies clearing. It is dry as I start down the paved fire road that starts off the route to the wind caves.

paved fire road
Starting off down the paved fire road, the trail twisting along the hill beyond.

A few small paths lead through the thick growth beside the pavement and up the hill, some heading back to the main road and some heading up toward the ridge. They are likely to be deer trails, at least originally. Eventually a large path leads through the growth and I turn down it. It snakes up the hill in a way that is a bit too steep because the switchback shortcutters have won on this section. It quickly comes into chaparral, where it should be harder to cut the switchbacks, but people have and they are winning here too. It does not help that the soft sandstone has become a rut and a water path where the trail first went. Now trails follow beside it and across spaces.

some caves and the Gaviota Tunnel
Some sandstone caves on the ridge. This is how big the natural caves are, any larger caves are man-made like the Gaviota Tunnel behind it.

more caves in the mountain side
The main collection of caves hollowed from the soft sandstone by the wind.

Rain begins to fall again. I decide not to stop in the first cave again as I hiking past. Higher, the trail splits and joins many times. This is both due to switchback cutting and to people making their way to the bottom of the closest cave. Officially, there is no trail to the wind caves. I climb until nearly level with the cave before taking a route toward it, which seems to work quite well. The rain has stopped by the time I make my way to the mouth of the cave. I sit and draw as another wave of rain comes through, but only get rained on by random sand particles. The caves are growing little by little.

row of wind caves
The wind caves in the sandstone. These don't connect the way the first one does with the neighboring holes around it.

details of the wind carving
The wind carves small and large holes and accentuates the layers as it goes.

I climb out and take another trail back to the main trail. I start to climb again and the trail splits. I choose wrong and end up on a route going strait up to the back side of the caves, past another small one and to a large one with a small opening to the other side. This is probably the high right hole of the group. Someone had a fire in it and now kids have been writing on it with the charred wood.

wind tunnel
A wind cave that drops through to the other side.

closeup of small holes
The wind makes an intricate lattice of small holes in some areas.

It starts to rain again while I'm poking around the second cave, but I turn north and continue along use trail to join up with the main trail. The route I'm on gets smaller and smaller, then drops down a steep slope to what looks like the trail. In this section, it is open. After crossing a saddle, the bushes close in over the trail leaving too little room between for me. At this point, there is only one option. I cross over the ridge and the vegetation changes although the trail is still overgrown. Further, broken oak tree branches full of lichens have fallen across the trail. I climb through two of them before the trail turns and cuts over to the road. Another large piece of broken oak sits across old trail. I come out to a mowed fire road along a narrow trail along a grassy break in poison oak. It is not marked.

more overgrown trail
The growth on this side is grasses and reeds, so much easier to push through as it encroaches on the trail.

huge fallen oak branches
Branches that have fallen down over the trail to block it for the less nimble.

At the road, I turn right. I have a possible plan to go under the freeway and up to Gaviota Peak although I'm fairly sure that that is a longer hike than I am looking for for today. Unfortunately for this plan, I couldn't find the paper map I got from the kiosk the last time I was here and it wasn't open this time, so I can easily make a wrong turn down an extra bit of road. Like now, as I head along Overlook Fire Road toward the Gaviota Pass overlook. That the road is staying up along the ridge is soon apparent, but I continue along it to the end and the viewpoint.

An antenna is at the end of the road, as is a good view of the pass far below.

purple flowers with rain drops
The dry hillsides still have a few flowers as this first rain hits them.

Gaviota Pass
Gaviota Pass tucked far below.

Use trail goes out around and onto the rocks for better views down. I skip it and think about climbing the nearby peak, but it isn't really the tallest one on the neighborhood. I head back down the road and pass the trail I came in on to another junction, this time between two roads. I turn right to keep on Overlook Fire Road. The road wiggles down roughly following along a canyon and along a gas pipe. One spot is washed out, but there is good trail past the washout. A sign marks the Woodland Trail heading upward, but most indications of trail just seem to be people looking around for it. Continuing, the road passes one more junction and comes to the freeway. This is where I expect to be able to get under the freeway, but only see the way under the southbound traffic. The map marks a "low passage under highway" on the northbound side. Without map in hand, I'm not entirely certain that this was is the correct spot to go under.

fire road past a big oak
The mowed fire road as it drops easily to the freeway below.

mud swallow nests
The mud nests of swallows along the freeway bridge over Gaviota Creek. It is raining again.

I leave the freeway again, staying on the west side. At the junction, I turn down Ortega Trail, which brings me back to fire road following along the gas pipe route. This trail is a single track, although evidence that it was once a paved road shows up frequently. Once it hits the fire road, I continue north to another gate entrance to the state park. Both this one and the one by the freeway only inform that this is the state park and there may be mountain lions.

red trumpets
A couple more wet flowers along the way.

I turn around again, and start heading back. At the trail, I keep to the road (which is Las Cruces Trail). It soon starts to climb up to the ridge above. As I go, I start to notice that my feet are feeling very heavy. It is a weight not unlike when I've just dunked my shoes into a river ford. This is curious since, in spite of the rain that keeps starting and stopping, my feet aren't really wet. The bottoms are caked with mud, which seems a little clay like, and straw to more than half an inch thick. Every step I take, the wet layer adds on to the bottom leaving a footprint of dry soil below. I kick it off and it quickly builds back up. At the top, I come to another fire road that extends north and south and seems to be following a petroleum pipe instead of a gas pipe.

looking over toward Gaviota Peak
Out toward Gaviota Peak, the fire road marked Las Cruces Trail as a mowed line falling below and it is raining again.

At the top of the ridge, I turn left on Hollister Trail and follow it along. A few houses occupy the canyon to the west. I enjoy the view on either side, but my muscles are starting to complain about all the mud building up on my shoes. I kick it off often, but it builds easily even when I walk on the straw covered center of the trail. I slip into a more swinging step to compensate for the weight on my feet until coming to another junction.

tuft of rocks in a tuft of trees
One of the many nearly 1000 ft high peaks to the side of the road.

big and little tufts of red buckwheat flowers
Buckwheat in all sizes, but not all colors.

mountains and sea in the mist
A look out to the southwest where the ocean marks the horizon beyond the hills.

The road travels up the peak ahead. This may be the high point of the park on this side of the freeway. I turn left to meet up with the road and trail I came in on, but it later occurs to me that this route up the mountain might be a good way back, connecting up with the use trails that come down off the ridge closer to the parking lot. The mud is making each step a lot of work, though, and I welcome getting back to the known since I'm mapless today. Although I will still have a ridge to cross, the road heads down steeply.

Gaviota Peak and fire road
A look again at Gaviota Peak, it seems to have more switchbacks on the fire road than I remember. The antenna almost visible in the photo has been a good landmark to reassure me that I'm going roughly in the right direction.

I quickly come to the intersection where I headed down to the freeway. I turn right to continue toward the antenna and trail I came in on. I easily spot the trail since I know when to look for it and what to look for, but I sure wouldn't have thought it was the right thing if I'd not come in on it. The rain has stopped again and I am dry, until I start walking through the overgrown grasses. I am quickly soaked halfway to my knee, but not uncomfortable. Over the ridge, the much higher chaparral dumps yellow water on me all the way up to my shoulders. I am the wettest I have been the whole day as I squeeze through the narrow space even though there is no rain coming down.

eroded sandstone
Back on the south side of the ridge and there are eroded sandstone structures again.

I pass two people coming up as it starts to rain again. I dry out a bit in spite of the falling drops as I drop back to the road. There's a little wildlife out now that doesn't run. I startled something that bounced in a way that sounded like a deer as I first left the pavement. I startled a fox that was sleeping in the rain at the peak by the antenna. I saw a three rabbits along the fire roads, usually high up. Now I see blue jays and a deer, both of which are less concerned by me than the previous animals.

blue jay in leafless branches
One of three blue jays sitting out in the wind and rain.

deer on hillside of dry, long grass
Watching me, but not particularly wary.

As I come to the road, I decide this should really be Beach to Backcountry and cross over to where a large trail heads toward the cliffs. I cross the tracks and head down toward the ocean. I find that the tide is high and this doesn't have a very good route down to the beach when it isn't, so I skip the beach after all. Over by the campground, there is plenty of beach for the campers to enjoy.

cliff at Gaviota State Park
The waves lap at the cliff below, either because this is one of the places where there is no beach ever or because it happens to be high tide.

I walk along the cliff side toward the beach and the pier. As the cliff ends, I walk back under the trestle bridge and back to my car.

Gaviota Pier
Gaviota Pier and the trestle bridge for the trains.

I brought my raincoat, but the rain was so light and fairly warm, it is a tropical storm, that I never pulled it out. The mud from it made it an extra workout. The low light from it seemed to encourage the animals to come out. This is certainly not a trail to go for quiet, as the drone of the freeway can be heard from everywhere along it, although there were a couple spots where it was well muted. Over the freeway, you can hear many birds and, if you pick the day right, the plop of raindrops.

©2012 Valerie Norton
Posted 12 Sept 2012

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