30 December 2012

Rattlesnake and Mission Canyons loop

Santa Barbara Front Country


Locate the trail head.

The quest to see Mission Falls flowing continued today, with success in the strictest sense that water was spilling over the rocks. I made another lazy start for the trail, which I really should stop doing. I found the road in is covered in steel plates, but the machinery that was parked near the trail before is now gone. There was plenty of parking even though this was a weekend day. Even so, I followed another car into the parking.

Skofield Park sign for Rattlesnake Canyon Wilderness Area
Arriving at Skofield Park to hike through the Rattlesnake Canyon Wilderness Area and Los Padres National Forest behind it.

I tried to figure out if there was more water flowing now than before. Maybe a little. It was at least flowing under the bridge last time which it wasn't the time before, and that wasn't enough to have flow over Mission Falls. I passed the sign pointing out that, for my safety, various things including bikes were prohibited. I crossed the creek and passed many people out walking their dogs. The trail was muddy with a few puddles, but still offered a path of steady footing throughout. Dropping back down into the cold of the creek, I crossed again and quickly climbed to views of St. Mary's and the ocean with islands. It isn't one of those really crisp days when you can pick out rocks and trees on the distant islands, but they still do a good job of looming out of the water.

view over St. Mary's Seminary
Looking out at Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa through the canyon gap.


Turning to my left up a trail near a point on the GPS taunting "try me", I started up the guerrilla trail that I expected would take me up the ridge to the utility road above. This trail came at just over one mile along the real trail. Climbing along the ridge, the views open up even more. A stray thick cloud kept the area shady for most of the climb so although the trail was steep, I was still quite cool.

very bright ocean and shadowed land
Bright sky and bright ocean make the shadowed land stand out dark.

I noticed a lot of wild cucumber making a good start at growing, one already to flower. Quite a few mushrooms were poking out near the path. Evidence of the past fires could be found. Stopping at a shoulder and looking around, I could find Tin Can far up the canyon with the trail crossing above it. To the east, a trail or road cut I would like to figure out what is, I don't think it could be the connector to Gibraltar. A little north of it, I spot the rusting carcases of three cars and above them a fourth telling a tale of a very deadly corner on the road above. Out to the south, the sky and sea continue their spectacular show. The shouted conversation of a family having fun in the creek filtered up along a fold of land to my left.

fresh flowers of a wild cucumber
The new flowers of a wild cucumber clambering up the local bushes to grab some sun.

looking up the canyon to Tin Can Meadow
A look up the canyon at the meadow known as Tin Can.

yellow, apparently striped, mushrooms
Some of the common mushrooms of the moment are these yellow ones.

trunk that has burned, leaving the harder outside on one side and removing the knots
A burned out tree trunk may last as a piece of art created by fire for decades, but is ultimately ephemeral.

I had a bite to eat and continued on. It was another short climb to another shoulder with rocks in the burned bushes. I got my first glimpse of La Cumbre Peak behind it. Trail with more rocks leads away to another peak and to join with the utility road.

rocks placed in burned bush branches by some previous passer-by
Reaching a decorated peak, I start to see a bit of the view around Mission Canyon. La Cumbre Peak is in the distance to the left.

I followed along beside the rock garden and headed out onto the slightly higher bump to look around.

Ventura coastline
Much of the Ventura coastline is visible over the ridge to the east.

Goleta coastline
A murky blue-green land to the west is the Goleta coastline.

I turned back and followed the trail to the road. I found a fallen and rusted triangle sign of the sort used to mark intersections in fuel breaks in the bushes on the way. At the Mission Canyon Catway, I decided to go all the way up. I was looking for another trail that might lead to Tunnel without having to drop all the way down and meet it where a spur to one of the towers nicks the trail. I didn't actually expect to find one, but the view should be even better up there. The road climbs more steeply than roads generally do and I was quickly to the top. It ends at the last tower before the long deeply sagging stretch that hangs above Rattlesnake Canyon giving one last overview.

the towers at the top of Mission Canyon with Tunnel Trail twisting along below
Looking down Mission Canyon along its own stretch of transmission wires in a long, low hanging run. The wide catways can be seen coming up the canyon and going up the other side. Tunnel Trail follows them while they are paved and a little further, then cuts up the hill. A section of it can be seen along the ridge at the right.

I headed down the catway after not finding the trail I didn't think was there. I had a bit of sun for a while, then would drop into a cold canyon or a gale of cold wind coming down the mountain. What is the trail etiquette when coming upon a man who feels turning his back is plenty of privacy? Since the road climbed quickly, it also dropped quickly and I came upon the spur to the tower down in the canyon quickly and turned up it. I was immediately assaulted with unbelled mountain bikers, the second with a camera on his head. I found quite a few hikers coming down the road instead of the last rocky and steep section of Tunnel Trail as I went up. Then I started to climb up Tunnel. The old trail is a deep ditch in some areas after 100 years of heavy use. It has large rock steps and more mountain bikers coming down over them, but at least this set had bells, which do make it easier to figure out where they are if you can't actually see them. Folks out walking their dogs, folks out with music blasting in their ears, folks jogging as best they can on the rough, they all were out today. It felt a bit of a trudge going up and up and up. I finally came about even with the height I had been at and could turn that last corner where Mission Falls becomes visible.

Mission Falls
First sight of Mission Falls from Tunnel Trail and it is wet.

I chatted with some hikers who had meant to be going up to the top, but had gotten on Jesusita Trail instead and after the extra bit of hiking to Inspiration Point, weren't ready to go up now. They'd also just been told it was cold at the top and we all agreed that it was plenty cold here. They had their gloves, an item I'd meant to have on, but ended up leaving in a bag in the car. It makes me wonder if the sign is missing with all these people going the wrong way. I finished the hike to the falls and had some more nibbles out on the rocks.

side view of the flowing, but not falling, falls
While the rocks are certainly wet from the flow, Mission Falls doesn't make an impressive waterfall yet.

snow level evidence
I'm not sure what the snow level was for the last storm, but I didn't expect this bit of icy leftover snow here. Beyond are the rocks at the top of the falls.

After a little warming sun and cooling shade, as the clouds blew by, I headed back down the trail. At the junction with Rattlesnake, I turned to pop over the saddle and make my way back down. An animal was making a racket above the trail until it heard me and silenced. Footprints in a small path to the area seemed to indicate bobcat. Down at Tin Can, I could hear people as I sat a moment to draw, but they never came by. As I started off, a runner with his dog passed me trying to beat the sunset.

little mushrooms in yellowy orange
Some little mushrooms in the grass at the junction between Tunnel and Rattlesnake Trails.

harbor in the late daylight
The city and the harbor in the long shadows of the very late day.

lights of the city with a colorful sky backdrop
The city lights up as the sky turns many colors. The clouds attempt to be another island behind Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa.

Evening winds were making the upper reaches colder and as I reached the canyons below, I now found them warm in comparison. I finished off the hike by lamplight.




©2012 Valerie Norton
Posted 31 Dec 2012

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