17 February 2013

Caldwell Mesa

Los Padres National Forest

Map of the route.

The Backcountry Horsemen of California Los Padres Unit put together a three day event of trail work on the ridge down from Caldwell Mesa and adding a sign along the route and invited the unaffiliated along to participate. It would allow me to check out a new area and do a little trail work, so I signed up. Apparently there were a few other hikers who signed up, but I ended up the only one who turned up. Saturday was only arrival at the old Avenales Guard Station and a bit of reconnaissance for the work with a bit of dinner and dutch oven cobbler (mostly blueberry and all delicious). The station has had a lot of work put into it and is now a residence of one of the BCHC members who serves as caretaker. With lock code in hand to get through the gate (permission is needed to come here), I arrived in the afternoon and met a few of the crew as people filtered back in from riding. Sunday was the main work day and I started it trying to close my bag and bivy against the determined nose of the youngest of the many dogs who really wanted to play. He quickly got distracted and I could get up in peace. We all dug into a breakfast that couldn't be beat and I started off a bit earlier than the rest to get to the mesa about the same time.

Avanales Guard Station
A view of the Avenales Guard Station surrounded by trailers and dogs and people readying their horses and mules.

sign at the start of the trail
Passing through the gate and out onto public land with a few miles to go before work begins. It's really a half mile shorter than advertised.

The trail and road designations hint that I've come far from home. I came in on 30S02 and am now hiking 16E06 instead of the usual N and W designations. These refer to a different reference point. Climbing up the trail, it doesn't seem so different. Manzanita is shedding its flowers onto the trail and oaks flourish. The oaks do all seem to be a little bit taller and less likely the be of a live variety.

plenty of Spanish moss on some small oaks along the trail
Some small oaks, still a bit taller and skinnier for the dimensions, with plenty of Spanish moss (AKA French beard) along a bit of trail.

looking out over the folds of the land
Big, nude trees occupy patches of green grass far below and up on the ridge. Live oaks help occupy the hillside.

The trail climbs up the ridge past old fences and, for the moment, trail grading equipment. Just over one thousand feet of climb brings me to the top of the ridge.

wire wrapped around wood that is placed within a hole in a rock
I believe I've seen this sort of fence anchor before. Once, anyway.

a little firebrush growing up
A few firebrush could be found before the ridge top.

Down from the ridge a little, the trail quickly comes to a high potrero. It wiggles through the grass and shooting stars and then drops down to Stony Creek almost as far as the previous climb.

looking down the other side of the ridge
Just over the ridge and looking down to the high potrero before dropping to Stony Creek.

a potrero covered in shooting stars
The potrero is a bit purple with shooting stars in some spots right now.

manzanita and live oaks along the trail
A little piece of trail as it winds down to Stony Creek below.

drying moss on the side of a rock
A forest in miniature.

Stony Creek
Arrival at Stony Creek where there was some talk of camping, but that didn't happen in the end.

Crossing over Stony Creek, the trail meets an old CCC built road. The road goes to a public access point upstream that is currently disputed due to the owners of an inholding closing it off without permission. This is one of the difficult spots for the proposed Condor Trail. Downstream, it continues for another quarter mile before it stops due to WWII. It was hinted that there's a little waterfall and nice swimming hole down there a very short distance, but I didn't actually look. I continued up the trail toward the mesa beside a tiny creek.

pool and flow and pool again along this little creek
The water seemed to want to pool rather than flow along this little creek.

Caldwell Mesa itself is private land, an inholding in the middle of the Garcia Wilderness. Signs on either side mark the boundary. The Caldwell Mesa 7.5' USGS quad from 1995 shows this land only occupying the south end of the mesa, but "that survey is all wrong", or so I am told. The grass is littered with the iron remains of its prior use. North of the trail near the spring is an old mower. On the west side, a plow sits ready. Along the flow from the spring to a man made pond, there is the skeleton of a cart and a few other pieces. Metal posts mark the current use as a trail and cow pats show it is still used as grazing land. Almost inperceptively, the trail splits here. One light path extends down to the south while the other loops back northwest to start down Pine Ridge toward Hi Mountain, another public entry point to the area.

east side of Caldwell Mesa
Arriving on Caldwell Mesa, it looks huge. There's even more of it on the other side of the island of trees ahead.

more of Caldwell Mesa
Caldwell Mesa stretches out further and the trail winds through along marker posts.

an old mower, probably drawn by horses
An overheard comment aimed at this hunk of rusting iron was, "Hey, they left that old mower up here."

leaf springs and axels and very little else left over from an abandoned cart
The extra comfort of leaf springs for the passengers of this old cart. Nothing but the most durable will do.

cattle pond
A berm of dirt has been built up to catch water from a nearby spring and form a pond for the local cow life.

some of the BCHC
Backcountry Horsemen getting to the work site.

Heading northwest, there is one more post to mark the exit of the mesa meadow and the trail becomes easy to find again among the sages. Crossing back out of the inholding, it was time to start work. I unpacked the loppers and started trimming extra wide. Some of us worked downward and others came up from the other side and we went until we met.

trail along Pine Ridge
Trail following the ridge down off Caldwell Mesa toward Hi Mountain.

purple flowers
A few more flowers starting to bloom.

a bit of mountains with trail low on them
Across the valley, another trail can be seen winding along the lower reaches of the mountains. This one loops back to a bit of road in American Canyon which is also behind the locked gate.

We turned back and returned the way we'd come. I swapped my pack for a horse for a short bit and managed to drop the GPS off my hip belt in doing so. A short bit of searching and then finding someone had already picked it up found it in my hands again. Just after it came our host for the weekend with a collection of saddled horses and mules. Apparently he's not very good at leaving them at home. My pack was tucked away and I got to ride the plow mule back down from the mesa.

pond made from the spring water again
A nicer view of the pond.

Riding didn't hurt when I was a little tyke, but I sure figured out what those adults meant when they kept telling me it did. Especially all the downhill I could do without. At least nothing was lasting. We made quick time back thinking about dinner, a thought that was occurring to the animals as well. They got cleaned up and we all settled into another dinner that couldn't be beat, except by the dutch oven cobbler. Mostly cherry this time, yum. A bit of talking around the campfire or in the cabin and then we all crawled into bed. I had another battle with a nose in the morning, but this time he brought along a friend.

©2013 Valerie Norton
Posted 22 Feb 2013


R said...

Very Nice Valerie, Your photos are excellent, your comments entertaining, thanks for doing this, and for coming on our work party.


Valerie Norton said...

Thank you for inviting out the hikers. It was great meeting all of you and you certainly know how to put the party into work party.