Carrizo Plain National Monument
Locate the trail head.
The morning was clouded over and looking a bit too much like the weatherman might have been right, but that first round of clouds started to burn off as the sun got higher. I headed up the road to the top of the ridge where the Caliente Ridge trail, an old road, starts. This is the only trail listed on the monument's web site that is over one mile in length. This one is 8.5 extremely easy miles to Caliente Mountain where there are views and the remains of an old aircraft lookout from WWII. Some also start at Selby Campground, continuing on the road out the back of the campground. This road quickly becomes a trail which climbs up to the public road near where it reaches the ridge. For an even greater challenge, there is an access trail that starts down on 166 although it is unclear what it connects to from the monument map. The road continues down the ridge on the other side to 166, but does not allow public access that whole way.
|A look out over the canyon to the south from up on the ridge.|
|Overlooking the Carrizo Plain with Soda Lake (upper left) and Selby Campground (lower center) and the clouds that never quite burned off.|
The wind was fairly fierce across the ridge turning a cool day frigid. The clouds never quite cleared off from directly over the ridge. Soon after the start, a bit of road heads off to the north for another route back to the road and a trail down the front side that the USGS quad indicates stops by a spring before coming back to the ridge allowing a loop of maybe ten miles.
|The occasional creek across the plain has a stark, but shallow, look.|
|Patches of sunlight play across the dry grassy hills around a ranch out on the plain.|
With a little more walking, the clouds closed in and the frosty wind kept up. The juniper bushes are full of fruit and turn out to be wicked good wind breaks. Oak trees also populate the ridge, but neither is much taller than I am.
|The views vanish as the clouds roll through.|
I passed a communication site in the fog. In lower spots, there was a little more of the view. Eventually I got to a spot where a trail seemed to continue further up the ridge and is probably the same trail as before returning to the ridge. The road turns and drops into a bowl that was once a ranch.
|A trail continues up the ridge and looks like it might be the correct way to go, but the road heads down to follow a different bit of ridge past a ruined ranch.|
|A bit of the bowl of land next to a ruined ranch house. Old fencing runs around the outside edge.|
|The ranch house was small and trailer based with about four refrigerators, but is now collapsed. On the other side there is a picnic table and an old cot by the pin for loading up the cattle.|
Past the old ranch, I started to see some spots of old snow and the shaded sections had a bit of mud. The mud here is exceptionally good and clinging onto the bottoms of boots so that you grow taller with each step. I was glad it didn't last too long. The sun started to win against the clouds and the landscape started to spread out before me again.
|Looking back down the ridge on the south side, the road down toward Cuyama can be seen.|
|There are some rocky canyons along the ridge like this one draining down to the plain.|
The route became sandy and the edges of the road became indistinct. Some places, I felt I was just following along the ridge rather than an old road. I passed ponds formed by built up dirt and a big metal wildlife drinker that actually had water in it.
|An overgrown sandy section where the route is noted more by the depression than the track.|
|Mistletoe in one of the shrub oak trees. It looked like half had a bit of it in their branches. A few of the juniper had some too, but grew much smaller leaves on it.|
Watching footprints was odd. Some sections were full of boots, especially before the ranch. Some sections only held the impressions of the raindrops that softened the mud last. In some sections, coyote of all sizes had wandered through leaving hundreds of tracks, then a few steps more would show up some lone cat prints. Rabbits crossed the road frequently, but did not follow it.
|The dried mud still shows the tracks of wind blown rain. This rain was headed more along the ridge while today's wind blows across.|
|A much sandier section of the route which is littered with tracks of predator and prey.|
|A coyote came through here and left some very good claw impressions.|
|The icy wind maintains the ice frozen on these juniper the night before, at least on the side it is blowing in from.|
|A bobcat stepped on its own track as it proceeded along the route.|
|A small collection of shell fossils by the side of the trail.|
|Mountain lion tracks. (Also a size 9 men's track.) These were a bit more numerous than the smaller cats.|
I spotted a small fire down in the Cuyama Valley on my way to a spot possibly used as a fire lookout. It was too windy to be burning things, but I hadn't heard any thunder either. Coming over one more hill, I spotted a peak with a telephone pole at the top of it. I was almost to the mountain.
|One last bump along the ridge with a telephone pole on it. The ridge drops away after this.|
|Another look down into the plain.|
|Looking down the Cuyama River in the direction of Lockwood Valley.|
It finally became a little warm as I walked up the last slope to the peak.
|The top of Caliente Mountain with its collapsed AWS cabin and standing telephone pole and plastic ammo box for the register.|
|An incredibly uninteresting marker set at the top of the mountain.|
|A look back at Soda Lake and along the ridge just hiked in on.|
I signed the register and leafed through the recent entries. A few people had come a couple weeks ago and a few more in November before that. Infrequent, especially considering how many boot prints I could see at the start. People complained about the "frankenmud" when it had been wet. Quite a few camped out on the peak. Many were just starting peak bagging with this one. At least one eleven year old had made it. Some did come up from the campground. The ammo can also had a flag and one of the pull tab Coke cans that are scattered down the north side.
|After the mountain, the ridge drops very quickly.|
My 20 minutes of warm was already finishing and the wind was picking up again. The bushes at the top are all oak and offered no shelter from it. I started back down for the return trip.
|The clouds are moving back in and seem to be falling down in spots.|
Coming back down, I noticed the weather was really moving in. I still hadn't heard any thunder to worry about especially, but getting wet wouldn't be nice either. I got into a bit of a hurry while returning, so did not try out the loop trail. The spots that had been muddy on the way up had dried in the little sun and wind, so were much easier to pass.
|Clouds hide the landscape again, but now they are throwing the tiniest sleet at me, too.|
Looking at the weather, it looked like I would have at least an hour of whatever it was throwing. It turned out to be throwing the world's smallest bits of sleet at first. This could be warded off satisfactorily with my hat. It eventually built up mud on the road, so the caking mud started to play a part in the hike again. A few pieces had decided to be snow instead of ice by the time I got back to the car fully 1.5 hours before I'd really expected to.
Back at the car, it was a bit of work to get the mud off my shoes and did not really get them to an acceptable point. The mud wasn't bad yet as I drove down. I had been expecting to stay another night at Selby, and still would have if the wind had let up a little. My table with roof was soggy over every inch and my neighbors were just pulling out as I got there, giving me a wave as they passed. I decided to pull up camp too, and was following them out five minutes later. I decided to yield to the "impassible when wet" signs that decorate my desired route out. I started to try to catch the 33 south from 58, but the rain turned to snow at the junction with Seven Mile. Soon it was sticking on the landscape, then on the road and then actually getting pretty thick. The "M+S" on the tires doesn't mean I don't need chains for that sort of thing, so I ultimately headed for the coast.
©2013 Valerie Norton
Posted 25 Feb 2013