21 June 2013

Colson Canyon

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trail head.

I set out for Colson Canyon with the intent of doing the loop with Bear Canyon. A few loops are possible starting out near Colson Canyon Campground and heading to Peach Tree Spring and up onto the ridge. There are a couple ways to drop into Bear Canyon on the other side to meet with some motorcycle trail. Turning left to get to the road allows for a longer loop, climbing up to Buckhorn Ridge then coming back down the other side of the motorcycle loop to Bear Canyon. Turning right comes directly to Bear Canyon, then follow it down to Colson Road, nearly where it meets La Brea. (The USGS Tepusquet Canyon 7.5' 1995 marks it coming out at La Brea, nearly to Colson, but on the ground reconnaissance confirms the location on Conant's San Rafael Wilderness Guide, along Colson.) From there, it's an easy hike on Colson up Rattlesnake Canyon to the saddle and back down Colson Canyon.

I parked at the campground because, well, I don't know any better and it looks like plenty of parking. The road up it is rather scary with 6" of ground clearance, but the only sounds as I went were the gentle creaks of going over uneven ground and not the gentle scrapes of insufficient clearance. I poked around it for a trail, which there is a little of. I followed one a little way and found a geocache on the way back, placed nearly a year ago and undisturbed since. I went ahead and signed the tiny scrap of paper below the lonely name of the placer. I then poked my way down to the road below and made my way to the proper trail head. This is along the road just short of the campground where there is a big sign and a few parking spots on one side and a slapstick trail marker next to a gap in the fence on the other.

starting up the trail, it is marked minimally
The trail at the start is a bit of packed dirt winding up through the grass, past a gap in the fence and a sign forbidding all motor vehicles.

The trail looks pretty good, at first, not counting the encroaching poison oak. It has easy to follow tread, but quickly split into two equally good looking trails. I chose the one on the left and found it to be fine. After a while, it looked like the other trail rejoined again. Or it was some other random game trail with a little more travel.

view from the trail over canyons
A moment along the trail when there are views to be hand over the canyons.

The trail split again as it started across some rocks on a steep edge of canyon. I could see the continuation across the next creek bed coming in, although it climbs a little steeply. I started forward on the lower route and the trail just got worse. I decided to try the upper route, which proceeded nicely, but faintly, to a saddle and then mostly vanished. I could see the trail in the meadow below, so found an easy way down to it. I wasn't even two miles in yet and was already making it up as I went along.

trail leading steeply up the far bank of a tributary to a nice little meadow
It looks like there's a bit of trail headed up the far side of the tributary coming in from the right. Going down to it means balancing across a few narrow rock ledges and plunging through more poison oak.

The trail was easy to follow for a while again and then there was a bit of trail looking erosion headed down possible trail plunging into a thick bit of poison oak while a second path seemed to get above the poison oak. I tried for the more attractive upper path, which allowed me to thrash uphill a bit, but eventually didn't have any forward to go. I had a look down the bit of erosion enough to establish that it was not a trail, then plunged through the poison oak. It turned out to be less bad than it looked and there was more attractive trail again, on the other side.

a little trail through the dry grasses
There is trail here, it's even pretty easy to follow much of the time.

A few more plunges through poison oak, and I came to a tiny triangular meadow with path generally going to the right and a little bit of path leaving to the left. I headed to the right and wandered some of the best trail tread of the day until it ended abruptly at some small fallen branches. Coming back, I noticed a higher path that looked okay, but nothing like the good tread going down. I decided to try the other side of the meadow. That turned into steep downhill and uphill surges, then dribbled out into nothing. I tried again to the right and this time followed the upper trail after once again plunging to the end of the good tread, which seemed shorter on the second go. It was a lovely bear path. For a lot of it, it did look like others of the taller than bear sort had come down it, too. Then there was a branch I had to crawl under. After the branch, there were quite a few spots of crawling. One last long crawl and I was in another bit of meadow. The meadows are welcome after a bit of bear trail.

a bit of meadow and a hillside full of yucca flowers
A hillside of yucca and dried sages looks easier for travel to the ridge and a road that runs along it than the meadow that will end in another thick bit of poison oak. Probably should have headed into the drainage to the left to find Peach Tree Spring.

I continued up the meadow for a bit. Knowing it would end in more brush, I found a spot that wasn't too think with poison oak, and crossed over to the south facing side. From there, I should have made my way up to the left to find the spring, I think. I decided I wanted to go to the high point and have lunch with a view. I pushed my way upward through the dried sage, trying for the spots that were less dense with sword wielding yucca plants. I may have even followed a bit of old trail that cuts around the hill from the saddle to the east to the spring, but it is hard to tell from all the other deer paths so I only kept to it for 20 feet before working my way further up to avoid the lone tree, poison oak, on the hillside.

view down the canyon
Looking down Tyler Canyon from among the dried sages.

I made it to the oak trees at the top, hoping that there wouldn't be stabbing yucca there and found that they were even more dense around the tree I got to. Further on, I found trees clear of the things and with only a little poison oak and, curiously, a triangle of wire tied between the limbs. Up the hill on the other side, I found a trailer and a spur to the road along the ridge. I wasn't actually to the top yet, that was further up another spur where a camper sat in the sun. I was to easy travel and turned left to see if I could find a nice spot to look out and this spring.

bored oak with thistles drying around it
A tree that was loved by woodpeckers, but been standing so long that that layer has broken off leaving clean wood again. Thistles seemed to clump in a few spots in this meadow.

dove in the air conditioner
Doves were nesting in the trailer, hoping I didn't see them.

Buckhorn Canyon below
Peeking over to the northeast side of the ridge gives a view of Buckhorn Canyon.

Conant's guide has, for some reason, the road ending at the trail for the spring. It must be something odd with being near the edge of the map, because the road goes all the way to Tepusquet. There is an old road bed just before the open gate that I left alone since I wasn't interested in poking down people's driveways even if it didn't look like anyone would be there. This is probably the spur to the spring. Instead, I wandered a little way down the road and found a spot for lunching and drawing and generally being. In the shade of an oak on that ridge top with a gentle breeze coming across, it was an excellent spot for being.

looking down to the southwest
A grassy double track heads back the way I came, probably to Peach Tree Spring. Past Tyler and Colson Canyons, the communication site up on Tepusquet Peak and nearby bumps is visible.

thistles are just about done for the year
The thistles are still showing a little green at the bottom, but the oldest flowers are long gone.

Looking to the GPS, I found that I hadn't gotten too many miles done, although more than expected from the listed mileages, and it was a bit later than I thought. What I know of Bear Canyon is that I can find the other end of it. I decided to continue down the road and see where it went for a while, then turn and follow it back to Colson for a poison oak free rest of the day because it turns out there is a third, short loop option.

ridge road winding along the ridge
Good road winds its way along the top of the ridge.

grassy lands at the top of the ridge
Some small fenced areas and another spur along the road.

A pile of stuff dumped on the side of the road across from what could be another driveway turned out to be the collapsed remains of a mobile home with a few paper targets for good measure. Below it, a good, but overgrown road bed stretches down into the canyon below. Metal triangles mark more roads that have vanished. After a bit more abandoned fencing, I could see a bit of paved road ahead, Tepusquet winding its way through the hills.

dirt and tar road
The last bit of the road as it heads down and back up to Tepusquet Road in the distance.

Finishing off the first half of my water and seeing a lot of down ahead with no obvious reward, I turned back and made my way to the trailers again. I passed a resident barreling down the road the other way, but kindly slowing as he was near. Soon after the trailers, the road starts to drop and passes through a gate. Just before it drops, I could see two tracks of shorter grass climbing the hillside. Conant's map marks this as road for a passenger car, the USGS marks it "4WD", but the evidence is the Forest Service now considers it a trail. There's still a very nice and often fairly wide road down under that grass. I started up the tracks.

tracks in the grass, sometimes even with a bit of dirt showing
The road is pretty obvious over most of its stretch, but is sometimes just shorter grass in two rows and sometimes tracks in the dirt.

Except for picking up grass seeds in my shoes, travel was still easy along the abandoned road. It tends to the south edge and skips the peaks and wiggles a little in the few steep places. I came up to a water tank and one of those triangular metal signs marking junctions and trotted right up and over the local peak and down a bit of range where the tracks continued. They got less distinct, then vanished but there was still a slightly flattened line. Then that vanished, but it was going in the right direction for camp, so would be a perfectly good way to go. That is, if not for the poison oak. As the brush thickened from sages and grass to something more difficult, I decided to pay more attention to the sign. A cut could be seen on the next ridge, and I was going down far too soon, so I climbed back up to the water tower.

water tank and other structures at an invisible junction
A water tank near the top of the local hill that is accompanied by a dry trough and some laid out sheet metal.

ridge and trail of Alejandro
I can see Alejandro Trail climbing to the fuel break on the other side of Colson Canyon.

something pink-purple with petals
An unfamiliar flower for me.

Back to the top, I still couldn't see where the road continued along the main ridge line. My best guess was from the west side of the trough and down the backside of the hill. I took a steeper route where I could see road below, passing a fallen "fire line restoration area" sign on the way. From the bottom, it was easy to see where the road went as suspected. From there, travel was easy again. Horses had passed on the road when it was wet. I was following a gas pipeline from the tank on down.

road still looking very grassy
This really is quite easy to follow when you're actually doing it.

Coming to a gate, I found the road I was on is closed, but the "trail" is open to hikers, bicyclists, and horseback riders. The horses didn't seem to have passed the gate. Below the gate, the road tees off at another road and a marking for aerial photography. This was expected, but into a well used road. This road has a little use to the right and about the same as above to the left. I poked down the right side shortly and it was looking like the road would again vanish. I turned and went to the left.

turkey vulture in the sky
The turkey vultures are circling, and not for the first time. I saw as many as five riding up on the same thermal.

The road comes down and tees off into the well used quarry road. The saddle looked just the same with its two locked gates, but with the addition of a "no target shooting" sign. I hiked down the road to the saddle and then back down Colson to my car in the campground. On my way down, I met an old jeep slowly coming up. It was an old jeep grandfathered out of needing to pass a smog check, or at least it sure smelled that way. The driver sucking down something in a silver can, pistol barrel poking out by the door. As I got to my car, I heard the jeep rumble down again without a single shot fired in between.

©2013 Valerie Norton
Posted 24 June 2013

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