10 September 2013

Ventura River Preserve

Ojai Valley Land Preserve

Locate the trail head.

I've been wondering how far the folks have gotten along Camino Cielo now, as well as how exactly one might approach it from the east side. The obvious answer is to just turn left off the highway onto Camino Cielo and start hiking where the road stops. It seems likely this will be someone's gate, since there is no obvious reporting on this route. Then there is Kennedy Ridge, hike 53 in Craig Carey's guide book, a many junctioned route that starts at the Ventura River Preserve and promises only to get close to Camino Cielo. The weatherman was making strange promises for Tuesday to be 9°F cooler than the days around it, making a very nice temperature on the coast. Then I checked what that meant for Ojai and decided it wasn't cool enough yet. Instead, I'd just poke around the preserve proper and maybe get mom to come along as well. She agreed and the weather kindly came in a bit cooler than predicted. We left the much cooler coast with the distant blare of the fog horn for the southern trail head on Old Baldwin Road.

Ventura River flood plain in its summer guise
The Ventura River flood plain with the river and banks unseen beyond the oaks that inhabit it.

We start the hike with the choice of a paved path on one side and graveled fire road on the other. The access path ends fairly quickly and after that, but big wheels can get one quite a bit further. As the path ends, the fire road curves toward the near, eastern bank and a trail heads out closer to the river. We choose the trail for that wilder feel. A couple horses and riders chatting loudly pass by.

row of stones in the river bed
Stone berms are found from time to time in the river bed flood plain.

far river bank
Finally getting a good look at the far, western river bank.

big chomp marks in the prickly pear pads
Big bite marks in the prickly pears show that someone is not a bit afraid of those giant spines.

Trails branch off toward the houses as we go, but we keep by the river. Eventually, we get a good look at the far side of the flood plain. Houses sit above the high cliff, generally hidden by trees. The Santa Ynez Mountains rise behind it all and there is a visible road cut high along the front above the vegetation change. Sometimes, when I'm standing a bit higher, I think I might hear another fog horn blaring the same pace, but with different tones. The trail brings us near the houses for a moment and then turns away again. I take a spur out to the actual river, but mom's getting tired and heads along the shorter route to the next trail head instead.

one of the sign posts along the way
Solid sign posts with attached slapsticks generally mark the intersections along the way.

the Ventura River, bone dry
The Venture River in high summer. No water to cool the area as far as the eye can see.

tiny lizards abound right now
I'm mostly seeing these tiny lizards these days.

Some more horses pass by, but this group of riders seems more structured like they're on a tour. I'm starting to feel like I'm hiking with a cranky child as we continue toward the middle trail head. I only feel mildly warm, but the expectation of heat is generating complaints. We pass an old vineyard and come to a bench under a spreading oak. I take the opportunity to dump the child on the shady bench while I move the car around.

more mountains
Getting a little closer to the mountains, there are some drainages to the west that may be hiked.

grapes all gone from this old vineyard
An old vineyard. Once there would have been a couple rows of grapes stretching across wires strung between these short telephone poles. The grapes seem to have all died, probably drowned in one of the big floods.

I head back along the same route until the houses, then stick near them. Many of them seem to have chairs set up for people watching. Or water watching, for when it rains, it pours. Fencing suggests that the plots extend a little way into the flood plain and steps down become more and more common as I go.

Finding the second trail head on the side of Rice is easy. The route drops quickly along a wide road to get down the cliff at the edge of the flood plain. A slithering path of a snake crosses the road. At the bottom, the trail splits. A happy family is enjoying some time along one clearly marked as closed and private property. I head toward the river again, finding myself now near the north end of the old vineyard. Heading downriver, I'm quickly to the bench again. Happily, the cranky child seems to have vanished to be replaced by a parent trying out her own sketching materials. She's brought 48 colored pencils thinking there is no way she'll need all those colors, but now can't find the right color for anything. I try to understand with my small collection of ink that contains not one, but two different greens. Sometimes there's just too much choice. We head back to the Riverview Trail Head.

some spreading oaks
Some nice big oaks which offer lovely shade.

Passing the old vineyard, mom doesn't believe they could have been grape vines because the cuttings compost so badly. The dead plants leaning over near the posts are nothing like grape vines, so don't help my case that this is a vineyard. I find an old stick among them, curling tightly about a fat wire that seems to help. Irrigation tubing is everywhere, also twisting around wires to hold it in place. It is odd that the tubing has lasted so well compared to the vines.

a closer look at the ruins of the vineyard
Irrigation tubing along the ground and falling down grape supports.

We head out to lunch after, but there's too much choice there too. We end up at Josephina's Cafe just because I liked the menu when trying to figure out what to do with a restaurant.com certificate I grabbed to keep some airline miles from expiring. They're a little hard to find because they've taken in the O-Hi Frostie (a homeless Ojai landmark, or so the Internet tells me) and it's taken over their sign a bit. The menu is small, but they still manage multiple vegetarian options. After an excellent falafel and shake with actual bits of chocolate and cherry in it, I have managed to restore any calories lost while walking.

©2013 Valerie Norton
Posted 12 September 2013

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