18 November 2013

Cienaga Canyon

Angeles National Forest

Locate the trail head.

I decided to head out to the current end of Templin Highway again to check out a little more of the extreme western section of Angleles. The excuse for this one is to search out five Public Land Survey System markers, all witness corners, that rest in the bottom of Cienaga Canyon, mostly along Castaic Creek. They were placed before 1958 (Liebre Mountain 7.5') as they can be found on the quad from then. Otherwise, I know nothing about them. I loaded up some guessed locations into the GPS and made a plan of attack. I would follow the canyon up, pausing from time to time to stomp through the undergrowth on the side looking for a monument, then follow the old road back down. This road was reduced to a trail in more recent maps and has been mostly removed from the 1995 quad. Still, the route up the ridge and back down can be seen from satellite, so I'm pretty confident I can follow it. The canyon bottom seems to have a bit of trail as well, although that can be an illusion.

There's plenty of traffic for the lake, but no one is parked at the end of the highway. I get packed up, a task involving far too many bits of backtracking to grab a thing I'd forgotten but finally managing to be prepared, and head down the last of the pavement to the bridge across Castaic Creek. On the far side of the bridge, a road wanders past the stream gauge and starts up the canyon. I head down it for some easy initial travel. There are many footprints already on it, some of them quite crisp. Someone has camped under the trees just past the gauge, but not recently. It's a good start to what might prove to be a long hike, but just past the stub of a gate that probably marks the end of the county's inholding around the lake, I find the first washout.

the county's stream gauge, very dry
Still nothing for the county's stream gauge to measure. That tamarisk can't help.

all that is left of a gate that is no longer needed
The base of a gate at the edge of a big washout along this old road.

The washout isn't too hard to cross and at the end there is more road and more easy travel. There is another washout before the first ford. The ford is delicately eroded over the top and terribly undermined at the bottom, but still has a depth gauge so you can see how crazy it might be to try to cross the stream in a flood. The high tension wires crackle above and an old car frame rusts, bringing together a collection of the ways civilization affects the remote outposts it passes through. Eventually, the road is washed out again and stays that way for a while before a second ford just below an old stream gauge. Past this, there is not a lot of road in the canyon.

Ford along Castaic Creek
The old ford still looks usable. I don't think I would want to if the water was high enough to register on the depth gauge on the right.

The creek bed is wide and clear of growth, so travel is uneven, but still quick. Many places have a sandy bottom that turns under the shoes, slowing down the walk. A lot of cattails hint that there is water nearby, and then a little murky pool proves it. Shortly after the pool is a little cascade of flowing water more reminiscent of a garden hose than a leaky faucet, a bit more than the previous pool hinted at. The water makes me happy to see, especially in a delightful little waterfall. Then I start to notice the tamarisk with feathery thin cedar like leaves and red bark. Most of it looks brown, but it may just be going dormant for the season.

water cascading down a boulder into a little pool
It turns out there is a little water in the canyon, and it is even flowing at a nice clip.

A bit more hiking and the red rocks of Redrock Mountain come into view along Red Rock Canyon. The old road crosses the creek and starts up the other canyon, but the trail makes many choices available. This is where I turn off the trail to keep in Cienaga Canyon, but first a search for a witness corner. I take the first trail off to the left, which hugs the correct edge of the canyon. Poking around here and there, getting caught on a few roses, it is looking silly until I spot a bright yellow post. A witness object! Well, maybe. It is rusted between blotches of paint and seems to be marked "OENGRMON", whatever that might be. Inches from the base and hard to see even when standing on top of it is a short pipe full of concrete with a washer marked "LA CO ENG'R" stuck in it. It seems to have lost its cap, but the first monument is found. Now I think I know what I'm looking for.

Redrock Mountain
Glancing down Redrock Canyon to Redrock Mountain. An old road cut is just visible on the left hand side of the canyon.

Cienaga Canyon
My route is down Cienaga Canyon toward the grey-brown rocks.

I climb down a little way to the bit of trail I had been on. It continues my way down Cienaga Canyon although there is not supposed to be a trail here. There are many indentations in the sand from people using it nonetheless. Someone has even been cutting a few of the branches away for the shortcuts of the tight turns of the creek. There are still some branches across these shortcuts showing that they're really bear trail. In open areas, random bushes have their tops lopped off as if to make sure that others passing afterward know someone was here. I look for a bit of rock that might indicate the waterfall marked on the map, but don't see anything promising. A couple tight turns mark the moment to search for the second witness corner. It is hard to compare the local terrain to the map from down in the bottom of the canyon, so I just take off searching in a couple spots. The first area isn't so bad, but the second is choked with roses and I keep having to reach down into them and extricate myself. I start to look around a third spot, but decide against tumbling into another thicket of roses. My guess marker is somewhere up a rocky and crumbling wall. There seem to be no yellow posts anywhere. Second monument, not found, but I'm willing to entertain the idea that I looked one creek loop too early.

shaking yellow leaves
Once in a while, there's a lovely cottonwood just standing there shaking its leaves in the wind making a nice rattle.

spires of rocks over the willow
A bit of the view at the time I decide to check for a witness corner.

The creek wiggles back and forth quite a bit before having a straight stretch. Along the way, there's a darling little slot opening up at a right angle to the main canyon. Checking the map, I find the cartographers saw things differently. What looks like the main canyon is really Trough Canyon and Salt Creek. My route is through the little slot. Turning into it, I leave behind the disturbed sand of many passing.

loose rocks and sand between vegetation in the canyon show many indents from feet passing
A sand bar serves as a trail in this section and the loose rocks show the passage of many feet.

a bend in the canyon
A nice spot for a quick snack.

little slot of a canyon entering from the right
The narrow inlet to the right is actually the main canyon while the big, sandy, flat expanse to the left is a tributary.

The slot still has a fairly clear central channel. There is no more trying to cut the wiggles down, as any soft spot soon stops being so. There are some low bridges from growing trees along the way. A kettle lies on its side in the middle of the channel and will likely continue on its way when the next good flow starts. When the GPS tells me I may be getting close to the next monument, I decide to have a look up the side of the canyon on the right and find a bright yellow post. Its paint is nearly intact, including the "C" at the top, allowing the markings to be deciphered to a shortening of "county engineer monument". Below, the monument is flush with the ground and capped. Next to it is a taller rod with wires to hold it left by some surveyors past.

a short, narrow, jog to the right
Entering the narrow slot. It jogs over to the east then opens up slightly to travel north.

witness corner at the 1/4 section corner
The witness corner at the 1/4 section corner between T7N R17W S34 and T6N R17W S3 set by Los Angeles County engineers.

Above the monument, the canyon opens up a little and the road rejoins the canyon. I keep to the creek bed, finding that for a stretch, it has water flowing in it again. I decide not to climb up to a bench on the right spotting some roses, and so delay stumbling onto the trail by a few hundred feet. The trail is distinct in the old road bed, but shows no recent passage. Fat tire imprints show someone was riding their motorcycle down it while it was still a little moist. The yucca have been suitably abused on the trail side so they rarely stab a passerby. The telephone posts along the side seem to have been felled a few feet up at some point. The first San Francisco to Los Angeles telephone line passed underground through here after 1915, but was later put on posts. (See the 1936 Redrock Mtn. quad for "Telephone Road" as well as perhaps a hint about why someone might come out and survey the area properly, not to mention A. Fankhauser's beautiful 25 foot contours.)

water flowing in Castaic Creek
A little pool and some water flow in Castaic Creek.

trail following a wide section of the canyon
Good trail occupies a wide bench in the canyon.

makeshift wooden plank bridge
A sudden deep trench is crossed with a wide plank. A second plank lies in the bottom of the wash. Beyond is one of the felled telephone poles.

The GPS tells me I should be coming up on another monument as I go through some wiggles in the creek. I should have passed a trail, but I didn't notice it. Roaming around through the underbrush doesn't turn up anything but some bones with odd horns, maybe of a goat. Fourth monument, not found. It is getting a bit late, but it feels silly to turn around before 3PM and there is trail all the way back, of sorts, so I press on for the last one.

bones with funny long, twisted horns, maybe a goat
The bones of some unfortunate animal.

a few roads on the hills at the ranch
A few wide dirt roads on the ranch at the north end of this trail come into view.

As I continue north, Castaic Creek branches off somewhere. There are many trails off of the road and somewhere I need to climb a little to get to this last witness corner. There is a big trail, which leads to a camp full of the trash left by drunken shooting parties. Behind it, a smaller trail keeps going the way I want, so I follow it. A bit of irrigation tubing is visible beside it and horse turds on it, although both old. I come to a gully with a loud flow of water in the bottom, so choose another trail heading a little more east. It crosses an empty gully and turns up a small canyon beside the bit of hill I think I need to climb. I scramble up and find more trail crossing along the side of the hill. Even this part has dried road apples. Working along it to a bit of fence, I am presumably next to the ranch property. I climb along the fence, passing directly over my guessed location, but find nothing. There's just more and more fence posts and fallen barbed wire with the prospect of falling on the stuff while climbing the steep hillside. Time to head back. Fifth monument not found.

westward view
The telephone poles are still standing on the ranch side of the fence. Suggestions of civilization dot the ridges west toward the freeway.

The GPS says I've taken about 8.5 miles to get here and have a little less than two hours to sunset. Just over an hour later, the nearly full moon will rise, but it isn't quite the same as having sunlight. I carefully find my way back down the hill and through the gully. Crossing it a little higher than before, I run past some strewn plastic plant pots. Anyway. Back at the road, I can just roll until it becomes unfamiliar due to following the canyon instead. It seems to take forever to get there.

Telephone Road
For a moment, the road almost looks like it might have been used as a road in the last 10 years.

When the road starts to climb, I can either go back the way I came or follow it. I stick with the original plan and start climbing with it up to the ridge. Looking down the hill, the yellow post next to the third monument can just be seen. There is solid tread along it, even past a few washouts. I manage to miss a switchback and find myself on trail of decreasing quality. I think I see road on the other side of the canyon, but checking the map shows I should be much higher. There is a cut there too, and it might be a little more convincing, so I take to climbing. The switchback was probably at a particularly eroded spot where it seemed that folks, including that motorcycle, had climbed up a little higher, then come back down. The higher road is in excellent shape. Back on solid and clear trail, I manage to gain the ridge just a little past sunset.

the lingering light after sunset
The lingering light in the sky as I get to the ridge.

a blurry and steep mountain in the twilight
Views of the mountain by twilight. The road is easy to pick out.

The trail is easy to follow by the glow of the sky. The failing light is just enough to see that I'm missing quite a bit of view in this dark, especially as I start down the side of Redrock Canyon. Somewhere, a trail heads off toward the mountain and into the narrows, but I miss it in the dark. That trail also gets some use and should be okay to find in the light. At one point, I find myself passing caves that look impressively deep, at least until getting out the light and pointing it at them to find they're the usual four feet or so.

Redrock Canyon
Redrock Canyon in the nearly gone twilight.

Once the road gets to dropping again to join my route up, erosion starts to be a nuisance again. There are no switchbacks in this part to miss and the "dawn" light of the moon is starting to brighten everything up again. It is a little bit of work to find a trail across the stream bed and back up to the one I traveled before, but someone has been clearing it recently, so there is no backtracking. The rocky creek bottom where most the travel down is is the greatest challenge. At one point, I suddenly find myself along a ledge with a long drop, only to realize that I'm really a foot up from a pool reflecting the infinite night sky at me. I manage to get up to a bit of road I suspected I would miss on the way down, which involves a climb up loose dirt higher than I am, then miss the bit before the second ford, having to get creative about navigating the stream gauge that has developed a deep pool (currently empty) behind its dam. After the ford, it is pretty smooth back to the bridge and paved road.

Castaic Creek in the moonlight
Looking down Castaic Creek toward the lake in the moonlight.

Back at the car, the GPS has clocked 16.5 miles and I'd managed to pick up four mylar balloons.

©2013 Valerie Norton
Posted 20 November 2013

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