31 December 2013

Gaviota Ridge

Los Padres National Forest


Locate the trailhead.


To finish off the year, I decided to hike the Santa Ynez Mountains above Gaviota. The plan is to go past the hot spring to a random peak with a marker. There are many trails shown on the map around this far western section of Camino Cielo with one headed past another spring. This looks like it could be interesting if the trail actually exists. Heading back, I'll hit the peak and make an attempt at Tunnel View Trail with a short excursion to find another monument. The route out to Posta and back is supposed to be 10 miles, so this should come in around 12.

There is no one in the parking lot as I arrive at the trailhead. It is still a $2 parking fee for this spot in the Gaviota State Park. Hours are 8AM to sunset, but it doesn't look like the gate has been closed in years. The morning air is very crisp, but starting up the climbing road soon makes it very comfortable. The stink of sulfur comes on quickly, but then fades again. At the fork, I take the left side for the first time. I suspect the trail goes through somewhere again, especially since there's a nice road cut there for it to take, so turn to stop by the hot spring. Maybe it is the contrast of cool morning air instead of warm afternoon air or maybe that stink of sulfur below was a great big burp of hot water, but the tubs feel like they're at the perfect temperature for lounging again. Someone's forgotten their socks by the side. Continuing along the trail, the spring house has water coming from it again. It turns out the trail does indeed go through again, about halfway between the old use trail route and the road cut.

The tubs at the Gaviota Hot Spring
Two tubs have been built at the Gaviota Hot Spring, which seems to be nice and warm again.

Gaviota State Park across the freeway
Much of the rest of Gaviota State Park that also lies on the west side of the highway.


The hills to the north look stark in the morning light as I climb. There's a much more romantic look to them with all the shadows in the afternoon. My start was early enough that most of the climb is in shade. Just before the top, I'm passed by a couple going to the peak before turning and coming down the same way. The world is a much brighter place at the top where there is nothing to block the sun and there is extra sun coming off the expanse of blue ocean. The islands are set off by the reflecting sunlight. It is a short climb to the top of the peak from here, but I'm going for the longer climb to the left.

this was supposed to be overcast, but it isn't
Looking out over the ridge, it sure is bright with the sun coming off the ocean. There is a good candidate for the spring off to the left.

The road faithfully follows along the very top of the ridge, but there are only a couple ridiculously steep sections. A patch of oak trees in the canyon below looks like a likely spot for the spring and includes clear trail near it. The cute little strike canyon to the north that is supposed to have a trail down it doesn't seem to have any. The rocks on the other side look like they could be a fun playground.

Hollister Ranch from far above
Checking out Hollister Ranch from far above.

the direct view down the canyon
Cañada San Onofre, from start to finish.

the valley to the north
From here, the large population center is in the valley to the north in Solvang.

After a couple bumps, there's a bit more climbing than dropping. There are a couple spots that look like they could be trail down, then there's a wide trail with two dirt tracks leading down along another ridge. This is the trail down to the spring and it looks quite good. A little more climbing gets to the high point of the hike and the requisite look around. A little further, the stout posts of an old barbed wire fence edge the road. One post has a Forest Service location poster which looks like it could be for the monument I'm looking for. Just past the fence, a sign on the left points out Campbell Trail which has good tread for about 10 feet and is then lost in the chaparral. This is the trail down the strike canyon that I'd not been able to locate. On the other side, the spur of road on the map is still maintained.

back the way I came
Looking back toward Gaviota Peak and Hollister Ranch and the open ocean beyond again.

rocks on the far side of the strike canyon
The rocks on the other side of the strike canyon looks like they could be fun. They are probably accessible via the road past the removed beacon only a few tenths further.

The spur takes me a little closer to the monument, but it starts dropping when I want to stay to the ridge. An old 'dozer track follows the top of the ridge, so I move over to it instead after about 100 feet. The chaparral is a little softer along the track. The fence follows alongside the track, making me reevaluate my designation to old maintenance road for it. Whatever, it is very much reclaimed now and travel is a lot of pushing and twisting. The fence makes a sudden turn to the left and I find myself stabbed by the little daggers of ceanothus as I pass the peak I should be climbing. Fighting through them and over the fence near the corner gets a nice view, then it's back up to the rocky peak to see what I can find.

the namesake canyon for the monument
Cañada de la Posta directly south, the namesake for the benchmark.

Turning back, I make my way up the rocky peak to the side. There is less brush pushing by keeping to the rocks, but it may not actually make the route easier. Coming to the top, I don't see any disks. There is a burned stick connected to a number of wires where a station ought to be. Turning and looking further, there is a disk on a high rock. It is reference mark 1 and it seems to be pointing back at the stick again. I follow the line with no luck. Eventually, there is another disk on a high rock right next to a handhold I used on the way up. It is reference mark 2 and it is pointing very nearly at the first reference mark, but more at the stick. Another round of looking down the arrows comes to the same conclusion, but no amount of pushing white sages around and digging comes up with anything. Grabbing some lunch and wondering how it could have wandered off if this charred stick hadn't... so with another round of very careful sighting down the arrows, I decide it could be a little north of where I'm looking. There's a bunch of little rocks and it doesn't look promising, but as I flip one of them over, it suddenly forms a circle with the others. Wiping off a fair bit of dirt in the middle shows one more disk. Finally.

station mark for posta monument
All that just to find the right silly little brass disk set in a rock in 1932. Posta is good.

The climb back up to the road is a little easier. I get to push up the fairly clear south faces and down the thicker north faces of the bumps on the way. I check it a little way down by the seasonal lake, but don't find anything interesting, then start back up. On my way, there is a curious phenomenon of hearing voices and then a motor as four people come along the road from the east in an open cage buggy. It is a beautiful road, but not open to the public in any way as far as I know. I climb up to the road and start to follow the highly variable noise of the buggy back the way I came.

location poster on a fence post and the ridge to POSTA
The yellow location poster placed on a fence post in 1967 for something sort of in that direction about 800m. The rocky point in the middle is about half a mile away and has the monument.

canyon to the west of the route to posta
Cañada del Molino, which drains the area west of the ridge to the monument.

The buggy comes back quickly and then vanishes off to the east again leaving me with few sounds other than the wind. At the old track to the spring, I head down. There are only a few spots in need of brushing along the way. It leaves the ridge and drops into a little flat surrounded by oak trees and under those trees is a picnic table. There is no spring. Following the green grass doesn't help to find it, but there are views and some possible mortars in the sandstone.

picnic table in a small bowl of land
In a little bowl of land surrounded by large oaks, there is a picnic table.

Following the road further down, there is a concrete box. This would be the spring and it seems quite inaccessible. Below it, there are pipes that head down to a tub and are leaking in several places. The tub has some skanky looking water and is not currently filling. More pipes lead off from the tub for whatever good that does. Beyond the tub, the road has not been cleared in the memory of the chaparral. Tall bushes nearly close it off with the suggestion of trail through them. This should loop back to the saddle where the road comes up from the parking lot, but it seems a bit too much of a gamble since I haven't achieved all my goals for this trip yet. I opt for the sure thing even though it means more climbing and more distance.

water in a tub
A little bit of water in a tub. It looks like this site should be treated as a dry site, at least for now.

Climbing back up all the feet I'd dropped takes less time than I expect. Back at the saddle, there is a suggestion of trail use although the junction has been ruined by mowers and graders. Then I climb up to the named peak. Gaviota Peak is just about as I remember right down to the presence of chunks of orange peal left on a rock by people who don't realize that stuff lasts forever if you don't bury it. The remaining reference mark and post from the destroyed station are still there, too. I don't spend too long on the peak before heading down again along Trespass Trail. Catching the old road cut to shortcut the dry lake is tough from the top, but otherwise I manage to follow my usual route back to the State Park.

looking east along the coast
Looking down the coast toward Santa Barbara.

layered rocks by some caves
The outside layer of some sandstone that forms little caves looks like it has had pieces glued on.

trees in the redening light
Oak trees along the trail in a different light than I'm used to. They look lovely with the low evening sun.

Where Tunnel View leaves Trespass, I want to look for one last monument that marks a triangular corner of the forest. It is on the 1953 Gaviota quad, so I'm hoping that it's one of the particularly old ones. When Tunnel View turns, I keep on going down the hill through the grasses. Not far down the hill, there is a tree and a rock with silver on them. The one on the tree turns out to be another location poster like the one that was on the fence post, except this one is pointed north so it should get no direct sunlight, and almost entirely faded. The rock is instead marked as a bearing tree and notes the marker is 88 feet away and 5° off south and is also almost entirely faded although 20 years younger. So just down the steep hill. Indeed it is, flanked by a survey marker sign (with another location poster) on one side and a National Forest boundary sign on the other.

witness objects, a tree and a rock
Witness objects for the survey marker a little further down the hill.

LC20 survey monument
Survey monument for the corner of the forest from 1986. That was either a long time planned or this is a replacement.

Back up at Tunnel View, it is only a few feet to get back to Trespass, but now that I've got my goals fulfilled, the poor gamble on Tunnel View seems fine and I start down it. It is packed dirt and easy to follow for quite a ways, but gradually it lightens. The route starts doubling and animal trails crossing it start to look just as big. I start to pass spots were it looks like it would be tough to follow the trail up without knowing it already. It gets into view of the tunnel and there is nothing distinct about it as opposed to all the other possible trails.

sunset over Gaviota
A touch of sunset as I try to follow an indistinct trail.

Gaviota tunnel from Tunnel View
Tunnel View Trail does give an excellent view of the tunnel.

The approximate way forward looks obvious, but I can't even see the landmarks across the way that would tell me it isn't far to the other parts of this trail I've been on and there's a bit in the middle I'd really like to be following a trail through, especially with failing light. I turn and climb back up to the road, then follow it down. There is no one in the parking area again as I leave.




©2013,2014 Valerie Norton
Posted 2 January 2014

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