28 January 2014

Dry Lakes Ridge

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trailhead.

The route up Dry Lakes Ridge cannot properly be called a trail. It is a well trod use trail up a wide fuel break. As such, it is actually a network of intertwined routes that meander across a wide swath along the ridge edge. Occasional false routes spread out from it to viewpoints or for explore a ridge branch or forming dwindling downhill routes or all of the above. It can be a bit of a mess, but while it is easy to get a little wrong, it is hard to get it a lot wrong. A turnout on the left and a second on the right bookend the start of the trail with ample parking. There is no sign, but it is just a bit over a mile from the turn to Rose Valley when headed north. I can see the trail to my left as I pass the intersection, just past a nearby hill, so know where to aim. It is empty when I get there. Crossing into a gully and starting up the steep hill, there are numerous footsteps and a few of them very sharp and fresh.

bit of dirt climbing a steep hill
The start of the trail passes through a small drainage and then climbs directly up the hill toward the ridge line.

After a brief pause, the trail gets steeper, which doesn't seem possible. It's quite a trudge of careful climbing and a little warmer than I'd wanted. After about 700 feet, the slope mellows out to something very reasonable and the views are outstanding, or at least starting to be.

almost peeking into the Sespe
Starting to get views into the Sespe.

view toward the ocean
A little bit of fog out over the lake.

lots of the Sespe
Looking down the Sespe to Piedra Blanca and beyond.

As the climb gets easier, the options increase, but following the footsteps is easy. Eventually, I'm at the top and the whole point of this climb becomes visible. The ridge top basins with their distinct plants stretch out below.

Lake Casitas
Nearer the top, I can see Lake Casitas. The islands Anacapa and Santa Cruz peek out of a bit of mist beyond.

wandering paths
Paths diverge, but it largely doesn't matter which is chosen as long as it stays withing the cut of the old fuel break.

lake of sage plants
The lake of sage plants on the top of the ridge.

The trail down is steep, but not quite to the point of feeling dangerous and not for very long. Following the obvious trail after the drop gets me into a rather solid bit of brush, but backtracking quickly shows another trail that drops some more to get into the distinct vegetation of the false lake. Once among the sage, the trail is often indistinct but forward progress if possible even without a trail. The most used route loops around to the north and across, then up to the south and past some pines. The prickly ponderosa cones look positively delicate after bumping into many Coulter pine cones, although small for the species, along the Manzana. Metal litter along the way looks to represent many decades of area use. I'd seen one person say they were struck by how quiet it is in the bowls, but I find them to be a bit noisy. They seem to focus the noise of the airplanes and it doesn't help when two fighters fly by rumbling in their effort to stay subsonic.

standing down in the lake of sage
Standing in the lake of sage. The trail looks good at this spot and a line curving toward the trees seems obvious once one knows to look for it.

Past the trees, it is a straight shot to the taller chaparral around the sage lake. With very little climbing, this comes into view of a grass lake far below. Behind it, there is a little grass pond. The fuel break is largely clear as the route drops directly to the second false lake.

mountains to the northwest
Starting to get a view of the mountains to the northwest.

grass lake along the ridge
Looking down on the grass lake with the fuel break trail in the foreground.

decaying tree trunk
This fallen pine was once much wider, but those softer outer layers have dropped away.

An ice can stove occupies the middle of the meadow, but the trail is disinterested with that. It crosses directly toward the clump of trees and then around to the north. The tall growth here needs some trimming and there are places where I just have to push through. It is still much easier than if there were no trail at all. This quickly lets out onto the grass pond.

coyote bush seems to block the route to the grass pond
One last push through the coyote bush gets to the last pond.

From the pond, the route opens up again and climbs along the ridge. I notice that while there are a few old footprints, I've lost all the fresh ones as I climb. After one hump, it's a steady climb up to the larger ridge above.

more trees on the north slope
The north slope has a few more trees.

At the top, the trail splits. Use trail continues up to the north, although I do not know how far. It looks easy enough to follow. The fuel break supported use trail follows the ridge southwest over a few humps before suddenly looking like an abandoned road instead by hugging around the south side of a particularly pointy peak.

Ortega Hill
The upper section of Tule Creek and Ortega Hill.

Tule and Sespe Creeks
Tule Creek as it empties into the Sespe on the other side of the ridge.

back over the dry lakes
Looking back over the Dry Lakes Ridge area shows how straight the fuel break route is when taking the hills.

Coming around the mountain, it is already getting a bit late and from there, the trail drops a bit. In a spot of laziness and an attempt to get back before it gets too dark, I decide to turn around. I loaded up the GPS with 37 geocache locations, most of which hadn't been touched in 2.5 years, and looking for those took a bit too long. Somehow it's not the dozen caches I didn't get to look for, but the bit of trail as the scenery starts to change that I rather miss. It's fun to see what people have dropped into them, but they really aren't that special overall.

a bit of trail on a wide cut
The trail is a wandering line along the wide cut of the fuel break on the side of the mountain when I turn. Lake Casitas and the islands are still visible.

red tinging the mountains of the Sespe Creek drainage
Looking down the Sespe again, now with the colors of sunset starting to show.

I hit the last steep section down as the sky darkens. The darkness doesn't make if feel any safer. A side trail toward the bottom turns out to contain a bench and some kind of memorial, but it is too late to watch the color show in the west from it. I find that I am already plotting a return to the area. Maybe an expedition to rediscover the real Ortega benchmark.

sun behind the mountains and dropping below the sea
Deep colors in the west as the sun sets.

©2014 Valerie Norton
Posted 31 January 2014


Scott Turner said...

Great blog and pics. Loved this hike when I took it, but I didn't have the gumption to push through to the 5th meadow. Next time.

Derek (100 Peaks) said...

I guess I got lucky enough to visit when there were no planes flying overhead. Also, kudos for pushing through to the last basin.

Valerie Norton said...

Ah, it was Derek! I think sometimes I edit out the plane sounds. I looked up one evening once thinking "this sure is a quiet sky for one so big" and then counted six sets of blinking lights crossing it. It depends how low they are, too. Those fighters were low enough to show their pointy aspect.

There were a few cuts on the bushes that looked only a couple months old. Maybe time to visit again? Or, since so much of the forest is dry, might as well do that overnight?

Valerie Norton said...

Guess I should pay more attention to my newest and most extensive guide book. Craig Carey not only claims this is a real trail (route 85), he comes up with an official designation for it. Undoubtedly, it did follow a bit of a different route for the first half mile.

Meanwhile, he also offers a trail for the junction past the lakes: Tule Creek (route 83). I've looked for the other side of this trail and could find it while driving. Unfortunately, neither seem to feature on a USGS quad.