15 May 2014

Sespe: Fishbowls

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trailhead.


DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4

(Day 3 of 4.) The night was a bit on the cold side, which is to say I was quite comfortable under my too warm quilt. The vapor on the exposed side of the Platypus on the ground even tried to freeze, although the one on top of it showed no signs of frost. We are slow to get started as the hardest days have already past and this one should be the easiest. With the flow in Piru looking so low, we will keep a sharp eye on it. After two years of very low rainfall, you have to keep close tabs on the water and always know where the last was. There are interesting water features planned for the end of the day, but first we have to do a lot of road walking.

white and petunia like
There are still a few flowers by the side of the road.

trees scattered over flat ground
Walking towards Grade Valley on Grade Valley Road. The valley is wide and flat, but the distant landscape looks steep.

Piru Creek bed
Some shaped mud in the creek bed. The water is flowing at the far side of this.


The yellow of a location poster on a lone tree in a field presents a sudden orienteering challenge I cannot pass up. I have a scrap of map that shows six PLSS markers that my be obtainable, but I have not put any approximate coordinates in the GPS to make finding them more likely. This is better than coordinates. The poster is dated March 2007, so is probably a replacement since the Day Fire. It is a 1/4 section corner, of which I have one on my map, and 310 feet distant. Taking the bearing without compensating for magnetic north sends me a bit further up a steep hill than strictly needed, but I manage to drop right down onto the post anyway. It is actually a pair of posts with entirely identical markings except a few of the letters are double struck on one. They were set by the county in 1956 and they are decidedly boring.

1/4 section corner post
The east 1/4 section corner for T6N R21W S4. The other has the same markings, including the prime, but is struck clear.

After my little escapade, we walk right past the old Fishbowls Trail, which started from the road not very far north of this particular monument, probably just before the decaying corral, and quickly find ourselves at the new trailhead instead. This means we have to go up and over a small ridge, and on a day with 500 feet to climb, that can be tough. Well, noticeable, anyway.

small hills in the foreground
Look at that hill. That is two or three (40 foot) contours worth of climbing there.

This trail also has quite a few trees down, but it is easier to navigate than the Johnston Ridge Trail. The old trail is easy to see joining the new one and it looks like it might be just as much extra work from all the extra trees that hinder forward progression. Parts of this trail look like old road too. We seem to be back on easy street for travel, except for the occasional downed tree. Unlike the road and previous bit of trail, there are a few footprints to be found on it. Many plants are starting up in the tread. Eventually there is a sign and we reenter the Sespe Wilderness.

squirrel on broken stump
This squirrel was keeping very still in hope that we would not see it.

red creek bottom and yellow mountains
Still a little water flowing over a red clay below the yellow local peaks.

more mountains across a wide valley
Taking a snake at the side of the trail in an old road bed.

The trail does not change much for entering the wilderness. The creek does not seem to be growing or shrinking as we go. I manage to lose the otherwise obvious trail twice as I go. The first time, there is a trail ahead that does not cross the creek when the trail does. Following it, the choices become numerous. There is a higher flat ahead and upstream, so I just make for that and a quick look around shows a cut log, usually a good indication of maintained trail passage. Joining the line emerging from it gets us going correctly again. Later on, someone has felled a massive tree across the trail. It looks like a six foot saw would only have a couple inches of play between handles. The inner rings are all huge for 150 years worth, then all the outer rings seem to be practically on top of each other. The change is so stark and consistent that the tree must have had the creek flowing next to it for a while, then the creek moved far enough away that it got very little of the water from there. Around the tree, there appears to be no more trail. Making our way along it and upstream, we somehow find ourselves on trail again. There is a devastated sign post with few scraps of wood around it to indicate what was here. The few clues seem to indicate anther wilderness sign. The valley narrows as the trail climbs and there are a series of crossings each followed by a quick climb and drop before arriving at Fishbowls Camp.

smoothed rocks by the creek side
The valley starts to narrow and there is a little taste of the erosion structures to come.

sheet of water over rocks
Rocky bottom and dirt sides along this part of the creek. Almost to camp and there is still water.

There is a sign to indicate Fishbowls Camp and a large developed site behind it. Making our way past it, we do not see a way up the canyon to the fabled Fishbowls. Crossing the creek and starting up a tributary, which is also flowing with water, there is a second sign for the camp. Behind this are three more developed sites and a trail up the canyon.

stones and trees and a heavy grill
A cemented in heavy grill marks the first campsite we come to. The other sites have round grills.

We drop our packs in a site and head up Piru just a little further to find the Fishbowls. They are not quite as expected.

sand filling the first of the Fishbowls
The first of the Fishbowls seems to be full of sand instead of a deep hole of water.

It seems the Fishbowls have silted in during the winter. We pull off our boots to make our way upward still. It is concerning that these are supposed to be quite deep pools, so this sand could be dangerous to walk on. It only take three steps to confirm this, somewhat, as I sink in quickly to just below my knee. It is easy to escape again as my leg comes up covered in green mosses. We make our way upward through more filled in pools, finding that after solid rock, it seems safest to walk in the current. I still sink a few more times and Bhagwan drops in once. A boulder at the top seems to be the upper reaches of the feature as it is back to a dirt sided valley above.

more sandy bottom where there should be pools
Walking up Piru Creek.

boulder with a sheet of water passing below
A boulder at the upper end of the Fishbowls.

more more narrow rocky canyon above
Past the boulder, the canyon looks a little more common.

We return as we came. It is nice, but not up to expectations. Still, never underestimate the excitement of not being sure if the next step will produce sinking up to the neck in inescapable sand. We head back to set up camp and enjoy the rest of the day, the sound of gentle water, and the few birds singing under the cedars that have been prevalent since the trail turned south.

same chute from the other side
Heading back along the silted in water holes.

deepest spot, not so deep
The deepest spot today is not very deep at all.

a little flow bringing out the rock below
A spot where the flow is bringing out the rocks below.

Continue reading: day 4




©2014 Valerie Norton
Posted 21 May 2014

1 comment:

Mark Subbotin said...

Wow, don't think I've ever seen the Fishbowls like that. Always has been 6+ feet deep