04 May 2014

Gaviota loop and overlook

Gaviota State Park

Locate the trailhead.


I have not had a useless search for boundary posts that are likely not there, or might not even be recognizable to me as boundary posts if they are there, in a while. There are a couple up on the ridge marked on the far west of Gaviota State Park that I have been eyeing. I thought I might have a look for them while taking in the loop on the west side of the park on a sunny day, check out the spurs along the way, try out some further ridge route stopping by a hilltop benchmark (that may or may not be there), drop off a geocoin, and check for other geocaches along the way. The whole nine yards. There are three possible trailheads for this. I select the one that requires the least gas and make the left turn into the campground by the beach, but take a right at the fork to the free trailhead parking. There is a lot of traffic coming from Hollister Ranch and a few groups on the trail up to the wind caves.

starting along the paved road to the actual trail
Head out along the pavement. It is only about half a mile before getting to proper trail, seen twisting up the hill ahead.

line of vegetation changing
Looking along the hills shows a sudden change in vegetation due to the rocks below.


This route does have the disadvantage of starting off on pavement, but in about half a mile, a dirt track leads through the thicket of anise by the side and onto a mustard covered hillside. This climbs to a ridge of composite rocks that separates the clay-like layers that support little more than grasses from the sandstone that supports sharp chaparrals. Here, people regularly turn the wrong way making a more substantial trail to the right that looks out and then drops back down. The correct trail follows over this hard layer to the left. Once into the chaparral, there are many trails, often narrow, to choose from. Some go up steeply, some wind past the bottom of a lower cave. Taking a middle path allows a flat path around the side of the caves finds a level path with a short drop to cross a saddle and start climbing again. The upper path climbs to more caves, but where the lower path could go is a mystery. Past the saddle, the trail opens up in contrast to my expectation that it will close in further. Someone must have done some trail work. A few switchbacks bring me over the ridge and down to the service road on the other side without having to climb though downed oak branches. There is only one set of footprints on the path and they get a matching pair going down as I pass another hiker.

behind the wind caves looking south
Looking back after climbing beyond the wind caves. The islands are hard to see today.

over the top to more mustard covered hills
Dropping down the back of the ridge, the hills of the local ranches are yellow with mustard.

Taking a right at the road puts me on a path to an overlook of the Gaviota tunnel. A few flowers are blooming in the road bed. The road ends at a communications site, but trail follows the ridge as it becomes a narrow edge sticking out over the highway. The weekend traffic seems louder than usual down below. Looking over to the trail to the wind caves, there seems to be another big group starting up the hill of mustard while some who went up with me are heading back down.

looking down along the edge of the ridge to the exit of the tunnel below
Gaviota Pass is so narrow that when the highway was expanded to four lanes, a tunnel had to be built for the new northbound road way.

Heading back along the spur, I pass the trail I came in on and quickly come to a road junction. A left turn would take me up to search for the boundary markers, but I want to do the loop and another spur first, so I start down on the road to the right. This passes under oaks for wonderfully cool shade and turns into single track at a large washout. From below the washout, it is easy to see where the road used to pass. Now the road just launches into the air. Continuing, it breaks out into the warm sunshine in a section of grass, then back under scattered oaks as it gets closer to the creek below. A couple guys I saw above run past on their way out of the park again. They seem to only be running the steep downhills.

deep blue, almost purple, flowers with stripes
Some of the flowers in the road bed.

oaks and poison oak along the narrow section
Passing under oaks with plenty of poison oak in the single track section.

trail passing beside the roadway
Getting near the low point of the trail.

four petals in deep purple and well separated for a small flower
A lovely little purple flower that is blooming in many places.

The road, as the track grows to be again, drops down to the entry from the southbound lanes of the highway below, but I turn to the left to follow more single track toward another entry. This was also once road and a cement ford remains from that. The oaks here seem even more deformed than the ones above. It passes over many dry tributaries and at one point I am sure I can hear water although the creek is still far below. I also hear voices from time to time, and looking over, there is always a group of bicycles traveling down the shoulder of the highway. Whole families are coming down the highway on their bicycles today.

one deformed oak
Oaks always have such character in their spread.

Getting to the road means turning to climb more steeply and in the sun, but also gets away from the highway below. Lupin are starting to bloom along the side, but most of them are white instead of the usual purple. There is another stand of oaks to bring some cool relief and as I settle in under one to relieve some hunger as well, a family and their dog come down the other way. After the oaks, it is a steady climb in the sun to the top of the ridge and the view of Hollister Ranch.

grasses interspersed with oaks to the south
Looking south over the valley of grass and oaks that the other road drops through.

white flower with brown spots near the base of the petals
Mariposa lilies are also flowering. These are generally white with a few showing touches of purple.

white flowering lupin
One of the many white lupin in the area.

downhill look at all the area roads
The access road winding down through the grass. On the far side, the fire road can be seen climbing toward Gaviota Peak.

At the top of this road is the first spur I have not taken before and want to try. This one goes higher along the ridge until it ends at a fence at the edge of the Hollister Ranch properties. The first part of the road is covered in daisies that seem to have gotten away and are happy in their variegated freedom. The road continues to be exposed, but another oak stand along the way gives relief from the burning. Traffic below on SR-1 is audible for much of the route. At the fence, the road continues, but a simple and locked gate blocks it and a sign warns against entry onto the private property beyond. With all that, it is a surprisingly pleasant walk along this section. It is so little traveled that there is no real path visible in the long grasses on the road. This does mean I find a couple ticks along the way.

varigated daisies of yellow with red-brown at the base
Daisies popping up happily in the road.

scattered oaks on a hillside leading up to the ridge
A scattering of oaks decorate the hillside before the road finds some shade beneath a thicker stand.

valley of Hollister Ranch
Looking down into Hollister Ranch from the northwest piece of Gaviota State Park.

fence along the norther boundary of the park
The north edge of Gaviota State Park is marked by a barbed wire fence.

end of the public road
The end of the road for me.

After spinning around at this high point, I retrace my steps back down to the junction below, stopping to scribble a bit with a brush pen and some watercolor and getting a rude reminder that the one I can use in the wind is not even slightly water resistant.

the hike still to come in the distance
The return on the ridge still to come.

stand of oak trees around the road
Passing back through the stand of oak trees that shades a short section of the road.

Back at the intersection, I start along the ridge. It takes a lot less energy to hike it without adobe brick forming on the bottoms of my boots. The boundary markers, if they exist, are down the side to the east. The side by the first one covered in short vegetation and it seems ideal for finding something. Down at about the right elevation, there is a line of wooden fence posts collapsed to the north. A particularly long bit of wood has fallen uphill to the east at about the right position, I can find nothing more. There is a little of the old barbed wire between the posts and a coil of unused wire, but nothing more. I give it up and climb back to the road above.

a coil of wire and a fallen wooden fence post
A coil of wire, a few segments of loose wire, and fallen fence posts are all that show the former boundary along here.

The second boundary marker is not much further along the road. This one requires getting through some tall plants, but it is just mustard and does not tend to whack back. Below, there is low stuff again with some oaks. Deep gullies make progress along a contour of the land difficult. There is a big, red metal stake approximately where I am looking, but nothing more. It could actually be what I am looking for, but I cannot be sure without more research. I am inclined to think that boundary marker hunting is a bust today.

oak stand at the top of a hill
One large oak stand at the top of a small hill by the side of the road.

I quickly finish off the regular ridge hike and come to one more junction. This is another spur I want to go down, and maybe even continue along the ridge for a much longer time. The ridge winds back and forth and splits, the east part leading to the grassy hill that should have a benchmark on it, so is my desired approach for now. The road climbs straight up the fairly steep hill along the ridge, following a gas pipeline. At the top, the road ends and trails split. The left side ends quickly at a nice view of the beach area of the state park while the right side continues over the top and down again. Brush reaches over the clear trail as it climbs down the other side following the edge of the ridge. It is less open than I was hoping and checking the time shows there is not enough time to try it. I go for a short bit anyway, finding that there is always a little more beyond, but then turn back.

short grass going straight up a hill
A road that was probably not meant to be used again after putting in the pipeline.

southward view
The now much more open trail past the wind caves is easy to find with the beach and train trestle beyond. To the right, the ridge proceeds to a grassy hill that should have a benchmark and has no visible use trail.

ridge with little visible trail
Little trail is visible along the further reaches of the ridge from this vantage point.

The trip back down the steep road requires careful steps. To get back this way is only a matter of keeping right and finding the trail. On the way past this time, I take a moment to climb around the wind caves before continuing back to the car.

sandstone tunnel
The tunnel near the top of the ridge with the caves in it.

sandstone overhang
A cave at the front and a little lower down.




©2014 Valerie Norton
Posted 6 May 2014

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