30 June 2014


A couple of outdoor sketches, including one with (abstract, through some bars) people.  People are hard.

Looking across to the east fork from the middle fork on Cold Spring.

Checking out the salt marsh, and the houses on the private road that borders it.

Sitting in Ortega Park listening to the old men chatter while waiting for tires .

26 June 2014

La Cumbre Peak

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trailhead.

Had a plan to continue to the boulders on the west side of the pass, but managed to realize that the beach was also a target for my visitor so just went for one last quick spot so there would be enough time to hit the beach while it was still warm enough to stick our toes in the cold surf. The little loop of old campground road up to the lookout at La Cumbre Peak is a very quick stroll with the plus of having facilities at the top. A number of picnic tables are scattered in the old campground sites around the loop. We follow the arrows on the paved road and take the left at the fork to stay a little more in the shade on the minor climb, then turn the corner and there it is.

lookout built 1945 and going to ruin
Unfortunately, the lookout on top of La Cumbre Peak is also a ruin.

There are a number of benchmarks on the peak. The easiest to find is the lookout itself. More ordinary disks are scattered around the area as well, with one right by the road.

LACUMBRE station mark
LACUMBRE station mark, set in 1941 is just north of the road on a rock about 5 feet high. One reference is just south of the road on a much shorter rock. The other reference was in the platform at the bottom of the partly removed stairway.

After the lookout, we continue around the loop for the views, passing a hiker who looks to have come up via Cathedral Peak, a class 2 trail. The views are grand today.

Santa Barbara Harbor and Santa Barbara below
Looking out over the city of Santa Barbara to Santa Cruz Island.

Cathedral Peak
Cathedral Peak (near needle) and Arlington Peak (behind and larger) and a little bit of the trail that comes up over them.

Santa Ynez Mountains
Looking along the coastal mountain range from La Cumbre Peak to the west.

With a few turns, we find ourselves back at Camino Cielo again. Time for the beach.

©2014 Valerie Norton
Posted 29 June 2014

Knapp's Castle

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trailhead.

Knapp's Castle is actually a little piece of private property that will one day be rebuilt (I may be being optimistic here), but for now is an elaborate stone ruin of a large house that the public may walk around. One should not climb around on it as it would be rude to cause further damage to something someone wants to rebuild. It really is a castle only for those who have no reference point for what a castle actually is, but it has impressive features. The trail is actually a gated fire road that heads out quickly and rather flatly on the way to the ruins. The road forks and we pass a gate on the right side and find ourselves quite obviously on the property. We get down to the serious business of poking around.

Knapp's living room
This must have been the main room of the house and quite a jewel of a room.

tall chimney
In a more utilitarian area of the house, a tall chimney stands without visible cracks, although erosion seems to be getting the bigger stones.

Santa Ynez River
Paradise Road and the Santa Ynez River below.

mountains to the north
The view of the mountains to the north.

After poking around the building, we head down because we have a geocache point that claims to be near some more ruins. Knapp built servant quarters and something down near the waterfall, so more are expected. Unfortunately, the point is well off the road and even well off the paths. There are a few that lead off from where the road is closest, but they just get to viewpoints or power poles, then dissolve into low animal trails. We head down the road and around to find an abandoned BBQ and small stages and water tank, but no route back up the hill. Maybe I will return with gardening gloves and other preparations, but for now it is a bust and we climb back to the road the way we came down.

©2014 Valerie Norton
Posted 29 June 2014

Laurel Springs

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trailhead.

Up at the top of the often single lane Painted Cave Road is a small trail along the hilltops to a picnic table and views out over the ocean. It is an area bursting with spots to look out over the ocean or the mountains on the other side, but this is one with a place for lunch and no car noises. It does not, however, actually visit the spring. Besides a board marked with the current fire restrictions and mysterious numbered posts hinting at once being an interpretive trail, it is unsigned.

San Marcos Ranchero area
Up a little hill from the start to peek out toward Cachuma Lake and the old San Marcos Ranchero.

A well used trail splits off early on and continues straight, but the official trail turns southward. A little trail that dwindles into animal tracks wanders off next to a post not quite a foot high with a "2" on it, already halfway to the end. A little further, and there is the table, the view, and a second post not quite a foot high with a "5" on it.

Goleta, the Hollister Ranchero area
Abbie looking out at the view next to the picnic table.

Arriving at a nice lunch spot, we have ourselves a little lunch and then return.

Broadcast Peak and Cachuma Lake
Lake Cachuma and Broadcast Peak with Camino Cielo twisting through the bottom.

windmill along Painted Cave Rd.
A windmill down by the road and somewhat near the springs, as marked on the map.

©2014 Valerie Norton
Posted 29 June 2014

Painted Cave and others

Painted Cave State Historic Park

Locate the place.

There are many Chumash art sites in the area, although it is getting fewer as our rocks are generally sandstone and erode quickly. Paint has to have been applied to a sheltered spot with an overhang to remain today and vandalism has been quite enthusiastic at the sites at times. One particularly well sheltered site under an extremely large overhang is simply called Painted Cave and is only a few feet from the often single lane road named for it. A heavy fence protects the opening from the casual passer-by and the vibrant panels, especially where there is a large area of a single color, shows why it is needed to protect the site.

largest panel in Painted Cave
The largest painted area in the cave. Old paintings are covered with new ones in these three colors. The scratched in names of more recent visitors can also be easily seen.

23 June 2014

Romero Canyon

Santa Barbara front country

Locate the trailhead.

I decided to go up Romero Canyon again to get in a more substantial walk, but this time go wide instead of deep. Everything connects with everything else, generally, so there is much opportunity to go east-west instead of north to the top. I thought I would go along the catway to the top of Buena Vista stopping by the two benches that occupy little peaks on the way. After that excursion, I'd climb the road until it crosses the trail, then drop down the trail. Finding a parking spot is easy even though it is lunchtime since the trail is just far enough outside of the main city areas. There is a little wooden sign for the trail, but it is hard to see from the road and serves more as confirmation than guidance. The road is tightly locked up, but off to the side is a hiker entrance. It climbs quickly to a bridge with no water below it and the split with the Edison Catway. If I had not seen the grader sitting at the end of the road and walked on part of it before and after grading, I would not believe it had happened in the last five years. Plants are growing up all over it as it climbs through the narrow strike canyon westward. It climbs sharply, drops a bit, then climbs steeply again in an effort to find a place in this steep sided canyon.

looking around from the middle high point along the road
Looking up the canyon from the road before it drops some of that very hard won elevation.

At the saddle, the road turns south shortly and a spur trail continues southeast somewhat back the way I came, but still climbing. At the top, just over a mile along road and a hefty 750 feet above the trailhead, sits a stone bench with a lovely view. A much smaller trail leads off from the left side of the bench, apparently to climb the next little peak to the east. The narrow trail leading to the second bench can be seen making its way up a peak a half mile to the west. It is a good spot for some lunch, and it is that time, so that is what I do.

catway in the hills and Santa Barbara Bay below
The hill to the west with the second bench on it and the Santa Barbara Bay, with Sterns Wharf stretching into it behind.

Carpinteria Salt Marsh Preserve

Land Trust for Santa Barbara County

Locate the trailhead.

Where Franklin Creek meets the ocean, a salt marsh once stood. It was abused for many years because people did not see the value of swampy land then, but now has been generally restored to allow the animals to return. Now the greatest need for restoration is a connection to other types of habitats since many of the predators for creatures in the marsh come from other places, thus prey animals can become too numerous now. A short series of trails with multiple entry points from Ash Ave. Beach access parking can make parking difficult at that end, but I find parking easy near the northern entrance. Dogs and bicycles are prohibited, says the sign. Taking a slight jog right, the trail passes along a line of mobile homes with small water channels visible to the south. A couple gardeners are working along the edge of the trail and below, there is an egret fishing. Quick jabs into the water seem to be coming up with some sort of fish.

egret wading in brackish water
An egret stands in the shallow, brackish water fishing.

21 June 2014

MYOG: Platypus repair

The date stamped on the edge of my first Platypus bag is 12-1-00, and since getting that one I have only had them fail on me four times in three different ways.  The first way is that the edge has become delaminated at a common fold spot and has happened twice.  The first time, I had filled the bag and set it on a counter and it started making the oddest noise as it poured out a little water from the edge and then sucked in air to replace it.  The second time, I had filled the bag in the evening before heading out and it was half full in the morning.  Both of these failures were simple inconveniences.  I inspect the bags sometimes before using them, but usually I just do not fold them anymore.  The second way one has failed is when I managed to get the hose tightened onto the bag a little crooked.  This left the bag draining very slowly into the bottom of my pack and I felt I was sweating a bit more than expected until I found the problem.  At the end of the day when I watched the sunset from a peak, I went for my fleece to find it soaked and I was decidedly uncomfortable wearing it, at least for the first ten minutes.  This was purely user error and I had been using the thing for far too long to have done it.  It is preventable, just pay attention.  The third way one has failed is when I had it full and tucked into the top strap on my pack and could not be bothered to rebalance it as it slipped a little, so it tumbled to the ground where it might have just hit dirt, but instead hit two very sharp rock points.  Water poured from the fresh wound and I transferred it to the backup bag.  There is some user error involved in this one, too, and that is not a high rate of failure, but it is a very important piece of equipment and some sort of repair kit, especially if it is only a gram or so, might be nice to have.

The bag afflicted with holes from a fall, while full, of about five feet onto two sharp rocks.

Two days after holing my bag, I wanted it to be useful again and realized I was carrying the repair for it wrapped around my extra GPS batteries in the form of waterproof first aid tape.  Applied, the bag holds water again.  There are no moist spots in the tape and it has been reliable for use 2-3 times a week since February when it was placed.  It is working so well, that I have preemptively placed tape on what I expect to be one more failure mode, a spot where the top folds over, especially if the bag is overfilled.  (The bag pictured above is overfilled.  This user may error quite often with these poor, abused bags.)

Pre-bandaged top of a Platypus.

So here is another very simple do it yourself to have a repair kit for Platypus bags:
1. Take a length of waterproof first aid tape, about one foot.
2. Fold it onto itself in a small roll
The tape I have is from CVS and is just the store brand.  While it has been exceptional for linear tears in the side of the bags, I expect that it will not fix delamination at the edges.  On the up side, it does seem to take about ten years to have that problem.  Oh, I despise duct tape.  It weathers badly, it wears badly, and anything you are doing with it can be done better with something else.  (What do people do with it?)

Repair kit on the right and the tool on the left.

Well, that was a very small thing, so here is a bonus MYOG I found in a Backpacking Light forum.

Ultralight folding bowl:
Take one Platypus 2.5 liter bag and cut off the top.  Comes in around 14 grams.  Otherwise, the lightest bowl on the market is the foldable Fozzils at just over 30 grams.  Also mentioned in that thread is using the bottom of a milk carton, which does not fold but should be comparable to the Fozzils bowl in weight.

19 June 2014

tamarisk in an unnamed drainage

Los Padres National Forest

I joined the crew of ForestWatch volunteers, which with the expected heat had dropped to two (including me) plus a ring leader, to play search and destroy on tamarisk. This is the dreaded "salt cedar" that was used for wind breaks and decorative plantings at one point, but is now an invasive plant that pulls extraordinary amounts of water from our small creeks and salts up the land around it until nothing else can grow while offering very poor habitat for birds. It displaces everything, so we are trying to displace it. We headed up to an unnamed drainage that is small but was full of them. Most of the removal work has already been done on past trips, but we make sure it is staying done. We hike up to a cute little water fall which is flowing ever so slightly to check that the piles of cuttings are not putting down roots. Somewhere above a spring makes this a very attractive little canyon to these tamarisk. There is a giant root ball from one that was estimated to be over 50 years old on the side of the creek. I cannot think how much work went into removing this thing, but now it is shows no green and is quite dry. Further up, a root that did not get removed is putting out feathery leaves. A few by the pool below the waterfall are not only leafing up, but flowering. With a bit of digging, these go the way of their cousins. A good pull gets rid of a couple small ones that somehow got missed before. They are much easier to pull form the dirt here than they were in the Dome Springs area. With that area finished, as far as we know, we head up above the waterfall.

above the waterfall, a wide bowl of land
Climbing above the waterfall, there is a bowl of land.

The little drainage seems huge, but it really just stretches out as much side to side as back. At the top, we find some more tamarisk to remove. There is one large piece growing, a smaller one, and a little bed of seedlings in the shade of a branch. We make quick work of these, too, then go searching a little way for more. In between, we marvel at how salty this area is even without the tamarisk working at it. Gypsum was once mined from this area and there is every chance that we are looking at some that was left.

rolling rocks
Roaming along the rocks to have a look down another branch of the drainage. Just checking.

gypsum salts on the rocks
Some very salty rocks.

We return the way we came in, checking again for more feathery leaves as we go. Always a gentleman, Craig makes sure I do not miss the benchmark on the way out.

A174 benchmark along the road, set 1934
A benchmark with a name like a Division of Highways mark but placed by the (now) National Geodetic Survey.

©2014 Valerie Norton
Posted 20 June 2014

16 June 2014

Cold Spring Trails in search of Humboldt lilies

Santa Barbara front country

Locate the trailhead.

Humboldt lilies are the big, showy flowers dangling from five foot and taller stems, sometimes referred to as tiger lilies. They are hard to miss when they are blooming. I have sometimes come across stems with 6 or 8 flowers bigger than my fist between buds and wilted. I spotted a couple single blooms along San Ysidro on the Friday hike, just short of the falls. It seems it might be time to visit the spots I know to have a good number of stems that might be blooming. I saw plenty of stems along Murietta Canyon and Valley View along Pratt Trail is a reliable local for blooms. Locally, I have seen quite a few stems along the Cold Spring middle fork above Tangerine Falls and in the little canyon down the trail on the other side, so that is where I will start looking for a good show.

Since the middle fork is unmaintained, there are no signs for it. I start at the main trailhead at the bottom and turn up the west fork by the sign and the bench about a quarter mile up. The trail branches again about a mile up from the trailhead. The right side is the middle (or north) fork and has now become very obvious from use, but I pass by it for a short spur further along the west fork. Just past the junction, there is a Humboldt lily stem cruelly broken off a couple feet up. The stem is particularly thick and the rings of leaves huge, but it must have been across the trail and someone took care of it. The trail continues along the canyon bottom past where it once started climbing and up to the old city water tunnel. There is a patch thick with lilies along the way, but the ones close to the trail are broken and the ones further off look shriveled at the top. It does not look like it will be popping out with flowers.

broken Humboldt lily stem
A Humboldt lily by the side of the trail at the junction between the middle and west fork trails has been broken by some passerby. The tutu of leaves is distinctive for recognizing these even without their flowers.

locked gate entry to the Cold Spring Tunnel, completed 1905
The Cold Spring Tunnel is basically a water well sunk horizontally into the mountain to provide a handy exit for the water stored in the sandstone. Water can be heard flowing down the pipes still.

purple flowers
Of course, there are more flowers than just the big, showy ones.

07 June 2014

Ortega Trail

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trailhead.

My last little goal in the Wheeler Gorge area is to locate HORSESHOE, a benchmark on a random hill near the Ortega Trailhead, which is at the end of the big loop just up the road from Holiday Campground. It is marked only with a slapstick labeled "trail". I have seen motorcycles staging here before, but there seem to be none today. Motorcycles may make up the majority of traffic along this trail, but I can see a set of shoe prints on top of all the motorcycle tracks in the dirt as I start. The trail is wide and rocky as it climbs in an easy manner to a bit of fuel break. Here the trail goes right and there seems to be a shooting gallery to the left. Somewhere above this mess is the benchmark. I climb past a ruined railing, Santa, a half dozen surfing trophies, and the surprisingly singular computer to the top. There's no benchmark until I start down the other side, and then there is a large piece of cement, looking like erosion will take it quickly, with the station in the top.

an illegal shooting gallery full of trash
A fuel break turned into illegal shooting gallery.

view of the gorge
Checking out Wheeler Springs from above. The Nordhoff Fire Road behind it looks like a long up.

Wheeler Gorge Nature Trail

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trailhead.

Wheeler Gorge also has a small nature trail. It starts on the west side of the highway next to the campground. A large sign shows a map, including where interpretive signs will be and has a small bin to hold informational brochures. There are none in it now and it looks like that has been the case for while as other items have been placed inside. There also does not seem to be a link to download one on the forest web site for the trail so that the prepared can arrive with a copy of their own. It immediately dives under the nearby bridge over the north fork of Matilija Creek (not to be confused with the upper north fork). The bridge is low enough that one needs to duck to pass. I am already dodging poison oak leaves reaching out onto the trail when I arrive at marker #1, poison oak. There is a picture of the leaves and it seems a good place to start, perhaps even already too late. Marker #2, white alder, is placed high on the side of the creek and somewhat orphaned from the alder down in the creek bed, and then the trail crosses the creek.

upstream view of the north fork
The north fork of Matilija Creek with a nice little flow still.

Morgans Hill

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trailhead.

I headed up to Wheeler Gorge for a seminar on light backpacking put on by Los Padres Forest Association, which helped me get a handle on what I need to do with my pathetic first aid kit and gave me some ideas on topics I have not thought about yet, but which also left me with an open afternoon in a stone's throw of some trails I would not have come out for on their own. The first is a stretch of dirt next to a sign behind Firehouse #55. The driveway splits and the trail leaves from the left side split while the actual firehouse is on the right side.

a sign and some fire hoses
Fire hoses drying out behind the fire station where the trail starts.

The trail curves around the side of the hill at a gentle slope and then joins what looks like a ridge line fuel break. To the left, an apparent old trail tread proceeds back toward the road, but it may just be the edge of their defensible space. All the feet go up the edge of the ridge. As I start up the steep slope, there is quickly a sign to assure me that this is the correct way and to help bring any expectations of the trail into line with reality. This sign is on a burned post and a small piece of the previous sign remains on the trail, but not enough to read.

promises of pain
A well used dirt track marked with a promise.