25 March 2016

Blue Canyon

Los Padres National Forest




The bike gives an opportunity for a two vehicle shuttle with only one car. In some instances, I might even be easier. I decided to try it out in service of walking the whole of Blue Canyon and Forbush Canyon. So up the mountain with bike and pack and stopping at the saddle to drop off the first. Cold Spring Saddle gets a lot of traffic, so it needs to be out of the way and locked to be sure it will still be there. Then down the road past some joggers. The road has gotten rougher with the rains and there are a few land slides and a couple big rocks on it. It is a little better after the gate, but still has some bad spots. I am glad to see the bridge that serves as an easy landmark to find the upper trailhead for Blue Canyon. The road bulges quite a bit right after the bridge for trailhead parking and right in the middle of the bulge, a slapstick marks the top of the trail. I park right next to this and grab up my hiking gear.

bush poppies
The bush poppies have started popping all over the place.

I forgot to leave my helmet with the bike, but it can be latched easily to my pack and weighs almost nothing. With a little extra weight, I start down past a sign about the local turtles. The trail is green with stunted growth, but there are footprints too. It is not totally abandoned. It is level with the road, and I hear the joggers on the far side. The leaves of woolly blue curls are pushing onto the trail all over and one is even starting to bloom already. I can hear the water below as I pass Escondido Canyon. This seems to be where all the water comes from, but looking back, there are a few sycamores up the main canyon too. There is water there, somewhere.

canyon ahead
Looking down the canyon, there is the road cut on the left.

canyon behind
And back along the rocky trail.


Soon enough, the trail drops down into the canyon and the shade, then up the other side. There are short cliff viewpoints along the way and it is nice to see the creek flowing well. There are a few gullies on this side, though. One is a small jump to cross and another just before Upper Blue Canyon Camp is a steep climb down and back up.

furry caterpillar
There are a few caterpillars out.

hanging peony bloom
Peonies are already out, too, and being as mysterious as ever.

water in the canyon
Taking advantage of one of the viewpoints to watch the water below.

The camp is small and getting smaller as little plants encroach. It really is a widening along the trail. I do not even have to get off the trail to sit down at the table, but it really is nice to have a table when camping. The water should be most reliable along here, too, since it is spring fed. After the camp, the trail crosses the creek again. This drop puts the previous one across the gully into perspective. That one has had work to bring a reasonable trail across it. This one is taller and steeper and it is hard to think what to do to improve the trail across it. It keeps climbing to get up and over a land slide. It is a little less scary than last time as it looks a little more stable, but it is still a freaky moment along the trail. Once past it, there is one good thing: this is it for hard spots along the trail.

yellow and black swallowtail butterfly
A swallowtail butterfly sips from a blue dick along the trail.

rocks and water
Another creek crossing.

yellow and green with maroon spots
An orchid along the trail. This was one of a few plants growing together.

Romero Trail gives a chance to climb up for a higher viewpoint and I decide to take it. Not too far, only to the hill with the power tower on it, but it is a nice excursion.

climbing Romero Trail
Little Pine and more become visible with just a little climbing up Romero Trail.

yellow splotch on a nearish hill
A little higher and there is a splotch of yellow on a near hill. Another hill of poppies in the somewhat varigated variety?

Voices seem to be gathering below me and when I come down the hill, there is a large group of backpackers waiting below. One leader warns me of a mule team coming behind them as I head down. There are more and more of them. I have never seen a group so large. And a dog. The mule team is just four animals strong and comes with news of nice swimming holes above Cottam Camp. This is not the day I will have a look, though. The little creek before Blue Canyon Camp is running well and the little camp off the side of the trail looks about the same as ever. The meadow at Cottam is looking quite green if not particularly lush.

Cottam Meadow
The meadow at Cottam Camp.

Once at Cottam, there is the simple task of finding the rest of the trail. I have heard rather bad things about this bit of it. People get lost along the nearly two mile stretch. I cross the creek and follow a massive cairn, but then there is little indication of trail. There is a second camp set up across the creek again, but little indication of trail near it either. I follow game trails and cross the creek a few times until a shower of thorns from a stand of roses dampens the fun. I return while enjoying the creek instead. It is quite interesting along here, full of bright green plants.

bright green growth in the water
Plenty of moss and leafy things in the creek.

southern mountains
Looking back at the mountains to the south.

patch of green
There are more little meadows along the side of the creek.

Back at the camp, an investigation of the curious placement of the "designated route" marker on the other side of the creek shows another marker with "trail" on it on this side. The marker is only partly hidden and there really is no excuse for missing it. The trail beside it is well established as it climbs just a little way onto the side of the hill. The trail offers much easier travel and in very little time I am looking down on the spot where I turned around. It is only thirty feet away.

looking above it all
Follow the nice, distinct trail out of camp no matter what you have heard about the state of it.

tiny blue flowers
Must not neglect the small flowers.

hard packed trail
More easy to follow trail.

The massive group came this way and when the trail drops down to the creek to follow graveled areas, that makes it easy to follow. The few stock particularly make it easy to follow. Cairns every fifty feet and a few more "designated route" and "trail" signs also help. Currently, this is not a trail that one should get lost on.

creek pooling
A wide and shallow pool as the creek flows on.

The flies get bad as the canyon opens up and the trail turns toward the road on up the river a little. It is wide and grassy with scattered oaks, then there is more gravel with cairns to show the way. I have to ford the river, but as the water stops just short of the trail, it is quite easy.

old trail sign
An old metal trail sign points the way as the trail leaves the creek and wanders onto the plains around the Santa Ynez River.

splotch of yellow on a hill
There is that hill with the splotch of yellow flowers on it, now much closer than before.

a little water in the river
Fording the mighty Santa Ynez River. A bit of Hildreth peeks out in back.

Things are looking familiar as the trail vanishes. There are no cairns for the last few hundred feet, but those mules are easy to follow. Mules and hikers all seemed to follow along a muddy route along the edge of the rocks. Once out of the weeds, I can see the last little climb out of the river bed and onto the road. There is another slapstick to mark this end of the trail, but no turnout to park. It would be a long way to drive just to start hiking back. It is only about seven miles of fairly easy walking. And so I turn back.

deep blue flowers
Some deeply colored delphinium in the meadows.

The trail is much easier when not worried it will run out suddenly and passes quickly. Back at Cottam, I turn the other way to start climbing up Forbush Canyon. I am surprised to find water in the creek as I cross. I am not so surprised to find that there is a lush crop of poison oak along the way, some of it reaching across the trail. The sounds of water follow me all the way up.

California poppies
A very small stand of poppies with the yucca and sage.

Climbing up to look out over the canyons.

At the top of the trail as it meets Cold Spring, there is a little more water flowing down into the canyon. I am surprised to see this, too. Checking on the water at Forbush Flat, the ground in the creek is wet and a little further up there is a little flow. The water does not look grand, but it is finally here again. It is just late enough to be a little shadowed as I climb further up and it is very pleasant.

pear blossoms
The pears are blossoming at Forbush Flat.

Forbush Flat
Looking out over Forbush Flat.

Forbush and Blue Canyons and many mountains
Looking out over the canyons, now the mountains around are in full view.

The wind is blowing like crazy across Cold Spring Saddle when I arrive. The bike seems undisturbed. There are some boys up on the nearby peak coming down to play on the water tank. The wind is so stiff, I do not even want to try riding the bike until I get it behind the first hill.

Santa Barbara from Cold Spring Saddle
Looking down on Santa Barbara from Cold Spring Saddle.

Mostly, the road is rideable in spite of the wind. Some downhill sections feel like too much uphill after the thirteen mile hike and with the wind. Still, it does not knock me over on the way to Romero Saddle.

Romero Saddle
More views from Romero Saddle over Montecito and Carpinteria.

After Romero, I get to start down behind the mountain, mostly being safe from the wind. The road is rough on the bike too. It feels like a long way, but it sure does pass quickly. Eventually there is that bridge again, this time signaling the end of my hike and ride instead of the start.




©2016 Valerie Norton
Posted 27 Mar 2016

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