29 March 2016

Quatal Canyon

Los Padres National Forest

We left a car at the bottom of Quatal the day before and camped out at Toad Springs overnight, so the only thing needed to start the day is to get on our bicycles and ride. Toad Springs has no toilets and no trash service, but there seems to be someone determined to just leave all their trash in the metal fire rings as though those are cans. Someone else left a big garbage bag loosely tied. No toilets means there are a couple areas around the camp that are full of old, used toilet paper. The few sites are surprisingly tight for a forest service campground. It will not be winning any awards for campground quality, but we have it all to ourselves.

Overnight, there have been waves of hail. They were short and the actual dropping was not very heavy, but there is certainly some weather to pay attention to. The morning sky looks like it is clearing as the sun gets higher and the light strengthens. It must be right around freezing as there are some places where the hail is hanging around. The air is still and it feels quite comfortable. Bruce wants to let it warm up just a little, so we are leisurely in breakfast and get camp completely broken down and stowed away before starting off.

The start is steep (for a road) and tight in the canyon without too much views, but that soon changes. It must be a quarter mile in when I notice the missing camera. I left it on the floor of the car. It is about twice that when I want it. The whole ride would not be more than a few hours without all the expected stops to search for geocaches. That really slows things down, but also forces a moment to stop and look around rather than focusing on where wheels will be rolling in a moment.

upper reaches of Quatal Canyon
Among the pinons and starting to get a view down the canyon full of colors. Bruce took the photo for me with his phone.

We continue down the ever widening canyon and the weather changes a lot as we do. The air is not so still and the wind is often quite cold. I find that staying comfortable requires all too frequent changes in clothing. Clouds are building and I cannot help but notice a rain shadow as we get lower. Then we get some hail. Like in the night, it is not all that heavy and passes quickly. It even gets sunny and warm as it passes. Still, I am looking to more rain shadows ahead. Meanwhile, the canyon just gets more painted. Oranges and reds and yellows in the rocks and much brighter yellows and purples in the fields.

Happily, the hail is not determined to get us. One rain shadow passes by well to the north and another seems to be dropping into the south. Then we get another wave overhead. It is no longer hail, but rain. We have gotten low enough for it to melt on the way down. Or maybe it is no longer turning into ice first. Either way, we are now getting a bit wet, even if briefly. The flowers do not seem to mind.

road junction
We are coming to a sort of civilization with a few ranches around. Whereas most street signs are made of the same material and say different things on them, this one says the same thing on each road, but is made of very distinct material. (Photo also by Bruce.)

The ride has been flattening out the whole time and is now almost entirely without slope. Ranches can be seen here and there. Our peace while riding down has been occasionally broken by the brief appearance of a vehicle passing along, but not very often. Now it is broken by the backup beeps of a large vehicle. Looking that way, there are hills of a different, more geometric, shape and a big yellow bulldozer is working. The operator is not quite satisfied with the shape yet. The signs would suggest it is a gypsum mine.

field of flowers
The other side of the road from the mine is still a bright field of flowers. (Photo also by Bruce.)

The mass of rain pushing to the south is not quite far enough. We break into the edge and it seems like we might want to wait it out until we realize the car is just around the corner. This one looks bigger, so we make a run for the car. Sure enough, the next corner shows it. This one is a little longer than the last, but not all that long. Oh, and we have just ridden through three counties. That must be quite a long ride.

©2016 Valerie Norton
Photos Bruce Warren
Posted 6 Apr 2016

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