02 May 2016

Camino Cielo

Los Padres National Forest

I decided it was time to check one more never done local hike off the list. Camino Cielo once went a lot further than it does today, almost to Franklin Trail according to my 1944 Carpinteria map. After that, it was Ocean View Trail for a while until it took up being a camino again. Now there is a little bit of road at that very far end, but this part ends at Romero Saddle. To hike the rest, just go to the end of the pavement and park. What could be easier? Well, a few signs might help.
The second bag of water feels heavy in my pack, but it is getting toward summer and water is important. Below, the city is under a thick blanket of low clouds, but it is bright sunshine here. It was probably foolish to be lazy and just check the temperature expected for the city when gauging the weather for today. With my arrival time and the expected time of dark, turnaround time should probably be 2:30PM. Well, maybe I can push that to 3PM. At the end of the pavement, a steep track climbs directly up a hill. Barricades have been placed to attempt to stop motorcyclists and clearly had no thought to the hikers before they were disabled. This is my trail. It is a well worn track over the first hill and around the back of the second, but then the track turns downhill with Romero Canyon Trail. A much thinner trail heads north and another one east. I continue along the east.

bright yellow bursts all over a bush
The bush poppies are really going strong now, like these in front of Blue Peak.

along the path
Top of the first hill and looking along the line of peaks ahead.

sea of clouds
A sea of clouds laps at Romero Canyon. Santa Cruz Island in the distance is just a small peak today.

The trail may be thinner than the other, but there is no challenge in following it. It does not always agree with the old road bed. Following a bit of the old road instead of the track directly over a hill top, it is overgrown, but passable. A little further, it is washed out and vanishes so I make my way back to the obvious track. When a second, similar choice comes up, I go for the old road bed again, but this time after making sure others follow it some, too. This one works out fine. These choices are made moot past one more destroyed motorcycle barrier at the top of a hill where I hit legal motorcycle trail where all tracks are well established. Washed out track leads south and down toward the ocean along the old road route while a newer route drops along a ridge to get more quickly to the Divide Peak OHV Route below. I make my way carefully down the steep hill. Surely the road was not quite so direct when it came through.

ridge line tracks
Looking back toward Romero Saddle. The motorcycles have turned a flatter area into a little playground.

Little Pine Mountain
The orange blotch of poppy bloom seems to have vanished from Little Pine Mountain.

trail and tracks
Established trail and ridge following tracks are all well opened now. Beyond, a few of the peaks around Casitas Pass poke out of the sea of clouds.

Hitting the OHV route, the trail becomes very smooth. Travel is much easier as it crosses another saddle. Only the most extreme hilltop houses are visible of the city below, but as I pass that saddle, a police siren starts up. A few minutes later, a train starts whistling. It must be passing along the bluffs to be whistling so often. As I listen, I realize I am editing out the low hum of cars along the unseen freeway and roads. It all vanishes as I turn to climb the next peak along the chain.

hill top houses
The extreme hilltop houses seem to be seaside property today.

rippled rocks
A section of preserved sea floor stands as a rock wall now.

westward peaks
La Cumbre with its trees on the north side comes into view as I climb.

The old road track is clearly visible climbing much more steeply around the upthrust rocks ahead. The new, smooth road is very gradual and much longer. It is very tempting to follow the old route instead. Any thoughts about that become distracted by the scenery, though. It is amazing what a few hundred feet of elevation can do.

Hildreth Peak
The Pendola Jeepway looks to be in good shape climbing the ridge in front of Hildreth Peak.

Three Sisters
And some mountains further afield.

road ahead
The road ahead with Noon Peak and Divide Peak rising as destinations.

Oh, yeah, it is nice at the top. Somehow there keeps seeming to be just a little more to climb. Slightly taller little bumps follow one after the other. But it does top out and then drop again down to a small pool. The earthen dam that keeps the water back is obvious, but it is still nice to see water.

Jameson Reservoir
Looking over at Old Man Mountain, Jameson Reservoir still has a little water in it.

dropping to another flat
Another saddle ahead, this one with a small pond.

small pond
A closer look at the small pond. The earthen dam is clear, but the water source is natural. There is likely a spring here.

It seems to be warming up up here as the low clouds below finally start to burn off. The route climbs again, but this time for a smaller peak. Behind this one is another pond that is much larger than most up here.

rock layers
The rock layers show how it is. High peaks are hard layers and push the ridge line north.

San Rafael
The bulk of San Rafael Peak in the distance.

big pond
A second pond along the ridge top.

Something intensely sweet hits my nose. On one side is a massive yellow burst of the only Spanish broom in the area. On the other, sprigs of lupine are starting to turn up. Both are putting up a lot of sweet fragrance. As the ridge gets a little more familiar, there is a surprise waiting at the top of Franklin Trail.

lupine stalk
A lupine stalk in the drying grass.

new sign
A new sign tops Franklin Trail, although I think the mileages are a little short.

Franklin Trail down the back side is still grassy and difficult to pick out unless one knows what to look for. It is definitely getting hot as the afternoon takes hold. Just 4 miles to Divide according to the sign although my own estimate is closer to 5. I do kind of want to get to Divide, but there is not enough time. More importantly, I am already into the second half of my water and risking going dry before the finish. I keep on going until my turnaround time, and then just a little bit further because I know there is one more pond close by. Hey, getting back even later will give me that much more time to accidentally walk up on a skunk in the dying light again.

boulders in the area
Getting the boulders that pop up more further east.

purple flowers
A burst of purple along the way.

third pool
One last pool along the hike. This one seems a little muddy.

After a snack, I head back as planned, seeing it all again but differently in the new light and from the new dominant angle. The reptiles are out. There are lizards known as horny toads with just a bit more red in their coloration than in other places. A line across the half the road turns out to be a gopher snake soaking up the warmth.

Jameson Reservoir
Jameson Reservoir again. The slabs of rock and potreros behind it spark curiosity.

deer in the grass
Deer at the big pond as I stop to sketch.

lady bug and others
Insects in the Spanish broom.

It cools off again to be quite comfortable as the sun gets lower and the mists below start to gather again. There are bear prints in the dirt. What kind of day would it be without walking in the tracks of bears for a while?

Santa Barbara harbor
The wharf and harbor at the far end of the Santa Barbara bay will vanish back into the mist soon.

hills and mountains
Realizing that flat bulk in the distance is Old Boney. The peaks around Casitas Pass are just hills again instead of islands.

Of course, with pushing the turn around time and the procrastination before actually starting back and pausing along the way, it does get dark long before I get back.

slabs of rock
Longer shadows really bring out the landscape.

patterns in the light
The light plays over the long row of peaks that make up the Santa Ynez Mountains.

Coming to the junction, I decide to continue on the now smooth OHV route instead of the much more complicated terrain that I came in on. I hope that it is shorter, but it is not. Scraping at the ground and a slight whiff of unpleasantness brings me up short in the dying light. There it is, the skunk, and it is not happy about the approach of some large animal. I back off and wait, but it is going nowhere. I move and it brings up its head to look at me, then back down to try to get that striped trail even higher, long thin fur on end to try to make it look massive. There is a handy motorcycle path up the wall and I try it. The head comes up to watch me a few times, then it finally scampers down the hill. At least it is the only one.

©2016 Valerie Norton
Posted 6 May 2016

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