06 September 2016

Matilija Canyon Falls

Los Padres National Forest

After the distant waterfalls, I started thinking of my local falls. How are they doing? Well, Mission Falls only runs in a storm, so that does not count. Tangerine has water above and below but never seems to have water moving between. The hard rock layer that forms the top of a waterfall is supposed to bring out the underground water, but it must have let a tunnel form somewhere. San Ysidro is wet, but you practically have to reach out and touch it to be sure of that. Maybe it is time to visit something with a lot more acreage behind it like Matilija. Expecting the holiday would be a madhouse, I waited to the next day to start. And with a long, looping drive, I got to a place that really is not all that far from home. My start time is leisurely, but there are only two cars in the lot and one seems to belong to a guy picking up garbage nearby.

Matilija Canyon Ranch
Just stroll right past the ranch to start the journey. There is a sign about how your right to pass is revocable helpfully implying there is a right to pass by default.

Packed up, including plenty of water for a hot day, I set off. This means walking right down the middle of the ranch. I keep to the left to avoid wearing down my shoes on the pavement. The peacocks, the most noticeable wildlife in this refuge, are starting to get little tails after the last shed. Past the first ranch, the road dips to a creek crossing and it is dusty. The second, larger crossing is dusty as well. Never a good sign for what lies upstream when looking for waterfalls, but not the worst sign. So I pass by the start of the Upper Middle Fork and Murietta Trails. The signs are intact, but the maps that were provided with them are largely missing.

dry creek crossing
Approaching a very dry creek crossing below the cliffs of the Upper North Fork.

The sign at the road split proclaiming (falsely) that there are no trails to the right is still there, too. Maybe the no with a circle and a line through it really means it is not allowed that there are no trails this way? The landowner further up would like to close off the trail. The landowner that actually lives here seems to worry most about the dog following hikers up it for miles. The dog is not out today. The only activity is running sprinklers. I ignore the sign and pass through the opening beside the gate to cross more private property on road.

yet another sign
The road past the Blue Heron Ranch and access for both the Bald Hills Trail (vanishing) and Matilija Canyon Trail (use).

gate along the road
Another gate along the road with Cara Blanca rising above it. No need to pass through this gate.

Finally the road ends at the wash of Old Man Canyon and there is trail. From here, it resembles a use trail even though presumably it was built for a short bit. Sometime before 1944, that is. Since then, it may have needed some work it did not get. The trail quickly leaves that long gone tread and dribbles its way toward the creek and a couple campsites that do, if USGS is to be believed, sit on private property, so should not be used without the owner's permission. I can hear water as I get close to the creek and indeed, the first site group has a nice flow past it. It dries up by the next campsite and the large pool beside it is a small stagnant puddle now. As I approach to look, there are three turtles on the bank, then the gentle plop, plop, plop of turtles quickly scrambling into the water. There is much green stuff growing in the bottom for them to hide in.

easy trail past cactus
The trail levels out once it leaves the old Bald Hills route, but it will get bad again as it goes.

small camp
Even the small secondary camps far too close to the water are becoming elaborate.

green water
Stagnant pool beside the next camp with ripples from quickly departing turtles. Note the high water line on the rock behind.

The creek is somewhat dry as I work my way along the trail. Most of the way, there is a trickle, and it eventually grows again. I cross it where I remember crossing long ago only to find that trail continues on the same side of the creek now. Sometimes it winds away into the rocks and the heat of the sun really beats down on me. Here, there is one last flower remaining to give the place color. Back by the creek, it are often enough trees to make it cool and even a little dark and damp. These are welcoming after each foray into the sun.

purple flower along a long, sticky stem
The last flower, although many other instances of this same flower can be found today.

leaves on water
Leaves decorate one pool where the water is moving very slowly.

big red dragonfly
The dragonflies are playing around the pools.

Around every fourth corner, there seems to be the gentle plop of another turtle scrambling into the water. Turtles are no slow creatures, especially not on warm days, and they tend to position themselves for a quick getaway. The pools have plenty of interest even without the turtles sticking around.

trickle into a pool
A slight trickle attempts to fill another pool near a campsite.

green things growing in the bottom of the pool
Another pool where a gentle plop is the only sign of a turtle. It has plenty of hiding places in the green stuff growing at the bottom.

layers of rock from top to bottom
The land here is quite the layer cake of shale and sandstone. How many million years are on display here?

The pond I have seen called a turtle pond does not have a plop sound as I come to it. They do not seem to be hanging around it today or they were already having a swim. I spend some moments by it anyway, then plunge my hat into the flow above to pour water over my head. It really is getting hot. Above, the canyon starts to narrow and there are many little seeps of water in the sides. As I get to where I plunged into the creek my first time up here, it is tempting to do it again, but I cross and climb up the wall a little bit instead. It should be a mildly easier walk.

seep of water along trail
The trail goes right through one seep.

blackbird by a pool
There were two black shapes that, in that first instant, I took for blackbirds, but then there was a plop and only one was left.

As the canyon starts to get shifty and there are many slides, I recognize a spot that was a slide of a different sort. It was such a good water slide that people would clear the pool or rocks for a nice landing. The pool is nearly filled in now and the water slide seems to have lost some of its length to a big rock slide. The camp site is still above it, but probably not quite as popular as it once was.

water slide pool filled with rock slide
Getting into the shifty bit of the canyon. Rocks, some quite large, fill in the pool below what was a nice water slide. It looks to have happened a while ago.

Above the camp, what seemed like a reasonable flow of water suddenly dries up. Even the plants seem to tell of very little water in the area. It is entirely unexpected. The corner for the West Fork Falls is not far past the camp. Turning that corner, there is nothing but dry rock smoothed by the flow of water. It is quite decidedly dry.

dry creek bed in the West Fork
Turning up the West Fork, the rocks that should be pushing all the water to the surface are very dry.

stone waterfall
The top tier of West Fork Falls does leave a stone waterfall even when it is not flowing, which it certainly is not now.

I return to the main canyon and continue up it pondering the vegetation. Slowly it does start to look like it is watered. As I get into areas where I expect to hear more water than I can see due to the rock slides, there is a little bit of water bubbling through a shallow pool. Hope for the falls returns!

water seep
Water seeps are around too. There was a spot where water poured from halfway up the canyon wall, but I cannot find it today.

little waterfall
A little waterfall as visible water returns to the canyon.

Past a couple more campsites, there is a whiff of sulfur from a pool up ahead. It is the pool for the waterfall and the waterfall is flowing. Getting to a good spot for photography without getting my feet wet looks rather hard, so I go ahead and step right into it. What is the worst that could happen to these nearly new shoes?

Matilija Falls
Matilija Falls is quite a unique one.

The nose is dribbling profusely. I was unable to get up under it before when looking for the area geocaches, one of which was once placed in the cave behind the waterfall, but today I am determined to at least try. It is one of the reasons I went ahead and got my shoes wet. Thick clumps of moss in the water try to turn me back. I drop off my things before stepping through the pool and climbing the far side, then have to return for my camera as the higher pool below the nose is quite beautiful.

up close nose
Getting up close to Matilija Falls.

I like the right side of the nose for getting up under it. I climb it and it works, so I return again for the camera. It is a different world inside the cave of travertine deposit. A hanging garden of ferns populates the ceiling. Where the ferns and mosses leave, the rocks are interesting instead. And all the while, the permanent rain falls all around.

ferns hanging from the ceiling
The hanging garden of ferns seems to think that this orientation is as natural as can be.

looking up
A crack goes far up in the rocks. It is worth noting that these things fall down from time to time.

green pool
Looking out at that beautiful green pool from under the nose. The harder white sandstone and softer shale topping are both visible from here.

brightly colored mosses
There are some impressively colored mosses along the bottom as well.

After generally squatting on one leg while the other just balanced me for long enough to play with the camera, it turns out to be a little harder to get down than when I had just climbed up. Moss covered rocks are not classic for their traction and so there is some slipping on the way down again. The moss is surprisingly tough and none of it breaks from this. I manage to catch myself anyway and it does look like I should have been able to land in the pool without too much dunking of expensive equipment, but it is still a little scare. Once in the pool, it is a good time to photograph other interesting features of the travertine deposit, like how it stops at the water level or above.

edge of the travertine
Travertine as it comes into contact with the water. Dissolved rock is deposited as water evaporates, so the water in the pool stops lower formation.

After the nose, I set my eyes on getting to the next waterfall. The rope looks strong enough, but does not come down to where I can reach it. My wet shoes do not have anything like the traction on this stone that I expect. The previous pairs just like them did not seem to have problems sticking to stone even when wet, so this seems mysterious. Maybe it is particularly smooth from high water flowing over it. Whatever, I have to get creative to get up to the rope and continue climbing while relying far too much on it. This gets me quite a bit above the top of the falls and there is nothing I really feel safe down-climbing to return to the creek. There is a spot that with a little more confidence, I might make a small jump and be on the ground below again, but then getting up would be quite difficult. I settle for trying to find a good spot to photograph the next waterfall, then get back down safely. The campsite tucked away in the small space between waterfalls is mildly teasing.

rope up the side
Rope helps get one up to the next level, if it can be trusted.

waterfall among rocks and trees
The next waterfall is obscured by trees. It looks a little more like a traditional waterfall but still has a little bit of travertine.

little pools in the sandstone
There are some pretty little pools just above the nose.

And so I head back down again. It is a lot faster going down. The gentle plops of turtles hitting the water as I get near lead me along. One pool with two plops looks like it might be something I can peer into and maybe find them, so I wander over. The turtles came off a log over the water and as I get closer, there is one more. It drops in too, as I touch the camera. I get a little closer and one more scrambles past a couple small stones and into the water. They are only the second turtles of at least a dozen that I have definitely seen. None of the little scamper-beasts will let me get a picture, though.

hard and soft above
The layers are certainly easy to pick out where the canyon walls are especially soft.

old water slide
Another look at what was once a popular water slide in the wilderness.

reflections on the water
A nice place for a turtle to live, but they sure are skittish.

After one rather good elbow thump when scrambling down a rock in the creek, knowing fully where I came up and that it was not there, I get back out to the more level bits of trail and then to the road. Along the way, there is a big, brown bird that comes up to sit on a rock slightly obscured by a branch. It is too bigger than a raven. The head seems to be about as big as the body and there are feathers like horns. Ah, an owl. It turns its head in that way only owls do, then takes off silently. The heat has dropped a little now that it is getting toward evening. Back at the ranch, only one sprinkler is going, but it is still the only movement. At the wildlife refuge, the peacocks have got up to a high stick and are perching with their wings somewhat spread so they are shapped like vultures. Bright blue headed vultures. It is quite funny to see.

looking down the canyon
Just about to the road and on the way out again.

©2016 Valerie Norton
Posted 8 September 2016

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