28 December 2016

Aliso Canyon and Nineteen Oaks

Los Padres National Forest




I headed out to the trailhead behind Sage Hill Campground to hike around Aliso Canyon and then around Nineteen Oaks. These two areas were the victims of two recent fires that started very near to the same place. For Aliso Canyon, it was the White Fire in May 2013. For Oso Canyon and Nineteen Oaks, it was the recent Rey Fire. The morning air is quite chill and it is easy to get started and try to warm up.

Aliso Canyon
Starting into the canyon in a little sun before it gets particularly shady.

sycamore in yellow
A little fall color remaining deep in the shadows of the canyon.

There is a little fall color remaining in that deep and cold canyon. The walk is flat and does not warm quickly. At the junction for the loop, I elect to climb up into the sunshine. Both it and the climb will warm me up. At the top, there are clues of the older burn. The new burn shows in the distance.

Aliso Canyon
Aliso Canyon from above.


hills at the top
Bushes and trees are regrowing from their roots among the grassy hills at the top.

The top is nice. It is wide with lots of little hills. The views are nice, too. I can see out over the valley and a little into Oso Canyon and on up Aliso Canyon. The river has a little water glistening in the pools and maybe flowing a little. So far, my irrational feeling it is actually going to rain this year seems to be holding up.

Santa Ynez
Out over the valley of the Santa Ynez River to Broadcast and Santa Ynez Peaks.

Aliso Canyon
On up Aliso Canyon into the San Marcos Ranchero area. Things are turning green out there.

Oso Canyon and Little Pine Mountain
Up Oso Canyon to Little Pine Mountain. More green is popping up here, especially in the area of Nineteen Oaks.

It is still hard to pick out the burn area out there. It should be easy from this distance to say which bits burned and which did not. Coming down off the last hill on trail interrupted by fuel break creation, there is some clear burn. The higher trail joins up again with what is ostensibly the canyon trail, now climbed out of the canyon, and drops down into Oso Canyon surrounded by burn. Another fuel break breaks up the trail as it drops down to Upper Oso Campground below.

Rey Fire edge
Down a hill to rejoin Aliso Canyon Trail and there is some of the burn from the Rey Fire.

burned yucca plants
Yucca plants rendered into a stand of some kind of weird burned pineapple.

The campground did not burn, nor did the trees down in the narrow canyon. The trail skips around the side of the campground and starts up the canyon. Past a sign directing everyone to cross the creek, the old trail comes to an eroded end. After crossing the creek, the climb to the road is rather steep. Now I know how much of the trail parallel to the road is left: practically nothing. The road takes some time at it but transitions back into burned areas.

more edge of the burn
The western side of the canyon shows some more edge of the burn.

burned creek bed
As the canyon opens up, the fire found its way down into it and the tributaries.

There is strong discouragement to proceed up the trail. The fire makes it unsafe. Burned oaks may drop pieces and could actually still be smouldering inside for months. Hillsides are unstable and rocks could come down from above or the trail may no longer hold below. This has not discouraged a number of hikers and even more bicycles by the look of the tread. The burn seems to get more complete as I go further into it.

trail within the burn
The south end of Santa Cruz Trail.

burned trees regrowing
The trail passes through burned trees. They may have died above the ground, but many roots remain with life in them and sprout.

complete burn
It must be the completeness of the burn that makes it hard to tell from afar. Usually there is something left to offer contrast to the grey and brown colors where it has burned.

The creek below has a trickle of flow through the grimy bottom. The creek has always had a bit of silt in the bottom, so that is not really a change. With everything denuded, it is easy to spot the odd marker under a large oak. The trail does seem to be mostly holding up for now. Below me, there are voices as three people move through the bottom of it finding burned lizards.

Little Pine
Little Pine Mountain and Alexander Peak.

circle of stems
This is not the first fire for this bush shown by the circle of resprouted trunks.

The trail is nearly blocked by an oak that used to hang over it just before the junction to head up to Nineteen Oaks. The ferns that covered the wall here are sprouting again. The bikes make their way past the oak somehow. They have been coming from both trails. I can see the switchbacks of Santa Cruz Trail making their way up the hill across the creek. It looks fine enough there, but there is a section that was unstable enough before the fire came through and might be a shale avalanche waiting to happen now. For me, it is up to Nineteen Oaks.

the junction
A burned post with flecks of fiberglass mark the junction now.

The camp is scoured. The three must be camping up here as there are a couple tents between some short, brown oaks and the one remaining table. What was previously a mysterious cart is now a mysterious collection of bolts in a square. The brush over the spring is cleared and raspberries are sprouting. The clearing shows not just the spring box, but also an old ice can stove anchored to its spot. The toilet has even more view now. Still, green is returning.

Nineteen Oaks
The main part of camp with a table that looks like it will collapse the first time someone sits at it. But there is green popping out on the oaks.

vanished oak tree
This hole was once an oak tree. Admittedly, not a very healthy one.

oaks popping out in green
The green leaves are popping back out on the oaks as the grass is returning to the meadows.

Heading higher, grass is coming up in the meadows. The trail joins with an old road and checking where it goes looks a lot easier than last time I came past. Water has cut across it in a couple spots, but they are easy to cross. It drops to the creek bottom where pipes and things hint at a long vanished building. The road goes up the other side, but the still visible cuts look like they accessed many places on the hillside rather than traveling.

old road cut
Following the old road cut down. Other cuts can be seen on the far side of the canyon.

pipes and a flat spot
Very little remaining of whatever this old road used to go to.

After the detour, I turn to climb again. This time it will be up to the current road above. Still, the burn is complete all around me and still there are little bits of green regrowth popping up.

sycamore regrowth
Sycamores regrowing from their roots.

shooting star
A couple shooting stars found.

Oso Canyon
Looking down Oso Canyon.

Getting up high, there is some erosion on the old road. This is generally not new damage from the fire. At the top, there are remains of another ice can stove, although this one is not rooted to its spot.

eroded road bed
This is old erosion along the old road.

chamise regrowth
Chamise regrowing from its roots.

ice can and burned hills
At the top. An ice can and a lot of burned landscape.

There is more burn across the ridge. Further down, there is a hillside that has been spared.

Hidden Potrero
Not much left hidden in Hidden Potrero.

spared hillside
A hillside to the south is outside the south boundary of the fire perimeter.

The road twists steeply down the hill to meet the trail again. An rerouted part exists as a trail still and I wander it for kicks. Once back in the bottom of the canyon, I head back toward Upper Oso Campground, then climb back up to Aliso Canyon. This time, I stick to Aliso Canyon Trail. This trail has a worrisome spot on a bit of cliff on the way down into the canyon. Once in the canyon, the trail rolls almost as much as the trail over the hills above. This trail is not as enjoyable as the one above for me.

Aliso Canyon
A little fall color on one of many creek crossings in Aliso Canyon.

The canyon is darkening after the sun has set as I finish. It is a little cool now, but not nearly so cool as the morning.




©2016 Valerie Norton
Posted 31 December 2016

1 comment:

Steve C. said...

Interesting read and pictures.