Ventura River Preserve
I headed off to the Riverview Trailhead of the Ventura River Preserve to see the Ventura River. It is, as far as I am concerned, a mythical thing. There is certainly a space for it to fill and the water wells within the preserve hint at some underground flow, but it has always been parched white rocks when I was there. Not even puddles in some deep pools. I will then have to cross it to have a nice hike through the preserve, so I tried to figure out what that would mean. I found an online gauge for the river that indicated about 44 cubic feet per minute going past. The crossings are very wide and the area quite flat so it is not flowing past quickly. Maybe that is a lot. Probably not? I have socks and shoes for hiking, but as I set off I am only in some minimalist trail runners I have used for river crossing in the past.
|The far east end of the Santa Ynez Mountains and Kennedy Ridge back the flat of the Ventura River Preserve.|
These days, there are signs at every turn. I simply follow the ones pointing out Oso Ridge and work my way toward the river. This leads me past a long dead vineyard and scattered oaks among the green grasses. There is a thin creek, probably a diverging bit of the river, and then there is the thing itself.
|Ghosts from the past show what the flood plain was once used for.|
|A wide crossing of a small creek.|
|Turns out the Ventura River is a real thing.|
The trail becomes indeterminate as it comes up next to the river. It looks like people mainly cross back over the creek and up onto a concrete wall that protects the area from erosion. On the other hand, so cross the river. A little upstream, it even looks good for hopping across on rocks. There just is no trail that I can see on the other side. I ask a woman with her dogs and she says they used to cross a little further downstream, phrasing it as though it was a distant memory. I look down and finally notice a number of tiny cairns in the middle of the river. That must be the trail. One way or another, I want to connect with that. It is a deep swimming hole in front of us, so that will not be the way. Closer to the trail, it seems to be shallow. It is rocky again, but not quite enough to cross in a series of jumps. I prepared for the easy way anyway. I plunge in. The water is slow and cool, but not enough to be unpleasant even in the morning air. I never get deeper than my calves as I cross. A very easy crossing indeed. Then I sit and finally put on my shoes and socks.
|Just a little upstream of some tiny cairns marking the trail as it crosses the Ventura River.|
Finally really ready to hike, I take off across the rest of the flood plain only to find I am not quite done crossing the river. The woman had mentioned that there were two branches of river for a while. This one is smaller and does have a rock hopping path.
|There is a little more Ventura River to cross.|
The climb upward is not all that far. I come to a chain saying bikes and equestrians are not to continue further until the trails dry out, but hikers may continue. There is a junction with the Chaparral Crest Trail, then I am wandering the last little bit up onto the ridge.
|Looking down on the Ventura River.|
|A spider tucked beneath a blue dick. Bits of web probably tell it when it can pounce.|
|Up on Oso Ridge. Trail generally follows old road with some reroutes to improve the quality.|
The ridge has some ups and downs as it progresses toward the high point of the preserve. Overall, it seems pretty easy to me.
|A flash of red in the sun turns out to be a humming bird in a nearly still moment.|
|The rise of Sulphur Mountain to the southeast. There is also a bit of construction going on on huge houses below the ridge.|
|Still orange groves (these trees actually look quite young) to the west of the valley below. It is quieter above the ranch.|
There is not much to the high point, but just short of it there are some views down Olive Creek to the east.
|Surveying the Ventura River Preserve from the very top.|
Coming down the other side, I encounter a pair of bikes. Maybe the chain is not up on some of the other trails? The trails do actually seem dry enough for them today. Then again, they are not following the leash law that every other sign reminds them of, so a little rule probably does not bother them much. California peonies are already in bloom. I keep noticing how close White Ledge looks as I come down.
|White Ledge and numerous other rock outcrops.|
|One exquisite mushroom.|
The trail ends at a junction with two other trails. This is the other end of Chaparral Crest. I turn onto Wills Canyon and keep heading downward.
|A moth rests for a moment.|
|The peaks and ridge west and north. White Ledge is not the tallest, just the most striking.|
|Some of the wild cucumber is already fruiting.|
The trail passes into National Forest land and comes up beside a fence. I had a plan to do a little loop with what some geocacher described as "a new trail" and Upper Wills Canyon. The trail is just behind a gate with an almost welcoming sign saying to please open up the gate and not the fence. The gate is locked tight. Behind it is a cleared fence line that has not had a lot of foot traffic. The fence is for keeping cows in rather than hikers out and I can usually push through a bit of shrub, so I go ahead and jump the gate to try it once. Bushes have fallen over completely blocking the route in a couple places, but a bit of detouring, twisting, and sometimes crawling gets me out the other side. After the first 0.1 miles as marked by the occurrence of the first geocache, it gets better. This is partly because jumping the rusty barbed wire fence to try the cleared area on the other side gets a bit easier. A few foot prints show a deer has been up here recently, but no one else is quite so silly. As I am almost to the cattle drive road on the other side, there is even a reward for this route in the form of the view of the back of some of those impressive rocks that can be seen below White Ledge from on up the real trail.
|This is a fence line, not a trail. One of the really good sections.|
|The back side of the nearest rock crests in the previous photos with White Ledge.|
The gate on the cattle drive road is open, curiously. A lot of cow prints come in through it and a few shod horse prints go out. The stink and leavings of cows are all over the road. I follow it down and around to another spur and gate. This one has another nearly welcoming sign and another tight lock. The Taft Gardens are behind it. They are open to the public, but one must make a reservation first when entering by the main door. I have no idea how they view entry from this point or how far one can hike once inside. I believe the reservation system is needed because of concerns about getting everyone back down the road in an emergency like a fire, so it is probably okay. Anyway, it is not part of the trip today.
|The preserve portion of the Conservation Endowment Fund land with Taft Gardens. The bit that really interests me is the road going up the other side, but the exotic gardens would be something to see, too. I am compliant, does that mean I can go?|
There is a thin trail along this fence line, too, and someone has ridden a horse along it recently. I am not trying that one out today, either. Instead, I turn from the clean preserve on the other side of the fence to the stinking range allotment on the edge of the National Forest. As I make my way down into Upper Wills Canyon, there is a little water in the bottom. At first it looks like shallow puddles, but eventually it gets to flowing.
|Just the slightest bit of water as the creek gets started.|
|One of the most dangerous animals to man is staring me down.|
I follow the canyon for a little while, then start climbing back up to the ridge where I started to follow Chaparral Crest back toward the river. Up high again, I am facing down Topatopa Bluff. It was looking nearly featureless in the morning light, but now the afternoon sun is really picking out the layers.
|Another particularly dangerous animal as counted by deaths caused. One of numerous bees enthusiastically pollinating the poison oak. They look like they are wearing orange boots from the pollen.|
|The Topatopa Bluffs rise above Ojai Valley.|
|The nearby valley of Wills Canyon. There are sycamores here.|
At some point my plans get a bit hazy. Perhaps I am being sensible and make the turn because after neglecting both sunscreen and hat, I have probably had too much sun today and would be better to be in the shade. Perhaps it is a nagging desire to cross the river at another place and that seems incompatible with following Chaparral Crest all the way until it meets Oso Ridge again. Whatever the reason, I take the turn down Fern Grotto to meet Wills Canyon Trail again very close to where I last left it.
|Back in Wills Canyon, which has a bit more shade than the ridge above.|
|Johnny jump ups beside the trail.|
|One of the fattest, reddest ladybugs I have seen in a long time.|
I can hear the water, but until the trail starts crossing it, there is very little opportunity to see it flowing below. There are plenty of insects around, but only one small area where many birds can be heard. It seems a little odd.
|There it is. Wills Creek.|
|Watch out for spiders.|
|The ceanothus is looking a little more full of blooms.|
The trail splits and I decide to take the horse detour. This means more creek crossings than otherwise, but I manage each one. It turns and crosses a meadow and then turns again and approaches the river. This crossing is much wider and absolutely spotty with rocks. Here, I suspect rock hopping is possible, but it may take a bit of work to decide on a usable path. It has gotten a bit warm and I have my shoes still, so swap them and plunge right in. Although wider, it is still just as deep. Now the water feels a bit cold.
|Standing in the Ventura River looking upstream.|
I do not bother to change my shoes again after the river. The rest of the walk is just too short to bother. I choose a different way back than I came. While it is a little shorter, it is noisier because it is directly under the road. I finish up and somehow have run out of water. Has it been that hot today? Summer is coming quickly and it is not even spring yet.
|Lots of green out on the river flood plain.|
©2017 Valerie Norton
Posted 9 March 2017