28 March 2017

Sage Hill

Los Padres National Forest

Link to map.

Our forest is gaining fees for practically everything. Picnicking and trailhead parking are going to be $10 a day once all the infrastructure is in. Aliso Canyon will be one of these fee areas, but does not quite appear to be yet, although the Sage Hill Group Campground fee station makes no effort to point out the difference between it and the trailhead parking. (And, considering it designed for large groups, the posted fee schedule for "single" and "double" sites makes little sense.) Somehow I am at least four times as annoyed at the idea of paying $10 to a private company to use these public lands as I am to pay $5, with the option of a pretty cheap yearly pass, to the actual stewards of these public lands. (There are some hints about an annual pass, but at least a few of the avenues to obtain it are dead ends.) As such, I already have a plan for free parking in a lovely and very large turnout on the side of the main road that includes a little bit of the trail beside the river. Since there actually is a river to take in today, that is where I parked.

Sage Hill behind bits of river embellishments
Sage Hill from the Santa Ynez River flood plain. The remains of the bridge seem a little substantial for the "footbridge" marked on the map.

There is a bit of old road below the turnout, but this does not go far before dissolving into vegetation choked area with a cliff below. Walking down the road a short way is a much better way down, then cut across the day use area to the river. Exploring along the side, there are no rock hopping opportunities. It really is quite wide at the moment. I just pull off my shoes for the crossing. There are a few deep channels to avoid, but otherwise it is only up to my knees and not particularly swift. The rocks are sharp under my bare feet in a very slow moving section that is more like a shallow pool than river. Tadpoles even line the side of the slow water. The river trail on the far side is easy to find and follow around to the trailhead in the canyon.

Sage Hill
Sage Hill, the main target for today. A few spots of orange for poppies and yellow for invasive mustard.

My objective for today is to climb Sage Hill and I wanted to get to it while the flowers are plentiful, especially poppies. Clearly it is just a matter of picking a slope and walking up. Some slopes are better than others. First, though, I head for the canyon.

Aliso Canyon
Starting up Aliso Canyon late in the morning for lots of light. There is a little water here still.

California poppies
A small patch of California poppies in the canyon. These are the flowers that might be finishing up in a few weeks.


At the junction, I head up climbing in entirely the wrong direction to get up the named hill. That is alright, there is plenty of grassy area above that might have more flowers, too. The sun beats down on the entire trail at this late morning hour, but winds are blowing and keeping things very pleasant.

minute purple flower
Flowers in all sizes like this one smaller than my pinky fingernail.

fiesta flowers
A ball of purple from fiesta flowers.

many different flowers on the canyon side
Blue dicks and fiddlenecks and paintbrush and lupin add to the flower display.

The wind is stronger when I get to the top. The view has changed a little since coming up shortly after the fire. It is greener and redder and bluer than before. The rains have fueled all kinds of growth, but they have also given the rocks a good cleaning, sometimes of topsoil.

along the ridge line between Aliso and Oso
Reaching the top of the ridge line, Oso Canyon and the recent burn comes into view.

Santa Ynez River
The Santa Ynez River curls past. I crossed near the cliffs to the right.

Little Pine Mountain
Little Pine Mountain has some enthusiastic green patches but mostly seems a bit red now.

The wander along the ridge climbs a little more, then turns to drop. The flowers change as the slope aspect changes. There is also a single, massive washout cutting through the trail. There is a clear walk-around for it and the section along steep shale is holding.

shooting stars
A few shooting stars left along the trail.

California peony
Some of the California peonies are already in flower and seed.

As the trail hits the bottom of the canyon, I ignore the sign pointing left and follow the trail across the creek to the old trough and oak that sit there. It is a good spot to rest and eat and ponder if I will look up the creek for the spring today. I just have that big hill left to climb and it does seem to have a route from a little further upstream. It does look a little rough. As I leave again, I grab the trail and head down instead.

Aliso Creek
There seems to be a little more flow in the creek up here.

The trail gets higher on the west side of the canyon and there is even a little tributary coming in. As it seems to be dropping again, I begin my real climb. My plan is to tend to the left a bit to get through a low spot before it becomes too deep higher up, then grab a ridge line with an old fence along it to follow to the top. A stand of poison oak diverts me to the right. It looks like I might be able to find a path through at first, but as I follow through, it is clear that one way or another I will be a bit too close to the stuff to be happy. Instead, I just follow the hill ever upward through the dead sticks of mustard from last year and the new growth of mustard for this year. If there are any snakes down under the leaves where I cannot see them, they are kind enough to just move along so I can have a peaceful stroll up the hill.

Aliso Loop Trail across the way
My previous climb up the ridge on the far side of the canyon on Aliso Loop Trail.

minute yellow flower bunch
More flowers smaller than my pinky finger, these noticed while getting distracted by more peonies.

My trek through the mustard works well enough, and soon I can pick a way up to the main ridge line to continue up to the top. No poison oak hinders my plans this time and it works perfectly. There is still a bit of climb left, but the ridge line has less mustard and generally less to push through. There are occasional stands of close bushes with easy routes around. There are also occasional yucca to avoid.

Aliso Canyon Trail across the way
And the route down again along Aliso Canyon Trail.

cluster of long, tiny yellow flowers
A burst of yellow flowers.

Coming to the top, the view to the west opens up suddenly. I expect a benchmark although it is not marked on my map. Wandering back and forth around the flattened peak, there is plenty of concrete for one, but it is all broken up and pushed to the side. There is the expected fence line between the neighboring ranch and the forest land. There is an unexpected antenna down one side. It is still embedded in its concrete base, but was plastered to the side of the mountain in some old weather mishap. Thick and well shielded coax cable hangs loosely near it.

Loma Alta and more of the nearby ranch
Loma Alta dominates the western view. To the left is Cachuma Lake, which seems to have water and an island again. Further left are Santa Ynez and Broadcast Peaks. Ranger Peak, McKinley and San Rafael Mountains are to the right.

Little Pine Mountain
Old Man Mountain, Alexander Peak, and Little Pine Mountain. The rain has shown some bright blue spots on these red mountains.

Santa Ynez
The Santa Ynez River with actual flow going into Cachuma Lake.

Heading down, I plan to follow that same fence line as it gets nearly to the parking lot. There is one spot where I would like to grab a ridge off to the right for a better downward route, but otherwise it is a very direct line down to the bottom. Somehow I seem to miss all the bigger poppy fields.

California poppies
There is a small poppy field. They are already closing up with just three hours left until sunset.

beetle on a stick
A morning glory taking hold of a burned stick with a colorful visitor.

following the fence line
Following along the fence line down the side of Sage Hill.

black with a light yellow stripe snake
Not quite every snake escaped notice. This constrictor has a nice spot out in the sun on a rock.

My turn passes while I am on the wrong side of the fence and not quite expecting it to already be here. I have lost another hundred feet by the time it is obvious. The cleft between is already deep and green. I let it go. Besides, there are fields of flowers ahead.

mostly blue and white flowers with poppies
Popcorn flowers, lupin, blue dicks, gilia, and a few California poppies. A very few silver puffs, chia, and fiesta flowers are in this field, too.

My route ahead gets very steep in the loose shale. I am not the first to make the mistake of missing the other ridge and there is a trail down through it all winding around the rocks where it is least steep. There is a green belt in the bottom of the canyon, but it aims at a spot where it is not very thick and there is not too much poison oak. It works out well enough for downhill, but would not be my first choice for a climb. I did walk right past it on the way out looking for a better spot.

rocky hill
Just one last steep and rocky hill to get to the trail below.

barbed wire circle
The very last of the fence hangs loose. The poppies seem to like the rocky places.

Once safely on the trail, I head out to the parking lot and then take the road back for the easier river crossing on the ford. It is a less interesting route and a bit longer.

river ford
The ford of the Santa Ynez River for approaching Sage Hill Campground and Aliso Trailhead.

Santa Ynez River
Sage Hill and Santa Ynez River.

Sage Hill
Sage Hill from above the river beside the Ranger Station. The long, flat ridge in front is the one I meant to be on.

four wild turkey
Wild turkey tearing into the fiesta flowers in front of the Ranger Station. I have only ever seen them here and by Pendola, another Ranger Station.




©2017 Valerie Norton
Posted 30 March 2017

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