Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Just Back: The Pacific Northwest

Mt Baker from Skagit Valley, WA.


I've been away for a week. This was originally intended to be a snowboarding trip but this winter's ridiculously resilient north pacific jet stream has largely bypassed the west coast, leaving places like Mammoth, Tahoe, Mt Hood, the Washington Cascades, and Whistler begging for anything that might be snow. At Mt Baker, one of my favorite powder kegs, they're just pushing the snow around to make runs. It's bad, but the tickets were booked, and it was a good opportunity to visit with my parents and see some other sites. In other words, we were good little tourists. Enjoy some photos from our trip. Feel free to click any image to enlarge it.

Whatcom Creek, Bellingham, WA.
Totem Poles, Vancouver, BC. [and below]

Ruth at the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, BC.
Pass Lake, Widbey Island, WA
Puget Sound from Chuckanut Drive.
Deception Pass Bridge.
Point Wilson Light House.
Alexanders Castle, Point Wilson, WA.
Puget Sound from Larrabee State Beach, WA.
A Washington ferry landing on Puget Sound.
Downtown Vancouver, BC.
Bald Eagle(s), Skagit Valley, WA. [and below]

From the permanent Northwest Native Art collection at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM). [and below]
Bellingham Bay, WA.
Seattle Skyline.
Mt Rainier
The North Cascades.
Flocking snow geese, Skagit Valley, WA.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Mockingbird Cave


There is painted beauty hidden deep in the heart of Riverside County. I had to go see this for myself because I don't normally associate Riverside with the word "beauty".

This site is located in a spring fed gulch amid a moat of fancy horse properties. Scrubby oak trees and tall stands of  cat tails frame the tepid stream from the spring. A scattering of granitic boulders and several larger formations dot the slopes on each side of the spring. One such formation is a collection of ground level boulders crowned by two large capstones, and beneath these are two very colorful panels of polychrome art.

Large circles or shields accompany a number of crosshatch designs. Several elements here appear (at least to me) to have a celestial connotation. The work is bright and colorful, rendered in red, white, and a blue/black.

On the opposite side of the creek is a flat granite slab with four bedrock mortars. This slab, just feet from the spring, has been described as a "birthing rock. A short pillar beside the the slab has two faded red pictographs of diamond chains on golden water streaks.  A short distance away is an additional BRM.

I was impressed with this site. The colors remain bright and crisp. Obviously any site with a consistent water source would have been an invaluable commodity in this desert region, and the depth and development of the BRMs speak it's prolonged use.








Exploring Lower Piru Creek


Sure feels like it's spring in mid-February, don't it?
I guess that three storms is the only meaningful precipitation we're likely to get this "winter" so better make the most of it. 

The Piru watershed seems to be the place where one can take every uncomfortable and unpleasant thing the SLP has to offer and upsize it. Ticks, poison oak, venomous reptiles, brush, heat, rough terrain, etc... Piru has it in spades. 

I was joined by Nico and Stephen for a combo cycling/off-trail exploration of the Blue Point/Canton Canyon arena. We mountain biked far into Canton, which is a dramatic dry wash of a place. An old jeep track weaves up the north side of the wash. There are sporadic groves of oaks, and lots of intriguing rock formations, even the remains of an old inholding. The trail is good enough that cycling is is an easy ride. We spent a good deal of time checking out the various rock formations with an eye to rock art, to no avail. 

Another part of the day was spent exploring the remains of the long decommissioned Blue Point Campground. We explored up the eastern draw which empties into Piru Creek. Here we found overgrown conditions and a nice collection of large sandstone wind caves. Done with this particular area we splashed back across Piru Creek to the road and explored a similar series of caves on the western side of the creek. The campground itself has gone completely feral over the years and it occurred to me that the USFS ought to just take everything out and let the area revert to it's primordial self. 

Further up the road we met and chatted with the long time owner of Wheeler Ranch, Joe. He's a nice older guy, was curious about what we were up to. He seemed real relaxed, and if you've seen the beautiful little spread his charming cabin sits on you'd understand why. We did a bit of exploring atop a mesa which overlooks his place.

If you're into Piru and flowers, nows the time to be out. Dozens of species of flowering plants have been tricked into an early spring bloom. The hillsides are green and lush. The birds are out. All in all it was a beautiful day for a mellow tour. Just beware, people are already reporting rattlesnakes being out and about.




Wheeler Ranch from across the way.
The lone sycamore at the mouth of the truly grand Canton Canyon.




Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Off Trail in the Cuyama Badlands



This isn't really a post about a trip report. It's more an explanation of what I've been up to.

The photo above was taken on the way to somewhere in the Cuyama badlands, a day which offered a beautiful, rain spattered hike into the colorful ridges and gullies beneath the north slope of Sierra Madre Ridge. The point of this hike, besides the adventure and exercise, was to find a little known rock art site. A Chumash rock art site.

A few weeks ago I was asked what percentage of day trips I go on that never make it onto this page. At the time I said 30% but looking back over the last few months the number is actually closer to 50%. What's missing you ask? The answer to that is that I am no longer going to post anything related to Chumash rock art, and in fact I have taken down all my posts to this page which related to Chumash rock art. There are several reasons for this change.

The most persuasive reason I have for changing my approach to what I post is that I have gradually come to understand that the rock art in the Tri-Counties region has exactly nothing to do with my cultural heritage. I'm not Native American, have never pretended to be Native American, and have no desire to emulate the local Native Americans. But that doesn't mean that I don't have a conscience. There are plenty of areas in Southern and Central California that have highly publicized and easily accessible rock art, and I've seen a lot of it and will continue to post such sites, but I've also been at this long enough that I have begun to sense a subtle difference in perceptions and attitudes toward Chumash art versus similar art by other cultures. 

This difference is difficult to define or quantify but it's there. I think it largely has to do with the competing priorities between the Nuevo Chumash, the Forest Service, the elites within academia, and lay enthusiasts. While it is the lay enthusiasts (like myself) that scour the internet and academic papers for information on these sites, and actually do the difficult work to go out and see them, there is no real effort to use such people as a resource. In fact, the moment one of these lay people starts publishing Chumash art on the internet they find themselves pressured to remove those postings by Chumash advocates and academics. It is easy to understand the Chumash point of view, but the barely veiled hostility and a general air of exclusivity excreted by those in academia toward those who are actually putting in the effort to see these sites as they exist today is rather repugnant. To the best of my knowledge there is no coherent effort to incorporate the more accomplished of the lay people into any effort to protect or document or preserve these sites. An example of such an organization would be the long defunct Partners In Preservation. Instead of being invited to contribute, the lay "experts" out there are dubbed pariahs the moment they step out of the closet and publish. This syndrome is very cliquish, very elite, and very off putting.  I find those attitudes a distraction from my overall purpose, which is to document adventure and discovery within the Southern Los Padres.

There is a lot that people such as myself might be able to offer given the opportunity and a minimal amount of training.

When I first began posting Chumash art on this page I took a lot of heat from various quarters. I rapidly evolved my approach to publishing, justifying my continued publication of the art at such sites by not using the site's given name or any identifiers (landscape or otherwise) which could be used as an aid in finding these sites. Within a relatively short period of time the hate mail stopped but word of my activities continued to be muttered about within the "in" crowd. Even those measures that I implemented to protect the locations of sites was insufficient to quell the attitude that I was some renegade guerrilla of the rock art world (that's a laugh). I have allies and ears, and word would reach me that this or that individual had said something uncomplimentary about my activities and that those sentiments were circulating within certain circles. Whatever. I work with heart surgeons. I have a thick skin. But I'd be dishonest if I didn't admit that this high school b.s. never got to me.

I write this not in an effort to garner sympathy but quite the opposite. Rock art has been very good to me. I've made numerous contacts and gained new friends because of my interest in rock art. Many of the people I correspond with have attitudes similar to those I've expressed here. I appreciate their ongoing support and friendship. I will continue to ferret out the locations of these sites, hunt them down and photograph them, but I won't be posting anything from these sites on this page anymore. This is my decision and a conclusion I reached on my own, that being that this is not my cultural heritage and my editorializing on such art is unnecessary.

I'd like to reassure the readers of this page, many of which who have been with me the whole time, that I'm not going anywhere and that I will continue to bring the forest to this page. It's going to be the same quality of stuff I've posted all along, minus the rock art. Understand that if you see a gap in postings it's likely I've been out tracking down local rock art. 

P.S. This little rag I put out turned over 250,000 hits this week. That's not half bad for a niche blog that doesn't use web exposure services or host ad space. I appreciate your interest, your comments, and the friends I've made along the way. Thanks.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Redrock Creek, Sespe Wilderness

Back in the saddle and up to my usual tricks, this time with an exploration of an uncomfortable and arduous drainage. Wait. Haven't I written all this before? Yes, however, while the details of this story may seem a repetition of previous outings, the locale is new.


The subject of this day's action is a small creek that roughly parallels the trail from Dough Flat. Redrock Creek is a tributary of the Sespe only in the sense that it empties into Upper Tar Creek which then connects to the Sespe. Nothing is written or mentioned about this creek. There are no nearby trails, no campsites, it's not especially pretty, and it has few other redeeming qualities. 
My kind of place.

Sporting new body armor for the ugliest brush in the nation.

Part of the aim was to familiarize myself with this part of the forest. The other part was to field test some new body armor in a suitably hostile environment. See, last month I banged my shin real good, and on that same day got bitten by a yucca and contracted a touch of poison oak (even through long pants). This all created an inflamed scenario which was ripe for a bacterial infection. During the time I spent with my leg elevated while nibbling antibiotics I began recollecting all the times I've come home from off-trail work with banged up shins, yucca spines, and torn up knees. I got to thinking about a solution. 

As I lay on the couch, laptop in the exact place it's name implies, I scrolled through numerous athletic retailers looking for a lightweight, ergonomic solution. Not finding much I switched to sites for tactical equipment, all of which was bulky, heavy, or overpriced. Finally I started looking at motocross gear and began seeing some products that might meet my needs. I settled on Fox Racing Launch Knee/Shin Guards

I hiked into the Sespe, enjoying views of the sheer cliffs of Whitacre looming over the right side of this landscape of rocky gullies and shale slopes. I reached the high point of the trail, the divide between the gradual climb out of Dough Flat and the descent into Alder Creek. Redrock Creek begins immediately beneath this small rise so I dropped pack and suited up for the brush. The new knee/shin guards had an ingenious mechanism for locking them onto the knee. Twin straps criss-crossed behind the knee and again over the back of the calf. Another strap secures the bottom of the guard to the shin just above the ankles. Between the pad liner and the plastic hardshell I felt almost bulletproof. For a while I've used of archery arm guards (turned outward) to protect my forearms, these being a simple piece of 4mm thick leather with stretch chord and metal loops. I was also trying out some new Kobalt gloves (Lowes brand, replacing a blown out pair of Mechanix) which have nicely padded leather palms, rubberized finger tips, and protective rubber padding over the knuckles. Admittedly I looked fairly ridiculous, but looks aside, and properly girded for war, I launched into the brushed up drainage.    


After a half an hour of busting brush I started feeling pretty good about the new gear. I really liked the gloves.  The arm guards didn't pinch or bind, and with them I could really lean into the brush and part a path forward. After crawling through a few brush tunnels and bashing forward through a half mile of knee-high SLP chum I was feeling really pleased with the Fox gear. No shin bashing, no stabbings, nothing got through that plastic. They didn't bind behind the knee. There wasn't any slippage. I didn't have to readjust them, ever, and I happily wore them for the next 5 hours. My only issue with them was that the knee/shin coverage was very warm. I don't think this would be a good solution for warm weather, but on a day like this one, cool and mild, these shin guards worked awesome.





Okay, let me get back to Redrock Creek. The photos you see here represent the prettiest part of this drainage. The rest of it was either brush, alder and willow, or creek bed plants like cat tails and saw grass. Much of the travel was difficult and most of the day I struggled to accomplish a mile per hour. The day would have gone much faster had I been willing to just endure being wet all day, but wading through a creek in January is very different than doing so in July. I was not inclined to endure the additional discomfort.

The above is very typical of much of Redrock Creek.

Whiteacre Peak

Toward the bottom of the creek, nearing the junction with Tar Creek, I started seeing signs of old oil exploration; rusted and broken piping draped along the bank of the creek, an old road cut completely overgrown and washed out. In the last half hour of the day a shale slope cave under me and I went in the drink. It was bound to happen and I took it philosophically. I sloshed down the rest of the creek, hung a left and headed up the last quarter mile back to Squaw Flat Rd. It wasn't until later on the drive home that I realized that Redrock Creek had been the only wilderness drainage I'd travelled in quite a while that showed no signs of an illegal growing operation. It's a rough little gem of Sespe high country.