Monday, December 30, 2013

Exploration of West Falls Canyon, Matilija 12/29/13

There's a rumor out there, one that indicates that there are some interesting caves on the West Falls Canyon portion of the greater Matilija drainage. I had never heard anything regarding these caves and was immediately intrigued when I was approached by a guy named Josh Weir with some odd and anecdotal information he'd been able to compile. This information was second or third hand and came from a source which claims to have visited these caves around two decades ago. The clues given to Josh were highly esoteric, for instance, "Look high, look low."(that's a real gem), and "Look for a tree bent at an angle." and "Locate a forked tree, turn around and find markings on other trees.". Okaaaay. Seems we had a real Scooby Doo mystery on our hands. 

The day started with a run up Matilija to the West Falls. After a brief break we scrambled up the right side of said falls and stepped into untrammeled wilderness. Within five minutes of travel we had passed the furthest I'd ever been in this particular drainage. Josh had been about a mile above the falls but no further. I took point and had a good time figuring out the cleanest way to progress upstream. Water levels were low, which helped considerably. Tree limbs and deadfalls were a nearly constant issue but the brushier portions of the creek were easily dealt with. I had expected the going to be much worse based on my previous experience in Old Man Canyon.

We made steady progress upstream, often passing around pleasant pools and small waterfalls. Bear sign was literally everywhere and often we found ourselves following animal track over shale slides and through brush thickets. About 1.5 miles into this upper drainage we encountered an 80ft waterfall which is marked on Conant's map of the Matilija Wilderness. At this site water streams gently in a broad fan down a steep sandstone face, dripping into a shallow pool ringed with boulders. We ascended the right side of the falls using ledges which ceded to a chunky crack of poor quality stone. Climbing the falls required a few moves of easy Fifth Class and some confidence in one's abilities. Josh handled it fine.

The upper falls of West Falls Canyon, Matilija (and below).

By this time we were passing under the white face of Cara Blanca, that gleaming pyramid of stone which one can see from many portions of the Matilija Trail. We had intermittent views of Cara Blanca's face, though being right under it, we couldn't see the actual summit. We continued ascending the drainage, which alternated between areas of open scrub and narrow, arbored gorge. Eventually we saw a couple pines that might fit the "bent" description and I allowed myself to think that maybe, just maybe there was something to this whole "caves" thing and that we were in the neighborhood. We saw no caves or anything that might conceivably be described as a cave in this vicinity. Continuing onward I began "looking high, looking low". Some time later we passed the point where the extinct Bald Hills Trail crossed the creek heading northwest. There was no sign of this trail's existence.

Cara Blanca from below and west.

Some time later we ascended a slabby waterfall of white sandstone, water channeled and polished. At the base of this dry falls there were numerous piles of bear scat and we found multiple bed-down sites. I led us upstream for a while without seeing anything that resembled caves, but then we encountered the partial wreckage of an old airplane. This was indeed interesting and it also afforded an ideal place to conclude our upstream search. By this time I was pretty certain that these caves were a myth and that we'd been sandbagged. 

Tangled in new growth trees a couple meters above the creek were the twisted remains of an old airplane fuselage. Portions of the plane had clearly been burned, whether this occurred as a result of the crash or in the last fire to sweep the area (1980) was impossible to determine. Josh pointed out that some of the older trees in the immediate area showed signs of fire damage and I noted that there seemed to be more undergrowth the further one got from the wreckage. Interestingly, much of the plane was missing. There were no wings or landing gear present, which led me to speculate that those parts had either burned completely, been washed downstream, or had been deposited on the steep and inaccessible hillside above the wreckage. This site can be found about 3.3 miles upstream of the West Falls.

After a decent break we decided to turn it around and began descending back the way we came. For quite a ways in our return trip I remained concerned with locating the caves we had been trying to find. We got back to the lonely, bent pine tree and I took some pains to climb well into a branch gully to, to no avail. I will allow that if there had been some kind of cave or caves in the portion of drainage that we explored, those caves may have been destroyed or rearranged by high water events, but overall I was left with impression that the caves were mythical. I won't go as far as to say that they never existed, but I will say that there aren't any caves in this canyon today, at least not in the 3.29 miles of drainage that we explored.

Cara Blanca from below and west.

Josh Weir descending the upper falls of West Falls Canyon.

As with most days in the wilderness, for me this day was primarily about exploring and experiencing the backcountry and seeing what I might find. No caves, no problem. I'd always wanted a better view of Cara Blanca and I was able to satisfy that yen. And finding the wreckage of an airplane was surprising to say the least (Craig Carey is going to look into it). Josh was good company and carried his weight well despite a recent ankle injury. It was an all around excellent little day of adventure.

Cara Blanca from below and east.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Tacoma gets an upgrade

When I high-centered the Perseverance twice in Death Valley a few months ago I came to the realization that it finally needed a lift kit, a top-notch pre-runner suspension, and some new body armor. And light kits front and rear wouldn't hurt either. I've been riding the new stuff for a month now and wondering why (besides the cost) I hadn't done this years ago. Duh. My last Tacoma had been lifted, what the hell Dave?

So here's what's on the truck now:

American Racing Mojave Teflon rims, riding 31" Kelly Safari 10 plys
Icon Vehicle Dynamics Stage 4 Suspension System, with coil-over front shocks, front and rear reservoir shocks, Icon upper control arms, and added leaf springs in the rear. This kit is generally the best reviewed suspension over-haul for this vehicle and the truck, which always handled dirt as well or better than any factory 4x4, now feels like a Formula 1 racer on fire roads, all while preserving that Pre-Runner feel. Its scary what this truck can do now. I also added Icon's lower control arm skid armor to protect the CV-boots and steering arms.
Fab Fours Rear Bumper and Front Winch Bumper, with full bull bar.

And to shed some light I put a 20" LED light bar up front and twin hi-power LED lights on the rear. As for the front light bar, I'm pretty sure it's bright enough that it can be seen from space. And the lights on the rear? Lets just say that two tail-gaiting lowlifes have experienced momentary blindness at least once in their life. Its strangely effective.
Am I a happy off-roader? Yes I am.

This was all put together for me by Tiger and his mechanics at: Go Big Truck Performance in Ventura, CA. Definitely recommended.

Winter Solstice Site? "Expert" says no: Ferre Pedem Speluncam

Photo of this sun mandala taken Spring 2013
Having seen this particular pictograph in what I assumed was perpetual shade, you can imagine my surprise at learning that this painting is actually fully exposed to light for about one week per year, and that that only occurs during the week of the winter solstice (Which apparently does not make this site an "official" winter solstice sit, though obviously the timing of the sunlight on this pictograph is not coincidental. Please read comments below.). This was something I had to see for myself. To that end I met several good gentleman for a trip out to the site. In the late afternoon this "bullseye" of concentric rings was gradually revealed in the full light of the western sun. Pretty cool, but I'm kicking myself for not having brought a video setup. A time lapse clip would have been pretty neat. Maybe next year.

This shot was taken at around 14:45
at 15:20
at 15:45
and the following three were taken at 16:00

I also learned a few new things while out with these foul old dudes. For instance, in looking back through photos of mine taken at multiple sites there seems to be some truth to the theory that the "bullseye" mandalas only seem to crop up at sites that catch afternoon or sunset light (there is one exception that I've noted, but that mandala is attached to another element I call "the dark lord" and resides in year-round shade, to be found on the Carrizo). The flip side of that is that those sites that catch the morning sun tend to have mandalas formed around pointed star figures and have triangular rays somewhere in/or enclosing them. Looking at my own photos I smacked my forehead at the obvious truths of this revelation, truths which, it turns out, are possibly not so true. The person whose comments follow this post has insisted that he has all the answers and has invested a great deal of time  researching and promoting his theorie . If you're interested in learning more you can read the comments below and read his paper on the subject of solstice sites. I still say that the timing makes this bullseye a solstice phenomenon.

The image that I call "The Dark Lord" with a concentric ring sun mandala. There are a number of astronomy based elements at this Carrizo site including multiple "sunrise mandalas", half moons, star and planet designs, so it is pretty clear to me that this site had strong ties to the heavens.

An example of a "sunrise mandala" (and below). Both these paintings face east, the direction of the rising sun.

A half moon, star, and either a planet or full moon, from the same Carrizo site as the three preceding photos.

That's all I got today, and Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Tale of Two Canyons

Mountain Lion kill. Fresh. Sketchy situation.

Interesting day. On the agenda was a recon of two adjoining canyons which branch off of Sierra Madre/Buckhorn Road. These two little ravines have always caught my eye as I've blown by them on the way elsewhere, but today was the day to spend some time in this neighborhood. I had no idea what I'd find up there, nor did I start the day with any preconceived expectations. It turned out to be an "interesting" day of off-trail exploring.

Click any image to enlarge.

I started off with the nameless canyon to the west of Alamo which I dubbed "Fossil", for reasons you'll see below. The bottom end of this ravine was narrow, rocky and steep, and shaded by mature oaks and maples. The first water I encountered was a milky sky blue and smelled strongly of sulfur. Continuing upward I ranged back and forth along the walls of the ravine, giving special attention to the towering rock walls on the left (E) side. No rock art. No mortars. After discovering the sulfur seep I immediately concluded that the natives wouldn't have placed much value on at least this lowest portion of "Fossil" Canyon.

I continued upward, scrambling up dry waterfalls and jumbled creek bed. Standing pools of water remained iced over in this perpetual shade. I soon cleared the steep scramble and emerged into a close and overgrown ravine, still narrow but widening incrementally. I found numerous animal trails and began moving upstream with little difficulty. On my way up I discovered numerous fossils of clam shells, some quite large. I continued up paths parallel to the dry creek and ranged back and forth from one side of the canyon to the other in a loose zig-zag pattern, just keeping my eyes open. High in the canyon I spotted a large grey fox before he spotted me. That was kind of a treat. Parts of the upper canyon retained healthy oak trees but further upstream the scars of the Zaca Fire became more obvious. Eventually I was getting thrashed in long thickets of wild rose and spiky manzanita. It soon became clear that there wasn't much more to see in "Fossil" Canyon and that it was time to back track and find a way to climb over the eastern ridge of this ravine and descend into Alamo Canyon.

A view back down the lower (N) portion of "Fossil", from high on the east wall of the canyon.

Animal track, better than many of the SLP's "trails".

I located a steep gully which climbed in the direction I wanted to go. Following animal tracks I bypassed a wall of dry waterfalls and continued upward through brush and charred trees. Higher up this gully I discovered more sea shell fossils. Eventually my route narrowed and I was able to see daylight at the top of the gully. I scrambled out of the gully headed northeast and soon found myself weaving through low brush and grasses on a rounded hill (4805). From the top of 4805 I had line-of-sight views to both Sierra Madre Rd and to portions of Buckhorn Rd. I could also see directly down into Alamo Canyon and beyond that, into Santa Barbara Canyon. Cuyama Peak seemed a short distance away ENE.

The top of the gully I chose to get from "Fossil" to Alamo. Note the excellent animal track on the right.

Sierra Madre Rd from Hill 4805.

Alamo Canyon, Cuyama Peak on right, Cerro Noroeste and Mt Pinos in the distance.

I made my way over to the rim of Alamo Canyon and followed a precisely cut and inherently logical deer track which switch-backed down to the creek. In the canyon proper I turned right (S) and headed upstream for quite a while, passing through multiple groves of mature oaks. This was a pleasant park, which alternated from one side of the dry creek to the other. I found a very old and abandoned bush camp but little else of interest. Animal tracks were everywhere, deer, bear, and I happened across several hairy twists of old mountain lion scat. Far up the canyon and under some tall old oaks I disturbed a very large great horned owl. As with the upper portions of "Fossil", this canyon had also been scorched by the Zaca Fire, and I encountered similar problems with prickly scrub. I turned around and headed back downstream, paying attention to aspects of the creek I hadn't travelled on my way up. 

View from the western rim of Alamo Canyon.

Alamo Canyon

I descended the creek and eventually moved past where I'd dropped in from the western ridge. Continuing, I meandered through rocky creek bed fringed with elephant grass and wild rose, dead reeds, scrub oak and poison oak. At some point I rounded a boulder in the iced over stream and saw a fresh, wet and muddy lion print on a mossy stone. At about the same moment my nose caught the bloody scent of raw, red meat. As all this was registering in my mind, my eyes were drawn further around the boulder to a bright red, shredded and gnawed deer carcass. "Uh oh. This is not good." was the first coherent thought that I could put together. This kill was fresh. My hackles rose and a shower of ice particles peppered my gut. My heart rate spiked and my eyes dilated. I turned in several tight circles and thoroughly scoped my surroundings. Nothing. This did not make me feel any more at ease. Another finger of cold awareness trickled down my spine. I knew I was being watched. I slowly backed up into the boulder behind me and searched the reeds, the trees, the rocks, everything, but I just could not shake the feeling that I was not alone, a feeling that needed no imaginative urging. I knew I was being watched. This was the real deal. I slowly unslung my pack, retrieved my camera and snapped two quick shots. It was time to E&E outa here. 

The beginning of Sierra Madre/Buckhorn Rd, from the western rim of Alamo Canyon.

The further I got away from the scene of the kill, the better I felt. Eventually the feeling passed altogether and I was able to relax a bit, though I remained on high alert. As I descended the last hundred yards of the canyon I encountered a sulfur seep similar to that at the bottom of fossil falls, another indicator that the water in this canyon wouldn't have necessarily invited the Chumash to reside at this immediate location. As the cat had demonstrated though, the hunting must have been pretty good. Soon I climbed up onto Sierra Madre/Buckhorn Rd and the adventure came to a close. To finish the day I drove up to Cuyama Peak LO for the sunset (see previous post). 

Like I said, interesting day.

Sulfer seeps abound in the lowest portion of both these drainages.