Sunday, March 30, 2014

Goat Springs Canyon(s), Carrizo Plain


Early last year Jack and I hiked out to the old Caliente Mountain lookout high above the Carrizo. On the return trip we had peered down the various canyons and gullies that descend to the Plain, noting that several of these drainages held numerous rock formations. These were of interest to both of us at the time, in the sense that there might be rock art or evidence of Chumash presence in  these out of the way places. I've seen most of the rock art sites on public lands within the boundaries of the Carrizo, though a couple have eluded me. I thought that the rocky, cave pocked drainages of Goat Springs might contain something of interest, and after really looking over the arials I'd concluded that dipping into these remote canyons would be interesting and entertaining regardless of what I found. As it turned out, I was glad that I hadn't gotten carried away with the expectation that I'd find anything Chumash (I didn't, but if I had the title of this post would not say "Goat Springs".) but the day was fun nonetheless.

The day started from the trailhead on Caliente Ridge. There is no way to approach these canyons from below without trespassing on ranch land still owned and used by Kern Land Company (KCL Ranch). Trying to approach through the ranch land is a one-off. There are numerous No Trespassing signs from any direction off the Plain one might attempt, and if at first you don't see those signs there are a bunch more just to make sure you get the point. So, Caliente Ridge it was. The ridge itself is pretty nice, and while cycling out to my jump-off point I was afforded nice views of the Carrizo on one side and the Cuyama Valley on the other. After about 4.5 miles in I pulled off, dropped the bike behind a big juniper and got kitted up for a descent into the unknown. 



My path downward wove between and around stands of juniper and manzanita, though the more I descended the thicker things got. I wasn't long before I was really ducking, weaving, and scraping my way through the increasingly dense vegetation. Eventually I was presented with an opportunity to drop off the shoulder I'd been descending. I stared off the edge of a sixty degree slide, down to the upper reaches of the eastern of the two Goat Springs drainages, and went for it. My skiing antics left a billowing rooster tail of fine Carrizo dust hanging in my wake. That was fun, but too soon I was in the belly of the gulch, surrounded by towering bluffs of unstable sandstone decorated by deep caves and bird nests. A squad of ravens wheeled and cavorted overhead, their harsh calls echoing off the canyon walls.

The wind made caves in the canyon were highly degraded. Fragile patinas of sand clung to the walls of each cave, waiting for the next gust of wind to break the bonds. These cave floors were many inches thick with the powdered remains of the mother rock. Later, I encountered the first real obstacle in the descent, a vertical forty foot water channel which fell off a small bluff. I down climbed past this and continued downstream a short distance and ran into another sheer rim, this one much higher and taller than the last. This drop arched horizontally across the entire span of the canyon bottom (below) creating a huge natural amphitheater. Getting around this one was tricky. Below that I scoured piles of rock rubble and more empty caves without finding anything of interest. I traversed up and out of this dry, eastern canyon and headed to the western one.

East branch Goat Springs canyon
Here's where things got really interesting, in unexpected ways. Most of you probably haven't been physically threatened by a falcon, hawk, or eagle before. These birds can be aggressive during nesting season. My dad is a field study volunteer in Washington and has been hit by raptors two or three times, in particular by an asshole bald eagle that tore his scalp open with his talons. Long ago, while traveling cross-country in the Sierras, my friend Dale was knocked to the ground without warning by a golden eagle. I was standing right next to him and didn't even know what had happened until it was over. Once, while climbing in Cochise Stronghold in Arizona I was almost knocked off the wall by a peregrine who kept circling and perching at points all along the 600 foot route, making sure that I knew the he knew that I was there. I've also been dive bombed by a nesting owl. It's a startling experience.

Prairie falcons have a well deserved reputation for being extremely aggressive in defending their nests. As I turned the corner and started up the western canyon one such falcon dove (scared the crap outa me!), air braked about twenty feet over my head, and began orbiting me at a height of about fifty feet. Soon he was joined by his mate (below) and they both started up with an eerie, high pitched "kee-ying" sound.  I paused to keep an eye on them and the male swooped again, passing beside me about twenty feet away and ten feet overhead. During the fly by I could clearly see him turn his head to glare at me before letting out with an unearthly shriek at my face. Clearly they didn't care for my uninvited presence. I put my camera away (duh) and started up the canyon again. Thirty seconds later my presence spooked a huge great horned owl out of it's roost on the canyon wall to my right. This was just too much for the falcon, who immediately dove on the slower and lower owl. The poor owl was moving as fast as he could but nothing out-flys a falcon. This all happened in the blink of an eye, just forty feet away from me. I saw the falcon streak into the owl like a missile. Feathers flew and the owl wobbled a bit. He flapped furiously to get down the canyon but moments later the falcon struck him again. More feathers. The last I saw of the owl he'd ducked into some scrub. The falcon climbed out of the low trees and returned to his orbit. A few moments later he perched on a high boulder and resumed glaring at me. After a minute or two of that, the plucky falcon took off to harass some ravens who'd come to see what all the ruckus was about, while his mate continued circling high over where I assumed the nest must be. High drama!

The prairie falcon and his mate. Click to enlarge.
Up-canyon from the aggravated falcon I discovered a huge amphitheater, wider and taller than the one in the eastern branch. This one more resembled the huge overhangs of Mesa Verde or Canyon de Chelly in the Southwest (below). The canyon had reared up overhead it seemed. A single drip...drip of water came off the slabs 100 feet above. Beneath the huge overhang were two tiers that undercut the roof, deep and impressive. I have not seen the like elsewhere in the Carrizo. 


The amphitheater on west Goat Springs.


I climbed out of the amphitheater and continued up to it's top. This was quite a view, looking back down the way I'd come. This had been a great little exploration and I'm glad I went. Neat stuff, but a steep and brushy climb back to the road needed to be done, and then more miles of up/down back to that sandwich in the cooler. After that I motored around a bit to a couple Carrizo curiosities I hadn't yet seen (photos follow).


Above the massive overhang on west branch, Goat Springs Canyon.

The Plain, from Caliente Ridge.

Soda Lake Road.

These two ancient Airstream style trailers are just parked out in the middle of nowhere.

Inside the first trailer I found a mummified bird and a sombrero. Such random things must be brought together, so I perched the bird on the hat. This should bemuse the next person to discover the trailers.


The road out to Quail Springs. There is water there, and a collection of wildlife tracks par excellence.

Mt Pinos from Klepstein Canyon.

1 comment:

  1. The Bird & The Sombrero. Classic Carrizo!

    Great Shot David.

    ReplyDelete