Monday, April 28, 2014

Hole In The Wall.

Hole In The Wall. A legendary gem of the SLP.
Multiple brutal and bloody attempts have ended in failure, the only knowledge gained having been the elimination of suspected routes of entry. HITW is likely the most remarkable geological landmark in the Southern Los Padres. There are many peaks, many caves, and many drainages and narrows, but there is only one
 Hole In The Wall.

Girded for war. I use archery arm guards turned outward if the brush calls for protection.
Try to imagine the acoustic shell of the Hollywood Bowl, a large and resonant hollow behind the orchestra. Now imagine a similar arch, made entirely of a blend of limestone and sandstone, only much, much taller, wider, and deeper. That's what comes to mind when standing below The Hole. Fully mature spruce and sycamore trees fail to reach even half of the Hole's height. The rim of The Hole hangs 130ft over a small pool of clear water, and a spring seeps from a low apron. The rounded concavity of The Hole is a 75ft climb up ledges and, in the Hole itself, up fragile patinas of limestone. From this vantage the roof of the Hole extends outward at a horizontal angle for about 50ft, and the rest of the rim wraps left in a long arc, going from deeply overhung to a vertical cliff on the southern side of the formation. This place is astonishing, beautiful, unique. It could have been plucked straight out of the haunted cliff dwellings of Canyon de Chelly or Mesa Verde.

This should help put The Hole in scale. Click any image to enlarge it. Photo: Mike S.
As I said, the acoustics reflected off The Hole are incredible. My comrade Mike was 100+ feet away and could hear me rummaging through my pack and opening a Clif Bar wrapper. And Mike, he doesn't hear too good. With one ear we could barely hear a woodpecker at work some distance from The Hole but with the other ear turned toward the Hole we could hear it just fine. The echoic affect was so alien that we found ourselves speaking in hushed tones, yet this was the only time I have ever wished Mike could sing opera (I have never wanted to myself, ever).

Having been around a bit I can honestly say that I've never encountered anything that nature has put in the Los Padres as singularly unique as this place.

There are four condors in this image.
Five in this image.
As for getting there, I am at a loss for the right words to describe the degree of difficulty involved. Before getting to that I should make clear that our route required logistics and brainstorming and failed attempts, and even then our plan shifted on the fly once we were in the shit. And more than just Mike and myself were a part of this overall plan. Every one of us literally bled for this route. That being the case, we regard our route as a trade secret.

Pictures cannot capture the immensity of HITW. A video (below) might help.
The day included numerous uphills and reciprocal losses in elevation. Some of those climbs and descents were dangerous, dancing with disaster. By the end of the day I was able to share with Mike that Los Padres brush doesn't get any worse than what we experienced that day. I can speak about going off-trail through biblical scale brush with some authority. This was the real deal. Miles of it. At times I've attempted to describe what that scenario involves, but words fall short. It was an ugly, bloody day. I bulldozed through a lot of lumber this day. On one occasion a branch sprang back at me striking my eyebrow and tearing a bloody half inch scratch in my lower eyelid before raking off a good patch of nose skin. Faring little better, Mike was covered in cat scratches and even lost a third of one trekking pole somehow. Ugly and bloody. The price of admission to The Hole was paid in blood, sweat, and curse words. Mike held fast and worked hard all day.

Overhead brush is no easy place to stay on course. Both of us pulled together on the navigation and Mike put a fair degree of faith in my course change suggestions. In the end we were able, as a team, to stagger into HITW. We adopted a different route for a good portion of our escape, one which, again,  required some faith. It worked out a bit better than retracing our steps would have. I can look back on this and say that this was probably a one time thing for me. The route was just too brutal to overcome the knowledge of the hell that awaits those that venture into The Hole.

Got into some brush. The brush got me back.
HITW from miles away, taken on an unsuccessful route recon. Courtesy of Mike S.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Canyon Country Cruisin'

The Cuyama Badlands at Muhu Tasen, Quatl Canyon.

Here are some photos from a day spent bouncing up several different canyons while chasing wild geese. A day of research which didn't pan out, but revealed new mysteries to be solved. A day of crawling in holes, climbing up to caves, and scraping through narrow arroyos. Apache Canyon. Quatl Canyon. Santa Barbara Canyon. I explored the vacant flat where Muhu Tasen resides, a juniper studded aluvial plain hosting Native American sweat lodges, dance circles, and Buddhist meditation platforms set against a remarkable backdrop of striped and haunting badland cliffs. A place of incredibly stark beauty. I poked around the drainages creeping away from Santa Barbara Canyon and stopped for a 45 minute chat with Fred Reyes, the rancher whose family has owned Santa Barbara Canyon since 1944. We spoke of paying for feed, praying for rain, selling off the old stuff and the young stuff, keeping the yearlings and the fertile cows, the history of his ranch and of his family in Lockwood Valley. The man is 80 years old, smoked his last cardiac treadmill, and still throws 120lb hay bales around. The old breed. I drove up to Nettle Springs at the head of Apache Canyon, searching for a way to delve a little deeper into the bottom of the San Emigdio Mesa, problem solved but requiring of a return trip. It was a day of exploration, discovery, photography and off-road fun. I've got some good brain food for future follies. 

A desiccated grey fox, found in a cave near Santa Barbara Canyon.
A sweat lodge at Muhu Tasen.
Mortars and ceremonial seashells.
The lava rocks are heated and brought into the sweat lodge.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Indian Wells Canyon

These photos were taken on two separate half-day visits to Indian Wells Canyon. The reason for a second visit was that on the first trip I had been unable to locate two rock art sites at the very top of the canyon. Armed with better intelligence I returned to this alpine desert at the margins of the Southeastern Sierra.

On our first trip Jack and I had been taken aback by the sheer vistalicious beauty of the upper canyon which came as a complete surprise when judged, as we had, by the surrounding desert of the Ridgecrest area. Neither of us had expected the canyon to climb deep into that fragile zone of wildflowers, wind-twisted pines, rabbit bush and joshua trees. The cloud scudded skies cast roving shadows over the dips and swales of the foothills. Jagged stubs of coarse granite scraped the sky and in the distance loomed Owens Peak. It is a stark and stunning kind of place. I knew I had to return.

I could have picked a better day. A low pressure system was gushing into Southern California, bringing fierce gusts of cold wind to the desert. I set out from the Owens Peak trailhead, head down, buffeted by bursts of wind which pushed me around. Brief spits of rain and one or two pellets of hail hit me, and the gale roared in my ears. Clouds ripped across the peaks above me. I zipped up my collar and hunched into my pack. Setting out cross country brought me through fields filled with thousands of multicolored flowers, each species uniquely suited to the harsh vagaries of this environment. My feet clawed at granite and sand as I pushed uphill toward the gargantuan boulders scattered across the slope like icebergs which had calved off the peaks above. Eventually I reached a chunk of grey granite twice the size of my house. Tucked in a large overhang beneath the boulder were vibrant pictographs in red, white, yellow and orange. Humanoids and bulls eyes, and a large ladder in red and white kept company with two riders on horseback. A very rich panel, this one. 

Back out into the wind. Head down, eyes tearing and snot running in the cold alpine hurricane. Genuine rain and hail fell as I hacked my way through the tempest over the mile of cross country to the next site. Two particularly fierce gusts knocked me to the ground just a minute apart. I was grinning ear to ear. Love this shit as I may, I was real grateful to crawl into the painted overhang of another gargantuan hulk of fallen granite. 

This alcove boasted several of the same elements I'd seen at the other site including horsemen, but also had big 
horn sheep in white, sunbursts around bulls eye wheels, and a large flower shaped mandala which is theorized to have a representative connection to the ghost dance most often associated with Plains Indians and tribes of the Southwest. Both sites were remarkable, and beautiful. I feel lucky to have seen these.

After getting shoved around by the wind some more I reached the truck and headed down canyon to another point of interest, a mining camp tucked up a side canyon. Several acres of tilted canyon are occupied by rusting equipment, rusting trucks, shaky outbuildings and a dilapidated two story "house".  A half mile further revealed a couple collapsed mine shafts. All in all I was very happy with my explorations in Indian Wells.

I moved down the 14 toward Mojave and pulled out at Jawbone Canyon. I drove up to the top of the canyon while trying to identify landmarks for trying to pin down another site somewhere in there. I know that place a little better now though I still have a lot of questions about where exactly that site might be. I also need to check out the next big canyon south of Jawbone, Lone Tree.

I got buffeted by that same wind all the way back to Mojave and through the Antelope Valley. Though it wasn't exactly the day for it, I took time to pull out for the fields of gold, the Califonia Poppies which are blooming by the millions right now. That, my friends, is a site worth seeing. Take a drive out to the Poppy Preserve this week and you won't regret it.

Horsemen, Bulls Eyes, Anthropomorphs

Bighorns and Sunbursts
Bighorn Sheep
A mandala theorized to represent a ghost dance.
An air compressor for a drill, Nadeau-Magnolia Gold Mine
Nadeau-Magnolia Mine
The Siebert Family's Mining Camp

A look down Indian Wells Canyon
California Poppies gone nuts

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Doheny Hacienda, Ferndale Ranch, Santa Paula

Daniel Day-Lewis won a best actor Oscar for his portrayal of a ruthless and driven California oilman. The movie was There Will Be Blood, and the character was based on the main player in Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel Oil!, which was loosely based on the life of Edward Doheny.
The Doheny Hacienda at Thomas Aquinas

Here's another of my local history lessons. If you've ever walked up Santa Paula Canyon past Thomas Aquinas College toward the Punch Bowls, then you have also passed right by the summer home of one Edward Doheny. This is the same Doheny of Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, the Doheny Mansion on the campus of Mt St Mary College in Los Angeles, and Doheny Beach at Dana Point. So clearly he was an import man in his day. How important? Think Rockefeller, or Hearst. Or any of the other rail barons, land barons, or captains of turn of the century industry. Doheny was the oil tycoon in that crowd.

Margaret Leslie Davis in her biography of Doheny, The Dark Side of Fortune, wrote "Doheny's story is one of enigmatic fate, poverty and wealth, renown and disgrace, fortune and tragedy. A tale of the skeleton, ever present at the banquet table, a reminder that fortune has a dark, hidden side.".

Doheny was born in 1856 to poor Irish laborers. At a young age he demonstrated the drive and intellect that would later propel him to wealth and power. He graduated from his Wisconsin high school as valedictorian at the age of 15. His father died shortly after he graduated, and Edward took a job with the US Geological Survey, surveying and sub-dividing the Kiowa-Comanche lands in Kansas. From there he moved on to prospecting in the Black Hills of North Dakota, in Arizona, and eventually in New Mexico. He was never successful as a prospector but while working for the famed Iron King mine in New Mexico he met two individuals who would play important roles in his life. One of these men was Albert Fall, who would become the Secretary of the Interior. The other, Charles Canfield would become his business partner.

Canfield had had some success developing and leasing mining interests in New Mexico and had taken $110,000 in profits with him to purchase and develop property in Los Angeles. During this period Doheny was broke, and reduced to working odd jobs just to feed himself. Doheny left New Mexico in 1891, attracted by Canfield's success in the Los Angeles real estate market. By the time Doheny had arrived in LA he was deeply in debt, and Canfield's fortunes had turned. Real estate in los Angeles had become an unsustainable bubble, and the main issue with speculative values failed to take into account the lack of water that Los Angeles would need to sustain growth (this is before William Mulholland really took over LA's water future). The bubble busted and almost overnight Canfield had gone broke.

The two became business partners in prospecting venture near San Diego. This effort was a complete failure and by 1892 Doheny was not only broke, he was so destitute as to be unable to even afford room or board.

Doheny returned to Los Angeles and with a $400 investment from Canfield he sunk the first oil producing well in LA, at what is now the corner of Patton and West State streets. This 225 foot deep well produced 40 barrels per day for three years, during which Doheny reinvested every cent in the creation of more drilling wells, 300 new wells in that three years to be precise. He made a fortune. His wealth further increased when in the early 1900s he persuaded the rail industry to switch from coal to oil fueled engines. Meanwhile the car industry in California exploded. Doheny expanded his oil empire into Tampico, Mexico and later developed interests in Venezuela and Honduras.

The Doheny oil fields on Signal Hill, at the border between Los Angeles and Long Beach.
Doheney and his granddaughter, Lucy Estelle, in 1928.
Doheny's reputation took a hit in the early 1920s. His old associate, Albert Fall, was by now the Secretary of the Interior. Fall had been indicted by Congress for taking bribes in what became known as the Teapot Dome Scandal, which started as a $100,000 "gift" to facilitate oil production in Wyoming. During the investigation it was revealed that Fall had taken a similar bribe from Doheny in reference to the Elk Hills Naval Petroleum Reserve near Taft, California. This bribe of $110,000 was apparently handed over "in a little black bag" to Fall by Doheny's son Ned, and Ned's secretary Theodor Hugh Plunkett. As the scandal exploded the Dohenys lawyered up, but Plunkett was thrown under the proverbial bus. Plunkett became increasingly embittered and unstable and is believed to have returned to Greystone Mansion and shot and killed Ned in an apparent murder-suicide which has never been 100% resolved as fact. There were some mysterious rumors of a cover-up, as is often the case when the super-rich don't want their laundry aired in the press. 

Doheny and his wife, Estelle were devout Catholics. They, especially Estelle, became noted for her philanthropy in their later years. Most of their gifts and endowments went to Catholic learning institutions and churches. The land on which Thomas Aquinas College sits, between Santa paula and Ojai, was owned by the Dohenys. In 1970 the property was purchased for the creation of the college for greater than two million dollars, paid for by Larry Barker of San Francisco. Included with the property was a small hacienda which the Dohenys had built in the 1920s.

The Hacienda is a beautiful Spanish adobe, built in a horseshoe around a central lawn. The structure was designed by Wallace Neff, a prominent architect to the wealthy during that era. The house was constructed in just 90 days. The home has a comfortable living room and large dining area, several up and downstairs bedrooms, a laundry, and a chapel. The chapel is attached the last room on one wing of the house and features an odd mix of old world and deco era statuary and lighting. It was cosecrated as holy ground by the Archbishop of Los Angeles at the Doheny's request.

The ground are lush and feature old oaks, maples, sycamore, and redwoods. Off the back of the horseshoe home is a long fairway of open grass. Three ponds descend toward highway 150, following the driveway. These are quiet and beautiful water features which draw from the adjacent Santa Paula Creek. On the small hill west of the house the college has placed and ascending walkway with the stations of the cross. This walk is very quiet, shaded by oaks, and the placards at the stations were rescued from an old Catholic chapel in Ojai before it was torn down and replaced. On the north side of the property is a man-made grotto with a statue of the Virgin Mary. This grotto is a replica of one that can be found on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. In all, this is the kind of place I would love to borrow for a summer so I could write the book I'll never get around to. The Dean of Thomas Aquinas resides in the Hacienda today.

I want to thank David G. for the opportunity to see the Hacienda and the new basilica on the campus. It was certainly a treat.

An art deco rendition of Mary with laser god-rays. In the chapel at the Hacienda.

The Hacienda living room.

The Hacienda dining room.

The outside of the chapel at the Hacienda.

The grotto.

An outdoor kneeler below an icon of the crucifixion.

The start of the walk with the stations of the cross.
The driveway and the middle of three ponds.