Friday, July 25, 2014

A Day at the Spa: Matilija Canyon

Summertime, and the living's easy...
as long as you stay at the beach.

It's official, the year to date has been California's hottest on record, and this summer has been scalding, simmering, and scorching for those moving around the backcountry. I know I've gotten nuked pretty much every time I've been out since early June. Those that follow this page may have noted a distinct drop in activity this July. I do apologize, but frankly I'm a little tired of getting boiled every time I go out.

To this end I remembered that there is this place I used to visit too frequently, a place with tall waterfalls and deep pools, an eden of sorts. I needed the sound of running water, the splash of small falls, and a good dunking in cool, clear fresh water. Jack Elliott joined up for an easy day of R&R up Matilija way.

Matilija is proving to be surprisingly drought resistant. We hit all the spots. We charged to the falls at the top of the canyon and took our time coming out, dunking liberally in the cool creek. We both pondered this notion that it had been too long since we'd heard water, and that it seemed we were both out beating ourselves to a pulp so frequently that this gentle day of creekside refreshment seemed a gift from the creator, like a day at the spa. Since I'm not inclined to get all rhapsodic about the natural wonder that is Matilija, I'll let my photos do the talking. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Temblor Range and Elkhorn Plain

A lone tree at Beam Flat, Elkhorn Plain

With temperatures soaring to the triple digits, yet needing to get out and see something new, I decided on a driving tour of the Elkhorn Plain and Temblor Hills on the eastern border of the Carrizo Plain. The Elkhorn is very similar in nature to the Carrizo but somewhat smaller in terms of acreage, though this region feels even more desolate and remote. It is a moon-like environment right now, parched and empty.  Various routes climb up to the Temblor Ridge, most of which are narrow canyon trails twisting east from Elkhorn Road. Driving through the Elkhorn Plain with a 2-wheel drive vehicle can be done without difficulty but driving up to the Temblors and along the ridge almost certainly asks for 4-wheel. 

The Temblor Ridge drive offers spectacular views of both the Carrizo and the Elkhorn Plains and long views into the oil fields of Taft. The north part of the ridge can be confusing due to the numerous ranch roads which criss-cross the ridge. Finding Hurricane Road will return travelers to Elkhorn Road and the Carrizo. I enjoyed my driving excursion and pulled off frequently when new sights and views of note required a photo. Sometimes it's fun to explore from behind the wheel, and this route was a great example of that. Enjoy the photos.

The Elkhorn Plain and Temblor Range from atop the Elkhorn Hills.
Elkhorn Plain.

Elkhorn Road
One way to dispose of a vehicle, Temblor Range.
View from atop Temblor Ridge.
Panorama Hills and the Carrizo Plain, from Temblor Ridge Road.
Temblor Ridge.
Another view of the Temblor Range.
Deep canyons beneath the Temblor Range.
A view from the Temblors looking east toward Taft.
The Temblors.
Descending Hurricane Road into the Carrizo.
Soda Lake.
Soda Lake.
Soda Lake.

The Trans-Desert Express.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Exploration of Lower Lion Canyon

Lower Lion Canyon from the crest separating Branch Canyon and Lion Canyon.
Another day in the Los Padres furnace, this time on the north (Cuyama) side of the Sierra Madre Ridge. For those who've correlated the presence of large rock formations and nearby water sources with the presence of rock art, the formations tumbling out of Lion Canyon might stimulate some speculatory salivation. This is how Jack Elliott and I came to find ourselves melting in the glare of a desert sun, trudging up, down, over, and under glaring white sandstone slabs in a seldom visited corner of our forest.
The yellow track describes this day's perambulations.
Somehow we were able to thread our way into Branch Canyon without encountering a "No Trespassing" sign. This involved some zig-zagging shenanigans but we just kept getting lucky. We encountered several gates which were chained but not pad-locked. Not seeing the expected signs prohibiting entry we remarked on our fortune and took this as an invitation to scooch on through with both a clear-ish conscience and no one the wiser. With lady luck on our side we drove well into Branch Canyon and began our rambling day at advantageous vantage.

An overhead view of the Lower Search Area.

With an unexpectedly good head start on the day we set out, headed further up Branch Canyon for a ways before climbing cross-country over a ridge which separates Branch from Lion Canyon. At the crest of the ridge we had a great view up and down the lower half of Lion. Well down canyon from where we stood were several collections of large white sandstone formations. Looking diagonally up canyon was another low bluff of sandstone with a nearby butte. We continued southeast across a large slope of low brush, dipping into and out of several arroyos along our way to this upper set of formations. 

The butte mentioned above.
A deep slot, cut by run-off, in the upper part of our search area.

We reached the butte with relative ease and ascended a sloping apron of rock beneath it. Nearby was a deep water worn cleft, and beyond that were long aprons of decaying white sandstone. I climbed east out of the canyon to a small rise and got my first good look at the rock jumbles spilling out of Upper Lion Canyon. From the top of Sierra Madre Ridge looking down this upper part of the canyon one gets a sense that some adventurous country lies below. Looking up from below was no less interesting. For those with an affinity for rocky canyons and slots, this looks like an exciting sort of place. Unfortunately, an exploration of this upper part of the canyon would probably be best attempted from above, descending through the canyon. Still, I'd always wanted a close look at this part of the forest. It's an impressive piece of terrain.

The formations of Upper Lion Canyon.
This is not rock art. This particular boulder was tiered with thin strata of a more iron-rich rock. As various lumps on the boulder eroded with wind and rain these strata were exposed, leaving the spectacular whorls seen above.

Returning to the canyon bottom we turned downstream. I was only late morning but the day was already viscously hot. There was little shade to be had in this upper part of our morning but as we descended toward Lower Lion Spring we encountered several large and lush cottonwoods. Lounging in the shade of these beauties we let the sweat evaporate and watched heat shimmer off the surrounding canyon. The day was stifling, quiet, devoid of movement. We moved from tree to tree until the trees ran out. Given the choice of following a cow path another .25 miles down to more cottonwoods and the spring we decided it was just too cookin' hot to move further from the exits. Sometimes you just have to think in terms of self interest. It was one of those little "I want to but I don't want to." decisions.  A factor in this choice was that neither of us had read anything which indicated anything of interest at this lower spring.

Instead, we turned uphill and west, headed for a large assortment of rock formations which had looked intriguing on the satellite. This was a somewhat remarkable pile, consisting of hollowed run-offs, shaded alcoves, steep slippery slabs, jagged towers and misshapen hoodoos, pockmarked owl cliffs and shallow caves. If it hadn't been so dang hot I would have enjoyed this acreage more. As it was we were forced to repeatedly move from shade to shade, retreating from the blinding sun like some vagrant species of vampire cavemen. We did our best to poke around but our search wasn't thorough. I found evidence of a spring which had dried out, just a hollow under some scrub oak. A blue jay and some type of magpie fluttered off as I approached, and a jack rabbit bounded away from beneath the trees. The place smelled like water and I bet if I'd dug deep enough I could have produced a trickle of moisture. Still, I'm glad that wasn't even remotely in the cards. We had cold drinks on ice waiting at the truck, so we crawled out of the shade, traversed over a low ridge and completed the loop by turning a short distance back up Branch Canyon. We arrived somewhat nuked but no worse for wear.

Jack bearing the weight of the sun.