Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Munson Creek and Unnamed Drainage

Jack Elliott traversing out of upper Munson Creek.

This short day of off-trail shenanigans turned into a bit of a blood-letting. The point was to go explore  a lengthy band of jutting sandstone which transects Munson Creek, explore the creek itself, and descend back to Hwy 33 using an adjacent unnamed drainage. We managed all that and uncovered a bit more.

First, I need to say that I'm so friggin happy it's Fall that I could pee myself. So nice to feel a briskness in the early morning air and a chill in the deeper shadows, to know that the day isn't going to be hampered by heat, and to sense that weird quality of autumn where the shadows are a little longer and the angle of the sun is a little lower. There's an essence in our forest that changes with the Fall, the air and light and animal sounds and crackling grasses and dribbling creeks all speak of a hope for rain. I'm almost ready to commit to saying that this is my favorite time of year in these parts. 

Click image to enlarge.

Munson Creek has been on my list for quite a while. I'm not sure why I've put it off for so long. Maybe it is because I've never heard anything spectacular about the place. Maybe it's because of a pronounced history of illegal marijuana farming. It might be because there aren't any real trails or intriguing mysteries to resolve. Whatever, it is but a fond memory and some superficial scratches now. These days I lean toward appreciating the experience as much or more than whatever destination may await me.

Jack and I hit it at sunrise, meandering up a short stretch of brushed up creek bed. After a bit we came to a subtle fork, a thinner branch of the creek that snuck in from the northeast. I'd already identified this branch as something i'd like to explore as it took a easterly route to a fantastic stack of sandstone. We trudged through the brambles until reaching a small flat. Immediately above us were two towers of stone which were bisected by a disorganized trough of large boulders. We had a merry time busting through brush and scrambling over and around the rocks. At the top of this mess we slipped into a gaping crevice, the result of a huge face of stone which had calved off the larger formation. This crevice was a natural passage between the larger formations. We exited into an oak forest on the north side of this lower band of Munson formations.

The "crevice" which ushered us through to the north side of this lower band of rock.

Immediately upon stepping out of that narrow slot we stumbled upon an abandoned marijuana operation. Further investigation revealed a large area that had been under cultivation either within the this most recent season or a year previous. I'm leaning toward thinking that this had been recent based on the lack of leaf litter on all the trash and implements we discovered.

Tools of the trade (and below).
We did a bit of exploring to the east. I rock climbed into an alcove eighty feet off the deck, and found myself having difficulty reversing those moves. Got the ole adrenal glands pumping, that's for sure. After that episode we turned west, following a huge rock formation down to the proper Munson Creek. From a high point over the creek we had fantastic views to the east and west of this same band of jutting rock as it continued parallel across the foot of Reyes Peak. 

We dropped into Munson Creek again and turned upstream. Things got mighty brushy and unpleasant despite the existence of an old narco trail to follow. We zigged and zagged through the drainage, busting brush in places, getting busted by brush in others. This went on for a fair bit before we came upon a small and sheltered waterfall. Naturally, this clear little falls had black irrigation line draped out of it, presumably the same line that fed the pot grow well downstream. Beyond the falls the brush thinned out and the drainage climbed up under Reyes. Here we backtracked and started the process of climbing out of Munson and into another canyon just to the west.

The falls on upper Munson Creek is tucked beneath these rocks.
A look back down Munson Creek.
Jack, climbing out of Munson.

Our scramble out of Munson was inelegant, a clawing climb until we reached another series of huge rock fins. Atop these, and safely out of Munson, we stood gazing down into a distant potrero framed by the same band of jumbled sandstone which transects lower Munson Creek. The next question was how to get down there. From the looks of it we'd have to go full brush ninja. So we did. The racket of brush snapping, hurled insults, imaginative curses, fleeing wildlife, all of it would have been hilarious to hear from a safe distance. By the end of it I was bleeding from a dozen places and looked forward to enduring a week's worth of the usual questions and the resulting comments in my dealings with everybody else who's not me. I usually just say I spent the day off-trail, this is both foreign and unfathomable to people. It's like saying you spent the weekend juggling fourteen ginsu knives. People just don't get it.

In the sights, that pretty little meadow below.
Donated blood at the office.

Even amusing descents come to an end, and we shook the sticks out of our ears as we strolled into that large meadow. There is one really unusual feature about this little valley, that any water draining off the potrero drips over a series of white slabs, funneled into a narrow slot which terminates in a decent waterfall, but it's what's in the water that grabs the attention. I've seen several natural salt seeps in the forest but nothing on this scale. Everywhere these slabs are crusted over by an eighth inch frosting of granulated salt crystals. All around are stagnant pools of brine, so salty that the water glares white in the sun. The salt content of some of these pools is so high that the actual salt has precipitated out and settled on the bottom. This was a fascinating type of place. Additionally, I explored back east a ways, checking out the ever present rock towers. Later, we found a way down the waterfall at the bottom of the meadow and continued a short jaunt downstream to the highway. 

Well it was another fine day out there in our wilds. Go out and get some.

Salt, salty salt.
Salt slabs beneath the meadow.
The falls beneath the potrero, just a shallow pool of stagnant water beneath.


  1. Nice run gents! Wholeheartedly agree, fall in the SLP is prime time. Hmmmmm, pretty intriguing..... might have to head up there and check out those salt licks.

  2. The salt pools seem unexpected, almost Death Valley-ish. Stumbling on an active grow operation has to rate up there as far as SLP dangers go. Were those airguns in that picture or something more potent?

  3. The salt slabs are the gypsum that the local mines were after. Those rocks and that pool on the exit look very familiar from joining Craig Carey on a mission of tamarisk removal. There was quite a big one at the edge of the pool under the falls.

  4. What a great outing. I've wanted to explore the sandstone fins for quite some time, just did not know how to make the approach. Thanks for the report.