Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Deer Creek, Santa Monica Mountains

Here's a day that deviated dramatically from the original plan. Jack Elliott and I had traveled down to County Line with the intention of going spearfishing but upon arrival the conditions were junk. The water was choppy, the kelp laid over in the current, and the water clarity wrecked by a heavy shore break. Fortunately we'd both brought our dirt kits for Plan B. 

I'd once heard a rumor that there was a something or other, Chumash in nature, somewhere up Deer Creek Canyon. Most of the drainages along the Central California Coast which empty to the sea used to be ideal real estate for Native living. The combination of fresh water and ocean access, a temperate coastal environment, and easy access to the hills made this coastline a highly desirable and seemingly easy place to forage, fish, and live... at least until the Spanish arrived with their crucifixes, slavery, and exotic pathogens, that is.

Most of the creeks which empty to the sea bear the signs of long-term Chumash habitation, some as year round villages, some as more seasonal or transient sites. Many of these village sites are under brick, mortar, and asphalt, as in the low lying coastal areas of Ventura, Carpinteria, and Santa Barbara. A common sign of long term use in such areas are large scatterings of seashell and bone shards called midden piles. A look at these coastal middens give an immediate insight into aspects of the native diet and food resources. A middens pile in these coastal environs will be riddled with fragments of clam, mussel, and abalone shells. 

So having shelved our original plan for the day we drove to the top of Deer Creek Canyon and weren't all that surprised to stumble into such a place shortly after ducking into the canyon. Sea shell shards were strewn among the leaf litter in a wide circumference around two bedrock mortars. This site lay on a small flat, nicely shaded by mature oaks, and immediately adjacent to the watercourse. After a wider sweep of the area we determined that there was no accompanying rock art in the vicinity. We returned to the truck and drove back down Deer Creek Road a little bit and pulled out. Here we walked over to the rim of the canyon for a better look at the lower aspects of the drainage, just to get a better idea of wether we'd missed any significant rock formations lower down the creek. Several hundred feet below us we spied a cluster of large boulders begging for a thorough look. We walked back up to the truck, kitted back up, and dropped off the rim of the canyon into a scruffy terrain of rocks and brush. 

Arriving at the boulders in the creek we scoured them for any signs Chumash, to no avail. Being kind of dumb people we decided "What the hell? Why not finish out the canyon?". Now, the dominant life form in Santa Monica Mountains watersheds is, you guessed it, poison oak. In short order my prognosis was grim, I'd have to drown myself in a bath of Tec-Nu solvent for a day or so. Of course, lucky devil that he is, Jack seems immune to that infernal plant. Jerk. We finished out the canyon fairly quickly, mostly because it wasn't any fun and there wasn't anything of interest worth stopping for. Arriving at the bottom of the canyon we emerged back onto Deer Creek Road. This left us an unpleasant two mile road climb back to the truck, and naturally, being so close to LA's unkind masses, a desperate thumb hung at oncoming cars did no good whatsoever. Humbug.

Poison Oak Paradise.


  1. Should have dove, the vis was 30+ on the outside

  2. Perhaps we should have. At least I now know what's up with Deer Creek. -DS