Saturday, August 30, 2014

Grouse Mtn, Sawmill Mtn, and Sheep Camp

The view into Pine Mountain Club from the Cerro Noroeste trailhead

Finally. A day without some superseding priority. But too hot for any low-land trails. So up to 8k and the rolling forest between Mt Abel (Cerro Noroeste) and Mt Pinos. The Tumamait, one of my favorite standard trails in the SLP

I prefer to start this route from it's western trailhead at Mt Abel. A rapid descent into a dense cedar forest ends in a moderate climb up the western flank of Grouse Mountain. The trail ascends through a thick collection of spruce, pine, and cedar and during this climb I spooked a pair of young deer who quickly disappeared into the woods. The air here is simply delicious, dry and richly scented with pine. New growth saplings have sprung up everywhere, mostly spruce. Eventually the path levels off, passing beneath the summit of Grouse, where a simple rock cairn indicates the use trail to the summit. Cresting the peak I spooked a pair of young deer. The view from the top looks southwest over an ocean of trees toward Reyes Peak. Looking northeast through the trees one can see my next stop, Sawmill Mountain.

View south from the western trailhead.
New growth spruce.

The use trail ascending through cedars to the summit of Grouse.
The view toward Reyes Peak from the summit of Grouse.

The rounded summit of Mt Pinos, from the west.

On the way to Sawmill I spotted a pair of older does. I paused to watch these graceful ladies fade into the woods before resuming the gentle climb up to the summit. On arrival I realized that the prayer flags adorning the summit cairn were looking pretty sad, so I set about restringing the whole arrangement. This is a unique little spot. The cairn, the open views to the north, the ever-present breeze, all of it combines to make Sawmill feel very different than the typical Los Padres summit experience. Granted, there's nothing difficult about getting here, but some places don't need to put one through their paces to be rewarding.

View from Sawmill. The big peak dominating the right side of the frame is Antimony. Following that ridge left and past the nameless middle hump, one can see Eagle Rest Peak.
The newly rehabilitated cairn on Sawmill.

On the return trip I detoured down the trail which leads to Sheep Camp, Lilly Meadows, and all the way down to the Boy Scout Camp in Lockwood Valley. It had been many, many years since I'd seen Sheep Camp and fond memories came percolating up from the ether. This is one of the quintessential Los Padres campsites, a small vale tucked beneath whispering cedars, graced by a flowering meadow beside a seasonal ground spring. A short climb above the camp reveals stunning westward views, a primo sunset spot. Sheep has a well deserved reputation for beautiful seclusion. It is also a notorious wind tunnel, but today was perfect. After a walk around I sat very still on a log, just enjoying the place. Within about five minutes the character of the place came alive. Dozens of little birds, woodpeckers, and jays forgot that I was there, and a chorus of chatter quickly rose to ridiculous heights. A couple chipmunks darted out from behind a large cedar and a huge gray squirrel descended from a hidden perch. I took it all in for about twenty minutes before turning back uphill to the main trail.

A mild, pleasurable day. One without challenges, struggle, or oppressive heat. Sometimes this prickly forest of ours is a real giver.

The trail down to Sheep Camp.
Sheep Camp.
And the meadow immediately below Sheep Camp.
Cuyama Wash dominating the distant view, from somewhere east of Grouse.
The San Emigdio Mesa and Cuyama Badlands, taken from Cerro Noroeste Road.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Dry Times: East & West Forks Lions Creek

East Fork Falls

As the drought has unfolded I've developed a curiosity about which of our backcountry water sources   are still producing some flow. Granted, most drainages out there are stunningly dry, but I've seen a couple places lately that have withstood the trend to a degree. With a half day of free time on my hands I decided on a quick circuit between the east and west forks of Lions Creek. 

In a normal year there are pleasant falls up both forks, happily little gushers crashing into turquoise pools framed by cobbled conglomerate rock. Both falls are sheltered by magnificent old sycamores which caste a deep and dappled shade over the bubbling creek as it descends the rocky drainage. On a warm spring day each of these becomes an Eden of sorts, beautiful little gems of the Los Padres. 

I was hoping. But it was not to be. As a man once said, "Wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which one fills up first." So no, there isn't any water at either falls. Immediately below East Lions there were a few stagnant pools of buggy water. The story at the West Falls was little better. No flow over the falls, but in the forested creek below there was a stretch of trickling ground water, feeding several shallow pools. A six inch trout swam unhurried laps from from one end of his 15ft puddle to the other. Water walkers, dragonflies, butterflies, and an itinerant Anna's hummingbird completed the scene. In the overhead canopy a gentle breeze ruffled the leaves, a dove flapped from branch to branch. I leaned back against rough bark and listened to the forest for a bit before gathering myself for the return trip. She told me she is thirsty.

The Creek descending from East Fork Lions.

This is the time in summer when the prickly stuff blooms.
The creek below West Fork Falls (and below).

Thorn Point from the Lions Connector Trail

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Then and Now: Painted Rock, Carrizo Plain

Painted Rock on the Carrizo, circa 1929.

 The Carrizo Plain underwent increasing settlement by white ranchers and farmers during the first two decades of the 1900's, peaking by the late 1920's. In the years that followed many ranch and farming operations failed and were consolidated with their more successful neighbors. Eventually these too folded and today the Carrizo has become a patchwork of land that is either government owned, privately held, or held in trust. The designation of the Carrizo as a National Monument has had various effects, one of these being the increased recreational traffic associated with Monument status. Hunters, birders, rock art and history aficionados, hikers and road trippers can all find something in the Carrizo worth seeing, and many of these folks walk out to Painted Rock for a look at some Chumash rock art.

Painted Rock, always one of the principle attractions of the Carrizo Plain, has had a tough go. The art there has most definitely suffered at the hands of generations of visitors. Seeing the site as it is today is still a mystical experience, the paintings there so grand and complicated as to inspire those esoteric questions: Who were these people? How did they live? What were their beliefs and what gods held sway in their lives? And most of all, what does all this paint I'm looking at mean? Unfortunately, there is a type of person that doesn't ask those questions and derives no intrinsic value from what they are viewing. Often, those types of people suffer from an irresistible compulsion to commemorate their brief passing in such a way that they destroy a part of something that has historic/cultural value and ethno-religious significance. It's a tagger mentality, but the crimes are worse (remember when the Taliban turned their tank guns on two ancient stone Bhuddas? Same sort of deal.) The damage done to native art sites cannot be taken back, nor can it be repaired.

Case in point: Painted Rock. Monogrammed initials, some quite nicely rendered, can be found chiseled clean through art elements here. Many date back to the early 1900's, but there are examples which precede even those. Hundreds of bullet scars pock these walls, each shot having shattered the fragile sandstone on which these pictographs are painted. There are signs of deliberate chiseling, as if to remove a flake of painted rock for one's own keeping. I imagine that in most cases such efforts resulted in a crumbling fragment of painted stone much smaller than initially intended. There are numerous examples of inartfully scratched names and dates, and in an ill considered trend among archaeologists of the 1940's-1950's, many of the paintings have been outlined in white chalk. This practice was done to maintain some semblance of the image as it faded due to natural occurrences such as wind or sun exposure (also, see comments below, where I learn something I didn't know). Sadly, calcium carbonate (chalk) is actually harmful to many of the paints the natives used.

To illustrate what has been lost at this site, compare the black and white photos from a 1929 publication by Julian Steward with the contemporary photos taken by myself and Michael Shields. The comparison is quite sad really.

The same panel as above, seen today.

A different portion of the panel as seen in 1929.

And today.

Campbell Grant's painting of the main panel at the Painted Rock. Click to enlarge

So these images represent a potent example of why I don't share site directions or locations. Some good tips for those beginners seeking out the painted sites would be to approach the art slowly, when inside caves or overhangs be extra careful of where you put you head and butt so you don't bump into any art above or behind you, try to stay at least 3ft away from the art, be careful not to kick up any dust which might adhere to the images, and certainly never touch, cough, sneeze, or breath on the art. In other words, be respectful, use common sense, and maybe ask yourself some of those esoteric questions.

*Thanks to Mike Shields for scrounging up the old photos.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Photography Showing at Anacapa Brewing Co., Downtown Ventura, Starts 08/22/14

On Friday 08/22 I will be hanging over 25 of my best photos at Anacapa Brewing Co. in downtown Ventura.

While many of these images have been seen on this blog, many have not. I've worked hard to put together a good show which (hopefully) has something for everyone. There's going to be some good stuff there. All of these photos will be for sale with the only aim being to break even on the printing/mounting cost. I hope you'll be interested enough to drop by, have a burger and a brew, and enjoy some of the fruits of one of my favorite hobbies. The show will run for about a month.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Pine Mountain Lodge for Brunch

I do apologize for taking July "off", but I've got three good excuses for doing so: 1.) My house is undergoing a remodel to about 45% of the livable space, 2.) Everybody but me at my workplace has taken a vacation this month, and 3.) it's just been too damn hot to be anywhere back there. But I get a little nutty if too much time goes by without mountain time. To pacify the incipient insanity I decided on a late breakfast at Pine Mountain Lodge.

Starting at 0700 from the Sespe River trailhead I blazed a good run up Piedra Blanca Creek Canyon, arriving at the forested campsite by 0930. I spent some time wandering a short distance up the adjacent creek while nibbling on my breakfast. This vale is one of those little Los Padres gems I'm always seeking out. The creek is a foot deep channel bordered by tree roots and electric green moss. Overhead a pair of squirrels chattered at each other, hummingbirds chittered and doves cooed. As the sweat cooled I took a nice 20 minutes being a silent observer, simply present in the moment. 

A bit later I meandered south to "Real" Pine Mountain Lodge, the site where the original camp was located. This can be found by heading back down the trail from PML until reaching a large USFS sign and hanging a right (W) for a few minutes. Real PML rests in a forested bowl surrounded on all sides by rugged formations of weathered sandstone. The campsite here is infinitely nicer and more scenic than the latter camp at the junction of the Gene Marshall and Cedar Creek trails, however there is seldom any water here. In the rocks around the camp are many small caverns and bear hollows, indeed, the whole area is crawling with bear sign. I enjoyed scrambling around the area for a while before crawling under a large overhang for a nice rest in the shade. I stretched out on the cool stone and spent some time feeling, hearing, and watching the breeze swish through the cedars and jeffrey pine. I enjoyed a simple, gorgeous day.

At noon I turned away from the forest and descended back into Piedra Blanca Canyon. I jogged about 50% of the way out and returned to the truck by 2pm. A nice day out was just the prescription. I'm going to focus on some plans I've got in the pipe, but for now I've got these photos to share.

Rolling over the hill, the last few steps up to PML.

"Real" PML Camp