Another hike down Piru Creek. I love this hike but since last winter it has become a bit rough. Trees have fallen, rocks have slid and huge amounts of greenery have sprung up. I park at the usual gate. The paved road beyond goes to Pyramid Lake. Instead, I take the path downstream to a wilder country. (For an older post about the same area click here.)

Air temp in the low 80s with a gentle breeze. Bright sun and intermittent shade. Perfect weather!

The first thing I notice is a fire truck and a crew parked at my trailhead. I enquired and there was no kind of fire danger.  The crew is there to pick up the garbage left in the campground by all the Easter weekend campers, not to fight a fire. Whew!

Humans are absolutely filthy creatures. Even with dumpsters and toilets right there, the area is littered with garbage, broken gear, used diapers, and bits of toilet paper.

Roan not taken
I’m not going that way.
Piru Creek1001
This is where I’m headed.
Fire truck
Firetruck with crew collecting trash.

Heading downstream, I soon leave the influence of the campers behind. I cross a small creek that still has water flowing. Beyond is a pleasant and shady oak savanna with wildflowers scattered here and there. Not a hundred yards from the campground the litter is almost gone

This is an area to be very snake-aware. Often you hike right by very thick brush or high grass and you want to make sure what is next to your feet. There are rocks and logs you must remember to step onto and then beyond, rather than just stepping over. I’ll grab a dead branch or yucca stave as a walking stick and it will double as a snake stick. I’ll be poking it onto the ground ahead of me to alert anyone who might be relaxing there.

Ticks are another issue. They are a natural hazard of going thru dense brush or grass. On my previous hike up East Canyon, I discovered one in my hair. Somehow it had crawled up under my hat. On this hike, despite being naked most of the day, I found only one on my wrist. Ticks aren’t a big deal. It takes 24 hours for you to get infected by anything they are carrying. After scrambling thru brush or grass, even if you are wearing long sleeves and long pants you should do a tick check. By avoiding brushing up against plants, you can largely avoid ticks.

Ticks don’t like insect repellants containing DEET, Picaridin, or Permethrin. DEET and Picaridin repel them while permethrin kills them in seconds.  Picaridin advocates claim it doesn’t stink, lasts longer, has few side effects and won’t damage plastic.

If you own a cat, be aware that permethrin and DEET are extremely dangerous to them. Tiny amounts can be lethal. Picardin hasn’t been tested. Wash any body part and any piece of clothing that has been treated with insect repellent before making contact with a pet cat.

Oak Savanah
Oak savanna
Willows in bloom.
Black Sage
Black sage, a member of the mint family. Lovely fragrance!

Possibly Baby Blue Eyes and Camphor?

Easy travel does not last long. The path turns into a mess of rocks. At one time there was a visible trail thru here. Large stones had been moved aside and the trail was flattened a bit where thousands of feet pressed down the smaller stones into the ground. Not any more. The floods and slides have left a fresh layer of ankle turners to contend with.

I don’t mind. It discourages the lightweights from coming back here. There had been a car and a motorcycle back at the gate. The couple from the motorcycle was at a picnic table. I met the other couple at these rocks when they’d given up going any farther. The trash crew was leaving. I was now officially alone. Time to drop and stash my clothing.

There was a bit of climbing up ahead. (I’d broken a metatarsal in my foot here once before on that climb. 😒) ‘Spose I could have just waded but that involved the hassle of taking off my hiking boots/socks and putting them back on. I climbed up the rock ahead, then chimneyed down the chute on the other side, and was done. As I came to the downclimb, I saw a tree had been uprooted and deposited right where the trail would have gone. The root ball was about 5 feet high, a real PITA to climb over. Then I have to go back up the side of the canyon for a bit.

Rocks behind me…
Rough Trail
…and rocks ahead of me.
Rock scramble
Going up and over. I broke a bone in my foot just walking here a year ago
Going down
And then the downside.

But now I’m on safe, easy hiking. Flat with some moderate downhill as I approach the creek again. Well, maybe. Not all hazards are mechanically dangerous.

There is a stretch where I am walled in by the minty scent and blue flowers of Yerba Santa. I noticed something. I could not hear nor see any honey bees on this trip. All these flowers ought to have stirred up some interest, yet there is no trace of them. It bothers me.

Then I am surrounded by yet another native plant, only this time it is Poison Oak. Usually, I avoid it without even realizing I’m doing it but today it encroaches on – and occasionally across – the trail. Despite my best efforts, some manage to brush against my right calf. Not a big deal. I’ll be home to scrub any traces off soon enough. I decided to try an experiment.

The active ingredient in Poison oak is urushiol, an oil. Oils don’t come off well with just water. OTOH, the minty smell you get from Sage and Yerba Santa is also from oils. I “treat” the area by grabbing a bunch of Yerba Santa leaves and smushing them together between my hands. Now I have a mass of crushed, moist leaves. I apply it to the area, then go down to the water and scrub it with more leaves.

So far, no reaction. Either it worked or the poison oak leaves simply didn’t deposit any oil on me. Or maybe I have been so good at avoiding the stuff for so many years I’ve lost my allergy. It can happen.

This looks easy.
Yerba Santa
Surrounded by the minty fragrance of the Yerba Santa.
Yerba Santa wall
At times Yerba Santa lines the trail, a wall much taller than I
Poison oak path
Yerba Santa ends and Poison Oak begins.

So I get thru the Poison Oak. This is my destination. Sunny in the am, but shady in the heat of the afternoon. Nice sandy area to relax on. The water is much higher than it would be later in the year. Because of all the rain, the dam can allow more to flow downstream which is beneficial to the flora and fauna. During the peak of the rainy season, the water reaches branches above my head and deposits debris there.

In April and May, this is a magnificent swimming hole. The section up against the rock face is quite deep. The water level drops a bit in June and you start to see more of the submerged rocks. Not a place to jump in without first checking out the bottom.

You still would need to treat it before drinking, even at its best. There’s a campground just a couple miles upstream and from all the TP I see scattered around, some people are too lazy to walk to the outhouse.

Algal bloom, Pyramid Lake.

By the end of Spring, it loses much of its appeal. The flow slows down and scum starts building up. Algal bloom in the lake during the hottest part of summer makes the water toxic. This isn’t something the creek would have experienced naturally. Despite this, flora and fauna continue to survive and flourish.

I refuse to swim in water that stinks.

I stay here for a couple of hours, in and out of the water, Need to get back by 5 pm to pick up a car at the garage. Still, it was a great day, even if I spent the day alone. I hike back, reluctantly stopping to dress en route.

That night my wife and I headed out to the movies to see Okko’s Inn, a GKids film. It was a real tear-jerker. A child who suffers terrible emotional injury slowly heals with the help of ghosts only she can see and becomes well-adjusted, productive, and happy. And in the process heals everyone else around her. Disgustingly wholesome – unlike me. (I still enjoyed it.)

Possibly slightly NSFW ahead.

swimming hole

Happy birthday suit party to me!