Ok, so with all the excitement over the LA World Naked Bike Ride it was also World Naked Hiking Day. Can’t do both at the same time so the next decent day I went out to the Alder Creek Trail. Temperatures were in the high 70s, quite unusual this late in the year. It is usually in the 90s.
One would not expect early July to be a great day to hike or to find wildflowers. But it was.
As you enter the truck trail to the wilderness area you see a sign. It is steel, thick enough to resist shotgun blasts from idiots hunting quail. Tacked on almost as an afterthought is a pair of signs warning of the dangers of microtrash. That’s little tiny bits of shiny stuff like wrappers and such. Condor chicks seem to like to eat it. It gets stuck in their intestinal tract and they die.
Protection of the California condor led to the creation of the Sespe Condor Sanctuary. Tar Creek Falls is in the narrow right-of-way along Sespe Creek and therefore immediately adjacent to the sanctuary. The trail that led to them was really an old oil exploration road and the area has numerous abandoned drill sites. The sites were closed and recovered long ago and the only tell-tale for most of them are a flat spot where you wouldn’t expect to see one. The Tar Creek Road starts out obvious and easy but quickly becomes eroded and overgrown into invisibility.
BTW, they still drill for oil here. It is from outside the boundaries and they use slant drilling to get at it. You know exactly where to drill to because you know the location and depth of all the abandoned drill sites.
The trail was closed down due to assertions that partiers were disturbing the eagles and the condors and leaving microtrash about. The microtrash story I believe. As to partiers bothering the birds, I have my doubts. Have to climb hundreds of feet of verticle cliff to get to them. Those partiers have been going back to the falls for longer than I’ve been alive.
Twenty years ago I freehiked down that way when it was still open. But that’s a different post for the future.
When you get to the 7-mile sign, the pavement ends. To the right is the gated access road to the oilfields. To the left is the oil field headquarters and that is why you see the “No Trespassing” sign. The holes in the sign are from the rifles of deer hunters. I understand hunting. I don’t understand what part of that is punching holes in signs. Bring your own &^%$#@! target if you want to punch holes in something and clean up after.
Later at the trailhead, it appeared like a quail hunter shot the wilderness map right on the “You are here” spot. What a d*ckhead!
The road had been leveled recently all the way to the trailhead. Looks like someone took a dozer back there and scraped off the worst bumps. An ordinary street vehicle could now make it if it had some ground clearance and one drove very carefully. As I was leaving at the end of the day, I was surprised to see a man driving a Toyota Scion back there.
There have been days, especially after rain or a long summer of vehicle use, when 4WD and high clearance would have been absolutely necessary.
It is Monday after the 4th of July holiday and nobody is here. Didn’t expect there would be. I got there around noon. If anyone else were going to make a day of it out here, they’d arrive earlier and there’d be a car at the trailhead. I proceeded past the gate, hiked up the trail a bit and got my kit off.
I was really tempted to leave it all behind in the car but didn’t. I keep my clothes in my pack because if I get injured and end up spending the night, I don’t care to freeze.
Age has made me into a coward.
Everywhere I turn, I see signs indicating “No Campfires” The grass is dry enough to burst into flame if you look at it wrong. Yet there is a lot of life and growth if you look as well. These plants are adapted to heat and drought. When it rains in spring they store the water for blooms that take place in early summer. The blooms produce seeds and berries that are food sources for the local animals late in the summer and fall when nothing else is available.
The trail that starts out broad and flat becomes an eroded mess but then becomes smooth again.
Just in case you missed it. There are No Campfires signs all over the place.
The initial leg of the hike is about 3-400 foot of elevation gain over a half mile. That’s not too difficult. If you stop every couple hundred feet for a photo there’s no reason to get tired at all. The secret I have learned about hiking up hills is that no matter how out of shape you are, a fundamentally healthy person can climb any hill.
Move and rest. Even if you are resting every couple hundred feet and walking slowly in between, with enough time you’ll get to the top.
From the first little high point, I can distinctly hear flowing water in the ravine to my left. However, as the trail crosses that creek it is bone dry. The water table is located above an impermeable layer of rock. Loose rocks and porous sediment lay on top of it. Where the sediment is thin, the water is forced to the surface and you have a flowing creek. Where it is thick, the water continues to flow underground.
If one were near a dry creek bed and needed water badly, it would pay to look for green patches of water-loving plants along it. That’s where the water is. Even if it isn’t at the surface, if you dig you can find mud. A cloth can be used to squeeze water out of it.
Remember all those No Campfires signs? There are a lot of people who ignore them. This fire was well sited with no close vegetation to catch Still, all it takes is a gust of wind to carry the smallest spark to the dead leaves and grass nearby and we’d be seeing the results in the news.
None of us is stupid enough to have a fire in the middle of the SoCal summer. Right? That is what backpacking stoves are for.
The hike goes on. A slight downhill followed by a couple hundred feet of elevation gain. Now I can see the whitish sandstone mountains that stretch across the entire width of the Sespe and beyond. I believe this formation is called the Piedra Blanca. At one time this was all undersea. About 25 million years ago this was uplifted along a fault line to form magnificent escarpments. Up close you can see layer upon layer of sedimentary rock that has been squeezed into sandstone. As it erodes, fossils of sea life emerge, particularly ammonites.
There are plenty of flowers ahead. Landscape shots don’t show flowers well. At a distance, they blend in and disappear. You need to look for them close up on the branch or deep in the shade. But they are there.
Scarlet Larkspur, Scarlet Bugler, Foothill Penstemon, Foothill Poppy
Clematis seed heads.
These oak trees have been slowly dying as long as I’ve been hiking here. Other oaks nearby are doing fine. The one on the far left is dead. The tall one next to it is half dead. If you are an oak, half dead is still alive and making acorns. I don’t think it is human activity because most of the oaks here are not easily accessed.
These are growing right next to a stream, Squaw Creek and the area is known as Squaw Flats. Wild grapes and poison oak are flourishing there.
At the base of the dead oak is another illegal campfire ring. This one was constructed of material left behind when the oil wells closed. Bricks, large boards, leftover bits of steel. Unlike the earlier fire ring I mentioned, this one has grass growing right up to it. I understand why this spot was selected. There is access to water for half the year and the oaks used to provide lots of shade.
A significant portion of the wildfires in the state come from illegal campfires. The fires that start deep in the backcountry are almost all from illegal campfires or lightning strikes. Squaw Flats is such a great place to camp and so often illegally camped at, I would think the Forest Service would set up an “official” campsite with a desginated fire pit to make it safer. They know that lots of people camp here and have fires. The first official backcountry campsite is 3 miles ahead and up a very steep trail and people are lazy.
Ah well. All I can do is make suggestions at the ranger station. Like I have any influence in the matter.
The lizards are out in force. I could probably survive a long time out here with just a slingshot.
The trail crews have done some erosion control. In places, the trail has become a source of severe erosion. This gully has been filled in and rock barriers emplaced to prevent further damage. The permanent trail has been moved to the side. There are other spots on the trail where no erosion control has been done. They are an ankle turning mess.
I try to keep an eye out for trail sign of other large mammals along my path. The bottom picture is a game trail. I found it paralleling the human trail about 20 feet to the side. These trails usually connect water, bedding, and food in the most efficient way possible.
If you ever need to cross country that lacks an “official” trail, game trails are one way to navigate. They are also useful when the human trail goes straight up a steep hill. The game trail will zigzag up the same hill. Deer are not stupid but people often are.
Here in SoCal, we don’t have purple sage. We have black sage, despite the purple flowers. Along with Toyon, Manzanita, Holly Leafed Cherry and Lemonade Berry, it is one of our most common chaparral residents. When the sage is in full flower, the minty fragrance is almost intoxicating.
I am amazed that life will force its way thru in the most inhospitable places. The Turkish Rugging and the Many Flowered Monkeyflower both forced themselves up through the hard pack suface of the trail.
Conforming to the purple motif, a lifted truck was probably going too fast, hit a dip on the road and blew out its front suspension on one side. He probably had to go back for parts, came back and did a field repair. Well bully for him… except he couldn’t be bothered to pick up his garbage after he was through. At least it is kind of pretty and blends in with the purple flowers in the area.
I picked up the litter and left it on my curb when I got home. People drive by my house on weekends looking for useful items to recycle. There’s a lot of steel there and that spring looks perfectly good. It will make somebody happy.