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I was out here last time August of 2018, almost a year ago. Since then, we had a normal winter.  What an incredible change has set in! We had an unusually cool stretch in mid-July so I thought I’d head up again to see what I could find.

Grade Valley Road had been washed out in a number of places and not repaired, just driven over enough to knock some of the bumps down and fill in the gullies.

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The first and most impressive thing I found was water. Cedar Creek was still flowing well. Last year at this time it was dry and hardly a hint of even mud. What a great chance to get my car muddy!

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The trailhead had been completely washed out along with one of the signs. Someone brought a dozer down and cut a ramp down to the eroded patch but the erosion is significant. Last year’s trailhead photo and this year’s.

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet and pick as sharp. I had to wade thru these in places.

 

Campfires outside of established campgrounds are forbidden.  Even the fires that are allowed must have permits. Getting the permit is easy but you have to watch a fire safety tutorial online in order to get it. The trail is severely eroded in many places.

The area burned almost 20 years ago and the threats enunciated on the sign are greatly reduced but not gone.  I was hiking thru a grove of giant cedars (that’s where the creek got its name from) and heard a huge crash from a large branch. There are plenty of fallen trees along the way to remind you.

Some people wander thru the woods and just see dead grass and trees. I find myself surrounded by incredible floral displays.

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour

“Auguries of Innocence” by William Blake

 

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This was unexpected. A dead skunk beside the trail. It is actually a bit strange. There were no signs of gunshot and if the skunk had been killed by a predator, there would be skunk smell all over. So this guy died from disease, recently enough that he didn’t stink yet. Yet it has a pretty healthy coat. It might have been snakebit, it might have had rabies or maybe it found some illegal poison bait. Or maybe skunks die all the time for numerous reasons I am unaware of.

The trail starts out clear with scattered pines. Just enough for occasional shade. This is an old roadbed used decades ago by the rancher who once used this land. Many wilderness trails in SoCal are disused logging roads, ranching roads, mining roads, oil roads, etc. The trail crisscrosses Cedar Creek multiple times and where it does there is thick grass. You have to look very closely for snakes as you pass thru. It is also prime habitat for the deer tick.

I’d hate to be sitting under this when it broke. This outcropping has been a landmark for centuries. The underside of the outcropping was black from years of campfires. It looked fine a year ago. I imagine it was the recent 6.4 and 7.1 quakes near Ridgecrest that finally broke it off. I bet it made one hell of a noise when it went!

See how red the water is thru here? It flows thru iron-rich surface rocks and this little section is red from it. That doesn’t stop the local wildlife from using it. The deer track is very fresh.  Upstream the water is clear. Maybe iron is a valuable mineral to a deer.

As I progress further up the canyon, it becomes noticeably cooler. The trees grow more thickly. The bugs, which had been swarming around me since the beginning of the hike became more insistent. Deer flies, little black flies, and mosquitoes. They don’t like me and rarely land but are attracted by the sweat and the CO2 I give off. That is a very useful trait for a nudie.

I found a brush along the trail, fairly old, obviously manmade from natural materials. I know that nearby there’s a ring where it looked like someone had put up a large teepee, possibly a sweat lodge. It is completely lost in the underbrush now, since the last winter’s rain. I expect that perhaps decades ago modern Chumash or another Native American tribe may have held a ceremony back here.

 

All along the trail are fallen trees. A fire came through here maybe 20 years ago. Most signs of it are gone but some charred trees are still standing. When they fall or threaten to fall across the trail, a crew of volunteers comes thru every couple of years to remove them. Sometimes they pack chains saws and other times its old-school crosscut saws. They also fill in eroded sections and then place rocks and debris to discourage further erosion. A few years ago I encountered one such team and stopped to help them out. Someday I’ll blog about it.

But now I am surrounded by braken ferns. They only grow in cooler climates with a reliable source of water. Another creek crossing. To the left, I see water sliding across flat rock on its way to where I just came from. Ahead of me dense ferns with a barely visible path. Nobody has been thru here since spring when these ferns sprouted. It feels incredibly cool to be the first through here, possibly even the first this year. The air is also cool and moist. This is an incredible microclimate to have only a few miles from near-desert conditions.

Of course, there is an old illegal campfire site on the only clear space in the area.

Where you find water and a clement environment, you also find exotics like these Columbines and a Columbia lilly. Also a small field of Scarlet buglers.

I finally got to Cedar Creek camp. It got its name from these magnificent cedars. Cedars only grow in cool moist areas and this microclimate allows them to prosper here. I could go on and over to the Fishbowls Trail or stick with Cedar Creek through the mountainous heart of the Sespe. That looks like a lot of work I don’t want to tackle right now.

Here is an “official” backcountry fire site. Sunken metal ring to contain the fire, bare ground surrounding it and a grate for cooking on. With a permit, under current forest conditions, I could legally have a campfire. I doubt if most people bother with the permit. Rangers almost never get backcountry any more. No budget or manpower for it.

On my way back I managed to catch a couple of lizard friends who stopped to pose for a picture.  That’s a water strider on the creek when I slowed down to look. That hole is an ant lion’s den. An ant would slide down the steep sides of the trap right into the ant lion’s jaws which are the only part above ground. It is difficult to make out but there is a life and death struggle going on slightly above center in the hole. The ant lion has grabbed some prey but the ant is not going down easily. If the ant is too large the lion will be forced to let it go.

Someone has found the perfect cut of wood to make a stool to sit on and positioned it in the shade of a big pine. It looks like a piece cut by trail crews the last time they came through. I suspect it is a hunting stand.

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Throughout the hike, I look to my right or left and see the unexplored country that I will probably never visit. What is over that ridge? Nothing but trackless wilderness, only visited by the extremely rare and energetic hunter.  There is something beguiling about leaving the trail behind and wandering about thru the unknown. It is akin to “sailing beyond the sunset”.

It would take a lifetime to truly know all the nooks and crannies of the Sespe. Much of it is far from established trails. I have but a small fraction of a lifetime. My body has grown weak with time and fate, as has my will. Most will have to remain a mystery.

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