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The instructions for getting there are the same as for Fish Canyon except when you hike across the bridge you turn left at the flow station instead of staying on the main road. There’s a very short stub of road just past the water flow gauge station which quickly turns into a footpath which quickly turns into an intermittent trail.
Redrock Canyon, Red Rock Canyon or some variant thereof, has to be one of the most common feature names in all of the outdoors. A quick search on AllTrails showed 25 different entries, several of them in California. and not one of them matched this. Technically, the route I’m taking is 7N22.2, Castaic Creek Road, but I doubt if a motor vehicle has passed this way in at least 50 years, maybe much more.
It is confusing, but Castaic Creek flows down Redrock Canyon. Usually, the creek and canyon would share the same name, but here they don’t. The creek gets its name from the community downstream which in turn got its name from the native Chumash name, Kashtiq, meaning “wet spot.” Were I to follow this trail to its natural conclusion, I’d end up atop Redrock Mountain, which is where the canyon got its name.
Between 1890 and 1916, the Castaic Range War raged in this area with dozens of people killed. It was the deadliest range war in US history. I am amazed someone hasn’t made a movie about it.
I cross the bridge and turn left. There’s a water flow gauge inside a vertical culvert with a solar panel and a cell antenna. Humans no longer need to make the trip down here to learn the water flow down Castaic Creek during storms. Instead, it can be read from anywhere with a data connection. There’s another sensor nearby to measure the flow from Fish Canyon.
The primary water source for the lake is not the creek but rather the state water project.
Downstream it looks just like upstream, a wide dry wash filled with shrubs and small trees. Go about a half-mile and you come to the Castaic Power Plant on the far northern edge of the lake. The state water project is a series of aqueducts and pipelines with pumps to get the water uphill and powerplants to recapture that energy as it comes back down. I have been told that it is 90% efficient which is an amazing number.
The bridge you cross and the flow gauge where you hang a left
All around the city of Los Angeles are numerous artificial lakes to supply a greater metropolitan area of 10 million people in the middle of a desert. Statewide it supplies the needs of 23 million people.. Castaic Lake is one of those lakes. Pyramid Lake is another.
The state water project was William Mulholland’s dream to make Los Angeles the biggest city in California instead of San Francisco and is considered to be one of the miracles of early 20th-century engineering. The destruction of the Owens Valley was so complete a ten-mile wide and 40 ft. deep natural lake disappeared and was replaced by a vast dust bowl causing the worst air pollution conditions in the United States.
Legal action has forced the state water project to allow enough water into the dry lake to negate the worst of the air pollution from blowing brine dust.
This is an excellent route for a nude hike, so that’s your NSFW content warning. When I reach a cluster of pines (marked with a blue tree symbol on the satellite image above) I drop the clothing to continue hiking upstream. Most people out here follow Warm Springs Road to Fish Canyon Narrows, a much more famous and generally more scenic location. People rarely go this way. There’s a bit of bushwhacking. There’s a bit of rock climbing. There’s a bit of route finding. Not an easy trail for the faint of heart. I still check the trailhead for other people and look at natural “track traps” to see if anyone went this way recently. No desire to shock anyone, I just want to be alone and free.
Pro tip: If you want to know more about my tricks for safe naked hiking check out my blog post, Get Naked, Go Hiking.
Adjacent cliff faces are dotted with numerous small caves. Birds and small critters nest up there and at night the bats come out. Ahead, the dry wash that is Castaic Creek stretches out. After a heavy rain, this becomes a wide river filled with raging rapids. We have not had heavy rain here in a very long time. The undergrowth has flourished, feeding off the underground flow that continues through much of the year. The next gullywasher to happen will flush most of this into the lake downstream.
One of the plants that enjoy the intermittent riparian habitat is the tamarisk, aka salt cedar. Imported for their lovely pink flowers, tamarisks are invasive out here. Native to wetter areas, they suck massive amounts of water out of the stream leaving much less for the native flora and fauna over the dry summer. Any attempt to “rewild” a river in this area involves a massive tamarisk removal effort to restore a more natural water flow. I participated in one such project in the upper reaches of Piru Creek several years ago. However, the honeybees are thankful for this source of nectar. A dry year has left naive wildflowers few and scattered.
Blue eyes grass (I think) on the left. Datura (Loco weed) on the right,
A long time ago, somebody dug a mine out here. It could possibly even date back to the Spanish occupation and may have been dug with forced Native labor. This road served the mine in the 20th century. I don’t have a chance in hell of making it all the way to the mine. Other people who are in far better physical condition than I have tried and failed. The ones who succeeded went out Fish Canyon way and caught the trail that heads up to Redrock Mountain to get there. This site, Gold Mines of Los Angeles County gives a description of one man’s efforts.
There were also two bundles of phone lines routed this way. Whether it was to serve the mine or some ranches further up the canyon, I don’t know. Between erosion and rockslides, the cables have been severed and the road is gone except for traces. The trail itself becomes dicey.
Bush mallow and Spanish broom
Black sage and yerba santa
The trail takes me through fragrant Yerba Santa and black sage, often passing close to the creekside embankment. Sometimes I am forced into the creekbed when erosion has taken the trail out or it has been buried under a rockslide. In the not-to-distant future erosion and gravity will take the trail out completely.
An old check dam. Before Castaic lake was created, this dam was intended to slow the flow of water during a flash flood.
I cross the wash several times, twice by concrete fords and four times because the trail simply becomes impassable. These wide-open spaces don’t offer any protection from the heat. I learned after that the high in the area hit 88F (31C). I was starting to get hot but I finally rounded a curve to where the canyon narrows. The walls and thicker vegetation provide shade and an impermeable rock layer forces water to the surface.
Pro tip: If it is warm, take every opportunity to get wet. I like to soak my hat in water, splash my entire body, (especially my hair) and soak a bandana and tie it around my neck. You can’t drink the water without a filter but you can use it to cool off instead of sweat.
Some intrepid explorer has placed trail tape to identify the easiest route to take. Surface water is a welcome respite from dry heat. The latter part of the hike becomes rock climbing and boulder hopping. Occasionally I’d flush a covey of quail entirely by accident and it would make me jump.
I saw little wildlife. It was all waiting to come out in the cool of the evening. Tracks in the mud show what remains hidden from me.
Big picture on the right you can see a bit of flagging in the foreground and in the background near the top is a rock cairn. But I’m no longer on a trail, rather a general direction of travel.
My pack contains 3 liters of water, a bit of first aid stuff, some food, a SPoT communicator, water filter, camera gear, and a few other “survival” items… and my clothes. It is in Mossy Oak camo so that I can leave it behind in an out-of-the-way place for a bit of free wandering and feel confident it will be there when I get back to it. (It also leaves weird tan lines.)
The one thing I’m more worried about losing than anything else? My car keys. I could drive home if I had nothing else. Without them, I’m stuck until I can contact my wife.
I come to the end of the line – at least for me. I’ve gone beyond what was flagged and with no easy way forward, it is just too rough to pursue further. Thirty years ago, I’d have pushed on.
More flowers on my way back. Indian paintbrush, buckwheat, thistle and monkeyflower This area is too dry to be chaparral and is considered coastal scrub.
Pro tip: For photography of flowers, doing selfies, low light photography or just to get maximum sharpness, pack a small collapsible tripod. Only a few ounces and 8 inches or less and make a huge difference. You will destroy your camera by sitting it on the ground or trying to balance it on rocks/logs. There are also models for phones.
A word about ticks. I picked up three ticks on this hike, my first in several years. This was the result of my crashing thru brush and deep grass. I also took no precautions to repel them. In most of the places I hike, the trail is wider, the brush is not dense and it is too dry for them. It is a risk anyone takes who hikes in brushy, moist, or riparian areas. My dogs get ticks all the time.
I know some people freak out about ticks. And bugs and spiders and bees and snakes. These things don’t bother me. All are part of the natural world that one needs to have respect for. You don’t get to pick and choose between nice and “icky” creatures.
Distribution of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme Disease.
If you are aware of your body and enjoying the sensations of nudity, you’ll feel a tick crawling through your fine vellus hair long before it attaches. Then it is just a matter of brushing it off. You’ll see it too, as a dark spot that doesn’t belong there. Run your hand lightly over your body and you’ll feel it. This is all very easy for a naked person. It can take an hour after landing on you to attach so a tick check every hour is good enough. Lavender, peppermint, citronella, lemongrass, citrus, and good old DEET (most common mosquito repellent) have all been shown to keep ticks away.
Any individual tick bite offers very little chance of any infection. If one should attach, it takes a half-day for any chance of infection occurring, more often a full day. You have plenty of time to get it off. In California, that chance is very, very, low.
Pro tip: If a tick gets attached, you may be able to make it back out by touching it with something very hot, like a match. Generally though, the best technique is to use a tick key. Second best is to grab its head as close to the skin as possible with tweezers and gently pull straight out. Do not twist the tick. Do not grab it by its body or cover it in Vaseline and wait for it to fall off. The one risks squeezing tick fluid into your body and the other takes time. You want it off now and if the mouth pieces remain behind, they’ll fall out soon enough.
All too soon I must make my way back to the trailhead. I’d like to get home before my wife returns from work. It’s still not that late. There were four cars at the trailhead when I got there, so there a reasonable chance I’d meet someone hiking on the main road. I reluctantly dress at the same point I undressed, a cove of pine trees just in sight of the bridge. No sense in frightening the locals.
But the most exciting part of the hike is yet to come! As I crossed the bridge on my way back to the car I met this fellow, a fine healthy specimen of the Southern Pacific rattlesnake.
It must have cooled off enough for the rattlesnakes to come out. It was in the middle of the road. I saw it and it saw me at about the same time. I stopped and took a slow step back. Snakey turned its head to check me out and raised its tail. Should I rattle, or not? Naw. This guy’s keeping his distance. Paying me no more heed, it slowly slithered its way off the pavement into the nearby undergrowth. I stayed put until it was gone, partly in awe of this beautiful predator and partly to stand watch for people. If anyone came this way I intended to protect both the people and the snake.
What an exciting way to finish a wonderful hike!