“Fortunately, the task of preparing this volume has been carried on by those who have had the feeling that a piece of work must be done, but who also have had a purpose to make it reveal beauty and exude the historical atmosphere of the region with which it is concerned.”

—Santa Barbara: A Guide to the Channel City and Its Environs (1941)

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Arrowhead Springs, Drought Resistant Summer Seep

Arrowhead Springs Chumash pictograph rock art santa barbara goletaThe Chumash pictograph panel at Arrowhead Springs. The arrowhead-shaped mineral stain surrounding the rock art points down to a spring issuing from under the boulder.

record extreme california drought santa barbara goletaSanta Barbara county-wide precipitation for the 2013-14 water year stands at 41 percent of normal or 8.03 inches. The driest year on record was 2006-07, which measured in at 6.41 inches. (Third driest was 1924 with 6.43 inches.) (County of Santa Barbara)

Last season’s county-wide rainfall totaled 46 percent of normal and the year before that it was 66 percent of normal. Not only has far less than normal precipitation fallen in the last three seasons, it has gotten drier each consecutive year.

Earlier this month it was reported that 80 percent of California was in “extreme drought.” Santa Barbara County is now experiencing even worse conditions and has reached the next official level, “exceptional drought.” In addition, it was also reported that from January through June, the vast majority of the county was unusually warm with “record high temperatures.”

Chumash bedrock mortar arrowhead springs pictograph rock artOne of several bedrock mortars at the spring site.

On a recent July visit to Arrowhead Springs Chumash rock art site, I found the spring no longer held standing water above soil level, but the ground was still damp. I was able to dig out a couple inches of gravel and water quickly filled the small hole.

Would a body be in need of a drink, the spring would provide in this exceptionally dry summer season. Though unlabeled on an official USGS map, and certainly not a perennial gusher, Arrowhead Springs appears to be a fairly reliable seep. The well-hidden shady spring with views of the Pacific Ocean and Santa Cruz Island was obviously of great value to some Chumash Indians for this reason.

The degree of severity of the current drought in California has not been seen in over 120 years, according to NOAA. It’s a good year to witness the nature of these exceptional times in the Los Padres National Forest, and to measure them against past experiences during  rainier years, and to see how the drought affects the land, its plants and animals.

Arrowhead Springs Chumash rock art pictographs santa barbara goleta hikeA view of the seep at the base of the boulder, moist but no pooled water.

Salamander Springs Chumash rock art pictograph santa barbara goletaReaching back under the boulder, digging out a couple of inches of sediment with a stick, the seep filled a small depression with water within seconds.

Related Post:

arrowhead-springs-chumash-rock-art-pictograph campbell grant paintingArrowhead Springs Chumash Rock Art

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Calochortus Fimbriatus, Rare Wildflower

Calochortus fimbriatus rare wildflower Santa Barbara Santa Ynez MountainsCalochortus fimbriatus, the late-flowered Mariposa lily, is in bloom at the moment in the Santa Ynez Mountains. A patch of the flowers thrives in the droughty dryness and summertime heat on a south facing rocky hillside at this particular location.

This variety of Calochortus or lily is listed by the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) as being rare throughout its range. Observational information about rare, threatened or endangered native plants and animals can be submitted to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife via their Native Species Field Survey Form. The data is added to the California Natural Diversity Database, which according to CNPS is “the largest, most comprehensive database of its type in the world. It presently contains more than 65,000 site-specific records on California’s rarest plants, animals and natural communities.”

Calochortus fimbriatus late flowered mariposa lily Santa Ynez Mountains

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Eddy Fields’ Initials, Manzana Creek (Circa 1900)

Manzana Creek Trail San Rafael Wilderness hikingBlue skies and golden grass along lower Manzana Creek Trail at the Pratt homestead site.

“The Pratts homesteaded just below Cold Spring on Manzana Creek. They had a stepson by the name of Eddy Fields. At the site of the Pratt house you can still see a large “E” and “F” carved into the trunk of a live oak tree.”

-Historical Overview of the Los Padres National Forest, E.R. “Jim” Blakley and Karen Barnette (1985)

The oak is fairly thin and ordinary, unremarkable, another tree in the forest like so many others. Not like the oaken hulks aside the grassy flat several miles away on the west end of Sunset Valley in lower Munch Canyon, which in their height and massive girth draw attention and would make good targets for a bored mind and idle hands.

The oak must of been a relatively minor tree a hundred years ago when he carved his initials into it. I wonder why Eddy chose it. Maybe it just happened to stand between his family’s cabin and the nearby uncommon pocket of the creek that holds a perennial pool, where I imagine he might of played.

The Pratts stayed only a short time on Manzana Creek and apparently never proved up on their homestead claim. They sold their stove to Edgar B. Davison, a forest ranger who used it to outfit his Fir Canyon station on Figueroa Mountain: Edgar B. Davison’s Fir Canyon Cabin (circa 1900).

Eddy Fields initials oak tree Manzana CreekThe E

Eddy Field's initial Manzana CreekThe F

Manzana Creek Trail Eddy Fields oak tree initialsEddy’s oak on the left.

Manzana Creek coldwater cold springThere is a pocket of clear cool water in the creek by the oak. This in the month of July during a record drought while most of Manzana Creek is dry. At the moment of this writing a stack of rocks sits on the bank above the pool to note the uncommon availability of good water for passing hikers in an otherwise dry landscape. It wasn’t a bad choice for a site to stake a claim as a homesteader.

Manzana Creek summerManzana Creek upstream from the pool shown above at the Pratt homestead site.

Related Post:

Manzana Creek Schoolhouse (1893)

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Mono Narrows, The Old Oak Dies

Upper Santa Ynez River valley JuncalThe upper Santa Ynez River valley.

Santa Ynez River Upper Santa Ynez River

Mono Creek canyonLooking up lower Mono Creek near the Santa Ynez River confluence.

“During the month of November the trail in Little Caliente and Mono canyons was greatly improved.”

Los Angeles Herald (1899)

The Mono-Alamar Trail is a treasure hunt to hike for the uninitiated. Near constant searching, scanning the brush and ground, straining to see subtle clues and telltale signs that lead to the goods. It may well represent in microcosm much of the world of hiking in southern Los Padres National Forest.

I had little time to spare with nine miles to hike in late afternoon up the unkempt, poorly marked trail. The treasured outcome was actually arriving at camp before sunset.

A short distance from its beginning the trail fades into the poison oak understory of a coast live oak forest and there I stood once again, like last time, wondering where the path went and which way to go.

In a general sense I knew exactly where to go. I’ve been there before. I didn’t need the trail. I could’ve reached the campsite without it and I wanted to forget the damn thing. Not waste time searching for it.

Mono Camground debris dam meadowThe meadow at Mono Campground. I lost a toy cowboy rifle somewhere down there several decades ago, which for some reason still sticks out in my mind.

The intense mental effort required to search for and follow the trail for miles on end makes it seem like an irrational obsession at times. I feel like an unsuspecting character in an outdoor theater of the absurd compelled to stay on the trail whether it makes the hike easier or not.

I waste time and energy searching for the trail, wandering around in circles over here and over there, into the brush and back out, up the creek and back down.

Where is the damn thing? How can it just disappear? It’s clear as day here and then a few steps later, poof, it’s gone.

Ogilvy Ranch adobe Mono Alamar TrailAn adobe at Ogilvy Ranch along Mono Creek.

Ogilvy Ranch adobe Mono CreekAnother view of the adobe looking up Mono Creek canyon.

Mono Creek Santa Barbara CountyLate afternoon reflections on a clear water section of the creek.

I stand gazing over the land straining to recognize some trace of the trail’s presence cutting through the grass or bushes or across a patch of soil, but I’m also thinking that I could easily hike on without it. I could make a lot better time hiking without a trail than standing around looking for one.

Sometimes I’m standing around looking or walking back and forth searching for the trail in the midst of a thirty or forty foot-wide gravelly wash beside the main creek channel. It’s open country in a wide, flat-bottomed canyon, but rather than hiking easily up the creek without need of the trail, I’m erratically wandering around staring at the ground searching for it.

It’s like a sick obsessive-compulsive disorder. That I must stay on the trail at every turn, even when it requires more time to do so and doesn’t make hiking any easier. As if the entire point of the trip is walking the trail as an end itself.

Mono Creek Narrows canyonLooking upstream into Mono Narrows. The location of the campsite can barely be seen frame left as a tiny touch of brown, the top of the dead oak tree, at the foot of the shadowy cliff.

Mono Creek NarrowsMono Creek Narrows after a little rain.

Muddy Waters

Sight of the dry creek triggered visions of digging for mucky water in the gravel of the narrows, squatting in some low spot between boulders ladling up the dirty leftovers of a once clear flowing stream.

I hadn’t actually expected to see lower Mono Creek flowing or even muddy. I knew it’d be dry. Recent rain, a measly and sporadic few showers, had barely moistened the droughty hills. I had packed enough fluids to sustain me for two days at a minimum level and hoped to find water near camp.

Rainwater was puddled in depressions atop boulders along the trail as I hiked up canyon. Even though the creek was drier than the previous year when I was there last, enough rain had fallen to actually raise the creek through the narrows, but it turned it into a silt-laden stream of chocolate milk. While it didn’t invite a swim nor look appealing to drink, some muddy water was better than no water at all and it actually didn’t taste bad despite its hideous appearance.

Mono Creek Narrows Santa BarbaraMono Creek Narrows hikeWarm and muddy in Mono Narrows.

Mono Narrows Camp oak tree
The Old Oaks Dies

I stopped short and stood gazing down the twilit creek in astonishment, mumbling to myself, cursing and questioning what had happened. The gnarly old oak had died.

The oak defines the campsite, hanging awkwardly over a bench of silt deposited from prior floods. It looks as if its acorn one day long ago washed ashore during an epic flood and rooted in near the high waterline.

The tree gives the camp a sense of place, that it isn’t just another few yards of unremarkable scrubby forestland like so many others. The tree imbues a particular ambiance to the nook that makes it feel like a destination, somewhere worth arriving at, somewhere worth spending time.

Mono Creek Narrows campMono Narrows Camp under the dead oak. Each day the water cleared up a little bit and the water fell cutting lines in the sand along its bank.

The oak tree sprouts out of the soil with tentacle-like meandering limbs reaching over the flat. In wild day dreams sitting around camp, the old tree my only companion apart from a bear, I imagine that the deep black hole in its trunk is the sucking maw of some fantastical monster with flexing, reaching lips like that of a horse. Some bizarre beast rooted into the creek bank, its tentacle limbs reaching into the stream snatching prey and stuffing its gaping mouth hole like a crab scavenging a reef, its pincers shoving forage into its grinding mouthparts.

Mono Creek Narrows camp hikeMono Narrows Camp
Mono Creek Narrows backcountry camp
A camp fire with a view.

Mono Creek near Alamar HillLooking downstream.

Mono Narrows CampsiteOverhead view of camp looking upstream.

The death of the great oak is a tremendous loss. When the tree falls it will take with it much of the campsite’s character and leave a void which cannot be refilled.

It’s unlikely that the campsite will remain an inviting place to stay. It may still serve a basic utilitarian purpose for the odd backpacker passing through who merely needs a patch of dirt upon which to sleep a few hours, but the camp has lost its defining feature and is on its way out. It died along with its ugly old oak.

Mono Creek Narrows CampsiteAnother view of the camp.

Mono Creek Narrows Santa Barbara hikes

Mono Creek rock slideA large cottonwood tree snapped like a toothpick by a massive rock slide.

 Related Post:

Mono Narrows Camp, 18 Mile Day Hike Gone Bad

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Black Bear

black bear Santa Barbara hikingI was lounging around camp in midafternoon boiling the billy. Had me a relaxation station set up in the shade of a tree, an air mattress propped up against a boulder as a makeshift recliner, and a long view down the creek.

I had pulled my can of boiling water off the campfire and set it beside my lounge chair, and when I glanced up before sitting down, I caught sight of a black bear just before it passed behind a wall of bushes along the creek bank.

I was startled for a second. It was odd to unexpectedly see an animal of that size, a big black beast, so close to me. I’m not accustomed to seeing anything larger than deer when out in the forest around here. It’s not like Sequoia National Park or other places where bears are a daily sight.

billy canI was all alone in that canyon, I thought, the biggest animal around, hadn’t seen anybody in two days. Then seemingly out of nowhere another large mammal suddenly pops into sight. And it was only a short stone’s throw from where I stood and coming directly toward my camp.

I bounded over to my backpack and ripped my camera from its pouch, but when I looked up the bear had already fled back across the creek. It was pushing through the brush and climbing over boulders moving up the slope out of the streambed. It paused briefly several times to glance back down at me as I watched it intently.

It’s only the second bear I’ve ever seen in the Los Padres National Forest. I saw one a couple of decades ago, but just a split second glimpse of its hind end as it charged into the chaparral, after having been surprised by me as I blasted down a dirt road on a motorcycle.

Nearly every time I go out for a hike I see bear sign. Bears seem to be everywhere all the time, judging by the number of footprints I see, but they’re sly and not commonly seen. On this day, however, a bear walked right up to my camp oblivious to my presence.

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