“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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Hageman Falls

The view from the top of Hageman Falls, which overlooks the Santa Ynez River.

It is an ephemeral waterfall that only flows during periods of heavier rainfall and only for a short time thereafter.

Facing somewhat north eastward on the backside of the Santa Ynez Mountains, and being that it only flows during the winter months when the sun is low in the sky, it is not an easy waterfall to photograph in action because of the lighting. (Of course, I’m not a photographer, stopped using my SLR for this blog years ago, and now typically just use a cell phone.)

Even when flowing vigorously, it appears from below and at a distance to be not much more than a gush of white water framed in dense chaparral. It’s not among the most scenic falls in the county.

While it is a true waterfall, that is a vertical fall rather than a tumbling cascade, and it measures several tens of feet tall, the best view may just be from its top overlooking the river valley, rather than gazing up at it from below.

Whatever the case may be, it is a character in the local forest around this neck of the woods and so must, at some point, be featured on these pages even if only a relatively minor feature of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

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Koso Shoshone Native American Rock Art, Ghost Dance and Hunting Magic

Trona Pinnacles. Enter, if ye dare.

The Trip Out Yonder

Some monstrous industrial ramrod ferociously hammered at long intervals some unseen target of progress, the metallic slamming a devilish metronome, the concussive impact reverberating off a pinch of rolling mountains and across the salt flats.

We stood warmly colored in the slant of early morning sunlight.

The town of Trona lay scattered like flotsam along the foot of those desert mountains, the scattered wrack of abandonment and ruin washed ashore along the ancient high water line of Searles Dry Lake.

Semi-trucks clamored around the bending strip of asphalt behind us, speeding by in a vibratory sucking whoosh of swirling grit like big rigs in Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, barreling toward the tangle of pipes and towers and metalwork spread about the railroad tracks just down the road toward town.

He stood hunched under the hood of his truck fiddling to secure, yet again, the hood latch, the monstrous ramrod keeping the beat from somewhere off in the unseen distance.

On a previous outing the latch had busted loose. Nearly going airborne as we launched off a dirt berm, out of the desert scrub, and back onto the asphalt probably hadn’t helped.

We had driven out of the Mojave Desert after that to find a piece of wire to lash it shut amid the ruinous gutted remains of an auto repair garage beside the famed old Route 66.

This time we were on the road again after adjusting a couple of bolts and tightening them down.

Onward forth yet deeper into the desert, on our way from Trona Pinnacles where we had spent a wild mind-warped night under a harvest moon, and into the Panamint Mountains of Death Valley National Park.

Looking over the salt flats toward our destination high in the Panamint Mountains.

The brilliant stark white and glowing yellow paint stripes of the Shell gas station beamed obscenely in the morning slash of sunlight, sitting as it did against the drab backdrop of the half-dead town and its ragged and leaning and collapsed artifacts of better times.

The gas station recalled pop art pioneer Ed Ruscha’s iconic “Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas (1966).”

“I go out to the long, lonely stretches of desert,” Ruscha said in a recent interview I read in an in-flight magazine while over the Atlantic, commenting as he was about where he draws inspiration from.

Yes, sir, Mr Ruscha. Indeed. Inspiration.

I caught a peek of a local resident pulling off the byway and into his neighborhood. I strained to see what sort of person could possibly find this place worthy of living in.

The man drove a late model well-kept full-sized pickup truck, appeared clean shaven and dressed well enough, for what little I could glimpse as we sped by. He looked normal, which here looked out of place.

We passed the sprawling, out-sized campus of the local high school, an immaculate, well-built and maintained symbol of pride, but impossible to believe enough children were around to attend even half of it.

The school building stuck out from the town conspicuously like a knobby crystal inclusion cutting through dark stone.

The two best kept articles of property in all the town appeared to be the filling station and the school, so far as was seen at speed from the outside.

Ballarat (Previous post: The Bandit of Ballarat)

“Turn here.”

We left the two-lane asphalt and followed a dirt road across the salt flats toward Ballarat, once a town now not.

We passed the two buildings known as Ballarat, a lone man standing in the shadows outside gazing at us from afar.

We sped by climbing a long alluvial jumble of fractured rock spat out of the canyon mouth to the desert floor below. We reached the end of the old road and set up shop for the night in an old miner’s camp.

The next morning when I woke, laying on my cot and wrapped in my sleeping bag, I caught sight of a single desert bighorn sheep making its way up the canyon we would soon be hiking up.

The bighorn’s presence foreshadowed the day to come searching out as we would be Native American pictographs depicting the same type of mountain sheep.

The canyon hike.

Looking through the canyon on the hike up.

Canyon walls looming overhead.

The Hike

Once within the canyon walls I was surprised at the new world we had entered, so different from the desert just outside its mouth.

Cool water flowed giving life to a verdant flush of various plants. Orchids grew along the creek, while cacti sat perched high overhead along the stony walls. Riparian and desert habitats met headlong. Higher up the creek the canyon opened and gave way to juniper and piñon pine and sparse scrub.

We trudged up the relentless alluvial acclivity for some six miles, gaining over 4,000 feet, to an elevation of almost 7,000 feet. Long swaths of the trail led over loose shards of scree that shifted beneath your feet with each step and drew yet more energy from our peregrinatory engines.

The slope went on, and on, and on.

Finally we came to the site of an old mining operation and what was left of its town built in a boom during the late nineteenth century.

We saw the boulder, the underside of which we had come a long way to gaze upon and ponder. The boulder rested on a gentle slope overlooking the wash not far below and had a view of the ruined town.

Stilly in his element. Captain Crash leading the way, as always.

The ruins of the mining town. 

First Impressions

Perhaps the oddest and most remarkable and immediately evident point that struck me was that the Indian rock art on this lithic canvas was virtually free of vandalism.

How could this possibly be?

The boulder sat in clear view mere steps from what was once a bustling mining operation, whose inhabitants, like most if not all early mining towns, where drunken rowdy and violent rough-and-tumble types.

The historic town here has been described as the meanest, toughest hellhole around, but then again that is a popular description and the same is said of many such mining towns. It ain’t called the Wild West for nuttin’.

Somehow the Indian rock art survived unscathed. There were no initials nor names etched into the panel. I failed to find even a single bullet mark. Not a one. Imagine that. It was astounding!

I wondered if the paintings had come after the mining boom went bust and the town fell to ruins. The paint was certainly not too old looking being thick and pasty, the colors vibrant.

The rock shelter. (All photos from October 2017)

Some of the design elements found in the cave:

Quadrapeds (unidentified) 33
Bighorn sheep 26
Horse or mule and rider 9
Anthropomorphs 16
Anthropomorphs with weapons 8
Sun-like symbols 3
Deer 2
Bird 1
Ring 1
Star 1

The Cave Site And Interpretation 

This Indian rock art site is associated with hunting magic and the Ghost Dance movement of the latter nineteenth century in California. This site appears to depict hunting scenes as suggested by the bowmen and animals that appear to be pierced with arrows.

The Ghost Dance movement was a reaction to the decline and destruction of Native American cultures resulting from the various consequences of Euro-American settlement and the expansion of the United States.

The movement sought to revitalize native traditional ways of life to empower its people and bring on the return of bountiful lands and a fruitful and fulfilling existence for hunter gatherers.

Native American prophecy held that the world would be destroyed, but following this cataclysm the animals and plants would return along with the Indians and their dead ancestors, and the Europeans would disappear.

The Ghost Dance movement stimulated a renascence in rock art creation. And because rock art reflected important life experiences it is believed that many pictograph sites are adorned with aspects of the Ghost Dance.

The desert bighorn sheep design element at this site is key in linking the paintings to the Ghost Dance. It is thought that these paintings were inspired by participation in this movement.

The particular stylized design of the sheep was an important choice made by the artists in their efforts to restore depleted sheep herds and reinvigorate their cynegetic way of life.

The design of the bighorn sheep at this site are reminiscent of the many bighorn petroglyphs in the nearby Coso Range, which are thought to have been created around 1,000 years ago.

Although it is theorized that the creation of those ancient petroglyphs coincided with a sharp decline in bighorn sheep numbers, looking today at the many Coso petroglyphs, thousands of them depicting sheep, it gives the sense that game was incredibly abundant back then.

It may be that the artists at this site featured below, inspired by the Ghost Dance movement’s call to return to and enliven old ways, had been looking back at that ancient art found in the Cosos and saw a time of fecundity and therefore sought to mimic that style of art in their efforts to bring back abundant game and a vibrant culture.

The various horse or mule and rider designs along with the depiction of people wearing hats are believed to be Indians rather than Euro-Americans as might be commonly thought at first glance.

These riders are believed to be Indian Ghost Dance messengers.

The spread of the movement was facilitated by the adoption of horseback travel by native peoples. The arrival of such messengers on horseback would have been a special occasion worthy of the creation of rock art, whereas the sight of Euro-American riders in the late 1800s, long after the advent or arrival of white folk and domestic horses, would not likely have been worthy of special record.

This is the theory of, and all the preceding information comes from, anthropologists that studied the site in the 1980s. As always, such theories and conclusions, although underpinned by evidence of various sorts, are only “maybes.” And if newer studies have been conducted of which I am unaware, it may be that these conclusions by those scholars are now out dated. Take it as you wish.

This is an illustration depicting the design elements found in the cave. A close and careful examination of the illustration will help identify the same design elements shown in the photos below, though the snapshots are of poor quality.

White bowman center frame, as featured below.

A possible hunting dog seen here at the bowman’s side.

Here a horse or mule and rider can be (barely) seen on the very lower left just above the rocks. It was a hard canvas to capture clearly by this ‘ere rank amateur cell phone snapshot clicker.

Note the bowman on the lower left, which appears to be taking aim at a large horned animal of some sort.

Bighorn sheep and a horse or mule and rider on the left hand side.

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San Lucas Falls, Santa Ynez Mountains

A view of the Pacific Ocean overlooking the Gaviota Coast from the crest of the Santa Ynez Mountains atop San Lucas Falls canyon.

San Lucas Falls is rarely visited and hardly ever seen by anybody despite being one of the better waterfalls in the Santa Ynez Mountains of Santa Barbara County.

There is no easy access by way of an official, US Forest Service sanctioned and maintained trail. There is no trail at all, so far as I know.

The gatekeeper has long been the impenetrable forest of chaparral that surrounds the waterfall, although I suppose an enterprising hiker may find his way there bootlegging it up a long stretch of a particular dirt road, which I believe is private property, however.

There is an old overgrown, slough-covered road cut that runs by the falls.

San Lucas Falls is located center frame, the old road cut visible near the lower left.

Some years ago I stumbled across the falls on a US Geological Survey map from several decades ago.

A thin blue line marked its location with the name beside it.

I had never heard of the waterfall.

I needed to see it, but could not locate a single image online.

Obviously the mountains were calling and I needed to go. I had to study the falls first hand, up close and personal.

Ain’t that right, John Muir?

Cachuma Lake

But how to penetrate that impenetrable thicket that guarded the waterfall?

That was, for all but the most masochistic lunatics, not possible so far as I was concerned. Not even I, the lone weirdo wanderer of the woods and places of lesser interest, had an appetite for that sort of rough and bloody work.

It could take a body hours to move even just a mile. Something like Campbell Grant describes in his book, “Rock Paintings of the Chumash,” when on his way to a painted cave deep within the Santa Barbara backcountry.

“Carrying packs and cutting our way down a brush-choked arroyo with machetes,” Grant writes, “we made a mile in two hours.”

Fun.

And once under scrub canopy a hiker is effectively lost, for all visible reckoning and route finding becomes extremely difficult if not impossible due to the thick cover of chaparral. You can’t see where you are nor where you need to go.

So San Lucas Falls lodged in my brain as a project to be done at some point. The years kept sliding by.

Looking down San Lucas Canyon toward the Santa Ynez Valley.

And then the Whittier wild fire swept through the area and thinned the forest just enough to offer a much easier, although still strenuous, passage.

And then two years later, right now, the winter finally brought a normal season of precipitation, which after seven or so years of drought seemed like a torrential deluge.

Every little runnel in the hills came back to life and flowed with gusto, while the major creeks once more roared and the Santa Ynez River, which San Lucas Creek flows into, raged high along its banks turbid, dangerous, swift and chilly.

This was the year to visit San Lucas Falls, while it was gushing, before the drought possibly continued, before the chaparral grew back, before the figurative doors were slammed shut once more for decades to come.

I hiked down the spine of a steep ridge just east of the waterfall, through the spotty patches of burned brush. The route was fairly open from the fire, but as you know forest fires do not burn evenly.

In several places I was forced to meander here and there through thickets of scorched but still standing brier, to retrace my steps and double back in search of openings, and in a few places resort to crawling.

The ridgeline falls steeply toward the Santa Ynez Valley in a series of stair steps, the backsides of which are not visible when hiking down into the canyon. From the valley floor these slopes appear closer to vertical than not.

I was not sure if each of the backsides of those stair-like graduated hilltops was burned clear or had been untouched by the blaze or merely just singed.

There was a good chance each of those backsides did not burn as they face northward on the north slope of the mountain range, and so tend to be wetter and greener and thus less susceptible to fire.

This translates logistically into standing atop highest of those stair steps on the ridge near the crest of the mountain and wondering, “If I hike 1,000 feet down to that far step which looks to provide the closest point of access into the creek, will the backside of that step be burned clear and easy to walk or did it not burn and is still shrouded in impenetrable brush?”

You have to make the call knowing you may get down there and find it impenetrable and then be forced to retrace your steps right back up the beastly steep slope to try and find another entry point.

This could consume a couple of hours of precious time and energy and leave you right where you started with nothing to show for it but dirt and charcoal stains, scratches and lots of sweat.

The bears around here, or “bars” as Abe Lincoln purportedly pronounced the word back when, have a funny habit of stepping right in the same foot prints every time they pass along their own trail. This results in rather deep and well-worn footprints like this one here.

There were two other possible entry points breaking off from higher up the ridge I was on, but the first and closest one led into the creek farther above the falls than I liked, which risked leaving me ledged up above the falls without any way to get down below for a looksee.

The second possible entry point appeared to end in a dense patch of brush that hadn’t burned and which was too far above the creek to want to bushwhack through.

But to determine if this was the case, I’d have to traverse along that hill quite some distance before being afforded a view down towards the creek to see if it had burned enough to get through.

If it hadn’t burned, then I’d have to retrace my trail back farther than I would have liked. So I wrote it off.

San Lucas Falls

Therefore, I made the call to proceed down to that aforementioned third entry point, the lowest one, that offered possible access into the creek shortly below the waterfall.

Off I went, down, down, down chasing a possibility, pants, long sleeves, leather gloves, trekking poles.

Fortunately the fire had indeed burned down the backside of that last stair step and cleared out the dense scrub enough to allow relatively easy passage.

But I didn’t know this for sure until I was right down atop that earlier mentioned sloughed over road cut just above the creek and just below the falls.

The entire hike down the ridge I was going on a “maybe” regarding weather or not I’d actually have a chance at getting into the creek.

Fortunately I was able to find my way through with relative ease.

The water falls with much more force than might be suggested by these photos and it casts off quite a misty breeze.

San Lucas Falls is located at the confluence of two streams. What might be called the highest east and west fork of San Lucas Creek were it a more substantial drainage.

The waterfall is found on the east fork not many yards upstream from this confluence.

San Lucas is among the best waterfalls in the local range, not a mere cascade and in no way small.

I’m a terrible judge of height and distance, but I’d hazard a rough guess that it is a 70 foot waterfall give or take 10 feet or so. But it may well be much taller. I think it probably is taller, but I don’t want to hype it. From my last post you know I don’t appreciate hype.

Whatever the case may be this waterfall gushes and roars. It doesn’t just trickle. But there is no plunge pool at its foot, just a very shallow slick of water over a gravel bed.

The whole canyon was loud with the sound of falling and running water when I was there.

New sprouts from seed of various scrub comprising chaparral were popping up all over the mountain burn scar in addition to the basal regrowth from established root systems of scorched bushes.

A normal amount of precipitation this season and a cooler winter that’s helped keep things wet seem to be setting the stage for a remarkable flush of new growth to fill out the forest that had been dying and shrinking in density and volume from the long drought.

The “west fork” of San Lucas Creek at the confluence showing a peek of the miniature “gorge.”

When we get a normal season of rainfall, it’s incredible how much water flows from the sandstone aquifer that are the rather short and stubby Santa Ynez Mountains.

The waterfall is difficult to get a decent view of because it is hemmed in and shrouded by tall trees.

This may be one reason why a trail was never cut to it; you can’t really see it from any distance and so it may be harder to appreciate than other more open falls.

The west fork of the creek at the falls cuts through a miniature gorge just above the confluence, which itself is a rather nifty place.

After the hike, I had pulled over on West Camino Cielo Road along a blind corner on the wrong side of the road to take a gander of the view from the top of the mountain.

Seeing a white truck rolling up behind me I waved it around signaling to the driver that it was clear to pass.

The driver stopped to hassle me for some damn reason. Understand that any interaction with another human when I’m out alone is a hassle for The Grouch of the Woods. It’s nothing personal.

He interrogated, er, asked me what I was doing, the door of his truck fashioned with some sort of official seal I guess I’m supposed to take seriously.

I told him I was just taking in the view, that I had just returned from a hike down to San Lucas Falls, that it was rough and rugged. I’m not sure he even knew what or where I was talking about.

“Well, so long as you can get in and out yourself,” he remarked and drove off.

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Chocolate Lily

Fritillaria biflora

Argh. The entire state of California (yes, that’s hyperbole) at the moment seems to be either gripped by what journalists and the news media love to hype as a wildflower “super bloom” or is suffering in the throes of dealing with the frenzied madness surrounding it as fueled by the media.

I read one report from NPR of 50,000 people pouring through one small town with a population not much larger.

Other reports lament the herd of onlookers trampling sensitive lands and leaving behind scores of braided footpaths slicing apart fields of flowers, so much so that the use-trails are visible in satellite imagery.

News articles are being pumped out daily dressed up with sparkling, eye-catching lures like, “It’s the best it’s ever been.”

Really? Ever is a long time. I don’t think that applies. But sensationalism sells. Hence Hearst Castle.

Two years ago, 2017, the media was filled with commentary about a California “super bloom.” A report from US Today tells of “California’s second ‘super bloom’ in two years.” That headline is immediately followed by a photo caption asserting that it is “a rare super bloom.” Twice in two years is rare? I don’t think so, Cletus.

One wonders how super it really is when it also occurred just 730 days ago. Maybe it’s not so super after all even if is indeed a grand show.

I can’t deny that it is a grand show. And I certainly don’t fault people for wanting to see it. But I don’t know that it’s “super.” Maybe it’s just normal.

When we receive a normal measure of rainfall for the season after seven years of intense drought you know what we call it here?

Normal.

100% of normal county-wide is the way it’s put by officials.

Despite every runnel, brook, creek and river flowing with gusto like we haven’t seen in years, and despite the novelty of so much water running everywhere after it being so dry for so long, we still just call it. . .normal.

Twenty years ago, on days I’d venture out to the Carrizo Plain to take a looksee at the wild flowers, I rarely if ever saw anybody.

Surely people came, but not like they do now in the age of social media saturation, which has combined with the usual age-old media hype and yellow journalism as a force multiplier when it comes to propelling thousands of people into places they would otherwise never have gone.

(I suppose I may share in owning some of the blame by giving yet more exposure to certain places through this here little weblog.)

In 2011, following a season of abundant rainfall well above average, I spent an entire day immersed in Carrizo Plain National Monument and saw nobody. You can see what it looked like that day at the following link: Temblor Range Wildflowers. It looked pretty super.  I don’t recall wall to wall reports of a “super bloom” that year, but maybe I just wasn’t paying attention.

A rather large lily standing over a foot tall. Many years they only reach about half that size.

Anyhow, with so much attention focused on this season’s wildflower bloom I feel compelled to ignore it around here. I have posts up from previous blooms for those interested. I included below a link to one such post or search “wildflowers” in the sidebar.

I’ve been out to see some of the flowers this season, but my contrarian-against-the-grain-swimming-upstream nature precludes me from wanting to post anything about it.

When it’s on the national news I think it’s been pimped out enough as it is.

So I’d like to show a simple, sparse, far less spectacular bloom in chocolate lilies. So sparse that they aren’t even worth a landscape shot, as they’d be all but invisible.

Because just as I am a wanderer of lands of lesser interest, so too am I an aficionado of things of lesser interest in those lands. What most folks ignore I like to pay attention to.

These lilies grow by the hundreds in good years in certain places like the serpentine soils on Figueroa Mountain and in Oso Canyon draining into the Santa Ynez River.

But they do not grow so thick as to paint over large swaths of land attracting media hounds and hoards of eager viewers.

So there you go. That’s it. That’s all.

Related Post 

Sage Hill Wildflowers

 

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Smithy’s Pool

The Santa Ynez River was once hailed as “the most productive of all the little steelhead rivers of the south” in California. (Native Steelhead of Yore)

Sitting in the public library some twenty years ago or more I stumbled upon vague directions and an alluring black and white photo in one of Dick Smith’s old books from the 1960s. This would be the same Mr Smith for which the Dick Smith Wilderness was named.

The photo showed a man and a “youngster,” as he was apt to call them in his various writings, standing aside a relatively large and deep looking pool of water surrounded by thick grass. A dog appeared to be swimming.

I had been recreating in this specific area since I was a small boy and the black pool sitting on the slopes high above the creek, as I recognized it in the photo from knowing the area, was astonishing at first sight.

I wondered how a water feature in this semi-arid region could possibly be located in what seemed such an unlikely spot on the side of a dry mountain. And, of course, I knew immediately I had to venture out for a looksee myself sometime; into the notebook an entry went.

But interest in other places distracted me and life’s priorities kept me busy and it was about a decade before I followed up and found my way out there for the first time. What I found was a dry depression but no pool.

The Los Padres National Forest may seem fairly small when looking on a map, but a fella could spend a life time out there beating himself to a pulp, dragging his hind end all over the woods and still not see all there is to see.

Who knows what’s out there? More than you may think.

A few years back, a guy that took Stillman and I to a Chumash Indian pictograph site in the Sespe Wilderness found a Chumash basket in a dry cave, which is now displayed in the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

The map, as much as I appreciate all that it offers and the work put in to create it, doesn’t show you much. This is yet another place not labeled on the map.

How many other places or things do you think there are out there waiting for you to discover for yourself?

And don’t forget the intangible discoveries you may stumble across when out in the forest away from it all, you know what I’m saying?

I gotta gotta take a trip, gotta take a trip out of this place
I gotta gotta get away, get away from the human race
I don’t know what I’ll see, don’t even know what I’ll find
I don’t know what to pack, never been to a trip at the mind

Trip at the brain, trip at the brain, trip at the brain

Do you know what I’m saying?

Mike Muir

Smith described the pool back in the 1960s as being spring-fed and a home to turtles swimming about. What?!, I thought as I first read his book. It was all too alluring for me to ignore.

I don’t believe the spring works much anymore if there was indeed ever a spring. Back when I stumbled across the photo in Smith’s book I imagine the pool would have remained filled most years, as the 1990’s were an exceptionally wet decade.

These days the pool only fills intermittently on rainier years like the season at hand now, when we’ve thus far enjoyed over 100% of normal precipitation county-wide after years of drought.

A seasonal brook runs down the mountain near the pool. A few oaks, coast live and blue, stand adjacent the pool on the grassy slope. The place looks a bit more scraggly and sparse than usual as it recovers from a forest fire. At the moment scores of chocolate lilies are in full bloom all over the area. At least one and possibly two Chumash habitation sites are located not far from the pool.

On the day of my last visit it was a supremely peaceful place with nobody else around, behind locked gates and the fast flowing and frigid Santa Ynez River, which forced howls of pain from my person as I waded across on icy bare feet.

Once the river crossing is cleared and the gates open, the bowl of the canyon will once more resonate with the racket of “machine mad motorcyclists,” as Ed Abbey wrote.

On this day, there wasn’t another soul around but for the wild.

Yeah, Jack likes mud puddles. So what?

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