With a blustery forecast set for Sunday and Monday, I begrudgingly decided to postpone a backpacking trip. The slight chance of rain that was also expected was of little concern, but the thought of being exposed to the elements for several days in cool windy conditions did not sound too appetizing. After awhile, wind can be like a fly ceaselessly buzzing around your eyes and ears, at a certain point it becomes maddening and you just want to be left alone from its constant unavoidable presence.
So instead, I headed down into the red and purple stone studded void of a Ventura County creek for the day. Several times while in the canyon thoughts of the ocean entered my mind and, specifically, surfing. I didn’t think any of it. A man has a lot of time to think when hiking alone and his mind will wander through the corridors of memory just as his person wanders a trail.
It was not until late afternoon when the cause of these thoughts finally struck me. I was at the foot of the upper fall that pours over the stone lip and into the pool below with the power of a gigantic fire hose. I had a particularly vivid sense of being immersed in the roiling whitewater of the ocean after a big wave breaks.
I thought of the smell of the sea in the impact zone, where the power of ocean swells explode onto the shoreline, vaporizing the seawater and filling the air with a heavy scent. That’s when it struck me. The smell of the creek air was triggering these thoughts. The reason such a thought entered my mind while on the creek, and had been lingering on the fringes of my consciousness all day long, was because the watercourse has the same oily smell as areas of the local ocean I frequent.
The Santa Barbara Channel is home to the second largest natural oil seeps in the world. The result is a near constant smell of oil not only while at the beach, but often in town, too. The powerful waterfalls of the creek work in a similar manner as the swells of the Pacific. They both churn up naturally occurring petroleum deposits and inject its scent into the air. At the creek the smell of oil is definitely more subtle, but it’s there wafting through the canyon.
It was an overcast day with small patches of blue sky opening up on occasion. There was almost no wind. As the afternoon wore on heavy clouds gathered over the peaks. In the hour before sunset a thick, misty marine layer rolled in and muffled the landscape beneath a cool gray blanket.
The cloud cover, like a lampshade over a bulb, dispersed the sunlight evenly across the mountains. It actually illuminated the eastern facing Bear Heaven escarpment wonderfully, as seen from the top of the waterfall at the mouth of the creek.
A heavy flow of runoff was plummeting over the precipice of Bear Heaven scarp. It actually became easier to see the falls than it was earlier in the day when there was more sunshine, which had plunged the cliffs into deep shadows throughout midafternoon.
On my hike up out of the creek, I ventured off trail and through the chaparral for one last gaze at the distant Bear Heaven cliffs from far across the deep cut Sespe Creek canyon. Listening carefully, I could hear the powerful slap of water as it smacked against the rocks at the bottom of the falls.
A light, shifty wind blew the noise to and fro through the canyon air and it would come in bursts of crisp, distinct sound and then suddenly vanish with the shifting breeze. I could see sheets of whitewater free falling through the air and exploding off the cliff face and massive boulders below.