A Rocky Killdeer Nest

Santa Ynez River swimming summerSanta Ynez River

Long days on the river.

Six. Seven. Eight hour sessions.

The sun.

The wind.

The sweet mineral scent of the cool emerald water.

Jet airliners soar over the Santa Ynez Mountains trackless and silent through the depthless blue, their bellies glowing hot white in the blast of sunlight reflected off the top of the fog blanket lying unseen along the coast, over on the Otherside.

killdeer eggs nest rocks santa ynez river Santa BarbaraFour killdeer eggs.

On one of these days not long ago it became evident that I should explore a gravel bar along the far side of the river.

Long, wide swaths of gravel was spread neatly like a Japanese rock garden between tufts of mulefat and cottonwood saplings and clumps of young willow.

Nothing out of the ordinary caught my attention over there, where it was dry and hot.

There was no apparent reason to walk over yonder for a wander, which of course may just be the perfect reason in itself.

You just never know what’s in that box of chocolates out there.

I found myself hobbling barefoot along the searing hot gravel bar in mid-afternoon motivated by whatever to go look somewhere for something or. . . whatever.

I walked up on a killdeer nest, which is, as evident, a generous description for the egg bed.

Although the eggs were in plain sight in an open setting they were hard to see from any distance.

I hadn’t seen the eggs until I was looming over them about to crush them under foot.

When I came back with the kids the eggs disappeared in the rocks even when I knew they were right there somewhere in front of me. The camouflage was brilliant, my brain easily tricked.

Two eggs disappeared since we first found the clutch about a week ago. No shell fragments have been found. No babies have been seen. The parents still tend to the remaining two eggs.

killdeer eggs nest rock santa ynez river Santa Barbara

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The Clattering Seep at Lizard’s Mouth

Apologies offered for the vertical video syndrome.

You’ve heard of the babbling brook.

Everybody’s written about it.

Well, meet here the clattering seep.

I’m fascinated by small things in nature other people are oblivious to and even when clued into have no interest in.

The severe drought from about 2011 until now instilled in me a new appreciation and interest in water and hydrology in the Los Padres National Forest of Santa Barbara County.

We were up at Lizard’s Mouth a few days ago and I was standing on the rocks and I heard a clicking or clattering sound. I zeroed in on the location of the source and came to stand atop a large boulder balanced over a huge crack in the sandstone bedrock outcrop, which waters runs through during active rain events.

I could see tufts of ferns sprouting from the cracks in the rocks down below surface level of the overall outcrop of Lizard’s Mouth. The boulder had come to rest like a roof over the split in the bedrock that had pulled apart through the millennia and had formed a sort of room or subterranean grotto. A handful of people can fit in the grotto and stand.

Standing on the boulder and listening to the clatter and looking down into the grotto I thought it might have been a frog making the sound, as the niche down there was obviously moist and protected.

I scampered down into the crack, got down on all fours, pulled back a fringe of ferns and found that a small hole blowing bubbles was responsible for the noise.

Apparently water was seeping through cracks and fissures in the bedrock and pushing air along and forcing it out of the hole.

This was remarkable being that this seep is less than a stone’s throw from the very crest of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

In other words, the seep drains a small area. It’s not low down in the canyon with a large source from which to draw where one might expect runoff to be trickling out of the mountain for months after winter rains.

This was the crest of the mountain in late May. That’s something.

A few minutes after I had hopped out of the grotto and walked away my eldest daughter called out to me telling me to come over and check out what she had found.

She too had heard and found the clattering seep, observant and tuned in to the nuances and subtleties of the natural world around her like her father.

Situational awareness. Acute consciousness. Sentience.

To be alive, fueled by a mind ravenous with interest, keenly perceiving nature through senses honed from immersive, visceral, intimate personal experience.

We do all we can to avoid that state of dulled, oblivious indifference common to the post-modern dweller of the metropolis.

We like the little things.

The seep was located center frame there in the dark void beneath the boulder.

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Thoughts on Rare Lily Ojai Fritillaria and Indian Fire

Earlier this year in March, out scampering around in the Los Padres National Forest, I stumbled across a rather impressive stand of a rare wildflower, Fritillaria ojaiensis or the Ojai Fritillaria lily.

I had previously noted this Seldom Seen Slim of Santa Barbara County wildflowers on this here blog in 2015: Fritillaria Ojaiensis, Rare Wildflower.

The U.S. Forest Service describes this plant as being “critically imperiled.” I wonder why it’s so imperiled.

I assume habitat loss is one problem, which seems to be the ever increasing problem for much of the nation’s wildlife.

I’m going out on a limb here, admittedly, in further pondering the issue based on this assumption, but I wonder if the loss and absence of Native American forest management practices or what is often called “traditional ecological knowledge” has played a role in this flower becoming critically imperiled and rare.

This may be seen as rank speculation, but I’m not advancing a theory, and this weblog is an open journal of sorts where I ponder my surroundings, and so the following might better be seen as merely the inner workings of one man’s mind in response to what he reads and what he experiences in nature. Something like this here other post: Mastodon & Mammoth Sign: Reading Trees in the Santa Ynez Mountains

California at the time of Euro-American contact was a blooming garden of sustained abundance brought about not just by nature alone, as is commonly believed, but encouraged and fostered and cared for by many generations of Indians through thousands of years. (Anderson)

California was a botanical wonderland prior to Euro-American contact not because it was a so-called pristine “wilderness” that was unmolested by humanity, but because California’s original or native human inhabitants made it so by their own hand. And fire was their favored tool of choice.

“Fire was the most significant, effective, efficient, and widely employed vegetation management tool of the California Indian tribes,” M. Kat Anderson writes in “Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources.”

Native burning practices tended to maintain a clear understory beneath the canopy of oak woodland, which is precisely where the Ojai Fritillaria lily seems to like growing.

The forests of California prior to Euro-American contact were far more open and park-like in their character than what we see today, because for hundreds if not thousands of years, Natives had routinely burned the land with light intensity blazes every few years to remove dead forest litter, thick brush, senescent growth and to encourage the sprouting of fresh crops of culturally important plants.

After wildfires like the Day in 2006 and the Zaca in 2007, we read stories of the Forest Service hunting out Chumash rock art sites deep in the Santa Barbara backcountry that had previously been concealed by thick chaparral and we see headlines such as, “Long-hidden sites emerge as archaeologists explore burned-out Santa Barbara County backcountry.” Local outdoor adventure scribe, Chuck Graham, writes in Noozhawk:

“The fires have exposed long-hidden rock art where old, concealed trails lead to previous sites unseen. … Most of the old trails exposed are those of Native Americans.”

Well, an inquisitive mind might wonder why were those important sites covered in dense impenetrable forest today before the fire, but were obviously open for travel in prehistoric times.

Fire is the probable answer. But not lightning because it did not strike often enough. And the Chumash likely were not out pruning trails. Anderson cites Native American Rosalie Bethel, North Fork Mono, on the use of Native fire:

“They burned around the camping grounds where they lived and around where they gathered. They also cleared pathways between camps.”

Anderson notes:

“One can discern how different the vegetation was when Indians were the sole inhabitants by walking the land after a catastrophic fire. Old village sites reappear where impenetrable chaparral lay before the fire. Sandstone cave areas with indigenous pictographs are exposed after coastal scrub is burned back by wildfires.”

When the use of fire was prohibited by Americans some time ago and the focus became fire suppression, as carried out by the US government at a military-industrial scale to snuff out all wildfire, natural and anthropogenic, the forest began to close in, biodiversity tended to waned, homogeneity tended to increase, and the botanical composition of the land or habitat was radically altered.

“Fire in natural, as in cultural, systems is as effective an agent by being withheld as by being applied,” Stephen Pyne writes in “Fire In America: A Cultural History of Wildland and Rural Fire.”

Fire suppression has been no less effective in altering the lands we see today than the use of fire had been in altering the lands Native Americans saw in their day, because fire is an agent of great environmental change.

“In many environments fire, anthropogenic or natural is the controlling agent of ecological dynamics, exerting an inordinate influence on the composition of flora and fauna, on their historical arrangements, and on their contemporary energetics.”

Pyne on the drastic change to the land brought about by Native fire:

“So extensive were the cumulative effects of these modifications that it may be said that the general consequence of Indian occupation of the New World was to replace forested land with grassland or savannah, or, where the forest persisted, to open it up and free it from underbrush.”

Local ethnographer, Jan Timbrook, and John R. Johnson and David D. Earle on the use of fire by the Chumash in Santa Barbara County:

“It seems likely that the Santa Barbara coast in pre-European times was dominated by grassland and oak savanna. … Indian burning may also have been an important factor in maintaining the openness of oak savanna in coastal areas.

(Vegetation Burning by the Chumash [1982])

The absence of Native fire from the land for so long and policies of fire suppression have had profound consequences.

“The hands-off approach to management of wilderness preserves,” writes Anderson, “is jeopardizing the long-term stability of many plant communities.”

And so it is that I wonder about the Ojai Fritillaria lily’s critically imperiled state.

This season I “discovered” a stand of no less than 66 individual plants growing in the Santa Ynez Mountains along the headwaters of a creek draining the north slope of the range.

That’s the number at which point I stopped counting, surely there are more growing at this specific site and I imagine many more as well at other sites in the same canyon lower in the watershed.

About two thirds of the plants were in active bloom while the remainder were showing only a leaf or two and had not yet reached florescence.

It was a nice find growing under the canopy of an oak woodland where the understory was notably open and free of brush.

The plants were growing in habitat that I imagine would have been far more prevalent in prehistoric times when the land was under Native American management.

And so it is I wonder about the Ojai Fritillaria lily’s critically imperiled state.

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Parks Management Company’s Red Rock Racket Continues

Santa Ynez River

“The writer’s duty to speak the truthespecially unpopular truth. Especially truth that offends the powerful, the rich, the well-established, the traditional, the mythic, the sentimental. To attack, when the time makes it necessary, the sacred cows of his society. And I mean all sacred cows.”

Edward Abbey, “A Writer’s Credo”

“Virtually no article of faith, ideology, or institution—be this sacred or profane, this worldly or otherworldly—escapes his scrutiny.”

—Max Oelschlaeger on Henry David Thoreau, “The Idea of Wilderness” 

When I use developed day-use sites to picnic or BBQ I pay the fee.

But we the people do not have to pay Parks Management Company anything to drive Santa Ynez River Road on the way to Red Rock swimming hole or to park in the dirt. So don’t.

*   *   *

Folks, Parks Management Company is up to their ol’ dirty business of fleecing unsuspecting recreationists of their hard earned money.

They have been perpetrating this outrage for years now.

Recall my post on the matter from 2017:

Parks Management Company’s Red Rock Racket

*   *   *

On Saturday, May 25th, 2019, I was pestered—or is harassment and bullying at this point?—for over ten minutes by two different PMC employees while sitting in my car at the checkpoint they’ve long ago installed at First Crossing in order to halt traffic and demand money.

When I first drove up to the checkpoint at around 11 or 12 noon the middle-aged blue eyed woman with straight sandy blonde hair asked for $10 for day-use.

“For what,” I simply asked.

The tone and mood was business-like but amiable and fine.

She repeated herself in some form saying there was a $10 fee for day-use.

I told her I was not using the day-use areas.

Again she requested payment having me believe that I was not allowed to pass without handing over cash.

I told her that I was not paying anything, and that she was wrong, and that she could not bar access to a public road. I told her that I wanted to talk to somebody else, somebody in charge, because this was not right.

She then questioned me as to my intent in wanting to drive the road, wanting to know where I was going, what I was doing.

This is an outrageous question. PMC has no business interrogating people as to their intent when driving a public road.

When a driver is pulled over by a cop, that driver does not have to answer any questions nor say anything at all to that cop. Not a word.

And we certainly don’t have to answer the questions of PMC interrogators.

I told her I was going to park on the side of the road in the dirt.

She told me I was not allowed to do that; that there was no parking beyond First Crossing without payment of a day-use fee to PMC.

I told her that was not true and that she was incorrect. I told her that this—Santa Ynez River Road—is a public road and that I did not have to pay anything to anybody to drive it.

This would be like plopping down a checkpoint at Cachuma Saddle on Figueroa Mountain on the way to Davy Brown Campground and NIRA campground, and barring access to the entire length of the road leading there except to those people whom pay a camping fee even if they were not camping.

“It’s a $20 fee for camping,” the checkpoint worker would demand.

“But I’m not camping,” I’d reply. “I’m just driving the road and parking in the dirt.”

“It’s a $20 fee,” they’d continue to insist.

That’s some BS right there.

If I am not using the developed, improved facilities and day-use recreation sites then I am not paying the fee and nor am I legally obligated to do so.

The checkpoint at First Crossing operated by Park’s Management Company. PMC has a profit incentive to keep the public uninformed and under the mistaken impression that people have to pay a fee and the company actively works to keep people uninformed, as explained in this post and in a previous post.

At this point in the argument a younger dude with a ring through his lip and a small scraggly mustache stepped up and began a terribly uninformed attempt to wax eloquent about my rights and the law and bowl me over with his understanding of the matter. He cited a law from 1985.

Excuse me. Pardon me. But this man was an ignoramus. The other option, an out-and-out liar. I would not ordinarily mention it but for what he did in trying to get my money.

“I’ve been coming up here since before ’85,” I said, “and I’m well aware of how it works around here and I have never paid to drive the road. So what’s your point?”

Of course, he had no point other than thinking he could intimidate me with some vague reference to a law from 34 years ago.

At what point does this behavior become bullying?

It didn’t work. He had no other reply, because he didn’t understand what it was he was talking about or the law from ’85 he referenced.

So he changed the subject.

The guy then told me that I could not “park along the road especially at night.” I raised a finger and interrupted him.

“Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Wait a minute here. Do you hear what you just told me? That I can’t park along the road. Especially at night? That’s not true at all. And I’m also not parking at night anyway so it’s irrelevant. And what’s with ‘especially’? It’s either legal or not. There is nothing especially about it. You need to be careful about what you say and choose your words more judiciously, because you’re talking about the law and my rights and what you’re saying is not true.”

In trying to get me to pay PMC money the guy told me something that is absolutely not true. He misrepresented the law in pursuit of profit. Say nothing of intent if you wish, but that is what happened.

When called out the guy began to stumble and stutter, his eyes shooting up to the corner of their sockets in thought as he floundered about trying to formulate a reasonable thought and put it into coherent sentences.

Mariposa lily or Calochortus growing along the Santa Ynez River.

The man with a ring in his lip had no intelligible reply. So he once more changed the subject.

He then told me that the public road stops at First Crossing there at the checkpoint booth. This false statement further gave the impression that I had no right to drive the road or access public forest without paying PMC.

I interrupted him again. That is not true either. Paradise Road is a Santa Barbara County road which runs to and meets Santa Ynez River Road (Forest Route 5N18) at First Crossing: See map.

From First Crossing onward Santa Ynez River Road (Forest Route 5N18) is a federal road by way of the US Forest Service.

In other words: It’s a public road. People are legally allowed to drive Santa Ynez River Road and park in unimproved dirt pull-outs along this road at any time, day or night.

When I sleep in the Los Padres National Forest at Matias Camp, I park in a dirt pull-out along Santa Ynez River Road. Overnight. This is legal.

When I hike the Camuesa Connector Trail I park day or night in a dirt pull-out along Santa Ynez River Road. This is legal.

What the hell is this bejeweled idiot talking about?

Back to the hypothetical Cachuma Saddle checkpoint scenario. This would be like telling people they cannot park in the dirt along the paved road to Davy Brown and NIRA to access hiking trails or just to stare at a rock, as I’m apt to do, without first paying a day-use fee to PMC.

It’s absurd. And I refuse to be bullied and intimidated by ignorant people telling falsehoods under the color of authority while in hard pursuit of my money.

My money is my life. Each dollar represents an increment of my life, my time spent working and worked away, which I will never get back. And I am not handing my life over to PMC stooges who have no legal authority whatsoever to force me to pay.

When I called the guy out on these, uh, mistruths, he stumbled and stuttered and then—yes, you guessed it—he changed the subject.

He then told me that I had entered into a recreation area back down the road when I passed Fremont Campground, the first campground along Paradise Road on the way to First Crossing.

I interrupted him again.

“Excuse me. The entire Los Padres National Forest and all designated wilderness areas are recreation areas,” I noted. “So you’re going to need stop a moment and define what exactly you have in mind because what you keep telling me doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.”

Again he stumbled and stuttered, the eyes darting about in his skull. And again he had no reasonable answer.

The improved, fee required Day-Use Area at First Crossing. 

I took the reigns and continued.

“You’re with Parks Management Company, right?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

“You operate under a Special-Use Permit granted by the US Forest Service, right? Yes, that’s correct. Thank you”

“And the permit grants you permission to run what?” I asked. “To manage improved or developed day-use areas and drive-up campgrounds and some trailheads,” I told them and pointed over to the large day-use, paved parking, picnic tables, BBQ grills and bathroom at First Crossing. “Like that over there. The permit does not grant you management of the entire forest, dude.”

The following is taken directly from the US Forest Service website:

The following recreation sites are included in the SUP with Parks Management Company:

Santa Barbara Ranger District: Fremont Campground, Los Prietos Campground, Paradise Campground, Sage Hill Group Campground, Upper Oso Campground, Falls Day Use Area, First Crossing Day Use Area, Live Oak Day Use Area, Lower Oso Day Use Area, Red Rock Day Use Area,  Sandstone Day Use Area, White Rock Day Use Area, and Red Rock Trailhead.

Those are the “recreation sites.” Santa Ynez River Road itself is not a recreation site. And nor is the verge or the numerous dirt pull-outs along the road.

I plodded on: “You have no authority to bar access to a public road or to demand payment to pass your checkpoint or to demand payment to park in a dirt pull-out,” I told him. 

The guy didn’t know what to do. He had been flying by the seat of his pants and making things up out of whole cloth the entire time and when called out and refuted at every turn he resorted to threats and accusations.

The guy then mentioned something about calling “sheriff Doug” because I was being “confrontational.”

This was comical.

That I was not buying this guy’s lies because I was far more informed and educated on the matter than he was; because of this I was “confrontational.”

I don’t think so, Cletus.

I had my three young children in the car. There was no confrontation, I assure you.

In fact, I’d turn it around on this guy and assert that he was being confrontational in his constant pressure and demands pushed with misinformation that I pay a fee which I am not legally obligated to pay. And then threatening me with the sheriff because I refused to be fleeced. That’s the confrontation!

We just wanted to park in the dirt and swim in a river that’s been there forever without need of any supposed “improvement.”

We did not want the so-called “improvements” peddled by PMC at a fee.

I had actually requested to speak with somebody of authority right at the get-go when the lady refused to let me pass without payment.

I wanted to speak with a sheriff. I have before. And it went well. Then PMC could explain to a law enforcement officer why it is that they are barring access to public roads and lands under the color of authority.

How about that?! How about PMC be held to account and made to explain this outrageous behavior?!

I’d like to see Noozhawk publish a piece detailing this long running problem.

How about it, Macfadyen?

Calochortus growing along the Santa Ynez River.

Then the manager in duty for PMC pulled up behind me and walked over. I had already turned my engine off several minutes before he arrived.

The pale, fuzzy-faced man of short stature kindly identified himself as the manager on duty and asked how he could help me.

“Howdy. Great. You tell me,” I said.

It’s on PMC to explain itself not me to explain myself.

And you know what happened?

Within 60 seconds the manager told me to my face, eye to eye, that if I was going to park in a dirt pull-out along the paved road that there would be no charge for that.

“Uh,” I exclaimed with a puff of wind in exasperation, raising my hand, palm upward, looking at the lady in the booth I first dealt with.

I said to her: “Is not that exactly what I first told you when I pulled up? Yes. It is. That is exactly what I told you. And him,” I pointed to the guy with the ring through his lip. “I told you that, too.”

“And he accused me of being confrontational,” I told the manager. “And he threatened to call the sheriff on me,” I said. “What’s up with that? This is outrageous!”

“I’m perfectly calm,” I said. “Calmer than you are.” Nobody laughed.

The manager attempted to change the course of the discussion not liking my tack. I’d just rhetorically hanged these people with their own rope, and they knew it, and the manager clearly just wanted to settle the matter rather than hear me continue to point out how outrageously out of line his employees had been acting. He reached out and tried to hand me a day-use pass. “Here be my guest for the day,” he said.

“What?!,” I said, rejecting the offer with extreme prejudice.


“No. No. No. That’s not right. That’s not the way it’s supposed to work. That I’m your guest and how fortunate for me that you’re allowing me to pass into my public land,” I said.

“I just want to go swim. Can I go swim now? Are you all done with me? Is the interrogation over? Is there some secret password I can utter next time I come through so I can avoid all of this nonsense,” I asked, and slowly drove off.

What good reason is there that I should have to pay a $10 day-use fee to park in the dirt along a public road so my kids can swim in the river? 

On Memorial Day Monday I returned. The same lady was working the checkpoint.

“Remember me?” I asked. This time I had my wife along, too, as with our three kids.

“I thought you looked familiar,” she replied.

“Has anything changed,” I asked?

She stammered, not understanding my point.

“I’m still allowed to drive the road and park without payment to your company, right?”

Her guarded reply: “As of today, I will let you pass.”

Can you believe this ****?

“Whoa, wait a minute. What do you mean as of today? You’ll let me pass? That’s not right. You are obligated to allow me to pass because that’s the law,” I insisted.

“I’ll let you pass today because as of now there is some disagreement on the matter between the sheriff and the Forest Service,” she said.

In point of fact, there has been “disagreement” on this matter for decades. This is nothing new and long predates PMC’s arrival on the scene.

She’s going to let me pass because she doesn’t have any legal authority not to. That’s the truth of the matter. How big of her, of PMC.

Well, my interpretation of what the lady told me is that yes, indeed, I am correct in my arguments and the sheriff agrees with my position on the matter.

Because if the sheriff did not agree with me, then, presumably, PMC would stand on the law enforcement’s official line of opposition to my argument and insist that I, that we the people, must pay and PMC would not allow any free access.

This is why the manager of PMC let me pass without payment. And that is why the lady did so again on Monday.

Because they know they have no legal authority to charge day-use fees for driving Santa Ynez River Road or parking in the dirt.

And they know that the sheriff will not back them in claiming that authority.

This is why other private corporations that previously managed this area under a Special-Use Permit prior to PMC also always acquiesced, always, eventually, with enough argument at the checkpoint, and allowed me to pass without payment so long as I was not using the improved day-use sites or paved parking lots.

When I use developed day-use sites to picnic or BBQ I pay the fee.

But we the people do not have to pay Parks Management Company anything to drive Santa Ynez River Road or park in the dirt. So don’t.

Santa Ynez River

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Horny Toad

“It was a rough land that bred a tough man.”

Louis L’Amour, Utah Blaine (1984)

The observer may glean some insight into the nature of the land by looking at its native inhabitants. When you’re wearing a helmet of horns and shrouded in barbed chain mail, then you know the San Rafael Wilderness is some rough country.

When I was a kid on a Monte Vista elementary school field trip to Cachuma Lake, one of the kids in my class caught a horny toad. It was a raving huge hit.

And so pestered did the lizard become as the center of rambunctious childhood attention that it demonstrated one of the oddest sights in this here county.

The crazy thing spurted blood from its eyeballs!

It was probably the first time most of the kids even became aware that such a wild looking lizard lived in their greater backyards, to say nothing of actually holding one, and then, of all things, watching the lizard shoot blood from its eyes.

It was a wild scene, I tell you what.

All these many years later, despite catching many of them through the decades, and even poking a few here and there, I still have not yet seen another horny toad bleed from its eyes.

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