Category: Destinations

Trail Notes: Ballinger Canyon and Deer Park Jeep Trails

Shrubby Brushweed in Bloom Along Trail 24

Despite drought conditions this year, the Shrubby Brushweed plants are covered with yellow flowers in Ballinger Canyon. Other flowers blooming in the canyon are Hareweed, Phacelia, and Bush Lupine. It’s a different story in Quatal Canyon to the south where hardly any wildflowers are blooming at all.

On this trip to the Ballinger OHV park I was hoping to enter Deer Park Canyon from Highway 33, using Trail 23W31 marked as a through 4WD route on the Ballinger Canyon route map. It appears that Trail 23W31 is on private property. Trails 40 and 46 are both gated at approximately the place where the vertical black line intersects them on the map below.

Trail 23W31 Deer Park Canyon

I wound up scouting a number of trails, outline in lime green on the map below. (Click on the picture for a larger view.)

Ballinger Routes 24, 36, 40, 46

Trail 24 is an easy trail through high desert territory. The road is sandy, rocky and heavily “moguled,” making for a bumpy ride in places. The easternmost part of the trail includes a slight climb among scrub oak and pinyon pines. The trail is narrower here and more interesting. In wet weather it can be challenging, with deep ruts that could leave you high centered if you slipped off the trail.

Trail 40 includes some sections of moderate difficulty, with a steep climb up the ridge overlooking Deer Park Canyon. I’m assuming the moderate rating comes from a couple of pretty steep scrambles. I imagine some of the hillclimbs (and descents) could get pretty hairy following a big rain. In dry conditions these hills aren’t anything a little 4WD Low can’t handle. The trail is quite narrow in places, giving excellent views of the canyons on both sides.

Trail 40 travels a narrow ridge with no shoulder on either side.

Trail 46 follows a gentle grade to the floor of Deer Park Canyon. More moguls here and a few narrow places.

Trail 36 follows a wash along the floor of Deer Park Canyon. It’s a fun ride between steep walls in places. There was quite a bit of Bush Lupine in flower along this trail.

Bush Lupine in Bloom in Deer Park Canyon

As I said above, Trail 40 and 46 are gated, meaning that you can’t use them to exit to Highway 33 as maps indicate. But they are good for some nice out-and-back exploring. There were a handful of bikers and ATV riders in the park on this beautiful Saturday in Spring, but most of the time I felt I had the trails to myself.

Originally posted April 9, 2007.

Jeep Trail to Big Caliente

Santa Ynez Crossing

The drive to Big Caliente isn’t challenging enough to be a good Jeep trail, and it isn’t smooth enough to be pleasant. But when you finally make it to the floor of Blue Canyon, you feel like the time was worth it. The canyon is a large meadow area with sycamore and oak with the Santa Ynez river meandering down the middle.

The road is passable by almost any vehicle (I saw more than one Camry making the trip). Several concrete water crossings might pose some difficulty after a big rain, but it isn’t until you get to the last water crossing on 5N16 that you really need some clearance. Here the water was over a foot high, well over the sills of some passenger cars.

The attraction of this drive is the hot springs at the end of 5N16. There you’ll find a cement tub about the size of a home spa, some cinder block changing rooms that have seen better days and a pit toilet. The water in the springs is a good 170 degrees and the setting is nice, although perhaps too much traffic on a weekend. Google maps show a 4WD road near 5N16, but I didn’t see it on this trip. Most of the roads, such as the continuation of Murieta Canyon Road were gated. The Los Padres rangers keep these closed so that they don’t get churned to oblivion during the rainy season.

Blue Canyon has a number of hiking trails and campsites that would be worth further exloration.
Big Caliente hot spring

Here’s a Google Pedometer map of the route.

Originally published February 24, 2007

Trail Notes: Mount Cleff Ridge Wildwood Park

White Tailed Kite Eating a Mouse

White-tailed Kites are fairly common around here. You often see them hunting in freeway medians. They have a characteristic way of hovering in one spot like…well, like a kite. I saw this fellow hovering at the base of the Mount Cleff Ridge in Wildwood Park. Slowly, deliberately the kite dropped ten feet, fifteen, feet, and then to the ground. It was a gentle glide, not the fierce high-speed descent of a Peregrine.

Highlights: The Santa Rosa Trail loop that I took was just shy of five miles. The most notable feature in the park is a craggy ridge of conglomerate mineral deposits. You expect a war party of wild Comanches to leap out at any minute. This should not surprise–Gunsmoke, Wagon Train and The Rifleman were all filmed here. There is an elevation gain of 400 ft, a little bit of a stiff climb at the beginning. The ground is very rocky and uneven, a challenge to mountain bikers and people with weak ankles. Mount Cleff Ridge Conglomerate

One other notable thing about this trail. Once you get on top of the ridge there just isn’t any place to pee. Large two-million dollar homes overlook much of the trail along the back side of the ridge and there just isn’t much tree cover. This something the wild Comanches never had to worry about–or maybe it’s what drove them wild in the first place.

The geology changes slightly on the eastern part of Lower Butte Trail. To me it looks something like the burren region in Ireland. This explains how Wuthering Heights could be filmed at the location as Gunsmoke.

To get there: From the 101 take Lynn Rd north to Avenida de los Arboles, turn left and continue to the end. Click here for a Google Map.

Mount Cleff Ridge Trail

Originally posted March 27, 2007

Teleport – An App That Helps You Find the Best Place to Live

Results from Teleport

Results from Teleport

Answer a couple of questions about the things that are important to you and the free app Teleport will cough out a ranked list of cities that best fit your needs. It doesn’t end there – Teleport gives you a sidebar with adjustable settings so you can fine-tune the selection.

Once you’ve settled on a couple of top picks Teleport gives you a ready-made to-do list for job hunting, packing and anything else you might need in order to make a leap to a new city.

The list that Teleport gave me was right on the money for the criteria I selected. But it missed the mark entirely for cities that “feel right” for my soul. Only one city, Boulder Colorado, felt like a place I might want to live (as opposed to visit.)

That said, I think Teleport is worth trying – and worth watching for future development.

Also of interest –

Lifehacker: Top 10 Ways to Find a Best Place to Live

The Art of Manliness: How to Decide Where to Live

NomadList

 

Hungry Valley – An OHV Park You Could Get Lost In

Hungry Valley 4x4 Training Course

Hungry Valley is a State Recreational Vehicle Area just off Interstate 5 near Gorman. The park is packed with 130 miles of trails for dirt bikes, ATVs and 4WD vehicles. This might conjure up an image of a nuclear-broiled landscape swarming with jump-suited Suzuki pilots–something like Mad Max meets the Power Rangers. And that wouldn’t be a completely wrong picture. Part of the fun in Hungry Valley is watching dirt bikers domino into each other as they round a hairpin turn at 40 miles per and find themselves facing the business end of a Jeep.

What surprised me on a recent stopover was how much of the park is unspoiled. There were several places where I got out of my Jeep and felt that I was completely by myself. Either I couldn’t hear, or I simply didn’t notice the gnatlike whine of distant two cycle engines. What I heard was the sound of the wind in the black sage.

At one place I left the Jeep behind and scrambled up a ridge where several junipers stood sentinel. I figured I’d take a few minutes to commune with God and see if he might break his long silence.

The hill itself wasn’t anything to write home about. Just a steep sandy rise covered in chaparal and prickely pear. But on the back side of the ridge there was…nothing. And I do mean nothing. I was standing on the rim of a vast red rock canyon. Something I’d expect to see in Utah, Arizona or New Mexico.

I looked to see if there was some way down into the canyon. There was a narrow path crossing a ledge less than a hundred feet below me. As I studied the ledge, a large, healthy mule deer came bounding along the path and darted out of sight behind a rock wall. A second or two later came a very large gray coyote, burning up the trail in pursuit of the deer. I never knew coyotes had such ambition.

While Hungry Valley OHV park isn’t so big – well, it’s 19,000 acres big – but you probably won’t get technically lost in the park. Yet you can get lost in the exploration of it all.

First published December 20, 2006

Hungry Valley

Trail Notes: Quatal Canyon Jeep Trails

Quatal Canyon Road is Smooth and Wide

Entering from Highway 33, just south of Ventucopa, Quatal Canyon Road is the superhighway of Jeep trails. After several hours of bashing my brains out on the moguls in Ballinger Canyon it was actually kind of nice to be on a smooth dirt road for a change. (I really have to install some anti-sway quick disconnects.)

The first five miles or so is private ranch land on both sides of the road. After this the road narrows and becomes rugged washboard. Fortunately Trail 106, Quatal Canyon Corridor, comes along pretty soon and you can drive in the sandy wash, keeping your fillings intact.

Looking toward Cowhead Portrero (?)

This picture is taken along OHV Trail 106 after it leaves the Quatal wash, looking toward Cowhead Portrero. Note the red color of the soil here, washed down from the hills visible in the upper left part of the picture. These mountains are deep, vivid red. At this point the trail starts to gain elevation. Pinyon pine become more common. By the time the trail reconnects with Quatal Canyon Road, you’ve reached a Jeffrey pine habitat.

At the end of Quatal Canyon Road where it connects with Cerro Noroeste Road there is a small camp ground with picnic tables and fire pit. I didn’t notice what restroom facilities were available, if any.

The Pio Bureau photoblog has some nice shots of some labrynthine areas of Quatal Canyon, a great place of canyoneering. Geological surveys of the area have turned up mammalian fossils, making it a likely place for some amateur paleontology.

Originally published April 11, 2007.

Ballinger Canyon Jeep Trails

Ballinger Canyon Moonrise

Ballinger Canyon is a high desert Off Highway Vehicle area similar in terrain to Hungry Valley, but about half the acreage. Ballinger has 11 jeep trails interlaced with about two dozen ATV and motorcycle trails. There are two main roads through the canyon, both easy to moderate with a few more challenging connectors.

Entrance to the canyon is off Highway 33 near-ish to route 166.

On this trip I arrived mid-afternoon to do some hiking in the canyon. I drove Trail 24, an easy road with mostly soft soil that is compacted into a billowy washboard ride…something like riding a jetski on a choppy day. I hiked up Trail 14, an ATV-only trail, and a stiff uphill to boot. But the trail wends through a nice pine habitat and there are some beautiful views.

I made it back to the Jeep about 4:30 pm. And I really didn’t want to drive all the way back down 33. Now, here’s where good map skills would come in handy! I’ve got an aging DeLorme map book that shows Ballinger Canyon road (NF-9N10) cutting all the way through to Cerro Nordeste–which would take me into to Frazier Park. As a matter of fact, Google Maps also shows 9N10 connecting to Cerro Nordeste.

If I had paid a little better attention to the map posted at the park entrance, I could have spared myself a wild ride. The trail map makes it pretty clear that there are no through routes. But my made it look like I was within spitting distance of the highway so I gave it a try.
Now, trail 24 is marked as an easy route, but as it climbs eastward up the canyon it starts getting damp and rutted. There was snow on the sides of the road and in places the mud had been whipped into a froth. In a few places there was barely enough width to the trail for a Jeep and a wrong touch on the gas could easily have sent me skidding into a big ditch. I had visions of getting high-centered and spending a frosty night trying to dig myself out in the moonlight.

Did I mention that it was getting dark by the time I hit the end of Trail 24? And yes, Trail 24 comes to an end with a big red timber closing off the drive.  In the dark it was a little challenging to navigate the maze of trails that often petered out into a motorcycle track. Finally I decided to bite the bullet and slog back the way I came.

Overall it was a fun ride, in a white knuckley sort of way. I think I might wait until Spring to go back. It is supposed to be one of the best areas to view wildflowers.

10 Must-See Bay Area Outdoor Spots from SF Gate

Photo: Photo: Michael Furniss, Courtesy SF Gate

Photo: Michael Furniss, Courtesy SF Gate

  1. Tahoe, Heavenly’s Skyline Trail
  2. Santa Cruz Mountains, Silver Falls/Golden Cascade
  3. North Sierra foothills, Feather Falls
  4. Marin, Sky Trail
  5. Fern Canyon, Prairie Creek Redwoods
  6. Wildcat hilltop via Tilden in the East Bay Hills
  7. San Pedro Ridge
  8. Pardee Lake

The article includes photos, descriptions, phone numbers and web links for all locations.

You could also add to the list some closer-to-home Bay-Area locations like Stinson Beach,  Ohlone Wilderness trail, and Robert Louis Stevenson State Park.

Ventura County Day Hike – Sisar Canyon

Topa Topa from Sisar Canyon

The Topatopa bluffs run from West to East, serving as a gigantic reflector for the Ojai valley. They are a numinous presence in much of the surrounding county. I can see them from my house. This weekend, however, is the first time I’ve hiked anywhere close to them.

To hike the Sisar Canyon trail you take Highway 150 from Santa Paul (or Ojai if your so inclined) and turn North on Sisar Road. Travel up the road a mile or so, continue bearing right where the asphalt ends. You’ll come to a gate.

Sisar Road gate

The first three and a half miles are well-traveled road. There are two water crossings in the first mile or two, an easy rock-hop to get across. I was a little surprised to meet a man driving a late model Subaru down the hill, but there is a residence a few miles back.

The road is popular with mountain bikers and equestrians, so keep your eyes and ears open on the blind curves. It’s a two mile hike to the overlook that commands a view of the Oxnard plain on one hand, and Topa Topa on the other. Another mile and a half you come to the head of Trail 21W08 which goes up to Sespe Creek. The sign is shot up and naked of paint, but you can read the raised lettering to see that Sespe is some 13 miles beyond. Closer is White Ledge Camp, a shady campsite with firebox. The trail to White Ledge is a long half mile. It looked to me like a trail crew had been this way just a few days earlier. Branches were trimmed and the path was smooth and level with some fresh trenches for runoff. There are a few narrow spots, not a place I’d want to go on horseback, especially not after a heavy rain. But it was clear that someone had done just that–hoofprints sunk deep in the trail near some very steep drop-offs.

At one spot there is a huge slag heap of rosey sandstone. It looks as if someone had been quarrying the area. I’d be interested to know what cause this, it certainly looks man-made.

All in all the hike from the gate to White Ledge is an eight mile round trip.
Trail to White Ledge Camp

Addendum: Sometimes you’ll find this hike by searching for Topa Topa Mountain. On maps it is listed as Topatopa Mountain. It’s a little confusing, seeing that place names in Ojai are listed as Topa Topa.

Originally published March 7, 2007

Where You Are is What You Are

World\’s largest drawing used GPS

I stumbled across a provocative label on Mark Bernstein’s site, coupling the phrase “Where you are is WHAT you are” with the caption “Weber’s Qualitatvie Analysis Tools.” As best I can tell, Weber refers to sociologist Max Weber and “Where you are is WHAT you are” is a quote from Constantin Stanislavski related to his affective memory system of acting. The notion is that if you want to act the part of a jealous prince you use your imagination to return to a set of circumstances where you felt jealousy. The feelings were not the key, it is your response to the circumstances that is the key.

Environmental psychologists call this “place identity.” A person’s memories and sense of self are attached to particular places. This is one reason why going “home for the holidays” is filled with emotion for so many people.

If we are the sum of our memories, and if our memories are rooted in a particular place then, yes, where we are is who we are. And if we want to better know ourselves, then one way to start would be with understanding our own particular place.

Originally posted April 2, 2010

Agoura Hills Day Hike – Liberty Canyon to Cheseboro Canyon

cheseborocanyon

This year’s late winter rains make this Spring a perfect time to get out into the Santa Monica mountains for some hiking. This particular track starts at Canwood Street just off the 101 Freeway at Liberty Canyon Road. It’s an easy hike over a spur trail out of Liberty Canyon through a shady oak grove and on to Cheseboro Canyon where the trail gets quite wide and flat. If you’re planning on biking then be advised that this first leg gets pretty narrow and there’s a short steepish section with loose scree.

There is enough parking for two or three cars at the trailhead. If this is full you can park in the shade under the freeway or drive a few miles back into Cheseboro Canyon and park at the Modelo Trail parking.

The highlights of this particular hike are the large groves of Valley Oak that provide plenty of shade along the way. This season’s wildflowers are sprinkled all about the hills. At about two miles you come to the 1890s Morrison ranch house with the remains of a cattle stockyard. Continue heading North, there’s no reason to take the road to your right unless you want to explore the coyote track that doubles back to Liberty Canyon.

morrisonranch

When you get about a quarter mile past the ranch there are numerous side trails. I prefer to stay in the canyon because the ridge trails are steep and not particularly scenic. I did a 6.7 out-and-back but the trails up Cheseboro Canyon keep going on and on.

Pack a lunch and a blanket and this would be a great place for a picnic/hike.

More details at Gaia GPS.

The Most Dangerous Roads in the World

 

zojilapas

 

In some parts of the world roads are almost an afterthought. People want to get from point A to point B and there’s a piece of land that a coyote walked through once. Why not make it a road?

It was once said of the infamous Mosquito Pass in Colorado (the highest motorway in the US) that when a freight driver met a passenger coach, the freighter would get the right-of-way. This was because of the difficulty it would take to recover a load of freight that went over the side. If a passenger coach tumbled over you simply had to bury your cargo where it fell.

So enjoy these harrowing drives, and if you happen to navigate one of these roads (and live to tell the tale) let me know in the comments:

15 Crazy Roads

22 Roads Most Dangerous Roads in the World Worth Avoiding

 The Best, Worst and Deadliest Roads in America

Hike to Two Trees

Two Trees

Two Trees, Ventura’s favorite spot for vandalism, is a quick but stiff hike with an amazing panoramic view at the top. This hike is on private property and foot traffic is not allowed.

Perched on rolling hills like twin sentinels over the town, these trees have become an icon for the preservation of nature and open space. But the truth is that Two Trees aren’t natural at all. They are blue gum trees (eucalyptus globulus) imported from Australia. Thirteen of these trees were planted at the request of property owner Joseph Sexton in 1898. Sexton, who resided in Goleta, thought of California as a kind of empty canvas that needed to be filled with exotic plants from other countries. He is perhaps best known for introducing Evil Pampas Grass to the state.

One Tree

In 1903 a brush fire destroyed eight of Sexton’s trees. This fire also set off a gas flare from a hidden natural oil deposit that killed Ralph Lloyd’s horse and touched off Ventura’s oil boom.

Five trees remained at the top of the hill until 1940 when a few Halloween pranksters hacked down three of the trees. Marcel “Slim” Sap, owner of the local Motor Mart and vigorous civic booster, replanted the three deceased trees and all was well until 1956 when football hooligans cut down one of the orginal trees and two of the replacements.

Even though Two Trees is on private land, a lot of Venturans seem to feel the landmark is part of the public trust. And others still see it as a blank canvas–to be painted with spray cans and fat black markers. Pen knives. Nails. Glass. And in one case I’d guess a hatchet was taken to the bark to carve “Blake + Lindson.”

A friend confessed to me today that she, too, tried to leave her mark on this spot. She and her best friend in high school struggled up the steep hillside dragging a trash bag containing a douglas fir and thirty pounds of soil, along with two shovels and a flashlight. In a sweaty fit of midnight skulduggery they planted the fir between the two gum trees.

And that’s the story of how Two Trees almost became Three Trees.

Previously published November 20, 2006

Two Trees with Paint

The 5 Worst Places to Stay in America

Bates Motel

Who plans a crummy vacation? If you’re like most people you check out the travel guides, Google the internets and browse through the Pinterests looking for the best places to vacation.

That kind of thinking is only going to leave you disappointed.

Instead I say shoot for the worst travel destinations and if they turn out better than you expected, well you’ll feel like you got your money’s worth.

So here you go, some of the worst places you can stay:

Tonopah Clown Motel, Tonopah Nevada

Delightful circus-themed motel and the only rest stop in 250 miles.

What makes it so bad? Clowns. Clowns everywhere. Hundreds and hundreds of clowns. Oh yeah, did I mention that next door is a graveyard.

San Onofre State Beach Campground, San Onofre, California

Sunny beaches, amazing bluffs, far from mad Los Angeles Traffic.

What makes it so bad? Tiny, cramped campsites. No showers. All within a mile of a nuclear power plant. A nuclear plant that closed because it was leaking. And still houses over 4,000 lbs. of nuclear material all in shouting distance of a major earthquake fault.

Townhouse Motel, Tupelo Mississippi

What could be better than a stay at the birthplace of the peanut butter, bacon, and banana sandwich?

What makes it so bad? “…and there was a puddle of blood outside our front door.”

Tipi Village Retreat, Marcola, Oregon

Beautiful setting, top-notch amenities, close to wine tasting.

What makes it so bad? Airbnb price is $1735…for a night in a tent…actually two nights minimum.

Rocky Mountains, Colorado

Experienced staff, views are beyond amazing, personal attention galore.

What makes it so bad? You’re 2,000 frickin’ feet off the ground, sleeping in a hammock that’s pinned to a granite wall using a couple of titanium toothpicks. Any questions?

The Best Places to See Nature in Every State

connecticut

If yesterday’s post was too California-centric for you, Business Insider has a run-down of all 50 states with The Most Breathtaking Natural Wonders in Every State.

Some of the suggestions are obvious – in Colorado you go to Pike’s Peak of course. But some of the recommendations are a bit provocative. When in Delaware go see the cypress swamps.

50 states, 50 natural wonders is quite a bucket list. If you want to narrow it down consider North America’s Top 10 Natural Wonders.

[Photo: Connecticut Office of Tourism via Business Insider]