The mountains of the Los Padres National Forest have a gentle, sloping allure. The dry, crumbling edges and petite chaparral growth reveal their curvature like a human body at rest. When I was a child, I imagined they were the backs of benign, sleeping monsters that watched over the valley. This transverse range is on an East/West axis; the peaks offer the promise of adventure to the north and the delights of the ocean to the south.
On days when the air feels hot and still, I like to travel up the Maricopa Highway (Hwy 33) to higher elevations where the breeze travels through the canyons. The Ojai Valley lies at an elevation of 746 feet and the highway reaches a pinnacle summit of 5,160 ft at Pine Mountain. This 38 miles stretch of highway is called the Jacinto Reyes Scenic Byway. “The unique geology, geomorphology, plant and animal life of the area capture the interest of the casual recreationists and the scientist alike.” — the USDA Forest Service.
Phoebe and I paused at several vista points to take photos. For the first time, she used my camera to practice her skills as well. Where the cliffs were steep, Phoebe wore a harness backpack with a tether wrapped around my wrist. If it helps keep the child safe, such as in crowded places or at the edge of a mountain, then I am entirely in support of the use of a “leash” by parents, as long as there is plenty of other opportunities for exploration.
This peaceful and secluded spot alongside the highway was great for exploration but we only stayed for about 15 minutes because there were no other people present except for the few drivers that whizzed by every 15 minutes or so. For the sake of safety, I choose to hike in places where I will encounter another hiker every 5-10 minutes. I told Phoebe, “Hold my hand so the mountain lion won’t get you,” since it is advised that small children stay within 5 feet of adults.
An Article from ABC News dated Jul 3, 2012 states that there have been only 15 mountain lion attacks in California since 1890, 6 of which were fatal. The article quotes department of Fish and Game representative Patrick Foy as saying, “Clearly this is a very, very rare occurrence. You’re more likely to be attacked by a domestic dog or to be struck by lightning than you are to be attacked by a mountain lion.” You can read the article here.
Another great website regarding mountain lion safety from the Mountain Lion Foundation can be found here.
After administering this warning to Phoebe, I was surprised by how calmly she responded, reflexively holding my hand with no change in expression. In her mind, perhaps the world is full of lions and other dangers to which holding mom’s hand is the natural, fail-safe solution. Phoebe didn’t hold my hand the entire time, however, but stayed in my “bubble” of safety.
Another reason to keep young children near is the danger of rattle snakes. Adults can help check the path and behind rocks for these residents of the mountains before children forge ahead. Rattlesnakes usually give warning to back away before striking, so it’s important to have an adult close by to ensure that the child understands and responds to these cues.
We ventured a little farther to the northern border of the Los Padres Forest where we gazed at the bed of the seasonally dry Cuyama River. The patterns etched by wind and water and undisturbed by months of dry weather are immeasurably soothing.
Beyond the river are a few farms, and a few more miles down the road is the tiny community of Ventucopa. The residents of Ventucopa must travel a little more than an hour to the nearest city (and nearest hospital for that matter!), so the agricultural developments seem particularly secluded and peaceful, if not downright miraculous in a land where water for irrigation is not cheap or easy to come by.
Phoebe loved using the camera, but she was more interested in taking photos of mommy than the scenery!