Pine Mountain Buddhist Temple, Ozena Valley

One of the most lovely things about living in Southern California is enjoying the mild, sunny days of autumn.  The heat of summer has subsided and is no longer unbearable during mid-day.  The grass that covers the hills dies and turns golden and brittle to match the leaves of the maple trees.  If lightning strikes, the brush is consumed and the ashes enable wildflowers to bloom and the seed pods of some species to germinate which wouldn’t otherwise.

This beauty was well displayed on the drive up to Pine Mountain Buddhist Temple.  From Ojai, Matthew and I drove up highway 33 along the Jacinto Reyes Scenic Byway.   (See: Shadows of Sage Brush in Jacinto Reyes.)

About a mile after turning on to Lockwood Valley Road, we encountered the entrance to the temple.  I had e-mailed the two monks in residence to ask if our visit would work well for their schedule, as requested on their website, so they were anticipating our arrival.

Two friendly, mellow dogs greeted us at the car before we were welcomed by one of the monks.  We were the only visitors for the moment and received a full tour of the temple grounds.  His colleague came out of the kitchen to welcome us, saying that she was making soup for the guests who would be coming later that afternoon for a weekend retreat.

We were shown a garden with a koi pond which he said had trouble keeping koi because the herons would occasionally visit and take a snack for themselves.  I laughed and mused that the herons must have thought it kind that they had provided such a convenient spot to hunt.  The urge to anthropomorphize never ceases to provide opportunities for humor.  To dissuade the herons, they had erected a life-size decoy bird near the pond since herons are territorial.

We were also shown a green house in construction and told that it was hard to grow food in the area, including fruit trees, without an animal beating them to the harvest.  Rabbits weren’t the only culprits; coyotes love grapes, apparently, and a bear had feasted upon their apple tree, bending and breaking the branches like a broken umbrella.  Besides the trouble of growing food, the temple is quite self-sufficient through the use of well water and a solar panel system that covers all their electrical needs.

“Painted Cave”, Lake Cachuma and Solvang

Gloomy autumnal weather settled on the coast yesterday, making it the perfect time to rise above the clouds of Santa Barbara County and explore the back country.  Our first stop was Painted Cave State Park, right off San Marcos Pass on Highway 154.

It’s times like these when I feel compelled to praise my little car, “Sally”; she can climb mountain passes, zip past other cars on the highway and get great gas mileage.  Since our furthest destination of the day was sixty-six miles away and Matthew and I are college students on a budget, the mileage rate is something I feel very thankful for.

“Sally” wound up a narrow, curvy road where we pulled off to the side near a sign marking the location of the cave.  The paintings were made by the Chumash Native Americans and date back from the 1600’s or earlier but the meaning has supposedly been lost, according to the State Parks website.  The Chumash have lived in Santa Barbara County for 13,000 years.  The Spanish missionaries arrived in the 18th century and the United States acquired the area in 1848, meaning these paintings were created shortly before the land and its people experienced a major shift.  A grate has been placed at the mouth of the cave to protect the paintings from vandalism.

After appreciating the paintings, Matthew and I continued along San Marcos Pass until we reached Lake Cachuma, where we went for a nice hike through the oak trees along the edge of the water.

 

Furry Flowers on Cozy Dell Trail, Ojai

I had a little time before I needed to pick up Phoebe today so I headed out for a short hike on my own.  My huffing and puffing while keeping pace with Matthew has been shameful, so I had to “show my muscles who’s boss” as he suggested.  After charging up the hillside and collapsing on some perfectly curved rocks in the blessed shade, I paused at the summit to snap some photos and explore my environs more slowly on the way back…

Oodles of Abalone at Gaviota State Beach, Gaviota

On Phoebe’s bookshelf rests a red box with a flower print lid; inside are her treasures from past outdoor adventures.  From time to time, she gently takes out each specimen, arranges them in a row and examines them with her magnifying glass.  Today, she asked me sweetly, “Mommy, can we gather more sea shells for my collection?”  After an hour of the usual hustle and bustle to get out the door, we were driving up Hwy  101 past Santa Barbara on our way to Gaviota State Beach.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by a gregarious park ranger who gladly showered me with pamphlets about the natural history of this beach and a few others nearby.   He suggested some hiking trails and told me about a 95-degree hot spring in the area.  I listened and visualized his directions for future reference, but today was a day for shells.   When I venture out with Phoebe, I strive for simplicity.

The ranger informed me that the beach was named “Gaviota” after a seagull killed by soldiers on an 18th century sailing voyage to find the port of Monterey.  I wondered what could be so spectacular about the death of a bird that it would inspire someone to name a place after it.  Looking through the pamphlet, I saw a surprising number of habitats listed: oak woodlands, grasslands, chaparral, riparian, freshwater aquatic, freshwater marshes, coastal strand, coastal salt marsh and marine. (1)  Sixteen of the wildlife species and six of the plant species that occur in the area are threatened or endangered. (2)

Incidentally, I came across the website of an organization called the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County which states, “Guarding against over-development of this last rural stretch of coastal Southern California is our biggest challenge.” (3)

After changing into our swim suits and slathering on sunscreen,  we walked under the railroad trestle and out on to the pier.  There, we were treated to a nice view of the beach on one side and rugged rock formations on the other.

The sediment is a part of the active Santa Ynez fault and was uplifted approximately 5 million years ago during the Miocene epoch. (4)

A friendly stranger offered to take our photo before we headed down to the sand.

I became a bit distracted with snapping photos of wildflowers before Phoebe tore me away to fulfill our intended purpose.

There was little variety of shells to be found in the area we settled in, but what we lacked in diversity we made up for in quantity, unearthing dozens of shiny blue abalone shells.   One piece featured a spectacular blend of colors and had a natural hole in it, perfect for use as a necklace pendant.   I fell in love with it and tucked it away in my beach bag.  That was the only shell that ended up coming home with us; Phoebe was happy to use the rest to decorate the sand castles she dreamed would be permanent.

Abalone

What was is your favorite “treasure” found in nature?

 

Sources:

(1)    http://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/606/files/gaviota.pdf

(2)    http://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/980/files/GCT-DMND-part1.pdf

(3)    http://www.sblandtrust.org/gaviotacoast.html

(4)    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Ynez_Mountains

Windswept Sandstone in the Sespe Wilderness, Ojai

The Los Padres Forest behind Ojai is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts.  Nestled like a jewel in the mountains is the Sespe Wilderness, about 20 minutes north of Ojai up Hwy 33 at the end of Rose Valley Road.

“Sespe Wilderness provides ample evidence of past violent geological upthrusts. The landscape is bleak and jagged, and if you climb high enough, you’ll find pine trees growing at odd angles on boulder-swept hillsides.” – wilderness.net

My car, “Sally”, in view of the Piedra Blanca formations

Joining me was Matthew, my agreeable new compañero for hiking, who warded off mountain lions with his stately presence, or so I imagined.  Matthew is new to this area of California; he grew up in various places in the Western United States and is eager to practice his photography skills at all the intriguing spots to be found.   While we were on this excursion, little Phoebe played at preschool for the day, giving me the unusual opportunity to hike a little farther and relax a little longer than I normally would.

Our destination was the Piedra Blanca formations.  To get to this spot, we followed Rose Valley Road to its end.  At the far point of the parking lot is the trailhead.  There are markers to point the way left at the first T-intersection of the path and right at the Y-intersection.  The path to the formations took us 30 minutes and was easy to moderately difficult.

When we arrived, we were treated to a cool, brisk wind that swept through the boulders and across the gritty sandstone.  The impressive formations of this sediment are approximately 20 million years old from the Miocene epoch.  You can see a neat graph from the U.S. Geological Survey of the types and ages of the sediment along the San Andreas fault here.

Photo credit: Matthew Phelps

Photo credit: Matthew Phelps

Photo credit: Matthew Phelps

Photo credit: Matthew Phelps

Photo credit: Matthew Phelps

Photo credit: Matthew Phelps

Shadows of Sage Brush in Jacinto Reyes, Ojai

Highway 33 facing West, at Northern border of the Los Padres National Forest.

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!