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Apr 25

Arroyo Seco to the Pine Ridge Trail

Yerba Santa, Eriodictyon californicum

Yerba Santa, Eriodictyon californicum

Parking at the Arroyo Seco Gorge lot and walking the three mile dirt road to the Marble Peak trailhead, Sam and I embarked on April 9th for the Ventana Glory Loop; Horse Pasture to Church Creek Divide, Pine Ridge to Black Cone, Strawberry Valley to Marble Peak trailhead and back to the Arroyo Seco.  Walking the hot dusty road high above the serene river, I smiled knowingly, in 4-5 days I would be cooling my weary bones in her goodness after hiking some of the finest areas of the Ventana Wilderness.  How sweet it is to be out and about in April;  with warm spring sun, blooming flowers and a cool caressing breeze, I guessed we might be getting it in at just the right time.  Magnificent displays of the Yerba Santa's twilight purple flower were numerous along the road (and elsewhere), one of my favorite chaparral plants.  Yerba Santa, the "holy herb," was thus named after the way the Spanish observed the native peoples treatment and use of it, said to be good for asthma and upper respiratory infections. According to Jan Timbrook's excellent book, Chumash Ethnobotany: Plant Knowledge Among the Chumash People of Southern California, amongst the Chumash peoples yerba santa was so revered that some place names came from the location of Yerba Santa to be found in the area.  (Jan Timbrook is a longtime curator at the Santa Barbara museum of Natural History.)
Horse Bridge

Horse Bridge

IMG_2094

The Arroyo

                          Stopping for a snack and large gulps of water on the beach under the bridge, it was hard not to spend the hot afternoon swimming in the translucent blue-green waters of the Arroyo Seco and lounging around the sandy banks. But, with a ten mile day on hand and many miles more to accomplish, we opted to keep pushing on and make a strong start, looking to camp at Wildcat camp our first night- another 8 miles ahead of us.  Relishing the opportunity to explore this unique country, we took to the Horse Pasture trail, bound for Tassajara Road, the Church Creek trail and beyond.
Horse Pasture Trail

Horse Pasture Trail

Lupinus

White flowered Lupine

After a hearty dinner and sound sleep at Wildcat camp, we continued toward Church Creek Divide on the morning of April 10th, passing through the Church Ranch where we stopped and chatted with the caretaker, enjoying the huge oaks and funky old homestead- owned by the Church family since 1870,  (more or less, they sold it at one point then bought it back in the early 20th century.)
Someone needs to clean up that saw and get it back in the field!

Someone needs to clean up that saw and get it back in the field!

Just before shouldering our packs again and continuing our long trek, a car was seen winding down the road toward the ranch.  The caretaker's visitors had arrived, and turned out to be none other than Dr. Jack Glendening, the man who's GPS data has been foundational to our Recreation Site Inventory project!
A backcountry coincidence

A backcountry coincidence; Sam Ellis, Bryce Winter, Maria Ferdin and Dr. Jack Glendening

Accompanied by fellow VWA member Maria Ferdin, the pair were visiting the ranch for the first time to day hike around and explore the area.  Due to the bothersome growth of a bone spur,  Jack bemoaned his recent shift to day hiking rather than the epic multi-day overnighters he's been accustomed to in explorations of the Ventana, thus his arrival at the ranch that day.  We shared stories of the trail for a while, basking in the spring sun and synchronicity, making sure to thank Jack for all the fabulous work he's accomplished in contribution to our survey.  (Check out his website). Tempted to stay and hike with these Ventana veterans, we decided to continue on with our mission, shaking our heads in disbelief the whole way to the Divide.   At the Church Creek Divide we had another rare encounter, a gray fox (Urocyon cinereoragenteus) trotting up the trail from Pine Valley with a rabbit in its mouth;  taking a glimpse at some grungy backpackers, the fox quickly turned up the Pine Ridge trail towards China Camp.  A fellow hiker who lunched with us at the Divide said fox sightings mean good luck.  Sure felt like our lucky day.
Pine Ridge Trail

Sam on the Pine Ridge Trail

A vista from Pine Ridge

A vista from Pine Ridge

California Mountain Kingsnake

California Mountain Kingsnake

After a deep sleep at the Pine Ridge camp, we continued on the next day along the Black Cone trail, where we encountered this colorful traveler, Lampropeltis zonata, the California Mountain Kingsnake, said to be common to the Santa Lucia's but relatively rare elsewhere in California.  These guys are known to eat rattlesnakes!
Lunch Rock

"Lunch Rock" on the Black Cone trail

This trek was so long there's too many photos and stories to tell in one blog post.  Tune in again soon to see more. Thanks for reading, and happy trails to you!    

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