Sunday, August 9, 2020

Conejo Valley Chumash Rock Art Cave

I've been exploring the Thousand Oaks area a lot recently. Mostly I've been hiking the trails near the Chumash Museum since I live very close to it. On this day I decided to drive down a couple of miles down and check out the Lake Eleanor area. I pulled off the road to eat my lunch before hiking. I was going to take a little walk around the large rock formation that loomed to west. But before I got out of my car a couple parked in front of me and started to walk the trail. Wanting to limit my contact with people as much as possible I decided to try a different direction. There was a rock formation on the other side of the road that had caught my eye earlier. It looked pretty easy to get to, so I crossed the road and looked for a trail to lead me to the top on the hill. There were a lot of crisscrossing trails, but it was easy enough to find my way up to the rocks. On my way up the trail I found a nice, old, rusty, pull-tab Olympia Beer can half buried in the ground. 

Another can for the collection

The rock formation was pretty neat. It was the classic molar poking up out the ground with a overhanging ledge that created a "cave" if you will. There was dry creek bed nearby that always seems to be a part of the recipe for a Chumash site. I hoping to find some mortar holes drilled in the rock. I didn't find any mortars, but I did find two paintings on the underside of the aforementioned overhang. 

Now these have the look of Chumash paintings. And the location lends itself to be a good site for Chumash  rock art, but I have some real doubts about the authenticity of these particular paintings. First off the lower painting is orange. That's not a color I know the VentureƱo Chumash to have ever used. There are some sites up in Kern county like Pleito Cave that used orange pigment, but red, white, black are the colors I'm familiar seeing here in Ventura. Maybe it's red pigment that has aged strangely? It seems unlikely to me.

The upper painting is much more like something I would expect to see here. The red pigment is very much like other rock art sites I have visited. Referencing Campbell Grant's The Rock Paintings of the Chumash (figure 68), the diamond pattern and concentric circles are design elements that were used by the Chumash. But the sharpness of the "X" in the center just seemed a little unauthentic to me. If it had been there by itself I probably would  have believed that I had found a genuine Chumash pictograph. However, with my skepticism of the lower painting's origins I feel like this might not be an ancient Chumash painting either. But I'm not an authority on these things, I'm just some guy who likes to hike and explore.

If you know anything about this painting one way or the other I would love here about it. Also feel free to give your two cents in the comment area below.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Animals In The Forest

I’ve been trying to remember all the different animals I’ve seen while out hiking over the years. I thought I should list some of them here.

Mountain Lion: I once saw a mountain lion from quite a distance away. I was up at Bitter Creek doing a fence removal project when someone spotted it running on along a ridge. I can’t quite remember how far away it was, but I do recall being impressed by the speed it was moving at, and the overall length of the cat.

The other encounter I had with a mountain lion was while camping at the Sespe hotsprings. I was sound asleep when I was startled awake by the most bloodcurdling scream I’ve ever heard. I sounded like someone was being murdered right next to me. But when we did a roll call nobody fessed up to screaming  or claimed not to have heard it all. None of us had any idea what it could have been. I didn’t get much more sleep that night and when morning finally came around I was ready to get out of Dodge. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I’ll confess, I was spooked out. I wasn’t until a few weeks or months later that I saw a youtube video of a mountain lion screaming and it sounded just like what we had heard that night.

Bobcat: I’ve seen bobcats a few times. I always seem to see them while driving on the road. I remember seeing one pop out in front on Portrero Seco road, and I think I’ve seen few on Goodenough Road on the way up to Tar Creek.

Kangaroo Rat: One of the first times I hiked to Tar Creek I remember seeing this weird little creature pop up and it started hopping across the trail like a kangaroo. I had no idea what it was the time.

Bats: Bats are everywhere. I remember a bat flying out of the Chumash cave on Alder Creek and scaring the heck out me.

Bighorn Sheep: Yup, there are bighorn sheep out there. I’ll keep the location where I saw them a secret for now.

This is the best wildlife photo I ever shot

Deer: There are deer everywhere.

Skunk: I like skunks. They’re cool little animals. You can bump into them anywhere in the forest.

Rattlesnakes: I’ve run into lots of rattlesnakes all over the forest. There used to be a really big boy that lived in that rock wall on the Blue Heron Ranch in Matilija. I saw him quite a few times soaking up the sun in the middle of the trail.  They are usually pretty calm and just want to be left alone. A lot of the time they don’t feel like moving off the trail and need to be gently coaxed into getting out of the way. This will often times piss them off. I now wear a pair of snake proof gaiters when I hike off trail alone.

King Snake: I’ve seen a couple of king snakes. I like them because they are easily identifiable, and they are not venomous. Most of the king snakes I’ve come across are the white black variety, the common king snake. But once in Santa Paula Canyon I saw a colored one which I think was a California king snake.

An ensatina from a trip to Rowe's Gulch in Santa Barbara

Salamander: I’ve seen plenty of salamanders. Usually they’re pretty small, about the size of a finger. But I remember seeing one at  Seven Falls in Santa Barbara that was huge (by salamander standards). He was hanging out in the bottom of a narrow but deep (5ft?) pool. I want to say it was a foot long, but it was probably more like 8 to 10 inches long and pretty stocky. 

Arroyo Toad: I believe I saw an Arroyo Toad once at Hard Luck Camp.

Tarantula: I remember camping in Matilija once and swarm of tarantulas came crawling down the canyon around dusk. We’re talking hundreds of them. It was the stuff of nightmares if you’re an arachnophobe.

Glow worm: I saw a Pink Glow worm once camping. Where were we camping? Willett? I can’t remember now.

Condor: The venerable symbol of the Los Padres. From Bitter Creek to Hopper Mountain to The Sespe I have had the honor of seeing quite a few California Condors. They are gigantic. I like it when I’m out on hike and a enormous shadow swoops over me, I look up and a condor is circling overhead. A lot of people tell me condors are ugly birds. I guess everyone is entitled to an opinion. But I think they’re awesome. I’ve looked into condor’s eyes and seen that they are thoughtful, intelligent animals. I remember once laying down for some rest in the Stone Corral after some strenuous hiking when a condor started circling above. I thought, “Oh it’s hoping we’ll die soon so it can pick our bones.” And I thought that was lovely.

Camel and Zebra: This is a weird one. But I swear, once I was out hiking, I think it was on the Sespe probably near the Willett hot spring, but I’m not completely sure of that. When I saw a guy leading a mule train that consisted of a camel, a zebra, and a horse. Sometimes the Los Padres surprises you.


Animals I have not seen

Bears: I have never seen a bear in the wild. They’re supposed to be all over the place. I’ve seen tons of bear shit, and lots of bear paw prints, but I have never actually seen a bear in the forest.

Eagles: I have never seen a Bald Eagle nor a Golden Eagle. They are both supposed to making  a comeback in the Los Padres but again I have never seen one.

Pig: I have heard that invasive wild pigs are running around in the forest, I have never seen one.

Beaver: I also heard that beaver used to live on the Sespe. What a treat it would be to see one of those little guys swimming around building dam.

Sasquach: I know this hairy bastard is out there, lurking in the shadows.

Feel free to leave a comment or a story about an animal you've seen out in the forest. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Matilija 05-01-2020


In the Los Padres there always seems to be something new to uncover. Maybe it's a unexplored creek, or a mysterious cave that has eluded discovery. There's always a new adventure waiting for you. But there are also hikes that are enjoyable no matter how many times you do them. Matilija is one of those hikes. It's the comfort food of Ventura Los Padres hikes. Like a bowl of Mac n' Cheese Matilija is always simple, straight forward, satisfying, and it's good warm or cold.
In order to get to the trailhead early enough to be one of the first on the trail I decided I had to wake up at 4:30. I was out of the house at 5:30. And the drive from Thousand Oaks got me to the trailhead at 6:40.
Some things have changed since the last time I hiked Matilija. There’s been a lot of development to the area right next to the parking area. Walls have been put up and new buildings have been constructed.

 The first crossing
Immediately after that area was the first water crossing. This proved to be the most challenging crossing of the day.  I did not want to start out my hike with wet socks so I had to figure out a dry way across. Usually there’s a rock bridge or fallen tree branch to cross, but today there were none. I went up creek a few hundred feet but was rebuffed by even deeper water. So I went back to the trail  and down creek maybe fifty feet and found a spot I could just barely leap across. 

From there it was easy going. I didn't see anyone else on the trail. It was very pleasant. Somehow I missed the trail split that takes you down to the creek and past the big boulder camp. I ended up taking the trail that switchbacks up the side of the canyon.  At just about two hours after leaving the trailhead I got to West Falls. It was flowing well and the high winds were blowing a fine mist all about.

West Falls
Twenty or so minutes after West Falls, I came to the little spring that trickles out of the canyon wall right before you reach the main falls. I thought that would be good spot to sit down and make a cup of tea and eat some breakfast. While I was boiling up some water on my little wood burning stove a couple of people passed by. After two cups of tea and some Pop-Tarts I packed up and went over the main falls.

  The Main Falls
There's a nice series of 13mm static ropes set up to assist the climb up the wedge to the second waterfall.On the hike back down the creek I of course saw more people. None of them had never been on the hike before. And they all asked me for directions. "Keep going up stream" was the best advice I could really give them. 

Once I made it back to the car I checked my phone, 20,600 steps for the 9.0 mile round trip.
On the drive home a semi-truck had one of its tires delaminate right in front of me providing one last bit of excitement for the day.