Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Aguas Calientes

Hot waters.

This weekend I went with some friends to the Santa Ynez watershed behind Santa Barbara. We did something different. We car camped and day hiked. I'm sure lots of people do that, but it's not something I normally do.

First we drove up to Agua Caliente and hiked up the canyon. The trail starts at the Big Caliente Hot Spring and passes a large debris dam, which is intended to hold debris back from the Santa Ynez river that is the source of Santa Barbara's water. The trail continues up the canyon through potreros of dry grass and star thistle (ouch). The potreros give the landscape an unusual appearance compared to what we chaparral dwellers are used to. It is open and golden at this time of year. The drying buckwheat (erogonum) flowers added a deep, orangy-red splash of color.

The creek was very low but there was still water flowing. We followed the creek up to the notch where there should have been a nice pool for swimming. It was too low for swimming. Instead we found a niche in the rock and ate lunch in the shade. The Geo Leo geocache was also located there so a few searched for it. We enjoyed finding it and signing the log book. Tony and I had been the first to find it back in 2003 and our signatures were still there.

We continued up the creek after lunch. We sometimes found the trail and sometimes just stayed in the creek. The mud along the creek was full of bear tracks. I had never seen so many bear tracks in one place. We followed them for miles. Big ones, little ones. We were surprised we never saw the bears themselves.

After 5 miles of hiking we stopped at a small pool deep enough for each of us to take a turn cooling off. We rested there a bit and then headed back down the canyon.

Before we returned to our cars, we stopped at the Big Caliente springs and soaked in the hot pools. The six of us had a pool all to ourselves. We were surprised at how empty it seemed on a holiday weekend. The water was delightful and removed any aches and pains we might have had. Jorge whipped out a cooler of beers and we each refreshed ourselves with one.

After soaking until nightfall was nearly upon us, we walked the final 500 feet to our cars only to find the concrete hot pool by the parking lot was packed with people having a large and noisy party. Now we were worried we might not find a campsite. The party was so wild there were drunken people staggering around the parking area. One even asked us to roll down the window as we were pulling out so that he could offer us a beer.

We passed the two campsites near the hot springs but there were tents in them so we continued to see if P-Bar Flat might be available for camping. Along the way we passed Middle Santa Ynez camp and it was full. It was a big campground, too, so we were starting to think we might have to go home. It turned out that P-Bar Flat was almost empty. We pulled into a site and found the campground to be quiet.

We all pulled out various kinds of backpacking and camping stoves and set about cooking our dinners. Christine pulled out a wonderful quiche that was still warm inside. She makes them in a loaf pan with the dough wrapped all around. Her mother made quiche that way in France in order to keep it warm for picnics. It works and is delicious.

After dinner we set up our tents and slept. Two of our group returned to Santa Barbara. In the morning, the remaining four of us drove up to the trailhead for Indian Creek. We followed the trail and the creek for 7.5 miles, finding the Save Clifford geocache along the way. The day was very hot and we stopped often. One stop was at a nice shady pool deep enough for each of us to take a turn cooling off.

Turtles abounded in the creek and bear prints were common, but less abundant than Agua Caliente creek. I feared stepping on a turtle by accident. I hope the Forest Service fixes up the trail soon to spare trampling the turtles and frogs, all posted as endangered or otherwise worrisome creatures on signs everywhere in the area.

Once we had gone 7.5 miles we felt very tired in the heat of the day. I know that Indian Creek gets much prettier just a few more miles further, but it was too far to go on such a hot day. So we turned back. We had better luck finding the trail on the way back and walked a lot less in the creek. We powered back much more quickly than we went going in.

We stopped once more at the pool in the shade to cool off, then continued all the way back to our cars. Sean shared beer and gatorade with us then declared that he would like to soak a bit in the Little Caliente Hot Spring. So onward we drove.

I hadn't been to Little Caliente in a long time. The pools are wonderful. They've been built up into deep and clean rock pools with little benches to help you take your shoes off. There are three pools and the water is very hot. We soaked for a little while and then drove the long and arduous winding road all the way home.

I still find myself grateful that our trails here allow us easy access to water. Grateful rather than used to it. It is so different from the Pacific Crest Trail which isn't built to support human life. You probably could not hike parts of the PCT now without significant risk of death. We were free of that worry even in the scorching heat of late summer.

The PCT has given me a freedom from worrying about where the trail is going, how long it will be, and even a freedom from concern about where I am or where I will be at the end of the day. I feel confident that each turn of the trail will take me somewhere, even if I do not know exactly where, and that by the end of the day I ought to be wherever I need to be. I thought about that lesson while hiking back to the cars on Indian Creek. It's time to carry that lesson into regular life. Start a trail, see where it goes, have confidence that it will go somewhere good. With those thoughts, I decided that I would seek out freelance web development jobs when I returned.

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