Tag Archives: California Trail

Big Sur and Pine Ridge Trail

Big Sur and Pine Ridge Trail. When I lived on the Monterey Peninsula the Pine Ridge Trail into the Ventana Wilderness was one of my favorite hikes to quickly get to a remote area. A downside is that trail access is easy, Big Sur is popular, and California trails are notoriously crowded. That means that on weekends, when the weather is good, there will be others on the trail with you. If you have the gear and are willing to brave winter weather the trail could be yours alone.

Big Sur and Pine Ridge Trail, Wythe's Xplorer Journal, XplorMor, Stream, Nature Photography, Big Sur, California, USA

Beauty of Big Sur, California, USA

One recent December I had a weekend without plans and decided to head to Big Sur for a solo hike and camp in Ventana Wilderness. As it turned out, a cold front was predicted to move through on Friday night, with rain, wind, and a drop in temperature. My philosophy with weather is summed up by explorer Ranulph Fiennes who reportedly said, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” Admittedly, winter in Big Sur is not severe, but I did pack my winter sleeping bag and an extra fleece layer.

Big Sur and Pine Ridge Trail, Wythe's Xplorer Journal, XplorMor, Stream, Nature Photography, Big Sur, California, USA

Big Sur and Pine Ridge Trail, California, USA

I arrived at Big Sur Station in mid-afternoon, packed up, and started to hike in. There were about a dozen younger folks hiking out with dogs, guitars, and ukuleles – I guessed that I had missed a good party. My goal was Barlow Flats which was seven miles in but with my late start and the first rain drops falling through the redwoods at 5:15 PM, I decided to make camp at Terrace Creek. I set camp, ate dinner, and to stay dry, was in my tent at 7:15 PM. The rain really came down from about 8 PM until 1:15 AM and I thought that the worst of it had passed. After a lull in the rain, I heard a big crack, not lightning but a big limb splitting off from a tree, followed by the crashing of the limb through lower branches and then a big thud as it hit the forest floor. I had just been through 5+ hours of rain and wind to relax as I stayed dry and the rain ceased and now I had to think about being crushed by a giant redwood branch. Needless to say, I had a few specific thoughts about my end under a giant redwood but then just gave myself over to thinking that I could not stop a branch from falling and there was no place to move my tent as I was in a redwood grove. The real rain came at 3 AM and lasted an hour. Big Sur hugs the coast, and when the storms roll in off the Pacific they come in fast and hard, the wind whips and the rain falls in sheets. The tent held and I stayed dry through the night.

Big Sur and Pine Ridge Trail, Wythe's Xplorer Journal, XplorMor, Stream, Nature Photography, Big Sur, California, USA

Beauty of the Monterey Peninsula, California, USA

The next morning I covered the two miles to Barlow Flats in under an hour. I washed my tent off, hung it up to dry, set camp, and then was off to try to find Sykes Hot Spring, about three miles further up the trail on the Big Sur River. As it turned out, the river was high because of the rain, the trail crossed the river a number of times and was hard to follow, and I never did find the hot springs. The afternoon was getting on and so I headed back to Barlow Flats. It was a cold night, down to 30 degrees F, but camping close by the Big Sur River I had the noise of water over rocks to help me sleep. On my last day I headed back to the trail head and made the seven miles in about 4 hours. Overall, a quick but relaxing trip; from Friday late afternoon to Sunday late morning I saw no one else in the woods. With the easy trail access at Big Sur Station this is an area worth exploring.

Big Sur and Pine Ridge Trail, Wythe's Xplorer Journal, XplorMor, Stream, Nature Photography, Big Sur, California, USA

Mossy Roots from the Damp Coastal Weather

Joshua Tree National Park: Land of Subtle, Stark Wonder

I’d never been to Joshua Tree National Park before. I’d heard about it from friends, and often said to myself I should go there, but I never got around to it. Like a lot of things in California, it was so close that it was easy to forget it was there. California is like that, so full of things to see and experience your choices become as congested and difficult to maneuver as the freeways of Los Angeles. A friend of mine, back from teaching kids in Korea for the winter, asked me to join him on a day long excursion to this special place, and not having seen him in almost two years I could not refuse. Besides, it would be good to get away after a truly awful divorce from someone I thought I could trust. This is also a common thing in California.

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Joshua Tree National Park, California by Garrick at XplorMor

Like most people, in my youth I thought of a desert as a barren, boiling wasteland choked with sand. I thought of Lawrence of Arabia leading a charging army of fierce desert nomads. Deserts were places for the lost and the damned, filled with shallow graves just off the road and swarmed by nefarious hitchhikers and shady characters. Giant worms ridden by noble Fremen charged across endless dunes. It was easy to believe the Hollywood vision. And nothing could be further from the truth (except when it is). Deserts (yes there are different kinds), as varied as any other environment you’ll pass through, team with survivors, creatures so well adapted they thrive in places that can suck the life out of a person in a few hours.

Joshua Tree National Park, California, National Park, Joshua tree, rock formations, Garrick's Xplorer Journal, explorer journal, XplorMor,

Joshua Tree National Park, California by Garrick at XplorMor

Joshua Tree National Park is a place of subtle and stark wonder. It snuck up on me, refusing to compromise its existence just because I happened to be there. I became bound to it, not the other way around. As I drove along its lonely road (however many other drivers there may be), I couldn’t help but wonder what mysteries existed unseen in the natural cracks of its distinctive purple-brown, crumbling hills. This place came to be because of a very specific set of conditions, including, but not limited to, elevation, soil composition, and the climate created by the mountains around it. It is a place that sits in a fragile equilibrium, which is now threatened by climate change, yet it persists.

Joshua Tree National Park, California, National Park, Joshua tree, rock formations, Garrick's Xplorer Journal, explorer journal, XplorMor,

Joshua Tree National Park, California by Garrick

Joshua Tree is home to its namesake, a strange Frankenstein tree that looks like a cross between a cactus and an oak tree. Before the pioneers came and cut down the old growth, these wondrous inhabitants of the desert grew massive, but slowly, beholden by the trickle of precious water they receive each year, only able to grow a few inches or less each wet season. The Joshua trees now struggle to become the heirs of their pre-Colonial ancestors, but what they have achieved is still impressive, slowly remaking a desert forest.  Out of this persistence in such harsh environments, I gained a better understanding of what I can endure, and how I can thrive in the hardest times. The desert’s heat and silence burn away all but the essential pieces of you, leaving behind something stronger and clearer than the person who first entered its mysteries.

Joshua Tree National Park, California, National Park, Joshua tree, rock formations, Garrick's Xplorer Journal, explorer journal, XplorMor,

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Xplorer Journal written by Garrick Thomsen; photos courtesy of Patrick MacKay. Great work!

Los Padres National Park: Pictographs Found at Piedra Blanca

Success! Pictographs found at Piedra Blanca! Team XplorMor has hiked the Piedra Blanca Trail in Los Padres National Forest, located near the Ojai Valley in Southern California, many times to study its unusual rock formations, and to seek out the well hidden petroglyphs. On this last expedition we located them, and discovered three important points: first, there’s more than one site, second, it’s good they are hidden as one of the locations has serious vandalism, and third, they are not petroglyphs but pictographs. I’ll explain the difference…

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Piedra Blanca Trail by Julia at XplorMor

There are four major types of rock art: petroglyphs, cupules, geoglyphs, also known as intaglios, and pictographs. Petroglyphs are rock engravings produced by carving or striking the rock surface using various techniques (See photo: Darien Gap). Cupules are small cup-shaped indentations made in rock that may seem in a pattern or at random. They are a type of petroglyph in that stone is ground or carved out to create them. Geoglyphs are giant drawings made on the ground presumably depicting geometric designs, human forms and animals.

Pictographs are a fragile cousin to petroglyphs. They are designs drawn on rock surfaces with paints made from natural mineral pigments applied with fibrous brushes or with hands and fingers. These pigments were mixed with binders such as oil, blood or urine. Hematite (iron oxide), the most common color in Southern California, was used for creating red paints, and presumably those of Piedra Blanca. Pictographs were typically drawn in caves, overhangs and alcoves where they would be better protected from harsh weather elements.

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Piedra Blanca by Julia at XplorMor

Thank goodness the drawings are not easily found as sadly the ones that are not far from the trail have been vandalized: scratched off, chipped at and even large sections seemingly removed.  I presumed taken as the rock looks neatly chiseled and large flat disc-shaped pieces are missing. Sadly, it also appears that a recent visitor threw rocks at the drawings, chipping them, and used rocks to scratch over their surfaces. The photo below shows some of this damage. I was very disappointed to see that someone had made the drive, made the hike, found the petroglyphs, only to deface them. Why?! Piedra Blanca’s sacred, historic site is unfortunately left to echo the question.   

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Piedra Blanca Pictographs by Julia at XplorMor

Information resource: Calisphere, connected to the University of California System and the California Digital Library.

Read more and watch XplorMor Expedition slide show from Piedra Blanca. Please note: we have not included locations of other pictograph sites for their protection, please do not email requesting this information.