dispatches & explored

Diamond in the Rough: The “Other” Yellowjacket

It’s been a standing joke for some time ’round these parts — how there are in the toponomic scheme of things on the southern Los Padres a bevy of like-named locations.

Early in this site’s life I poked fun at the numerous Sycamore Canyons, Oak Canyons, Pine this-or-that. San Rafael Mountain vs. San Rafael Peak. White Ledges abound. Alder Creek here, Alder Creek there.

One of those doppelgangers that’s always fascinated me however is the other Yellowjacket … not the one out in Grade/Mutau Valley, but one of the many sites on the San Emigdio Mesa that have inexorably been falling off the USFS inventory. Previous sojourns to other lost sites across the Cuyama badlands — e.g., Mud and Blue Rock Springs, Cienega (no, the other one) — punctuate the number of sites lost in this region alone. Never mind how many sites Forest-wide that are now abandoned, lost, or forgotten. The narrowing number of “official” sites makes a quiet weekend of car camping nearly impossible for we misanthropes, and the visitor density at the few remaining sites — further compounded by higher fees for fewer services, and payable to concessionaires — makes camping difficult for even the most casual car camper who might want to bundle his or her kids into the trucks and enjoy a quick night out. These are sad times for our beloved public lands.

My folks had camped at Yellowjacket (and Mine, and Cow Springs, and countless other now-closed or less-accessible sites) in the old Bronco in the late 60s shortly after their arrival in Ventura County and long before my entry into the world; the camp had been mainly a cartographic curiosity to me until a few years ago the Three Kings forwarded a few enticing photos my way.

Yellowjacket Camp Sign No. 1

The photos shared showed a classic routered wooden sign, ice can stoves in near-perfect conditions, picnic tables, and various accoutrements about camp. And so Yellowjacket went onto my “to-do” list that very day.

But as we well know, items registered therein can languish for years before finding themselves the next actual “to-do.” But Yellowjacket’s time had finally come! And so it was the clear morning after Christmas the wee ones and I bundled into Ol’ Bessie with our day kits and two of the pack. Little Man’s new hound — a rescued Belgian Malinois he’s named “Scout” — is still a bit wild, so we felt heading into these largely empty lands to be another good opportunity to work on the dog’s outdoor manners and response timing.


There was a thin crust of ice covering the floor of the obscure drainage I’d selected from the old topo sheet as we started our scramble away from the rig; Scout was thrilled to be “free” from his leash, tearing up side canyons and chutes only to come racing back to check on his bipeds, inadvertently introducing his nose to yucca once, and experiencing his first snow along the shady bends. Lilly — now a seasoned forest-goer and in the wake of the uber-hund’s retirement our de facto elder statesdog, pretended not be impressed. She kept mostly to Li’l G’s side or would on occasion round on Scout to keep him in check. (Even by December 26 her Christmas cheer is always long gone.)




About a half-mile from where I’d estimated Yellowjacket to be, we leveraged a bit of Pythagorean theory and cut straight across a wide ephedra-dotted expanse rather than continuing down the drainage to meet the more obvious tributary. Thus far we’d seen no sign of humans — no litter, no spent shell casings, no footprints. It’s a rare sojourn into any area so near the main thoroughfares where that can be said.


Soon enough, our lucky streak ended, but in an entirely palatable way. A series of heavy posts began to follow the edge of our drainage, with the stray occasional piece of fencing wire attached. As we re-entered the cover of oak and pinon, the gurgle of flowing water greeted us.


Local lore holds that this spring-fed cattle trough once held goldfish introduced by some long-forgotten visitor, and that even when the trough froze over the fish persisted … swimming circles near the bottom. Alas, such hearty carp were not to be witnessed this day.


From the spring and the masses of bear scat beneath the adjacent willow, it was a short walk up-canyon to the site of the old car camp. Little man was fascinated by the old washing machine, ice box, and enjoyed reading through the register. The modern relics of real interest, however — namely the old sign and the ice can stoves — had since been lifted by some treasure-hunter and surely reside in some suburban garage or back patio.






After a leisurely lunch and much picking around, we finally shouldered our packs and retraced our route back to the truck. As we topped out along the last ridge of the drainage, the little ones took a brief pause to soak up the views as temps dipped back into the 30s. It had been a perfect day of wandering a forgotten corner of our big backyard, but tri-tip sandwiches at the Reyes Creek Bar & Grill and the promise of the truck’s heater beckoned them down the mucky slopes.


paws and pause

Get ’em out there!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

11 Degrees of Service

Late last year, I stood in the back of a local elementary school cafeteria during a Cub Scout meeting. The different dens (organized by school grade, first through fifth) were taking turns telling the other Scouts and parents in attendance what their dens had been up to that past month. Trip to the fire station, a hike in the city park, making peroxide-and-baking-soda volcanoes … all the great stuff Cubs enjoy.

When it came time for the crew of Cubs I help lead to share their experience, I had that usual swell of pride I always feel for these fine young men. Great speakers, confident forest-goers, thoughtful citizens. I waited for them to extol unto the crowd their most recent outing had removed hundreds of pounds of debris from an illegal target-shooting area, how they’d identified several invasive plants in the watershed and reported their findings to the Forest Service biologist, or perhaps brag a bit about being only 10 or 11 and cooking all their own meals. (You know, the usual.)

So our most fearless speaker — who shall remain nameless — took the mic, and to collective gasps from grandparents and little siblings alike excitedly announced “We found a marijuana plantation in the forest. There might have been booby traps!”


So let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

This story really should start thusly:

Late last year, I led my Cub Scouts on one of their last public lands service projects before most of them were to make the big transition to full-fledged Boy Scouting.

This project — staged in an unnamed but oft-traveled tributary of the Sespe — was intended to occur in two parts: a shooting-area clean-up on Saturday (please, do appreciate the great irony of 10-year-olds picking up after grown-ups here), and then — for some older Scouts and bioscience students from the local high school — a search-and-geotag project of tamarisk in the numerous branches of this creek (which had been the target of several eradication projects led by LPFW and Keep the Sespe Wild in previous seasons).

Naturally, nearly all the Cubs who volunteered to join the first day’s project were keen to stretch their weekend in the backwood as far as they could. They have tried and true tactics, these kids:

“Mr. Carey, after we clean up all the bullet shells, can we go exploring?”
“Hey Mr. C., can we ‘gorilla’ [guerrilla] camp in the meadow afterward? And make it a backpacking trip?”
“Mr C., could we leave Friday night instead of Saturday morning? Night-hiking would be awesome!”

(As you can tell, I’m a strict by-the-schedule sort of leader. Adaptability is so over-rated.)

And so what I’d organized as a 4-hour Cub Scout project for the US Forest Service on a Saturday and 6-hour high school project on a Sunday turned into something a bit different.

Most of the crew went for the extended addition: with a few LPFA-trained VWRs along to assist, we leaders ushered an adventuresome crew of 5th-graders up the drainage under lamplight. It was breezy, and got cold quickly … precisely not the conditions to discover that somewhere along the way I’d sliced open my air mattress to such a degree all the patches in the repair kit wouldn’t come close to helping.


11F and All is WellCold Toes

It was some cold hard ground that night, and temps dipped to 11F. I was glad to get up and get the day started.

Sunny Side UpP1020217

After breakfast, the crew headed back down to the highway, where we met with the day-tripper portion of the volunteer crew and together headed up to the shooting area. The crew was diligent and scoured the shooting area for spent brass, blasted PC monitors, well-ventilated propane tanks, and sundry detritus strewn across the canyon. They perform this work with an attitude balancing on disgust and resignation sometimes, and I can’t blame them. It can be pretty disheartening to see how immature “grown-ups” can really be.


The team also worked the upper canyon, retrieving more shell casings and litter along the drainage, and hiked it all back down to the trucks parked along the highway. It was a great day of service for the day-trippers, and a fun region to explore for the boys who took the “extended tour.”



The next morn, a core group of Cubs and I headed back down-trail to meet with the older volunteers. We then hiked to the location of where tamarisk are known to thrive, and taught the crew how to identify the invasive and gave a short clinic on geotagging using a GPS receiver.



There are — from a point just above the main falls and pool in this canyon — three main tributaries. We resolved to explore these drainages as far as practical in the half-day or so we’d allotted and see if we couldn’t locate additional specimens of tamarisk. We first headed westward, pushing through the dense chaparral and dodging yucca along the drainage (the first section of which had been the focus of another LPFW project the previous year). It was a grand time navigating the brush and growth and sundry obstacles. The Cubs especially made a fine game of it, bouncing off the rocks like little pinballs possessed. The older Scouts and students were a welcome addition, lending a bit more levity to the actual search for any possible tamarisk.



On the second drainage, we headed northward, following a long, fairly open space along what had looked like a hunters’ trail on Google Earth, checking in minor tributaries on our left and right as we headed upstream. I was knee-deep in some sort of tussock when I spotted a beer can. We were still ridiculously close (as the condor flies) to the highway, but remembering the Sam Young Canyon pot grow a few years previous, I figured it best to advise the boys to hold back a moment. I inhaled to send forth the word, and —

“Mr. Carey! There’s a tarp!”
Well, hell.
“And a sleeping bag!”
“Alright, hold on boys.”
“And boots!”
“And a bunch of trash!”
And then, knowing what to look for, my little man: “Dad, there’s a ton of black tubing up here.”

We pulled the boys back down from beneath a stately live oak, and I with two of my more imposing co-leaders checked the area. It was all the usual junk: dozens upon dozens of Bud Light cans, instant soup containers, empty bottles of Tapatio, pesticide containers, and a ridiculous amount of litter … all well-hidden beneath the shade of this tree, the branches of which he been trimmed well enough to allow standing room.



Once we determined the site had been long-abandoned, we brought the Scouts and students back up and gave a short talk about the impact of the illegal marijuana trade on our public lands, how it was contrary to the Leave No Trace ethics our unit strives to uphold, and the like, but I rather suspect some of the boys — ardent capitalists — were trying to figure out how to haul the 5 or 6 bags full of beer cans out to the nearest CRV center.


We enjoyed a brief lunch back down at our makeshift camp, and then headed eastward along the third and final drainage. And there, growing rather happily among the Incense-cedars and Douglas firs, we did find a few tamarisk, which the students dutifully recorded.


TAMA 003_01IMG_1107


Another great weekend, and one that ensured — once I calmed the parents — that the boys had a story to tell when they get home. 😉

Get ’em out there!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The Accidental Tradition: Nordhoff Lookout

Sequels seldom live up their predecessors, but I’m happy to report that trend was bucked this past October.

So let me rewind a bit here. Just over a year ago, I led a crew of my intrepid Cub Scouts for a microtrash clean-up atop Nordhoff Peak, under the auspices of the US Forest Service. Condors have been known to roost atop the superstructure of the Nordhoff Lookout‘s remains, and the bottle caps, shell casings, and busted glass are all classic hazards to the endangered birds. During the Day Fire especially the lookout — like that at Thorn Point — saw heavier-than-usual visits from the big birds.

Image courtesy D Freeman | Fall 2006

Image courtesy D Freeman | Fall 2006

Image courtesy D Freeman | Fall 2006

Image courtesy D Freeman | Fall 2006

We had a great weekend of service paired with great views, in a stretch of the Forest very few of those boys (and even fewer of their parents) had ever visited.

IMGP5558Service, with a View



Being 9- and 10-year-olds, picking up minuscule bits of trash only held their attention long enough to get the work done — and then they were off, clambering around the hillsides, fashioning yucca tools with zebra-striped duct tape, and devising all those Lord of the Flies-meets-Home Alone implements necessary to protect themselves from Charman.


It was an outstanding weekend of service and Scouting. Fast-forward a year’s worth of adventures that saw the boys explore the trails of Big Sur and the Sespe wilderness, backpack Horn Canyon, overnight at La Brea Tar Pits, launch rockets in the Mojave Desert, snowshoe atop Mt Pinos, fish the Rincon, and explore numerous other “places in between,” and this past October we found ourselves gearing up for another US Forest Service project — a return to the Chumash Wilderness and the North Fork of Lockwood Creek, where we were to clear tread, clip back wayward rose and willow at the creek crossings, and repair some cribwalling as the boys had done as third-graders earlier last year (see here).

Lily Meadows BEARS!

That trip has become legend in the ranks of these young men, and so they were all excited for a return to the area for another great adventure … but it was not to be. The opening of deer season in that stretch of the forest — compounded by crowds, weather, drought, and other logistics — found me and my fellow leaders scrambling for a Plan B at the last moment. (It’s time like these I am reminded I need a more formed Plan B on which I can fall back.)

And so after some gracious eleventh-hour assistance from the Ojai Ranger District, on Friday night the boys of Pack 3179 were on their way up the road out of Rose Valley, headed for Nordhoff Tower.

It was a glorious night, and the boys spent much of the evening watching the Draconid meteor shower and regaling one another with tales of Charman (*sigh* … boys) while G busied herself taking night-time photos.


The next day, I watched the sun rise over the Topatopas from the comfort of my bag, and sipped coffee in the early light before the boys fixed their breakfasts and explored the western slopes of Nordhoff Peak, where much of the old lookout cabin debris can be found. Little Man was especially pleased to retrieve one of the burners from the lookout’s stove. (Because, you know, he’s nine.)

Morning No. 1: CoffeeNordhoff Burner

Whilst we lunched atop the tower ruins, we were fortunate enough to watch Condor No. 696 fly overhead — a great moment for the boys, and one that reinforced for them to relevance of their service work at this spot one year prior.


Lost in the Sun; courtesy Li’l G

696 Overhead

Nordhoff Lookout, ca. 1960

Nordhoff Lookout, ca. 1960

Lunchtime was spent soaking up the views, awarding the boys some bling they’d earned over the previous months, and gearing up for the day’s hike.


We capped off the day with a great hike from the parking space near Elder Camp to the top of Topatopa Bluff. The boys motored up that steep slope with an abundance of Scout cheer (and rests).

Image courtesy ADL MPM Image courtesy ADL MPM IMG_5631IMG_5615

The stalwart Webelos enjoyed reading through the peak register, spotting landmarks far below in Ojai, Ventura, and beyond, and enjoyed a well-earned respite before heading back down to the trucks. We returned to camp just as the sun was disappearing behind the western points.

IMG_5652Bluffs SnacksNordhoff RidgeIMG_5698

So … meteor shower, lookout tower with huge views, unstructured free time, and peak bagging in the great wide open? Truly, this was the Godfather II or Empire Strikes Back of sequels … better than the original indeed.

Get ’em out there!

(The Topatopa Bluff hike is detailed in Route 62 [sidebar] of Hiking and Backpacking Santa Barbara & Ventura.)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Little Men, Big Sur

I’d like to think over the years I’ve learnt at least a handful of the many lessons I’ve received, and so in a rare act of Labor Day weekend wisdom, instead of heading into the cauldron that is the Sespe in the summer or scaling some blistering hill along Hurricane Deck, I led the intrepid Panthers and Mongooses of Cub Scout Pack 3179 for a four-day sojourn to the Pico Blanco Boy Scout camp in Big Sur.

I’ve camped at numerous BSA camps across the state, but had never visited Pico Blanco (a camp in the Monterey RD of the Los Padres operated by the Silicon Valley Monterey Bay Council). A handful of other Ventura-area troops have made the annual “family camp” offered on Labor Day weekend, and had been recommended to us as a chance to enjoy the programs and environs of the camp with everything available save the mess hall.

After the nearly 6-hour drive to camp, the boys hunkered down and quickly busied themselves with the setting up of their beds and kitchens. As we were car camping, this was a far easier and more complacent task than during some of our more adventurous sojourns.


The boys were up early their first morning, and I was glad to find Little Man busy prepping my breakfast. Having a go-to cook is proving supremely handy these days (though admittedly I greased those wheels by awarding him his own MSR PocketRocket, cook kit, fuel canisters, and a few lighters sans thumbguard … but come on people, this is the gift that keeps on giving [back to me]!).

Head Chef

After colors, our first order of business was to get numerous safety briefings from the camp staff. The instructions for the rifle and archery ranges — as one might expect — took the longest. But as our Webelos are known for their hiking prowess, it was with particular zeal that they took to the trek they’d selected from the menu of options — a journey through the Los Padres and along the Little Sur River toward Jackson Camp. This was a great 5-mile out-and-back along sorrel-clad ravines, cobble- and fern-choked crossings, and all beneath canopies of towering oaks and redwoods.


Image courtesy Camp Pico Blanco/Mr Roberts

Image courtesy Camp Pico Blanco/Mr Roberts

Image courtesy Camp Pico Blanco/Mr Roberts

Pico Blanco THTrail Masters

Trust UsTriple Towers_Pico Blanco

Fish Camp

At Jackson, the boys lunched and then busied themselves exploring the creekbed, catching bugs and snakes, hunting for albino redwoods, ID’ing (and avoiding … mostly) nettle and poison oak, and enjoying that old stalwart: unstructured free time.

Jackson Camp No 1

Hunting for Bugs

Whilst the boys roamed, some of us lounged in the splendor that is this tight little camp, and there in the duff and dirt lo and behold:

Lost and Found

I know you can read it with ease, gentle forest reader, but for the sake of being thorough allow me to translate: “JACKSON PUBLIC CAMP.” Dimensions are on par with those (very) few we still find afield (e.g., Indian Canyon) and the numerous in protected or private collections.

Indian Camp
Indian Canyon, Winter 2011

Battered, shot, rusted, and a general wreck, but still a nice find.

That night, the Cubs of 3179 unleashed on the unsuspecting staff of Pico Blanco their infamous “poker night” skit during campfire, and over the course of the next two days enjoyed the shooting range(s), waterfront along the Little Sur, the new climbing tower, and a night hike up Skinner Ridge.

poker table skit

Image courtesy Camp Pico Blanco/Mr Roberts


Race to the Top


Nighttime Traffic

A very relaxing time for us Scouters (well, for me at least), and the boys thoroughly enjoyed the camp. I suspect we’ll return before long.

Oh — we talked about receiving lessons, etc., at the opening of this one. The weekend detailed herein also happened to be my wedding anniversary. So … yeah, I’ve been reminded that next year it’s to be somewhere tropical. With the missus. 😉

Get ’em out there!

Pico Bound

(The Jackson Trail is detailed in Route 39 of Analise Elliot Heid’s Hiking and Backpacking Big Sur.)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments