Sunday, April 08, 2007

Hiking Ventura County #12: Tar Creek Trail

On Saturday I did my 12th hike of the year - the Tar Creek Trail. The trail is north of Fillmore. You take Goodenough Road until it dead ends and then follow an oil rig service road up into the hills. The road is more potholes then asphalt and, as the road winds up into the mountains, becoming narrower and narrower, the asphalt just gives up and the road turns to dirt. Weather was overcast and foggy and as the road went up the visibility went down.

I stopped at the "Oak Flat" Cache on the way to the trailhead. A simple roadside cache that, if it weren't foggy, would have some great views of the canyons and mountains.

After the cache I continued up the road and further into the pea soup. The road was narrow - one lane - with a sharp rocky rise on one side and a sharp, plummet to you death cliff on the other so I was hoping, wishing, and praying that I wouldn't meet oncoming traffic. The road showed lots of evidence of falling rocks - piles of scree along the side of the road and bulldozer tracks. I was lucky and made it to the trailhead without incident.

There were three other cars at the trailhead. There were two paths leaving the parking area. I wasn't sure which way to go as there were no signs pointing the way. I headed for the road to the right which, after a short distance, ended in what looked like a campsite strewn with shell and shotgun casings. Wrong path. I went around the to the other path (more a road then a path actually) and headed down.

Tar Creek trail is a down-up there-n-back trail. The trail winds down the hillsides ending at Tar Creek. The elevation change is about 700 ft. I was not sure I was on the right trail until I reached a clearing where the road ended and a narrower foot trail started. This matched a description of the hike that I had and I found a lot more confident going on. A hiker I met later on the trail explained that the clearing was where Condor Researchers and Conservationists camped out after they released the
California Condors into the wild and monitored their progress.

The trail down was interesting but visibility was only about 20-30 feet. I was hoping the the fog would burn off by the time I got to the creek so I could enjoy the views on the way back to the trailhead. I paced my walk pretty good this hike. I was careful not to walk too fast. The trail showed signs of fire damage - a lot of burned out trees. The vegetation was coming back strong so the fire was probably a while ago. I'm not sure if the Day Fire affected this area or not.

When I arrived at the creek, my GPS said about 2.2 miles and I felt pretty good. The creek was low due to the lack of rain but there was still water running and pools. The creek bed was wide and filled with a variety of rocks from beach sand up to big boulders. I decided to walk down the creek for a bit. Then I heard voices and a father and son arrived at the creek. I said hello and he explained that he was moving his family to Tennessee and he wanted to show his son all the places he enjoyed before they moved. The father knew a lot about the trails in the area. He said that there were some falls further down the creek so I followed them down the creek another 1/2 mile to the falls.

The falls were really cool. There were four tiers ending a a large reed lined pool. Most of the rocks in the area were sedimentary rocks and you could see the layers of sediment deposit. Harder stones could be seen embedded in the softer sandstone. The water erosion created fascinating textures. I decided to wait here a few minutes to see if the sun would come out. I laid down on the cool stone and used my jacket as a pillow and just chilled by the bottom falls. I ate a protein bar that I had packed in my fanny pack while I listened to the falling water. After awhile, the mist started getting heavier and I decided that it was not going to get much clearer. I got up and started taking pictures. I surprised a frog who jumped into the water. I watched a turtle stick it's head above the green water before diving down and hiding along the algae covered bottom.


I decided it was time to go so I headed back up the creek bed. The father and son had already left ahead of me which was fine. I started up the trail and, once again, carefully paced myself. The fog was lifting and I was able to see the canyons and mountains though as I got closer to the trailhead I walked back into the fog layer. I eventually caught up with father and son. I seemed to be in better shape than the father but the son, 8-10 years old I would guess, was still full of the energy of youth. I told the father of my plan to do a hike a week for the next year or so. He suggested I do the Sespe. Tar Creek feeds into the Sespe and the pools and falls are even more impressive then the one we had just visited. Maybe someday.

We got back to the trailhead and said our goodbyes. The total hike to the falls was 5.29 miles. I was tired but I felt pretty good. I drove back into Fillmore and had some lunch. As I got out of my car, my legs screamed - They are going to be sore for a day or two.

I enjoyed this one. I wish the sky had been clear but then I would have complained about being too hot. Pictures can be found here.

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