Sunday, June 10, 2007

Hiking Ventura County #20: Gibraltar Recreation Area

This hike was originally going to be 6 miles long following the Redrock trail to the Gibraltar Reservoir Dam and then back to the parking lot on the Gibraltar Dam road. As I was investigating the Geocaches in the area I discovered one on the Devil's Canyon spur. I figured that this would add a mile or so to the hike. Then I read about the old abandoned mine further along the Gibraltar Dam road. The write up on the web indicated a 10 mile round trip to the mine. Now my personal record for hiking length was 9.03 miles and I figured an extra mile wouldn't be too bad. So, I made the Sunbird Mining Ltd. Quicksilver Mine as the target for my hike.

The first part of the hike was along the Redrock trail and follows the Santa Ynez River. The trail is very nice with views of ridges, oak forest, river water, and poison oak. The river was not flowing as the water level was very low. This resulted in several lagoons in the deeper portions of the river bed. While the lagoons looked very tempting, I fought the urge to dunk my camera. When the trail didn't follow the river bed closely, it went through stands of poison oak. The leaves were turning a
pretty shade of red and I am sure they were pretty itchy as well. I wisely avoided contact. Along this part of the trail I visited "Lilbears First Cache". I picked up some trash along the way. This is a very popular area and the trash and the graffiti took away from nature's charm. The strangest thing I found was a pair of black Levi's jeans - not my size though.


At the 3 mile mark I arrived at the dam. I thought about turning around at this point for about a second before I continued on. At this point the road climbed up about 500 feet to the top of the dam. After crossing a relative flat area, the Gibraltar trail splits from the road and heads down 400 feet. The trail curves around a cove in the reservoir before climbing 400 feet. (Whew!). At the top of this rise I checked the GPS. It said I had traveled around 4.75 miles or so. The mine was not in sight but I was sure it was just around the corner so I continued on. Along the way I was twittered at by swallows who were nested on the rock along the trail.

I eventually made it to the Sunbird Mines Ltd. Quicksilver Mine. The building was fenced in as it was considered unsafe. Whoever put up the chain link fence were considerate enough to route the fence so you could photograph the inside of the building. I don't know how old the mine is. The owner of the mine failed to re-file their claim in 1991 and the mine was turned over to the forestry service who put up the fence. The area is believed to be contaminated with Quicksilver (Mercury). The old building and the two trucks are pretty cool. The mine shaft is sealed but you can still look in.

I found some shade with three other hikers and snacked. My protein bars aren't enough for these long hikes. I will have to look into packing a lunch. I rested for about 25 minutes. At the mine the GPS said 6.3 miles. I took a few more pictures before I headed back. My muscles were already complaining and the hike soon became grueling.


The return was tough. My legs and feet complained all the way. I reached the dam and dropped down to the Redrock trailhead. I looked at my GPS and saw that I was less than a half mile from "
El Diablo Rojo" cache. Against my better judgment I headed up the Devil's Canyon trail towards the cache. This is a really cool trail that crisscrosses a creek in a narrow, oak (and poison oak) lined canyon. I would have enjoyed it more if I wasn't already exhausted. The trail is narrow and a little overgrown in areas but it was easy to follow, even in my tired state. I found the cache, its first official find since 2003 (there was a log entry from February 2006 but it wasn't logged at the website). It wasn't hard to find but this trail probably isn't traveled very often - a pity since it is really beautiful in the canyon. On the way out of the canyon I saw a pile of droppings. After checking on the web, I think they were bear scat. Another hiker told me she had seen bear tracks.


I got back to Gibraltar Dam road and started back towards the car. The road climbs 500 feet before heading down. The sun was beating down like sledgehammers. My legs were rubbery. My feet hurt - I mean HURT. I must of looked like a zombie, the way I was walking all stiff. A hiker and her dog, the one one who saw the bear tracks, caught up with me. I had passed her a while back - actually she wasn't a hiker, she was a runner. When we both made it to the top of the climb she started running - I loath her and her youth. Later on her dog passed me going the wrong way. Eventually I ran into her again going back up the hill looking for her dog. She still looked fresh and full of energy - Damn her! I eventually found a trail that would cut .25 - .5 miles off the hike. I pointed it out to the runner when she came back down with the dog following. I followed her down the trail - slowly.

I reached the car. I was bone tired. I had run out of water about 500 feet from the car. The GPS said 12.78 miles - a new personal best. I downed another liter of water in the car on the way home. Pictures can be found
here.

I am writing this the day after the hike. I am still tired and my legs are still sore and kind of rubbery. I think I pushed myself a little too much. I am seriously thinking about calling in sick on Monday to recuperate. I read an article recently that said that walking in nature helps reduce depression. This is true, hiking always makes me feel better, but too much of a good thing ... OW!

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