Homer's Travels: Hiking Ventura County #13: Potrero John Creek

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Hiking Ventura County #13: Potrero John Creek

I did my thirteenth hike on Friday the 13th. The Potrero John Creek Trail starts off of highway 33 and follows the Potrero John Creek. It is an up-down there-n-back. This was the best hike I have done so far this year. The weather was perfect and I was the only one on the trail. If you like creek crossings, this is the trail for you. The trail crisscrosses the creek several times - I stopped counting at 16 crosses. If your doing this trail make sure you have a hiking staff for the creek crossings. The trail starts in a narrow, pine forested, canyon. The pine trees precariously climb the steep and rocky canyon walls.

The trail exits the narrow portion of the canyon and, after creek crossing #8, enters a meadow and briefly moves away from the creek before returning to the sound of running water. A camp site, (creek crossing #11) complete with a large rock lined fire pit, a rusty metal barbecue, and stone and log benches, can be found at the 1.51 mile point. The trail continues on, becoming narrower, the grass encroaching on the path as it crosses the meadow. Here evidence of a past fire is apparent and the dead husks of trees rise like skeletons amongst the grass and scrub.

The trail leaves the meadow and winds through an Oak and Pine forest as the canyon narrows once again. At the 1.9 mile point (creek crossing #12) I sat on a tree stump and rested. I cracked open a water bottle and ate a protein bar. The ground was strewn with acorn caps. The sound of the running water was relaxing.

As I looked around I noticed a bright orange nylon ribbon tied to a tree branch. I had seen this before where trails are marked using bright ribbons.
I started back on the trail using the ribbons as a guide. As I continued on the trail, the trail became wilder and harder to follow. Each time I started loosing the trail I would stop and look around and I would see an orange ribbon up ahead pointing me in the right direction. Thank you to the hiker or park ranger who tied those ribbons.

I reached the designated turn around point of 2.2 miles. This was a primitive camp with a stone lined fire pit and a log bench. I didn't want to stop yet as I still felt good. Also, as I researched the trail, I had came across an article in the Los Angeles Times about a guy who was a waterfall hunter. The guy described a falls on the Potrero John Creek this way:
"It's a Yosemite waterfall that somebody forgot to tell it's supposed to be in Yosemite."
Unfortunately the article didn't say how far up the trail the falls were. At this point I set a goal of the falls, 3 miles, or 1:00 PM, whichever came first.

I followed the orange ribbons further along the creek. The trail alternated from rock hoping to tree hoping to creek hoping. I imagine the number of fallen trees tells of past flash floods through this area. I came across a rock with a message painted on it in black paint. Much of the message was gone but I could make out:
"... left our footprints, took only our memories." Red Crow
This sounds like what a cacher would right in a log but I couldn't find any reference to a Red Crow at geocaching.com.

I continue following the ribbons until I reached an 8 foot waterfall. Looking around, I see a ribbon on the other side of the creek. I cross the creek at a narrow crevasse and followed the ribbons up a short hill and ... there is was. The falls were 50-70 feet tall (I'm a terrible judge of height). Water was flowing pretty good. I was so happy I yelled "HELLOOOO!!!" and listened to the echo. I was elated! The falls were at the 2.6 miles mark. I sat down on a fallen log and rested by the pool at the base of the falls. Looking up I thought that it would be cool to get up to the top of the falls. I'm sure the views would be spectacular. I looked to either side of the falls - on one side a shear rock wall and the other a steep, scree covered slope. I thought you had to be crazy to tackle this climb. I thought you had to be an experienced rock climber to tackle this climb. I thought I was too tired to tackle this climb. All these thoughts went through my head as I was climbing the slope. I reached the half way point and came to two realizations -there was a lot more scree then I expected and a lot of the hand and foot holds were a gentle nudge away from becoming scree themselves. Here are the views looking up and down. Two quotes went through my mind:
"Discretion is the better part of valor." (A proverb attributed to Shakespeare's "Falstaff")

"A man's got to know his limitations." (Dirty Harry in "Magnum Force", 1973)
At this point I made the right decision and slowly (very slowly) made my way back down to the pool.

After a last look at the falls, I started back to the trailhead. I missed the trail on a portion of the way down and went though another stand of oaks, acorns littering the ground. The new trail eventually met back up with the other trail. On the way down I saw a relative of the prancing possum that the wife whacked - This one's prancing days were over.

The rest of the hike was uneventful. I've been a little disappointed that I am not seeing more wildlife. Lizards are common. Birds are all over the place. That's about it. I always hope to see deer, or coyotes or even a bear (at a safe distance of course) but I haven't had any luck so far.

Another successful hike.
The description said a 400 foot rise but my GPS, from the trailhead to my turn around point, said over 900 feet. The hike I did was a little farther then the description. The total distance was about 5.5 miles. I have to say that I was looking forward to this hike. The week at work was a little crappy and this hike hit the spot. I did roll my ankle once which wrenched by left knee. It's a little sore today. But I have never felt so alive as on this hike. Pictures can be found here.


  1. Great little article on a marvelous, "undiscovered" trail :-) You'll have to make plans for a return visit some day; there are now almost a dozen geocaches on this trail, three hidden by us while on a cache-planting hike with Let's Fly, who hid three others up there. This is definitely one of the better hikes along the 33; we've always had a love affair with the Deal Trail, farther north, but PJ might jump past it.

    BTW, the Deal got burned out by the Zaca Fire, and so should be in full flower this Spring. We used to have two caches in it, but they both were destroyed in the fire. With luck the thing will be OK for putting new ones in next year.

  2. Chaosmanor: Thank's for stopping by. In the past I have moved several of your geocoins. I'm glad you liked my post and the hike. I consider it one of my favorites. I would've liked to do your caches but I live in Nebraska now and the trailhead is a little too far away.

  3. Homer:

    Last time I was up there I didn't find the waterfall, but maybe I didn't go far enough. Do you have GPS coordinates for the falls?

  4. Larry: While I had my GPS with me, I didn't mark the coordinates of the falls. The falls were pretty much at the end of the trail 2.75 miles from trailhead. You would need climbing gear or at least some rock climbing skills to go further than the falls.