Homer's Travels: Hiking Ventura County #34: The Punch Bowls And The Slides

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Hiking Ventura County #34: The Punch Bowls And The Slides

My latest hike is a mix of the old, the new, the good, and the bad. Let's start with the old and the new.

I have hiked to the punch bowls twice before. The first time was in 2003 and the second time was in 2004. Both of these times were pretty much the same. Except for the weather, the hikes were very similar. That was the old. The new is quite a bit different. In early 2005 heavy rains closed highway 150. It was closed in several places including where Santa Paula Creek goes under the highway. The hike up to the punch bowls and the slides follows the Santa Paula Creek. The rain changed the landscape, and this hike, dramatically. If you blindfolded me and plopped me down on this trail and asked me to identify the trail, I would not have been able to recognize it. The creek, once a relatively narrow flowing creek was now a wide expanse of sand, gravel, and rock. The result is, as usual, I lost the trail. But let me start over from the beginning.

The hike starts on the 150 outside the entrance to the Thomas Aquinas College. Hikers are directed around the campus on a paved road. Once you have circled around the campus, you arrive at the entrance to the Ferndale Ranch. The ranch holders are nice enough to allow the passage of hikers through their land. The road passes farm buildings, pastures, and oil wells. At the last set of oil wells at the 1.24 mile point the real trail starts. This is also where I missed the trail. On the old trail the path went on the east side of the creek for awhile before crossing over the other side. I didn't realize that the river crossing was moved much sooner. So I head out on the wrong trail. I saw almost immediately why they had moved the trail. Landslides had blocked several parts of the trail, debris (trees trunks and branches - result of the flash floods) blocked other parts, and river erosion destroyed the trail further on. I was forced to cross the creak a couple times until I came upon a trail marker that got me back on track. Not all the markers were intact. The trail was no longer being maintained and it looked like it. As I walked along the trail I was amazed that I couldn't recognize anything.

I found a geocache along this part of the trail. My GPS was off by quite a bit but I found "Pass the Stuffing!!!" with little difficulty.

On the old hike the trail met up with a fire road that led you to a river crossing before switchbacking up the hill to Big Cone camp. On the new hike the road was a washed out stream bed with ruts up to four feet deep. The river crossing was so undefined that I missed it all together and didn't realize it for about a quarter mile. I grew tired of rock hopping up the creek, checked my GPS and realized that I had passed the crossing and went back. I found the switchback road which was now only a narrow washed out path. I made my way up and ran smack dab into a huge wash a good 50 to 70 feet wide and 10 to 15 feet deep that obliterated the path. Some nice hiker had tied some ropes to make it easier to first climb into the wash and then climb out.

I made it to Big Cone camp. There was a tent up at the camp but nobody around. I assumed that they were at the punch bowl.

I am going to interrupt this description to talk about the bad part of this hike. It started a little while back on the trail and got worse when I arrived to the camp. You see, I had made a major faux pax on this hike. I was wearing a new pair of boots. Brand new, never worn. I have never owned real hiking/backpacking boots before. Have you figured it out yet? The fact is, breaking in a new pair of boots on a seven to eight mile hike is not the most intelligent thing to do. I was pleasantly surprised that the boots did not hurt my toes or heals - they were fine - it was the ankles that got me. More specifically the outside of the right ankle felt like I was trying to saw my foot off. Keep this in mind as I tell you about the rest of the hike.

After walking through the camp I switchbacked back down to Santa Paula creek. At the creek I sat down, took off my boot and wrapped a handkerchief around the ankle and doubled the sock over to provide some extra cushion. It helped ... a tiny bit. At the creek you had the choice left - the punch bowl - or right - the slides. I turned right and took the path that led up to the slides. The path takes you to a point where you can look down on the punch bowl. There was a guy either teaching, lecturing, or preaching to three other people next to the pool's edge. Not far away was a cross erected to remember a girl who fell from the cliff to her death almost ten years ago - sad.

Up here the rock formations, eroded by the water, were really cool. Everything was smooth ands curvy. I found another cache, "Working off the stuffing!!!" where I dropped off the Darth Vader TB that I picked up last week and picked up the If I Had a Hammer... TB. I headed up the creek some more.

There was another cache nearby but I ran into some campers so decided to try to look for it on the way back. The hikers, a dad and two boys, had a poor limping dog with them. The dad said that the dog didn't know how to pace herself and he thought he may have to carry it back. They had been hiking for a couple days. The poor thing limped over to me and sniffed my hand. Her legs were wobbly and she looked exhausted. Poor thing.

I went further up ahead to a second pool hidden in a narrow, cave-like canyon. You could hear people inside enjoying themselves. I climbed up to the top and looked down into the canyon. Pretty cool. I found another cache, "Punch Drunk", here. I sat down and ate some lunch at this point. I looked at my GPS and realized that I probably hadn't reached the turn around point yet but my ankle was killing me and I thought it was time to head back the three miles or so to the car. I explored the second pool before heading back down. I stopped on the way to look for the last cache but, after thirty minutes of looking and not finding it, I gave up frustrated and moved on. I thought about stopping at the punch bowl to soak my ankle but it was getting late and I needed to get back to the car.

There was good on this hike. The scenery was beautiful. I saw deer, birds, and toads. The rock formations around the pools were cool - awesome even.

The hike back went as well as could be expected. There were a lot of people swimming and sliding down the natural slides. I passed several people on the way down. There was a scout troop at Big Cone camp. I was able to actually follow the correct trail on the way back. I reached the car and took off the boots. Sometime on the way back the outside of the left ankle started hurting as well - not as bad as the right. I looked at my right ankle. You could see a spot where the boot must have been rubbing - about an inch long and a quarter inch wide - right on the bone. Around this area was a softball sized bruise. Not very attractive - sorry no pictures. I will have to pad the area the next time I hike. I was wearing thick socks this hike so I will probably double up next time. I never expected to have problems around the ankles. The fact is I really like the boots. This hike had a lot of rock hopping and I know these boots rescued me from several twisted ankles. My feet were tired when I got back from the hike but that's not unexpected with all the rock hopping that I did on this hike. Plus I think my feet and legs hadn't recovered completely from last weeks Cathedral Peak hike. I am not going to give up on the boots yet.

The hike was 7.79 miles long with about 1,325 feet of vertical. Pictures are here.


  1. Oooh, now this hike might just be worth the drive, especially on a hot summer day!

    Sorry 'bout the boots. I wore mine for a couple of weeks around the office to break them in. They are very nice looking, though...

  2. This is a nice hike. The punch bowls and the slides almost always have water in them and the place is popular with people trying to escape the heat with a slide and a swim.