Homer's Travels: Hiking Ventura County #35: Jalama Beach

Monday, November 05, 2007

Hiking Ventura County #35: Jalama Beach

The Los Padres National Forest is still closed to hikers so I rearranged my hiking list and picked the one and only beach hike on the list: Jalama Beach. Jalama Beach is located in Santa Barbara County west of Lompoc, CA (I know, this hiking series needs to be renamed). The original hike was a 10 mile hike southeast along the beach to Point Conception. After looking at the geocaches in the area, I decided to increase the length a bit.

I reached the Jalama Beach Campground around 7:40 am. The beach was completely socked in with thick, marine layer, fog. It was also chilly - upper 50s. I put on a jacket which went around my waist less then 10 minutes into the hike - I knew that was going to happen. Instead of turning southeast on the beach, I turned northwest. The "The Outer Limits" cache was located about 1.8 miles northwest of the campground. Despite the campground being full, there were few people on the northern beach. I was a little concerned since some of the cache logs had mentioned that you couldn't reach the cache during high tide and I'd started my hike at high tide. The beach follows a rocky bluff. As I hiked further north the beach narrowed until the waves were crashing at the base of the bluffs. I managed to climb up on the rocks and avoid the cold Pacific water. There were tidal caves where the surf echoed - it kind of sounded like a jet engine inside the caves. The beach widened out further on. Someone had started building a Fort from drift wood and others had expanded it. Pretty cool.

I reached the end of my northwesterly trek and climbed up a steep path up the 74 feet to the top of the bluff. Actually, there wasn't much of a path but I went up the hill using the plant life as foot and hand holds. At the top, the cache was easy to find sitting next to the Vandenberg Air Force Base fence. Turns out the main North-South train route passes just 20 feet from this cache. Unfortunately there was no train running when I was there.

I walked back south along the top of the bluff for about a quarter mile looking for an easier way down the bluff. The top of the bluff was covered in dry brush dripping in dew. There was also a lot of scat - coyote mostly. I found a place I had seen earlier and made my way down. Turns out what looked easy turned out to be a little more perilous. I found out that the dark brown soil was pretty loose. I wasn't too worried as I slid down the bluff out of control since there were plenty of pointy rocks down below to break my fall. Using my hands, hiking pole, and rear end, I managed to stop my downward slide before any major damage was done.

I walked back to the campground picking up trash as I went - it's a pretty clean beach and there wasn't very much to pick up - I just wanted to leave the place better than how I found it. The beach, both north and south of the campground was pretty clean. I found this odd because a lot of the rocks had spots of tar that were either the result of natural seepage or were the result of the off shore oil drilling. There are beaches in Oxnard where you have to clean the tar off the bottom of your shoes after a walk. Not here.

When I returned to the campground, 3.6 miles into the hike, I dumped the trash I had collected and dropped my jacket off at my car. Turning south I discover that there were a few more people on the beach - mostly fishermen, beach walkers, and lots of surfers. As I walked further south the people dwindled.

At about 2 miles from the campground I was alone. I reached a rocky section where a large landslide dumped a load of loose rock, covering a stretch of the beach. I rock hopped around this point and I felt something on the heel of my left foot. I thought I had some sand in my shoe. Now, I had picked up some new, custom, insoles on Friday and I was wearing them on this hike. The insole felt great. I sat down, pulled off my shoe and sock trying to clean out the sand and exposed a large torn blister on my heal. Damn! The insoles had shifted my foot position in the shoes resulting in a blister. I will have to have the insoles adjusted.

I put my sock and shoe back on, cinched my shoe tighter, and moved on. I turned a corner and saw what looked like a strange obelisk out in the misty distance. The first thing that came to mind was Lost - I can imagine Sawyer walking the beach and seeing something like this. As I got closer I could see it was a concrete pillar that, once upon a time, supported a corrugated pipe which drained water away from the bluff above. The pipe had corroded away a long time ago. Further down the beach I came across a large retaining wall, 6 to 8 feet tall, 4 to 6 feet thick, running along the bottom of the bluff, collapsing in some places, and showing the wear of years of pounding surf. Two things came to mind as I examined the weathered concrete. The first was Charlton Heston riding a horse down a beach and seeing the remains of the Statue of Liberty sticking out of the sand (Yeah, my mind was wandering in strange directions on this hike). The second was the futility of trying to hold back the Pacific Ocean. After I thought about it, I realized the drainage pipes and the retaining walls were feeble attempts to preserve the train tracks at the top of the bluff. It looked like nobody had maintained these defenses in many years.

This hike is known for it's wildlife. Mostly deer. I didn't seen any deer on this hike but I did see deer tracks in the sand. I was following some other tracks that I thought were a dog but then I noticed that there were no human tracks in the area. I reached a wide expanse of clean sand and I noticed that there were at least five canine trails. I figure that I was following a pack of coyotes. I did notice a freshly killed pelican that was all bloody and chewed on. I never did see an actual coyote though. This was all surprising since I thought the thick marine layer would have brought out more wildlife. I guess I was wrong. I passed some buzzards and seagulls picking at a seal carcass. There wasn't much left of it.

A walk on the beach is always accompanied by seabirds. I saw pelicans, seagulls, and cormorants. One pair of cormorants distracted me while I was taking their picture and the incoming tide took advantage of my distraction to soak my feet. I followed a solitary Crane down the beach. He kept flying away but I managed to run into him three times during the hike.

At the seven mile mark I sat down on a sun bleached piece of drift wood and ate some lunch. Since it was so cool I wasn't drinking very much water and the weight of my camelbak was really stressing my shoulders and lower back. Hopefully as I hike more they will strengthen up.

The hike continued down the beach a ways before I turned left into a canyon where I followed a dirt road up to the top of the bluff. The dirt road meets a paved road which eventually ends at the gate of the Point Conception Light run by the Coast Guard. You could hear the lonely sound of the fog horn. I sat down and rested near the gate. The gate was in disrepair. A chain was supposed to block the way but one of the supports had fallen over and the chain laid on the ground holding back nothing. I thought about walking out to the light but decided not to risk a federal trespassing charge.

I took off my shoe and sock and dug out the Moleskin I had in my first aid kit and put a piece over the blister on my left heal. I took off my right shoe and found a smaller blister forming there so I put some moleskin there as well. I wish I had done this sooner. The moleskin helped a bit on the way back but it still was sore by the time I got back to the car.

As I walked back down the dirt road I took a sip from my camelbak ... Lesson number umpteenzillion and two: while on a beach hike, always check your camelbak's mouth piece for sand or you will find yourself spitting grit!

The 5 mile walk back to the campground was uneventful. The tide was out so I walked closer to the ocean on the hard packed sand. This made it a little easier then on the way out. Walking on beach sand can be a workout. The trick is to walk close to the water on the water packed sand. I saw some really cool, iridescent, rainbow hued shells. I thought about bringing one home but I changed my mind and left it for the next beach comber. A jellyfish was washed up on the shore waiting for the tide to come back in.

The first sign of life when I approached the campground was a solitary dog, sitting on the beach, looking out to sea. I approached him and looked out to sea for it's owner. I couldn't see anyone out in the surf but then the fog was still pretty thick. The dog walked over, and sat down beside me and looked out at the ocean. It was a little sad. I started to worry that something had happened to the surfer. I noticed a backpack high up the beach and I headed that way to see if I could find some I.D. The dog didn't let me get within 20 feet of the bag. He growled, snapped, and barked at me until I moved away. I marked the position with my GPS and continued down the beach. Around the corner I ran into a surfer and asked him if there were people out there and told him about the dog. He assured me that there were several people out there even if you couldn't see them. I felt reassured.

I made it back to the campground and my car. I dumped my stuff in the car and went to the camp store. The store is famous for its Jalama Burgers but I wasn't hungry for a burger. I bought a Big Ed and a magnet for the fridge. The sun was just starting to peak through the fog as I left. I stopped at a cache on the way out, "Road to JB" where I swapped some travel bugs.

Except for the blisters, this was a good hike. A beach hike is quite different from you standard hike. The sand can be challenging. There is not much vertical on most beach hikes which balances out for the difficulty of the sand. The hike is not a quiet one as the crashing surf is a constant background noise. I prefer the sound of running creek water to surf. The bluffs provided a variety of rock formations. I have been interested in rocks ever since I was a little kid sitting on my Mom's lap and she read a description in the back of one of my comic books of what a geologist did. While this interest never turned into a career choice, didn't even survive the third grade, I still find interesting rock formations fascinating. Overall, Jalama Beach was a nice change of pace.

The total distance hiked was 13.47 miles - a personal best so far. Elevation varied from 0 to 144 feet. Pictures are here.


  1. Love this post, Homer. Never been a big fan of beach hiking myself (the whole one step forward, one half step back thing bugs me), but this one sounds fun.

    Great picture of the turkey vulture on the carcass.

    CamelBak makes a bite-valve cover that I use to keep dirt and stuff off. I highly recommend.

  2. GH: This was a fun hike. It had a lot more variety then most beach hikes. The bluffs and the rock hopping made it interesting. I have done a lot of beach walking near my home but they are all very urban. Jalama Beach is in no way urban.

    I hear you about the 1 step forward 1/2 back. This beach had a lot of firm sand that made it easier then I expected it to be.

    I'll have to look into the bite-valve covers if I plan to do another beach hike.

  3. Hello sir, great post! I've done the hike down to Conception a few times, and once I tried to go as far north west as I could. We walked all day only to have some guys on ATVs from the base come and yell at us! I still to this day quote the California Constitution that protect beaches as navigable waterways.

    I also did that geocaches, but man was it overgrown up on the bluff!

    BTW, did you take a GPS track of your hike?

    Anyway, good post! Thank you.

  4. Jeshii: Thanks! and welcome to Homer's Travels. It was a great hike despite the fog.

    Unfortunately I did not record a GPS track of my hike.