Homer's Travels: Hiking Ventura County #40: The Fishbowls

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Hiking Ventura County #40: The Fishbowls

I got up early on Sunday to do this hike. I mean early. 4:30 am early. I wanted to get to the trailhead around sunrise (7:00 am) and it was a two hour plus drive to get there. I got up, ate breakfast and managed to leave around 5:05 am.

The night sky was clear and the almost full moon was there to guide me to the trailhead. On the way something ran across the road. In my headlights it looked like a bobcat.

The first rays of dawn were starting to shine over the mountains when I turned onto road 7N03 that winds up into the Los Padres National Forest from Lockwood Canyon Road. The asphalt soon turned to dirt and I slowed down a bit. I could see that there was a lot of burned out landscape - a result of the September 2006 Day fire.

I came up on a sign that said "Fishbowls Trailhead". This wasn't the trailhead that I wanted. There were two trails that take you to the Fishbowls. I wanted the other so I continued on the road until ... the road forded a river and it looked a little too deep for the ol' Honda. I was out in the middle of nowhere and I hadn't seen a soul on the road so I figured if I got stuck I would be there for a while so I turned around and went back to the other trailhead.

It was going to be a chilly morning. On the drive I saw a bank thermometer in Ojai that read 39°F. On the way to the trailhead I saw patches of ice and snow along the side of the road. Well, in places it was half way between frost and snow but it's my blog and I'll call it snow. I got out of the car and turned on my GPS. It took a while to sync up. I set a waypoint for where the car was. Since I was not that familiar with this trail (I had planned for the other trail) I wanted a way to get back to the car if I got lost.

I started on the trail at 7:30 am. The trail goes up briefly before heading down the other side of small pine covered ridge. The trail joins another trail that was probably a road some time in the past. Now it is just a single trail. I turned right and followed the trail. The part I was walking on was on the edge of where the Day fire had reached. There was very little underbrush as it had all burned and the trunks of the trees were blackened. In places it looked like a moonscape. I was surprised that there wasn't more regrowth. I guess the drought has slowed the return. There were some signs of growth though. California Holly seems to be the first plant that is springing up at the base of burned out trees - the roots must have survived the fire and re-sprouted very soon after. Despite the fire damage I really liked the towering pine trees. This hike felt different from others I'd done recently. It felt so remote and wild.

The trail was overgrown in spots but still easy to follow. The trail wonders through what looks like a floodplain and crosses a creek in several places. The creek was icy. This was very cool. I was curious how thick the ice was so I whacked it with my hiking pole. It took several whacks to get through the ice. The ice was an inch thick. In other places the ice was paper thin. This made crossing the creeks a little tough as some of the stepping stones which looked like they were just under the surface of the creek were actually under a quarter inch of wet ice. I managed to cross without falling but there were a few slippery moments. It was weird trying to plant my hiking pole on the creek bottom only to be stopped by an almost transparent ice sheet. The only place I had difficulty following the trail was at creek crossings. The rains that we had a few days ago had widened the creek a bit and it was sometimes hard to cross. I am thankful for my boots as they are waterproof. I often had to move up or down stream to find a place to cross safely and then it took some effort to find the trail. I'd look around for a few minutes until I had an "Oh there it is" moment.

The soil on the trail was very sandy in spots and as I walked it gave a satisfying frozen sandy crunch that reminded me of Iowa in the winter. The trail was dimpled where the raindrops had punched craters into the sand before freezing. Later in the day as the sun warmed things up the crunchy sand would give way to slippery mud.

I eventually made it out of the burn area and the pine forest thickened. I came up to an
old sign. It looked like it was torn from its pole. Another smaller sign was on the ground in splinters. I noticed the three gash marks in the pole and wondered it it was a bear sharpening it's claws. This was supposed to be bear country.

The trail wondered along the creek through pine forests. There were still some burned trees but they were fewer and fewer as I went on. Every now and then I would hear strange noises. One sounded like a cap gun or small caliber gun going off. Later I heard a big crack and turned around in time to see a large limb of a dead pine a few hundred feet away break off and fall a good 50 - 70 feet to the ground. It sounded like a cross between a gun shot and thunder. I am glad I wasn't under that limb and I was a little wary of the trees as I continued along the trail.

I sat down on a wet log in the sun and ate my sandwich and orange. I usually eat my lunch at the half way point but since I got up so early this morning I was hungry early as well. Early on it had been very quiet on the trail but a cool breeze was picking up and rustled the needles. I thought about where I was. The hike description had said that the other trail - the one that I was on - was seven miles long. If this was true that I had another two miles to go. I had packed a brownie from our Saturday desert in my bag and I decided I would indulge in its savory yumminess when I finally reached the fishbowls.

I continued on and after one particularly difficult creek crossing I arrived at a camp. The broken sign said "Fishbowls Campground". I read my hike description again and realized that I had passed right by the fishbowls and hadn't even noticed them. I sat on a log near an old campfire pit and ate my brownie (It was very good). My GPS showed only 5.23 miles. The description, as had many of the descriptions from the Ventura County Star, was wrong again. Oh well. I briefly thought about making this hike into a loop by walking to the other trailhead and then following the road back to the car but I decided against it. I wasn't sure how deep the water was at the ford and I did feel like wading in ice cold water.

I started back to the car. This time I watched for the fishbowls. It turns out the fishbowls were another victim of the drought. You could see where, if the water level was higher, there would be several large pools - some deep and big enough to swim in. I'm sure they would fill up with fish as well.

The walk back to the car went well. I didn't lose the trail nearly as much. The trail was turning muddy and slippery. My boots got heavy with mud and sand sticking to the bottom. I slogged my way back to the small ridge that seemed a lot higher now. I huff and puffed my way up and over to the car.

I think I will try to come back next spring to see if I can reach the other trailhead. Since the other trailhead is on the opposite side of the fishbowls it would not have experienced any damage from the Day fire. It should be a totally different hike then the one I did. There is also a geocache in the area passed the flooded ford that I want to go after. Hopefully after some more rain and some time for the ford to dry I will be able to go back.

I took
some pictures including a lot of the ice on the creek. The ice and meager snow really made this hike feel different. The sugar pine forest was almost magical. I really enjoyed the hike though the fishbowls themselves was a little let down. The hike was 10.26 miles with about 636 feet of vertical from trough to peak.


  1. I guess that having an opportunity to take such a picture is worth getting up a little earlier. That dawn is gorgeous.

    Merry Christmas!

  2. gany: In the past I would get to the trailhead several hours after sunrise and I would pass people on their way back from the trail. I would think you had to be crazy to get up that early. Now I understand the allure of getting up before the dawn to see the sun rise. The dawn is one of the most beautiful times of day.

    Merry Christmas to you as well!

  3. I love the dawn shots as well. I have a hard time taking 'em, though: getting out of a warm sleeping bag on a chilly Sierra morning is tough!

  4. GH: I have always been a relatively early riser but getting up at 4:30 was pretty early for me but it made the hike extra special and extra enjoyable.