Paradise Road has been closed just before the first crossing of the Santa Ynez River all winter due to storm damage. There's a few slides up the road and some crossings that are a little too high or silted in for smaller cars. The road closure adds about another 1.5 miles to the hike each way. The water was about knee deep here at its most.
On our way out two days later, the local news team with John Palminteri was there to do a story on the road closures and how it would affect folks' plans for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend. We were filmed crossing the river and then interviewed for the nightly news. Pretty funny!
View upstream from the first crossing of the Santa Ynez River.
Walking the road towards Upper Oso and the trailhead. We brought Crocs with us for the crossing of the SY River and a lot of planned rock-hopping up and down Santa Cruz Creek. They worked great!
From the Upper Oso campground, you follow the OHV route along Oso Creek to the offical trailhead. Like many other roads in the forest right now, this one is gated and locked.
Santa Cruz Trail trailhead
Trail junction to the 19 Oaks Camp. The trail was in good shape through this section and Oso Creek had a remarkable amount of water in it.
Climbing up out of the riparian area and into the desert-like chapparal. The pine-topped ridge in the background is Little Pine Mountain.
The morning light on this meadow was awesome. We enjoyed the views of the gold mustard on the south-facing slopes of Little Pine too.
There's a couple of small scree slides across the trail through this section but nothing too bad. Some quick work with a shovel could probably take care of it.
Lots of wild flowers in bloom along the way. The various blues, reds, purples and yellows really add to the spring-time hikes in the Los Padres.
Litte Pine Mtn behind us. Josh surveying the scene back over Oso Creek and the Santa Ynez River valley.
Our first snake encounter of the hike.
Pretty sweaty after the climb up to Alexander Saddle. It's downhill from here!
Josh at Alexander Saddle. The ridgeline in the background is the Santa Barbara high route: McKinley Peak, San Rafael Mtn, Mission Pine area, Big Pine, etc.
Once you crested the saddle and began the descent towards Little Pine Spring, the trail conditions quickly deteriorated. The north-facing slope of Little Pine Mtn was heavily grown in and had a handful of small but tricky washouts and slides.
One of the mentioned slides...
Josh is on the trail, believe it or not. Backside of Little Pine Mountain.
We might still be out there pruning the trail had we not forgot to take loppers with us.
Approaching Little Pine Spring area. There's one good-sized blowdown, around 24", in this area. Hikers can climb over it, stock users can likely find a way around it.
The smell of the pines in this area make think back to summer camping trips in the Sierras with my folks. I love it!
Just past the turnoffs to Little Pine Spring and Happy Hollow. The tread gets a little faint in this area as the grasses and weeds have really filled in. The trail is also riddled with gopher holes.
Another section of brushy trail just before the beginning of the 40-mile wall.
Santa Cruz Creek is down in the valley ahead. To get there you have to traverse the mountainside along the righthand side of the photo and countour around to that valley on the right.
This is the one blowdown on the section of switchbacks down to the creek after the 40-mile wall section. It's small and could be cleared with a handsaw, but the way it's fallen across the trail makes it impassible to stock.
Must be getting close...
Fording Santa Cruz Creek.
Santa Cruz Ranger Station, built 1938
Meadow at the station. Buckhorn Road allows the OHV crowd to make it back here. There's also corrals for stock users. This trip, we encounted one other hiker who was camped out here by the station with his dog for a few days.
Fishing one of the pools on Santa Cruz Creek.
The pool here was just big enough for a dip. There's a nice sandy beach to warm up afterwards just downstream of Josh.
Testing another pool farther downstream.
There's no real trail along the creek. You either have to wade the creek itself or find a passage through the willows, alders and cottonwoods along the banks.
This stuff looked like wild onion growing out of little islands in the creek.
It's amazing what water can do. These cobbles are wedged into the rootball of this sycamore.
She was a good sized female, full of eggs, so back in the creek she went.
Camp. That's the MLD Trailstar as our shelter. Some of the camps were a little brushy and grown in. We tried to clear this one up a bit and made use of some nearby cut oak for firewood and seats.
A close-up of the view under the Trailstar. Weather was nice the whole time; the tarp just helped to keep a little dew off of us. Bugs and reptiles turned out to be a little bit of an issue but we still managed without adding the bug net insert.
Water heating up on the stove for some dinner. Our gravity water filter is hanging off the tree in the background.
Warming up by the fire.
Getting dinner ready... Couscous with pesto, sun dried tomatoes and smoked salmon. Yum!
I really love how gnarled some of the old oaks in this valley get.
Since this was a fun hike, we packed in a few of my favorite hiking brew; Murphy's Irish Stout.
Neat old sign on the ranger station.
Our second day we spent hiking the creek, looking for fishing and/or swimming holes. The Crocs were the perfect water shoe: reasonbly grippy, drained well and no problem getting wet. I had a little trouble with the straps getting torn off but it was nothing a couple of mini zip-ties couldn't fix.
One that got away.
We had perfect weather in the mid to high 70s during the day. The water felt great!
Bushwhacking our way along the creek, we came upon half of an old Thermarest that looked like it had been ravaged by the winter floods. Later on in the day, we found the other half of the sleeping pad wrapped around a tree with a bunch of other flood debris, pretty high up above the current flow. It was a testament to how crazy the creeks can get during a big storm. Luckily we didn't find any hiker pieces with the sleeping pad remains.
Josh hooks up another one. It eventually spits out the hook and gets away.
Traveling the creek requires constant wading through pools and rock hopping. It's an all day affair to go a handful of miles.
This area seemed like a great place for an off-trail stealth camp. There's a nice pool right here and the big flat sandstone slab over Josh's shoulder makes a great place to spread out gear, get some sun, etc.
"Somewhere" along the creek, there's a couple of really nice pools just downstream of a small waterfall. This place was amazingly beautiful!
There were quite a few around in the nearby pools, all in the 10-14" range.
Getting in behind the waterfall.
Heading back to camp.
Hard to beat! Good beer, fresh fish.
And... I'm spent.
"There's a little captain in all of us..." Or in this case, Murphy's Stout and some Lagavulin single malt...
Heading back out, our last chance to look over the Santa Cruz Creek drainage.
I look excited to begin the 40-mile wall, don't I?
Part of the 40-mile wall is visible here. It's really only like 4 miles but it's overgrown, riddled with gopher walls and has a handful of washouts and slides. Hikers can do it, I'm not as sure about stock.
Little Pine Spring area. Both the spur trail to Little Pine Spring and the connector trail to Happy Hollow are pretty much gone. It took a while to even find the signs that announce the trail intersections.
Fields of wild mustard on the south-side of Little Pine Mtn.
Back down into the dry chapparal.
With most of the hike behind us, we found a great little pool somewhere along Oso Creek.
Back along the River Road, about a mile to go back to the truck.