Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Bill Wallace Trail, El Capitan Canyon 8-9-11

A ride on a misty overcast day to explore the newly opened Bill Wallace Trail, above Gaviota State Beach Park in El Capitan Canyon.  The entire ride is a loop of over 12 miles, today we did half of it and left the rest for another time. Old access roads for most of the lower path, some very steep and challenging hills. A lovely summer day, trails a bit overgrown and needing to be weeded and cleared in many places.

Length: 7.3 miles
Duration: 3.5 hours
Difficulty: Moderate. Trails alternating broad roads with single file, steep climbs, drop-offs and minimally maintained trails.

Altitude gain: 1080 ft 

Grade: II

View Bill Wallace Trail 8-9-11 in a larger map

 After parking at the campsite area overlooking Hwy 1 we headed up into the hills, and found this sign designating the Bill Wallace Trail. The little sign says easy to the right, hard to the left, and there was no doubt which one the mule would want to conquer.
 An entire hillside of dried brown thistle surrounded us as we climbed up from sea level, a place I vow to return next spring for a fully Scottish moment when it is in magnificent magenta bloom. The marine layer of fog obscured the view out to sea.
 Looking downcoast gives a view of the RV campground, with the huge homes on wheels looking like tiny toys.
 Mile 1 marker, a view spot with thistles.
 Neither of us could figure out what animal might have dug out this hole in the middle of the trail. Those are seriously large rocks for any animal I could think of to be moving around.
 Now we see why this part of the trail is the
hard section. A very steep descent ahead.

The next photo shows looking back UP that same trail. Even Mr Mule slipped and slid a bit coming down it.
 Once down fro the steep hill, a main access road gives a view down into El Capitan canyon across the way.
 Not the most exciting of trails, but OK footing and an opportunity for speed on the level. Or for riding alongside a trail buddy and chatting.

 When suddenly, horrors, an oil refinery chugging and throbbing away in the next canyon to the North. Hidden from view from the coastline, a massive facility quite jarring in the midst of otherwise unspoilt nature.
 The ONLY problem with doing this blog with the iPhone, not much of a zoom. So the turkey vultures in this tree are specks.
 Even at a maximum size, not much of an Audubon moment. But what a gnarly graveyard tree! Especially in the mist and gloom.
 The 2 mile marker post, a chaparral view.
 A striking rock formation across the canyon, always a memorable feature of the Los Padres Forest, how the bones of the land come through.
 Another look out to sea, more roads that look like they were cut for oil company access.
 Mile 3 marker, in a random untended area.
 A mobile 2-holer outhouse. Up on wheels, ready to roll!
 A sign saying that El Capitan Canyon land is protected forever. A wonderful natural resource that I am thrilled to be able to explore in my own back yard.
 We decide to go a ways further up into El Capitan Canyon, with the front country range and Camino Cielo hovering above us in the fog.
 And are rewarded when we finally get through the coastal fog layer, and into a warm humid summer day. Now the smells of all the flowers and chaparral plants are greatly enhanced.
 Mile 4 marker and the old quarterhorse companion is gettin' a bit tuckered out.....
 So this is the farthest we went, once we got to this point and could see down the canyon to the ocean we turned around, leaving the rest of the trail for another day with perhaps more riders and a big picnic to enjoy at the high point of the loop.
 The trails are heavily invaded by German ivy, Delairea odorata. It is like kudzu in the South, it smothers the native trees and plants and makes a lush carpet supported on their skeletons.
 The resort in the canyon has dozens of well-built wooden cabins and tents for rent.
 And many of the central buildings are circular yurts. Even on what I would have thought was high summer season there were very few of the cabins occupied, but it looked like a very nice place for a family vacation.
Walking back across the stream we spied this unusual and unexpected installation of metal fish sculptures. You just never know what you'll see in California.