Always wanting adventure, this time we decided to go see the California Condors. Logically we headed to Los Padres National Forest and the Sespe Wilderness Area; the actual sanctuary is closed to the public, but the wilderness area is open for hiking.
We entered Los Padres from Ojai and made a stop at the Wheeler Gorge (Ojai) Ranger Station. Soon we discovered that Condors should be the least of your concerns; this forest is shared with Mountain Lions, Bears, Coyotes and Badgers! A camper, having just dropped into the Ranger Station, was mentioning that he had just run into a bear. The station is small, but it is very educational, full exhibits including geologic and natural history.
Los Padres National Forest was created from a consolidation of many smaller forests. At the time, it was called the Santa Barbara National Forest. However, due to growing resentment, the he name was changed to Los Padres in 1936 to better represent the location of the park.
As we drove through the forest we were mesmerized by the natural beauty and vistas. It seemed that every bend in the road offered an even more amazing view of the park. We were struck by the diversity of flora and fauna: we started in a forest (Ojai), drove through Chaparral, and ended in a Pine Forest (at Pine Mountain).
Our first stop was at the Rose Valley Campground. From there we hiked to the Rose Valley Fall –a very easy, and very quick jaunt. We kept heading north and next we stopped at the Piedra Blanca Trailhead. We hiked the roughly mile long (intermediate level) trail to the Piedra Blanca site and boundary with the Sespe Wilderness. We crossed creeks and dry river beds before heading up to the rocks. It was a spectacular hike, and the rocks themselves are amazing. However, the real reason for the hike was to try to catch a glimpse of the majestic California Condors. Sadly, we did not see any Condors (or other wildlife –thankfully) but the hike and vista more than made the trip worthwhile.
We exited the park through Ventucopa on Highway 33 –in short, we traveled the Forest from South to North. From the point that we entered the park, to the point where we arrived at the Freeway 5, we had traversed: Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Kern counties.
On our way home we detoured onto the Carrizo Plain National Monument (founded 2001). The monument is 50 miles long and 15 miles wide of open grassland rimmed by steep mountains; it is the largest native grassland remaining in California. Exploring the plains could take several days and is well worthwhile. Within the site, you should visit the Temblor Range (part of the San Andreas Fault), Soda Lake, and Wallace Creek. The open expanse and extensive horizons puts everything in perspective. On additional highlight of the visit was cows slowly grazing and coming right up to the car (there were no fences!).
We wound our way home up the Grapevine and down the 5, leaving behind two spectacular locations we are sure to visit again.