Sorry for the radio silence around here lately, Jon and I have been immersed in training for our spring work as environmental educators for 5th grade outdoor education in the Santa Monica Mountains. To get a break from training, we spent last weekend in the Sespe Wilderness Area, north of Ojai in the Los Padres National Forest. We arrived later in the day than we anticipated, due to problems with our batteries. Yes, batteries plural. Our camper battery had been pretty much drained from the past weekend, and needed a boost with the charger that we borrowed from our property manager, Scott. Luckily we still had it on hand, as Saturday morning, when we were finally all loaded up and ready to go, the truck wouldn’t start. Jon thinks in his removing and re-installing the back battery, he accidentally did a dead draw on the truck’s main battery. Whoops.
After determining that my Honda CR-V’s small engine and battery were not enough to jump Sunny’s beast, we hooked it up to the charger and decided to grab a bite to eat and pick up our groceries for the weekend. Trader Joe’s is such an awesome store, we were able to pick up a ton of great ingredients to make pizza for the first night, and awesome frozen fish for the fish tacos for our second, plus tons of snack food and items for breakfasts as well. Gotta love it.
The drive in was beautiful, and it was nice to see pine trees again, interspersed in the chaparral plant community. We ended up in the Reyes Creek Campground, an out of the way campground, which was nonetheless pretty rowdy given the 3-day weekend crowd. We definitely picked the right side of the loop to camp on, as we could hear music, and what sounded like the occasional firecracker (hopefully) going off into the night.
The campground location was really quite nice, but the facility as a whole could really use some love, both by the Forest Service, and by the patrons who camp there. It was full of careless camper’s garbage, piles of human waste dotted the bushes around the site, with copious amounts of toilet paper left behind as well. Our first (and only) trip to the pit toilets shed light on people’s reasoning for doing their business in the middle of the campground, but we were still pretty grossed out by their lack of care and Leave No Trace ethics.
We spent the evening relaxing in camp, cooked a delicious pizza on the stovetop of Skampy, then turned in early. The next morning we slept in, made a late breakfast, and took off for a hike. We explored the trail nearest to camp, with no destination in mind, just a chance to play, and put some of our recent training to use. We did some tracking, plant identification, and Jon gathered materials to try his hand at some Chumash fiber-making. We were on Forest Service land, which allows gathering in small quantities, so we wanted to see how it might work to make some items using natural materials.
By far the coolest thing we made over the weekend was a bow drill for fire-making. Jon worked on it, trying to piece the entire thing together with found materials. We did use some parachute chord he had on hand already, but otherwise we gathered the rest of the parts locally.
We made an incredible meal of grilled fish tacos and warm couscous salad for our second dinner in camp. Every time we bust it out, I am grateful that we decided to incorporate a place for our little grill into our camper, despite the size and shape making it an awkward item to pack. It pays for itself over and over again in lovely easy dinners.
It was really nice to get away after two solid weeks of crazy intense training. It took us quite a while to unwind, and there was a bit of bickering involved, but ultimately we enjoyed the break despite the disappointing state of the campground, and the disrespectful behavior some of the campers exhibited. Jon and I have had the opportunity to stay in plenty of campgrounds, from many different agencies, and while it wasn’t the worst, and the setting was lovely, it was amazing how the lack of respect and cleanliness could really negatively affect our experience.
On our way out, we decided to try and stop at one of the many natural hot springs in the area. We found directions to one that was accessible from the road, and made our way over. The virtual parking lot of cars did not bode well for our chances of finding solitude and relaxation, and to make matters worse, we took the wrong social trail down and ended up in what was clearly the “latrine” area, rather than the hot pools. We backtracked to the cars, and found the right pathway to the pools, but we found far too much humanity packed into such a small place, with naked aging hippies sitting in the same pools as families with small children. No peace and solitude was to be found there, though we sat in the tepid water for a while, since it was such a hard-won find by that point.
We ended the day with a bit of wine tasting at Old Creek Ranch Winery. Although we probably smelled strongly of sulphur and unbathed camper, we were treated to a great flight of wines, one of which, a Sangiovese, we purchased a bottle of to celebrate our one year anniversary, which was the next day. Not our smoothest, most relaxing weekend, but still a pleasant way to pass the time, and get our brains recharged after so much preparation for the work to come.