April 4, 2010

Lake Cachuma Shore Trail and the Perils of California Hiking

From the Santa Barbara County Park of Lake Cachuma there is a nice 2.5 mile one way trail to the earthen dam that holds back the Santa Ynez River to form the lake. The trail leaves from the campground and heads in and out of various coves and vegetation types.

Much of the greenery you see on the sides of the trail is poison oak

Because of the ever present perils of poison oak and ticks, there are stretches of this and every trail where we really have to watch out. Essentially there are three main vegetation types in the low to middle elevations of the California coast ranges. The dominant type is chaparral, which are very dense shrublands that grow on exposed arid sites.

You know the rule "If leaves of three, let it be"

In shady hollows and creeksides, riparian vegetation of coast live oaks and sycamores make for cooler conditions, but also dense and overhanging thickets of poison oak. It is for this reason, we actually do not like entering these stretches. We always need to be extra aware of anything hanging on the trail, especially when I am carrying that extra large pack that may brush up against it!

In the more open areas, beautiful grassland savannas with large valley oaks predominate. This is the most asthetically pleasing landscape in California, but is also the land of millions and millions of ticks. As such, we also have to be extra aware of any grass hanging over the trail that may have a little black friend waiting to be brushed.

So, in the end, chaparral is actually our favorite type of vegetation to hike through in coastal California, because it tends to lack both the poison oak and ticks, at least along the trails. We have not attempted to penetrate the thickets! :)

Anyways, this trail went through all three, but was certainly an enjoyable afternoon stroll, especially when you make it back unscathed! So far, we have avoided contact with any poison oak or ticks on this adventure. In fact, I have been lucky enough to have never touched poison oak!

Jeff looking for ticks on grass blades to show Hilina

We've actually spent a lot of effort teaching Hilina about what not to touch and how to walk on the trails. We've told her about and actually shown her poison oak, ticks on grass, and rattlesnakes. Hilina is very careful to stay in the middle of the trail and be on the lookout. But, of course, she is a toddler, so accidents may happen, which is why one of us is always right there to redirect her or grab her should she wander or trip.

No comments: