Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Up the Creek: From Fish to Manzana Narrows

Date: April 1, 2016
Place: San Rafael Wilderness,Los Padres National Forest, California
Coordinates: 34.759720, -119.901199
Length: 4.6 miles
Level: moderate to strenuous

The chikas were in a very happy mood when we woke up on our second day of our family backpacking trip at Manzana Creek. They kept teasing each other and us in celebration of April Fool's Day. After breakfast they were off to the creek to look for tadpoles.
Then I told Papa Quail that our water sterilizer wasn't working. And that was no April Fool's joke. Wild water, as clean and fresh as it may be, can carry giardia and other pathogens, and needs to be treated to avoid getting sick. I learned to rely on my UV sterilizer, which is small, fast and efficient. This device, however, uses batteries, which do drain out with time and use. In my hurry to get this trip on the way I forgot to check the batteries, and I also forgot to bring a backup filter of pills. To go on with our trip left us with one option: the old-fashioned boiling the water. It is very efficient way to treat water. It is, however, costly on both time and fuel.
Luckily I brought my Biolite, twigs-fueled stove along. As twigs were in abundance and we were in no particular hurry, we decided to go on.
So we boiled enough water to fill our containers and then I went to fetch my chikas from the creek. There I found that they had bonded with one of the girls of the family in the neighboring campsite.
Manzana Creek
They had a lovely time playing playing with the tadpoles.
Tadpoles at Manzana Creek
It was time to move on. I called my chikas back to the campsite and we all hoisted our packs. We said goodby to our new friends and started up the trail again, going southeast along Manzana Creek.
Our hike from Fish Campground to Manzana Narrows Campground as captured by Papa Quail's GPS.
The first part of the trail is at the bottom of the valley. Green grasses, shrubs and some trees and a narrow dirt trail that cuts right through.

We walked mostly in the open, enjoying the warm sun (that would soon become too hot) and the blossom fiesta all around us. 
Scarlet Bugler (Penstemon centranthifolius)
Patches of owl's clover lit the green grass with bright pink, and I stooped to take a photo. That was not a good thing to do, considering the heavy pack I carried. After that I refrained from taking too many ground level side-view close-ups.
Purple Owl's Clover (Castilleja exserta)
But having a good zoom lens always helps taking good close up photos from above, without having to bend over. It means carrying more weight, but I believe it's worth it.
Red Maids (Calandrinia menziesii)
I don't recall crossing the water, but somehow we got to the other side of the creek. The stream must have taken a dive under the pebbles in that section. Either way, we were now walking on the east side of the valley, heading south and up the creek.
And with the change of banks, the vegetation variety changed as well. 
Stinging Lupine (Lupinus hirsutissimus)
The trail started to climb up the slope, and instantly the climate changed from lovely warm to unbearably hot.
The plants were loving it. The soft rubble that made the eastern slope of the canyon was covered with bright-colored wildflowers, of which the star was the Chia Sage. I don't think I've ever seen chia so prevalent and so big before. It is very pretty.
Chia Sage (Salvia columbariae)
The other dominant color on that slope was the yellow of foothill poppies. They seemed to shine as bright as little suns.
Foothill Poppy (Eschscholzia caespitosa)
Backpacking is the definition of minimalism. You take only what you need because you have to carry everything. Camera is luxury. A good quality camera is extra luxury. Papa Quail's extra long and heavy zoom lens camera is insane. Nonetheless - he carried it. Birds were not in much abundance (not the visible ones, anyway), but other wildlife made itself visible to us, including this lovely horned toad lizard that we came across on the trail. Good thing Papa Quail had his big, huge camera ready :-)
Horned Toad Lizard
The trail kept leading up and up and the day was getting hotter and hotter. We formed big gaps between us. Elder chika was running happily ahead, chanting movie lines to herself. Papa Quail walked behind her, keeping a safe distance not to hear her incessant chatter. Far behind him trailed our young chika, wondering loudly if she'll be able to make it through the trail. I brought up the rear close behind her, giving her constant reassurance that if she could backpack up Mineral King then she certainly could do this one. I encouraged her to take a look back and see how far we had progressed already.
Looking back at Manzana Canyon. 
The slow pace gave me plenty of leisure to appreciate the wildflowers along the path.
Jepson's Morning Glory (Calystegia malacophylla ssp. pedicellata)
As the trail switchbacked the vegetation changed from open herbaceous to a chaparral thicket. It seemed like everything there was blooming at the time.
Bush Poppy (Dendromecon rigida)
I expected to see yerba santa along the trail. it s a common chaparral shrub. But the species I saw at Manzana Creek was not the one I was familiar with from the Bay Area.  It had darker leaves and purpler flowers. Most, in fact, had already finish their bloom. and I was catching the tail of it on this hike.
Bicolored Yerba Santa (Eriodictyon crassifolium var. nigrescens)
That segment of the trail seemed to be taking forever and the heat was taking its toll. We took a few brief breaks whenever we encountered a bush large enough to shade but we were getting tired fast. A suggestion was made to stop for the night at the nearer campground. I preferred to postpone that decision until we actually made it there.
Lumbering up the creek. 
And then the trail stopped ascending and leveled off. Goody! The vegetation also seemed bigger and denser. Realizing that the elder chika was the most energetic of us all I quickly moved a bit more load onto her pack. She grumbled a little but did not argue.
We continued on.
California Primrose (Eulobus californicus)
The additional load didn't slow elder chika down by any means. She kept running ahead, chattering to herself, and we lumbered along behind her. I had a very good reason to linger: there were wildflowers on display everywhere!
Speckled Clarkia (Clarkia cylindrica)
And also some very pretty fruits too. The silver puffs were already done blooming and were now waiting for the wind to carry their parachute seeds away.
Silver Puffs (Uropappus lindleyi)
High above the creek I could well appreciate the trees below. Oaks, pines and the light green poplars dominated the riparian scene. I yearned to be there, under the cook shade and I kept telling my young chika but mainly to myself: soon.

Finally we started descending back down toward the creek. Little treasures waiting for us all along the way.
Whispering Bells (Emmenanthe penduliflora var. penduliflora)
We made it down to the creek and found that there was a campground there, with picnic tables, fire pits and all. It wasn't listed on the map we had and we didn't think of staying there, but it was a good place for a much needed long break.
The chikas went right away to the water to freshen up. I sent the pot with them to fill and set up the stove to boil more drinking water. Papa Quail laid down on the grass and within seconds was fast asleep.
Manzana Creek
We stayed there for about an hour. Our friends from the Fish campground came, carrying nothing but drinking water. They were on their way to Alcove Falls, which we had planned to visit on the morrow. They stopped where we were to fill up on water and stayed a little to chat and play by the creek. Then they were off and we got our stuff together and went, much slower, after them.
A few yards later we crossed the creek again. Now we were walking on the western side, which was much shadier and greener.

All of a sudden fiddle neck flowers became prevalent. There are many species and I could never tell which one is which.
Fiddleneck (Amsinckia sp.)
The trail continued leading up, but the creek itself got steeper now, and the trail didn't stray too far from the stream. Occasionally we crossed it back and forth. Both the main stream and a tributary that crossed our path. The stream was the highest it's been in years (according to locals we met on the way), and we crossed on a 'bridge' of rocks that were strategically placed in the water.

I saw there a shrub I saw before at the Pinnacles National Park: the wooly bluecurls. It adds a nice purple color to the creekside vegetation.
Woolly Bluecurls (Trichostema lanatum)
We were going up constantly, moving in and out between riparian and chaparral, trying to stick together and stopping occasionally for brief rest breaks. Time was moving on and once again came the idea of stopping at an earlier spot. I still believed that we could get to our planned destination but I didn't argue.

When we arrived at the Manna Campground we found that the nice spot near the creak was already taken. The spot that was available was pretty run down. The creek was further, the table was broken and there were ants everywhere. And it was early still. We had plenty of time to keep going. What we were lacking was the energy. We had a long break at that spot, to eat and to rest. 
Morning Glory (Calystegia sp.) 
It was clear, though, that we would not be staying there after all. So eventually we got to our feet and continued on. 
Manzana Creek, a look to the north
All the energy we restored was now spent on the trail that got even steeper going up. I didn't mind the sluggish pace: I was thrilled to see all the wildflowers about, now in a different combination of species and colors. 
Chinese Houses (Collinsia heterophila)
It was truly a fiesta for the senses.
Blue Fiestaflower (Pholistoma auritum)
And a fiesta it was, not just for me or for other human hikers. Many of the plants were being rigorously chewed on by bugs. Many of these I found later, after enlarging my flower photos on the computer screen.
Caterpillar on Phacelia
Phacelia and its relatives dominated the wildflower scene intuit trail segment between Manzana and Manzana Narrows. I don't think I documented all the species that were represented there.
Baby Blue Eyes (Nemophila sp.)
And then I saw a familiar sight: an Indian Paintbrush! It is a common chaparral shrub but I had barely seen it until that spot, and even there it was only that one plant.
Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja affinis)
The sheer cliff we were walking under was also covered with vegetation, The rock lettuce, or dudleya was beginning to bolt but wasn't in bloom yet.
Chalk Dudleya (Dudleya pulverulenta)
And all that time we kept going up and up. The campground we were going to, Manzana Narrows, wasn't very far and we kept expecting to see it around this corner or that. 

But there was still more distance to cover and more wildflowers to see.
Parry's Larkspur (Delphinium parryi)
And we were crossing the creek back and forth again, taking turns using the two pairs of hiking poles to balance on the rocks while crossing.
Manzana Creek
The canyon narrowed and less sunlight filtered in between the canyon walls and through the canopies. In the shade I found an interesting thistle. It was completely white. It was the first time I've seen a white morph of this species.
Cobwebby Thistle (Cirsium occidentale)
Behind the thistle were the familiar western wallflower.  They were swaying in the wind that was finally picking up, relieving some of the heat we had carried with us from the valley below.
Western Wallflower (Erysimum capitatum)
Eventually the view opened up in front of us and we were able to look ahead to the upper part of Manzana Creek, to where we were planning to hike on the morrow. The white ledge rocks beaconed us from afar.
Upper Manzana Creek
The trail was close to the creek once again, but we were done crossing it for the day. I stopped to appreciate the algae in the water but all the other quails were running ahead - the elder chika had found the campground.
Cladophora algae at Manzana Creek
We had finally maid it to our destination for that day. The chikas dropped their packs on the ground and immediately went down to the creek. Papa Quail slumped on the bench and I started gathering firewood. That was an easy enough task - there are several campsite at Manzana Narrows, none of them occupied, and nearly all had some amount of leftover firewood. Meanwhile Papa Quail recovered somewhat and pitched the tent and the chikas came back all excited, telling me that there were big trout in the water hole right under our campsite. 
Then our friends from the previous night at the previous night came down the trail. They were at the falls and were now going back to Fish campground. It was already getting late and they had still to cover all that distance we had backpacked uphill. But they were going downhill and they weren't carrying any packs. We said goodby, and then the chikas took their fishing rod down to the creek. 
All the (very short) time we were getting ready for the backpacking trip I kept talking about cutting down the weight, and about not taking any unnecessary luxury. But keeping your less enthusiastic family members happy is a necessity, nut luxury. I therefore carried a little surprise with me and now it was a fine time to pull it out of the backpack and deploy.
The chikas, as it turned out, were happier trying to fish the trout. Papa Quail gave me a slanted look. I shrugged and wend down to the creek to fetch water to boil. When I returned I found that I didn't carry the hammock for nothing after all :-)
Papa Quail demonstrating campground potato position. 
The day was fading. The chikas gave up on catching the trout and came back up to eat dinner of what we had carried with us. We sat for some time enjoying the campfire, then went into the tent and fell asleep to the sound of the flowing Manzana Creek.
We were all alone in the wilderness and it was very, very peaceful. That night I had a very good sleep :-)

Many thanks to members of the California Native Plants Society for their help in identifying plants!


  1. The wildflowers are beautiful and amazing in their varaiety

    1. They are! My head was spinning from all the colors :-)