Homestead trail

I’d pretty much forgotten about this trail, haven’t been on it for a decade or so, but I saw someone coming down when I went up to Tangerine falls the other month. And yesterday I decided to follow it up.

There are three main branches to Cold Springs creek. The east fork trail follows one branch, the west fork trail follows another branch (generally dry), and the Tangerine falls trail follows the middle branch.

You start at the Cold Springs trailhead, and go up the trail for about a quarter of a mile to the place where the west fork diverges from the east. Cross the creek and go up the west fork for another half mile. At this point a side trail dives down precipitously, this is the trail to Tangerine falls. You almost immediately cross the (usually) dry streambed of the west fork, and then about 50 yards further on a side trail leads off to the left. This is the trail to the old homestead site and it continues on to Camino Cielo.

Although currently not much traveled, this was the original route of the cold springs trail and led to the old Los Prietos mercury mines. First cleared in 1878.

Anyway, after turning off from Tangerine Falls the trail starts to climb, and switchbacks across a burnt out landscape. This surprised me, I had thought the fire stopped a the West Fork streambed, but I now see that was an illusion. The fire skipped over the streambed, and the trees in it are unscathed (mostly), but nonetheless it continued up the slope on the other side.

Finally the trail works its way up to the ridge-line between the west fork and the middle fork, and we get some good views of Tangerine Falls. Or we would if there were more water flowing down it, at the moment it just looks like a damp patch on the rocks. I don’t recall having this view of the falls before; I suspect the fire has opened up this vista.

The trail continues just below the ridgeline, wending its way toward the top of the falls. There is a strange flower blooming here, I can’t identify it, a little yellow flower with five petals, but its stems seem to be enfolded in large bracts. As the plant dries (and further up the trail it has stopped blooming and dried up) these bracts seem coated with velcro-hairs which cling to my legs and my shorts and my shirt and my arms. I guess that’s how the seeds get distributed, but it’s annoying to humans.

There are still a few mariposa lilies (Calochortus weedii vestus) in bloom on the side of the trail. In previous years I’ve have not seen as many blooms as we are getting this year, nor in so many places, nor lasting so long.

Finally the trail reaches the top of the waterfall. Unfortunately (as is so often the case at the top of a waterfall) you can’t see the falls from here. There is a spur of rock that juts out from the trail and from it you can see a precipitous drop to the canyon below (though not, as I said, the falls themselves). This spur is called “The Pinnacle”. Tangerine falls drops more than 200ft and we are now considerably higher than the top of the falls. It’s a long way down.

The trail descends to the creek and then becomes much gentler as it runs almost level beside the stream. The rocks in the water have turned yellow (or tangerine, perhaps), I presume this is from sulfur in the water.

This section is quite lovely, a gentle trail beside  a little steam:


Tree reflections distorted by waterstriders

About ¾ mile from the turn-off on tangerine falls trail, this trail branches. One branch goes steeply uphill to Camino Cielo, the other branch continues beside the creek for another ¼ mile. Just before the end of this trail is an immense oak, the trail passes underneath its branches and ends in a small clearing with a fireplace. This is the site of an old homestead. I assume that the fire place is of more recent construction, though probably on the original site? perhaps with original stones?

A little way back along the trail, a faint side trail leads off to the right (as you go down). The side trail is not very long and ends at a small junk pile in which may be seen the rusted remains of a plough and some other iron trash (a griddle perhaps?).

I’m a little perplexed as to what, exactly they were able to plough. The trail isn’t particularly steep, but the canyon is narrow and the stream, though small, takes up a good chunk of that. The sides of the canyon are rocky and steeper than I’d want to plough…

The trail that leads up to Camino Cielo, climbs precipitously. There’s another patch of mariposa lilies here (which cheers me up). Eventually it levels off for a bit and goes through a kind of open air tunnel — chaparral to each side and blue sky above. We used to have more trails like this, but many have been burnt.

But that level patch doesn’t last, and the trail goes up steeply again. And up. About ⅔ mile from the trail junction we come to a little knoll.

I walk around the top of the knoll in hopes of a good view, but the chaparral grows tall enough that I can’t see out. And then down the other side. It seems rather a shame to go down, when I can see my destination still high above me.

Down below is a saddle, and then the trail climbs again. I had thought it steep before, but this is more so. In places I need to use my hands. Looking forward I don’t see anything but trail, but when I turn and look behind there are some nice views of the city, and the channel islands, peaking out of the fog bank.

It’s another .9 miles from the knoll to the Camino Cielo. My clothing and my self are covered with dried bits of plant velcroed to me.

There is no sign to mark this trailhead at the top. Just an old aluminum can stuck in a bush on the side of the road.


Front country panorama. Montecito peak is to the left of center, the little knoll on the trail is right of center, and the channel islands show as dark patches in the clouds near the horizon. The hill cut off by the right edge of the picture is the great switchback on Gibraltar Rd.


Back country panorama

It took me longer to go up than I expected. On the way down the sun started to set through the mountains.

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One Response to “Homestead trail”

  1. richwolf Says:

    Thanks for letting me take this beautiful e-hike with you. I too live in a place with spectactular hiking. Please check out http://richwolf.wordpress.com/2009/10/10/scarlet-sumac-alert-on-the-south-mesa-trail/.

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