Solstice at NIRA

‘Twas Advent’s Fourth Sunday, when all through the camp,
Not a creature was stirring not even a scamp.

Kevin wanted to camp at NIRA (something, something Recreation Area) and then run Upper Manzana trail out to the Sisquoc River and back (about 30 miles round trip).

Somehow that changed and we all drove out from SB early in the morning.

For the last decade or so I have tried to watch the sun rise and set on the day of the winter solstice (it’s pretty easy to be up and about for both at this time of year). This year we were driving through Happy Canyon when the sun arose.

It takes more than an hour to get to NIRA from SB. I’ve only been there once before myself (Cynthia took me this summer but we only hiked about 6 miles in). The road simply ends at a campsite shaded by Live and Valley Oaks.

Manzana CreekWe set off up the trail, which winds above Manzana Creek. There was water in it, more water than this summer but still not much.

It’s interesting that the trees which cluster around our creeks tend to be deciduous (Sycamores, Cottonwoods, Alders, Willows), but those a little further uphill (Bay Laurel, Coast Live Oak) keep their leaves.

I, of course, was interested in seeing if there was any difference to the vegetation this far out in the back country. In the summer I found a few things that I hadn’t seem before. At this time of year there’s not much to be seen. A few tall wire-lettuces still blooming after the summer, and lots of young forbs, too young for me to identify.

Manzana NarrowsI found a Juniper bush (tree?) near the Mazana Narrows. I think it was a Juniper, but maybe it’s a Cypress…

And Kevin pointed out a gooseberry in bloom. I have seen no gooseberries in bloom in the front country yet.

Then we started to climb out of the canyon up to the ridgeline above. Much drier here.

And definitely a Juniper bush. I know I haven’t seen these in the front country.

The ridgeline isn’t what I was expecting. I assumed there would be a knife-edge ridge the way there is at Camino Cielo, but there was a wide sort of flat area through which a little stream meandered.
Ridgeline Creek

Then we crossed over and down into the watershed of the Sisquoc.

Kevin pointed out a stick and asked me if I could identify it. He said he called it “Spiny Ceanothus”. Now the genus Ceanothus means spiny, so that’s not much help. In the front country there is Ceanothus spinosus which means the spiny, spiny thing. but this wasn’t that. It looked more like a chaparral pea to me than anything, but it wasn’t that either. I kept my eye open after that and found some sticks with leaves on them. After that I realized it was all over the place. But I’d never noticed it before. It doesn’t seem to grow in the front country. Proper name seems to be Ceanothus leucodermis, or chaparral whitethorn.

This side also had a calm meandering stream and we followed it down to the Sisquoc.

We found several sets of Coyote prints in muddy parts of the trail.

tarweedAnd something that looked like an unhappy clustered tarweed (but it is far too late for that to be blooming now, so maybe it’s a tarweed I’m not familiar with).

When the got to the Sisquoc it looked like a real stream from my childhood. Gently flowing, full of water.Sisquoc

There’s a forest service cabin on the other side of the stream, fully furnished, and apparently open to anyone who hikes that far. We had lunch there, and turned back.

We were coming down the 154 just in time to catch the last of the sunset over Goleta:


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