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Manzana Flood Plain

Dan McCaslin

Manzana Flood Plain


Manzana Day Hike to ‘Ray’s Camp’

Visiting a Backcounty Spot Named for Ray Ford


Wednesday, April 16, 2014
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Hike: moderate day hike into the San Rafael Wilderness past Fish Camp along Manzana Creek; suitable for sturdy kids 6 and older

Mileage: 10-mile round-trip

Time: 3 hours driving and about 5 hours hiking, including an hour munching a nutritious lunch at “Ray’s Camp”’s new table beside flowing Manzana Creek

Maps: B. Conant, San Rafael Wilderness Map Guide

Thoughtfully walking the wilderness footpath along Manzana Creek enhances one’s inner awareness, as he perforce faces the social world’s “shadow self” and some of his own unexamined assumptions. At the end of March, between rain showers, I hiked from NiraCamp, where the last road ends upstream and five miles into the fabled San Rafael Wilderness. One goal was to check out the newly dubbed“Ray’s Camp” site, checking Manzana water levels along the way, but really just ambling happily along the lush riparian corridor. No white noise or even any humans. The recent rains made the blue sky beautiful, with dark cloud ridges corrugating the land’s brown ridgelines.

As postmodern, even “post-human,” Homo sapiens, we should try to improve our thinking by careful use of reason. Hiking along a remote watercourse stimulates this process, or so thought Plato — who liked to amble among the lovely plane trees in Athens’ forest grove called the Academy. MacArthur genius award-winner Rebecca Goldstein agrees in her spirited defense of philosophy Plato at the Googleplex, subtitled Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away. Goldstein contends that “Progress in philosophy consists … in constantly bringing to light the covert assumptions that burrow their way deep into our thinking.” Society today, iClutter and white noise galore, makes it difficult to seize the time to ponder our hidden assumptions, but inner analysis is a hidden benefit to trudging beside a sparkling creek.

Nira campground sign
Click to enlarge photo

Dan McCaslin

Nira campground sign

After parking my vehicle at verdant Nira Camp, I immediately began hiking east, which means upstream. The creek crossing at Nira was about 10 feet wide, with six inch depths, a good flow given our drought, and using my twin poles I managed to get across without wetting my boots. I found water at Lost Valley Camp and the “new” Ray’s Camp, but the Manzana’s wide, rocky wash at Fish Camp was almost completely dry. The watercourse goes underground here, but I picked up water just a few hundred yards on east of Fish Camp. Amazingly, Fish Creek itself was running, but barely.

Ray's Camp
Click to enlarge photo

Dan McCaslin

Ray’s Camp

In hiking this backcountry since 1973, I’ve often overnighted at a nameless “free” campsite five miles into the San Raf from Nira. It’s a shadeless hell in summer, but for winter and spring camping, this sylvan spot is ideal. Recently, Los Padres Forest Association (LPFA) named it Ray’s Camp to honor Ray Ford, a longtime backcountry enthusiast, writer, and The Santa Barbara Independent’s outdoors editor.

Click to enlarge photo

Dan McCaslin

As you near this camp, you first enjoy a green grassy upper potrero, and then drop sharply a few feet into Ray’s Camp next to the creek. In very dry years, e.g. the seven-year drought during 1984–1991, Ray’s Camp has been the first place my backpacking friends and I could locate good water, so this site is important for backcountry survival. While hiking and pondering, analyzing some covert assumptions, I could see how we have taken our predecessors back here for granted. There are the First People, the Native American Chumash, of course, but I am thinking of backcountry explorers like E.R.“Jim” Blakley (an LPFA founder), Dick Smith, Campbell Grant, Franko Hudson, Chris Caretto, and certainly Ray Ford, himself. His 1976 book Trails of the San Rafael Wilderness (with Marty Hiester) was the very first tome I had ever seen detailing this area, and I still utilize my worn original edition!

Manzana
Click to enlarge photo

Dan McCaslin

Manzana

Hiking along the glorious Manzana glinting in the sun, you become mindful of those who fashioned these trails and those who have maintained them, and the overwhelming beauty: giant sycamores, massive oaks, riparian splendor with arid brown yucca-covered slopes above. Just in the last few weeks, a 15-person LPFA crew chopped away fallen timbers on these trails for three days, and the backcountry’s Mike Smith brought his string of goats to support their work, for which I am grateful.

Click to enlarge photo

Dan McCaslin

The Manzana Creek Trail to Ray’s Camp (and two more miles to Manzana Narrows) is fairly gentle and not very demanding physically, which enhances philosophical introspection: wilderness-as-truth-serum or simply so quiet that your one-pointed focus inevitably kicks in. In this state, the hiker still has to focus on the path directly in front of him and maintain some semblance of outer awareness: Nearing Fish Camp, I looked up and noted a very large, brown and black, goat-like creature.

Mike Smith had left a note dated March 23 back at Nira, stating that his 200-pound Nubian goat Gunter had wandered off and not returned. Here he was, still with his rope halter around his neck. Gunter had been out there for eight days when I encountered his magnificence on March 31. He looked very strong and tough, and wasn’t ready to give up the trail, so I chose to hike way up around him, chattering softly all the while. I had no rope, and Mike’s note said do not try to lead him.

Click to enlarge photo

Dan McCaslin

Having never owned a cell phone, I waited until back at Davy Brown car camp, where my tent was set up, and asked some departing folks to call Mike once they were within cell-phone reception. They did this, and very kindly drove all the way back to Davy Brown to let me know.

One unexamined assumption is that these trails maintain themselves. In the original idea for creating federal wilderness zones (2014 is the 50th anniversary of the historic WildernessAct), the concept was that there would be no trails at all. Today, I am grateful to the LPFA, to Gunter and Mike, to James Wapotich, Craig Carey, Bryan Conant, and particularly Ray Ford. Long may you all visit and enjoy Ray’s Camp on the gurgling Manzana.

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That's a great goat tale. Had no idea they weigh that much.

Tent looks a bit like a Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
April 16, 2014 at 9:47 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Caution: the water at this narrowing of the canyon may be crowded with decomposing trout in summertime, or possibly earlier after dry winters. Manzana Narrows, farther upstream, is much more reliable. But I seem to remember Manzana Narrows as being 5 miles past the wet spot, not 2 miles, or a total of 10 miles east of Nira. Maybe it just felt like it.

What was this pre-modern thinking, backpacking up a dry creekbed in summer? I was thinking "What was I thinking?" Drank a full gallon of water upon arriving at shady Manzana Narrows. Darwin was wrong.

Adonis_Tate (anonymous profile)
April 16, 2014 at 10:19 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The 'Narrows is about 1.75 miles past this narrowing of the canyon, now termed Ray's Camp. I've been there many times and never noticed the decomposing trout, but then I never have fished there.

DavyBrown (anonymous profile)
April 16, 2014 at 10:54 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Thanks to Dan McCaslin for writing about Ray's Camp. Last Friday, some friends and I made a 2-day trip along Manzana Creek and stopped to check out Ray's. Nice new table and good creek access for filtering water. We also found the creek dry @Fish. Just past Sulphur Spring Canyon, it started raining and didn't let up until well after midnight. This was a gear-testing trip for many of us and I'm glad I purchased a rain cover for my Osprey pack.

Arriving @Manzana Camp, the couple already there told is there was a large group of scouts @Narrows so we made camp there (mid-30F's that night). This middle-aged but youthful couple had started @Cox Flat (Cuyama side) and was on day 5 of their 6-day trip. The next day, we had a great time exploring Alcove Falls and the area around Alcove Camp. The scenery past the intersection to Big Cone Spuce was magnificent. And we could see snow up towards McKinley Mtn. Not a lot of wildflowers along the way but many good samples ... chinese houses, paintbrush, larkspur, chia sage, bush poppies. We also saw a few gopher snakes, a horny toad, and some alligator lizards.

Manzana Creek had plenty of water to supply hikers, though I never got my boots wet on any crossings. There were quite a few hikers on the trail including two large scout troops we ran into on day 2 (Orcutt and SLO). Those little pack mules were hopefully getting an experience that will serve them the rest of their lives.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
May 3, 2014 at 7:52 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Hey, that's a solid backpack for the 'middle-aged couple' trekking to Nira from Cox Flat over on the Cuyama side: my maps show this to be approx. 35 miles over their planned 6 days = 5.5 miles a day...terrific!

DavyBrown (anonymous profile)
May 4, 2014 at 12:22 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Solid for sure. They introduced themselves as Jimmy & Ruth from Ojai. They hiked west along the Sisquoc and had shuttled a car @Nira.

@Manzana, a flock of orange/yellow song birds (Western Tanagers?) suddenly filled the trees and in a flash, Jimmy had his SLR camera out. So this couple was not only hardy but also prepared :)

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
May 4, 2014 at 6:19 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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