Winter in Maine is serious and lasts well into April, despite March’s claim to the first day of Spring. (In fact, 11″ of snow fell on April 1, 2017.) Coming to California to take a bite out of winter, Hannah and I leave behind our neighbors on Chases Pond Road this second week of February. They are getting pummeled by 14” of gale-blown snow while we have a midday waterfalls hike in Thousand Oaks, roughly half way between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.
Over the last week, we’ve had very improbable southern California weather – light rain, heavy mist, and outright rain. Even so, we know how fortunate we are compared to our snowbound New England brethren as we drive south in heavy, pea soup fog on The 101 highway through Carpinteria to Ventura and on to Oxnard.
And then with the wave of her hand, God whisks away the fog to reveal blue skies and sunshine. Turning left on Lynn Avenue by the upscale houses of Thousand Oaks, we travel a mile down Avenida de los Arboles to the trailhead.
There, surprisingly the Wildwood Park trailhead parking lot is empty with a metal bar blocking any cars from entering; we do see 15 to 20 cars parked on the side streets in front of the million dollar homes. Following two women to the park entrance, we see a sign indicating the park is closed. We can only guess that it is due to the muddy trails.
But as we look around, we see hikers 100 yards ahead on the trail. Like many rulebreakers, we can’t believe the authorities really mean “us.” So we and many others just ignore the sign. Over the first hill, we have a scene out of Ireland at its greenest. After six years of drought, the heavens have opened and how green is my valley.
The trail is moist and muddy but not so messy that we can’t step around the puddles and mud slop. A young mother pauses with her four-year-old who explores every puddle, rock, and spilled Cheez-it that he sees. Seeing our grandsons, Owen and Max, in this preschooler, we think he’ll be in first grade before they see the falls. Let me say, the mom is patient, sweet, encouraging, and, as are many great moms and dads, a master of distraction, which moves them a little further down the trail, step by step.
After nearly a mile, switchbacks take us down to the pools beneath the Paradise Falls where fifteen others are enjoying this Thursday noontime break. Though the falls have been but a trickle of late, today we are here for the Grand Re-Opening thanks to Mother Nature.
Strategically placed stones allow us to balance across the modestly flowing stream. Check out this Paradise Falls video.
Waterfall-satisfied, we take the trail to Lizard Rock which follows the North Fork of Arroyo Conejo Creek to the Wildwood Canyon Picnic Area. Crossing the creek three or four times, we find it all quite easy with planks nailed together to allow us splash-free crossings.
Our trail map is fine, but our best advice comes from our fellow hikers. A young couple directs us with lefts and rights to the switchbacks approaching Lizard Rock.
Climbing high above the Thousand Oaks water treatment plant, we are transported to County Kearny of the Old Sod in Erin Go Bragh. Having traveled to the Santa Barbara area for the last three winters when brown was the new green, we are flying high with the rich verdant carpet to our right, left, and center.
With 800’ of elevation gain, the trail to Lizard Rock gives us a workout. Breaking off the main trail at 1p, we summit and ponder the advantages of delayed gratification.
On one hand, we can eat our chicken sandwiches and sip our Dos Equis brewskis uncomfortably next to an oversized rock OR…
Or we can refuel with water and granola bars now; then hike the short 45 minutes to the car, drive the a mere 50 highway miles back to the cottage, where we can shower and sit in comfort on our deck that overlooks the Pacific. We choose option B.
As we come down from Lizard Rock, Hannah has an idea; she knows that she doesn’t want to miss what professional photographers call the golden photo op. Zipping back up the mountain crag, she soon positions herself as the Goddess of Light, high above as I click picture after picture of my sweet Athena.
Two hours of hiking in, we head for the trailhead along Stage Coach Bluff. High above Paradise Falls and its meandering creek, we have come to Ireland without going through customs, drinking warm beer, or sleeping in small beds.