One could say that author Craig R. Carey and cartographer and Director of Los Padres Forest Association Bryan Conant know the Ventura County backcountry like the backs of their respective hands. The pair share a combined 60 years of local hill, valley and forest exploration and have experienced everything from close encounters of the mountain lion kind to lonely wandering with only a dog as a companion. Tonight, Thursday, Sept. 13, the pair will present “Amazing Backcountry Adventures” in conjunction with Ventura Land Trust in Ventura, a community lecture rife with humor as they paint a portrait of the county’s wild side.
Carey spoke with the VCReporter from his home in Ventura.
VCReporter: The Ventura back country — what’s it like?
Carey: That’s a bit of a trick question. The Los Padres, as a forest, is actually the second- largest forest in the state. It’s nearing 2 million acres. It has a variety of terrains from the classic Ojai front country chaparral at 900 feet above sea level all the way to the above tree line subalpine fields and granite clad mountaintops of Mount Pinos nearing 9,000 feet. Compared to a lot of forests, it has a wide range of environs, which makes it a great place to visit. It’s super-accessible, but I think one of the issues for Ventura as a town is that we’re pretty trail-poor, there are very few trails in town. There’s the botanical gardens, seaside wilderness trail at Emma Wood and the little trail at Big Rock Preserve that Ventura Land Trust manages. To get much hiking done, if you’re not just doing loops at Arroyo Verde, you have to go into the National Forest land, which is very easily accessible from Santa Barbara, Montecito, Carpinteria and Ventura.
We have much variation in climate and terrain from here to the Central Coast. How varied is our backcountry?
The Sespe Wilderness, which is 45 minutes from downtown Ventura, is the largest undammed river in SoCal and it’s a huge wilderness. From City Hall, you can roll 45 minutes and be in wilderness, and that’s a great thing to take advantage of and something that both Bryan and I, in different ways, and in the same ways often, try to promote.
Where are your favorite backcountry trails in the county?
Spoiler alert! We’re going to talk about that. I’m very fond of the Chumash wilderness. There’s not a lot of trails out there but because it’s not chaparral. If you go off the trail in chaparral it’s a bloodletting, torn clothes and miserable dogs, but in the Chumash you’re usually above 8,000 feet so you can go off trail and wander for days. It’s got a very Sierra-like feel to it without the drive or crowds. So I’m a big fan of the Chumash wilderness. The Chumash wilderness is on the very northern edge of the Ventura County line where it meets Kern County. It’s an area that, despite how beautiful it is, the trails are largely empty, so it’s a nice place to go if you just want to get out for a quick weekend.
Tell me about your encounters with the county’s wildlife.
In terms of big game or awe-inspiring apex predators, the Los Padres is fairly tame. You’ll see deer, you’ll see rabbits, but very rarely you’ll see bears or mountain lions. Maybe rattlesnakes is the more common of the concerning fauna. We’ve had a few run-ins with bears. A buddy’s dog decided that he was tough enough to go after a mountain lion; thankfully he never caught up to it. You spend enough time out there, though, the math says you’ll see some of it. A buddy and I inadvertently came across a golden eagle nest that must have had hatchlings because it was super-aggressive; if she’d have come any closer it’d have sliced our scalps. It was when they were clearing the wild pigs off the islands, the golden eagles came back to the mainland where their numbers were increasing; it was a noticeable change, you get rid of the pigs, bald eagles out-compete the golden eagles, and they come after me.
I didn’t really think about eagles …
Nor I! I didn’t give it any thought until he came down after me. His wing hit my pack and I thought, oh shit! He’s coming after me! It’s a really weird thing and it’s happened twice now; maybe I just smell like eagle bait.
What brings you back to VC’s backcountry?
It’s been my backyard since day 1. My parents met in the Bruin mountaineering club and when they had me and my brothers, weekends for us were about going to the backcountry in my dad’s tiny ’69 Ford Bronco and putzing around the areas in the backcountry. Bryan’s capacity as a mapmaker and executive director of the California Condor Trail means he’s out there all the time. Although he lives in Santa Barbara, so you can be a little snooty to him when you meet him.
How would you introduce the Ventura County backcountry to someone who’s never been?
Go prepared. I know it sounds like something your mother or grandma would say. Take your essentials, let someone know where you’re going and go explore. There are so many easily accessible places, huge conifers, rock formations up in the Chumash area. Just grab a map, tell someone where you’re going and just go. It’s really a gift to have so much public lands abutting our communities. If people haven’t been out they need to get out there.
Carey and Conant will present “Amazing Backcountry Adventures” tonight, Sept. 13, at 7 p.m. at the Poinsettia Pavilion, 3451 Foothill Road, Ventura. $10. For more information, visit www.venturalandtrust.org.