Ventura River Preserve

Temps in the low 60’s brought me to the Ojai area this week.  The Ventura River Preserve is 1,600 acres with miles of well maintained trails.  The area has a very “ranchy” feel – a lot of rolling, grassy land with some easy to moderate climbing.  I look forward to coming back someday and finishing off the rest of these trails.

1     2     3   I arrived at 6:30 a.m. at the northern most trailhead (there are three of them).  Luckily the gate was open.  I immediately crossed a dry creek bed and then made my way to the right and over a small bridge.

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I found Rice Canyon Trail, the first major trail I would take today.  This preserve is extremely well marked.  There wasn’t a trail I took that didn’t have a sign in front of it.  It’s so well marked that not only are you given the name of the trail, but beneath it is often the name of the next major trail to which it connects.  It’s clear this property was a former working ranch.  It reminds me of hiking in the ranch lands in Agoura Hills, except greener and shadier.

8     6     7     9   Photo 3 – There are numerous benches along the trail, strategically set in beautiful places.  Photo 4 – The trail temporarily veers off into National Forest land and is marked on each end by gates.   All of these markers, gates, bridges, etc., make it very difficult to get lost if you have a good map.

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The Terrible Trio
I had to stop and take a look at these plants growing on top of each other.  At the top and bottom is poison oak, in the center providing structure is a yucca with needle sharp leaf tips, and wrapping itself around the other plants, disguising the danger, is an invasive ivy species which lures you into the trap with it’s pretty white flowers.

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16     17     18   I guess on the National Forest side there are still cows being raised.  I didn’t see any but did see some tell-tale signs, a water trough marked “Cows Only” and a cow pie on the trail.  Photo 3 – I reached the border of the preserve and forest and continued through the second gate.

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The morning dew gave the long grass a shimmering, silvery appearance.

21     22     23   Photo 1 – There is quite a bit of poison oak in the lower areas, but it doesn’t really encroach on the trail and I found it easy to avoid.  Photos 2 and 3 – There is an option at the end of Rice Canyon Trail, two short trails which form a loop and meet again at a site with multiple junctions.  I chose the trail marked El Nido Meadow.  I liked how the trail thinned here.  There is a bench along the way with a shady view of El Nido Meadow.

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El Nido Meadow – so peaceful and calm.

25     26   I reached the end of El Nido Trail and arrived at the multiple junction, with Willis Canyon Trail, Chaparral Crest Trail and others all connecting.  There is a little bridge here that makes a fine landmark. I didn’t take that route, but instead headed up into the hills on Chaparral Crest Trail.

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As I rose in elevation I lost my shade but gained mountain views.  I’m pretty certain that the pointy peak on the right is Chief Peak., which I hiked to in late 2014.

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Photo 1 – Turkey vulture coming in hot.  Photo 2 – Barbed-wire abstract

30     31   I reached another fork in the trail.  I exited Chaparral Crest Trail and transferred over to Oso Ridge Trail.  This would take me to the park’s rather low, high point (1,320 ft.)

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Evening rain was in the forecast for the area and gorgeous clouds began to explode over the mountains.

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36   More views from the top – farmland and, in photo 3, that must be Lake Casitas.

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A beautiful little pond below.

39     40   I descended down the trail, coming close to a large canal and some houses.

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I loved all the butterflies out today.

45     46     47   I circled north again and reconnected with Chaparral Crest Trail.  There are four main trails (Rice Canyon, Willis Canyon, Chaparral Crest and Oso Ridge) that run east-west and parallel to each other, all connected by shorter trails.  I took one of those short connectors, Fern Grotto Trail, down from Chaparral Crest to Willis Canyon.

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49     50     51   I circled back to that site of the multiple junctions and that little bridge.  My idea was to eat lunch on one of the benches there but found that them crawling with ants.  I backtracked to the Fern Grotto Trail/Willis Canyon Trail junction.  The bench there (photo 2) was perfect – no poison oak and no ants.  These benches are really well made.  I don’t usually find benches with armrests to set my water bottle down on.

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54   As I headed back on Willis Canyon Trail, the darkness of the clouds intensified.  Photo 2 – An old water stop leftover from the ranch days.  Photo 3 – Last shot of a fine day.  If you’re looking for an easy, well-marked series of trails, this spot in Ojai is a winner.

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