Today, my friend Deb DeBoer and I officially became hiking partners. Our fabulous husbands watched the kids while we took our first training hike together in preparation for a five-day backpacking trip this summer. Our chosen trail today was at Wind Wolves Preserve, a 30-square-mile area just west of Tejon Ranch at the northern foothills of the Los Padres National Forest. (Take Highway 166 west from I-5 before hitting the Grapevine.)
I’ve gone with my family many times to Wind Wolves. My kids love the 1-mile wildflower loop near the park’s entrance gate. We also enjoy picnicking near the waterfall at The Crossing and adventuring along San Emigdio Creek. Just a month earlier, we even climbed the “mountain” to the Tule Elk Viewing Area for the first time. It was quite the ascent for our 7-year-old son, who took a few breaks on the way up, and our 3-year-old daughter, who rode most of the way on her dad’s shoulders.
Deb and I decided to do the full Tule Elk Trail and loop back on the San Emigdio Canyon Trail, which is about 8 miles total. We planned to take it slow and do it in about four hours. Deb recently recovered from back surgery and my ankle is still sore from my solo trek to the bluffs two weeks ago. In fact, I tried to put on my boots last weekend when my husband and I went to the Santa Cruz Mountains for our anniversary trip. I didn’t last two minutes, the pain was so bad. So today I brought an extra pair of socks to add more cushioning, as well as my old tennis shoes to change into if I needed them.
Wind Wolves can get very hot but we were lucky with the weather today – overcast and damp from recent rains. We started up the steep switchbacks to the Tule Elk Viewing Area, taking little breaks on the way. Two women jogged past us. “Trail runners,” we wondered out loud. “How do they do it?” At the top, we looked out at the southern San Joaquin Valley – a vast expanse of patchwork farmland dotted with oil pumps. I don’t think you can actually spot tule elk from up there – if so, you’d need some powerful binoculars.
We continued north to the second peak and looked out over San Emigdio Canyon. We would be returning along the creek down below. Today, though, we continued north until the trail descended on the west side of the crest down into grazing land. There are no trees along the Tule Elk Trail and we were lucky for the clouds leftover from the recent rains. In fact, parts of the trail were thick with mud that stuck to the bottoms of our boots. Rays of sunlight illuminated spots around us as they poked through. It was a beautiful day to be out there.
At the four-mile marker, the trail turned east and we walked through a little wooded canyon – with a few wildflowers even! – as we connected with the wide Camino Viejo Bike Trail. We didn’t realize it, but if we had turned north, we would have been able to walk another mile to Reflection Pond. Another time. Instead, we headed south to The Willows Picnic Area and took a much-needed lunch break. My ankle was fairly sore. I’m not one to complain and will push myself to the point of injury. So I decided at this point to trade my boots for tennis shoes. I put my 10-year-old, mud-covered Salomons in a grocery sack in my backpack. They’re officially toast. I’ll never wear them again.
The walk back along San Emigdio Creek was very adventurous. Because of the rain and snowmelt from Mt. Pinos, the creek was really flowing. We had to jump from rock to rock to cross a few points that are normally dry during the rest of the year. Hooray for us – we didn’t fall in at any point!
We finished our hike at about 1 p.m. and headed back to Bakersfield to shower and relax. Our husbands and children had a Mother’s Day dinner planned for us – ribs and roasted lamb. (My son announced he would never eat meat again after finding out we were eating baby sheep.)
Deb and I agreed that we make excellent hiking partners. So after dinner, we got out the hiking books and jumped online and planned when and where our summer backpacking trip will be: Rae Lakes Loop in Kings Canyon National Park, July 26-30. We have some training to do, and I have a new pair of boots to buy and break in. But we’re going to do it!