Art vs. an Oasis in the Sespe Wilderness

I’ll admit I find modern art kind of baffling. I doubt I’m alone in this, since there’s no objective way to label a thing art or not art. But a new installation piece called Social Pool has me more than confused. It’s a puny bathing pool in the middle of the Mojave Desert, made all but inaccessible (on purpose!), and its very existence has me inexplicably peeved.

The artist hopes that visitors will have an epiphany about their role in a society dominated by consumerism, or something like that…that is, if they can even find the pool. And if they fail, well, that also says something about consumerism and the pursuit of luxury, supposedly.

Social Pool

Social Pool

One LAist writer dubbed Social Pool “obnoxious,” while another LAist contributor went to the installation and didn’t have anything snarky to say at all. Without going for myself, I can’t say for sure whether it’s a waste of water or whether it’s a worthwhile experiment. Because I suspect the former, I’m going to offer up one of my favorite places to take a dip–the Bear Creek Campground swimming hole–as an alternative to Social Pool, so that you don’t have to get lost in the Mojave Desert and die.

In order to sit in Social Pool, the visitor must first visit a museum to pick up the key and the GPS points, because the pool has a locking cover and no signs or markings to find it from the highway. Plus, it’s a considerable walk over the hot sand from the road to the pool’s location. Here’s another idea: Google directions to the Piedra Blanca trail head, in the Los Padres National Forest’s Sespe Wilderness Area, and drive there. Park for free. There’s a large trail map there–no need for GPS points. Follow the well-worn trail about 4 miles to Bear Creek campground, where you will find the swimming hole.

Bear Creek swimming hole

Most accessible pool goes to: Bear Creek Swimming Hole. While there’s a fun scavenger-hunt aspect to Social Pool, I don’t have the patience or flexibility to go to a museum to pick up a key that may or may not be checked out already. If it’s a challenge you’re after, reaching Bear Creek requires enough effort to make the swim feel well-deserved.

Social Pool is the size of a small hot tub and the rules allow only four occupants at once. At Bear Creek there is sufficient water for actual swimming, even in summer during a drought. There is room for you, a few friends, other hikers and their friends, and so on. You can sun your pale skin on a wide, flat rock, dive in when you get too hot, and repeat.

Bear Creek Campground

Best pool for swimming: Bear Creek, obviously.

Enough logistics! Now, do you like being encouraged to over-think your entertainment and leisure choices? Do you believe that total mental relaxation and detachment from society are for those who lack culture? Then Social Pool could be for you. The difficulty of accessing the installation is meant to provide the visitor opportunity to reflect on why she is willing to go through such pains. On the way to Bear Creek, you’re allowed to think about how pretty the wildflowers are, or about how you wish you’d brought stuff to make s’mores. And then, once in the water, you’re free to let your mind enter a blissful, meditative state, punctuated by the croaking of bullfrogs.

Best pool for unapologetic hedonists: Bear Creek. (You didn’t expect me to let Social Pool win anything, did you?)

And just because we’re talking about art today…

toad and plate

An arroyo toad and his plate

 

Encountering Ruins in Malibu

Maybe if I had printed out a map and studied it for a moment before leaving, like in the old days before my Galaxy S3, I would have made it to the trailhead I was looking for. But knowing that all the directions and practically any information I could ever possibly need was stored in my smart phone, I could just refer to the Weekend Sherpa email if need be.

It was a long weekend and neither my dad nor I had any obligations other than watching over my mother’s dog while she was away. We decided to go on a 2.2 mile hike at Coral Canyon in Malibu, where a winding trail opens up to stunning ocean views, promises Weekend Sherpa. Plus there’s a restaurant right at the bottom of the trail, they mention, which is good because 2.2 miles is enough to rev up my appetite.

Cutting short my long story of technology failure, we reluctantly gave up on finding Coral Canyon Park, found free parking near a sign for Solstice Canyon and decided to embrace the unknown trail before us.

Little did I know that we would come across something more interesting than a lovely seascape. (Not that that should be difficult. I mean, it’s a minor mystery why a view of the Pacific, which is nothing new to me by any stretch, would still hold such power over my psyche.)

The dominant trail in Solstice Canyon is effortless and shady, overrun with dogs and casual hikers, and predictably leads to a waterfall. Less predictable are the ruins we stumbled upon.

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The house was owned by Fred and Florence Roberts (or Freddie and Flo as I’d have called them), who made sure the house had an abundance of stoves and fireplaces.

Destroyed by fire decades ago, the house’s concrete foundation and many of its components are still there, and while a palm tree now grows in what might have been the family room, it’s clear that the mid-century structure wasn’t a shabby, humble little home. It is Malibu after all. A sign notes that it was featured in Architectural Digest, and I could imagine its owners being lulled to sleep to the sound of the waterfall right outside the window, provided the area hadn’t been mid-drought like it is now.

Its unlikely, storybook location, tucked away in the woods next to a waterfall, lends the place a cool kind of mystique, even among all the explorers trampling around. Not that it’s shrouded in mystery at all, like some ancient dwelling dug up by archaeologists–we know who built it and for whom and that it eventually burned down. Still I couldn’t help but wonder what it would have been like to live there.

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Nelson hams it up.

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Just two best buds, standing where a shower used to be.

A three hour tour from Ventura to Santa Cruz, the Island

Mysteriously, the Channel Islands–with the exception of Catalina–have remained an under-the-radar destination for outdoor adventurers, birders, naturalists, camping enthusiasts, snorkelers, spelunkers, divers, whale watchers, Island Fox chasers, cave explorers, anthropologists, dermatologists, street artists, baristas, barbers, accountants and Lady Gagas–as in, everyone who remains ignorant to the wonders that await them across the channel from the Central Coast. The “American Galapagos,” so called because of the concentration of endemic species, have something for all walks of life and levels of appreciation for stunning ocean views and the resilience of nature.

Supposedly, the Islands resemble what California looked like before it was settled.

So, instead of getting my mom another pair of turquoise earrings for Mother’s Day this year, I took her to Santa Cruz Island, the largest in the Channel Islands National Park. Granted, the trip was one of the perks of working at a PR agency and didn’t require a big investment, but it’s the thought that counts, as long as it’s accompanied by a huge balloon and mushy card.

This was actually taken on the way back, about two minutes from departure. You can almost see the other passengers shooting daggers from their eyes.

We drove an hour north to the Ventura Harbor for our noon departure with Island Packers, the go-to outfitters for channel crossings. The crew is chipper and friendly, the captain informative and full of jokes. We got on board the catamaran with a mixed crowd, including a group of guys with a few cases of beer, which for some people makes a great breakfast when camping. My mom and I joined my boss and the group of of writers we gathered together for a press trip showcasing Ventura’s many eco-friendly aspects, including tasting at an organic tequila ranch. We didn’t take part in the other activities, and if tequila wasn’t my enemy I would have been jealous.

The hour-long voyage usually comes with any number of marine life sightings, the holy grail being blue or gray whales, humpbacks, and even killer whales, depending on the season. If you get a kick out of frolicking pods of dolphins, sunning seals and sea lions, hunting killer whales, and the way pelicans dive in the water like badass ninjas to grab fish, you’ll probably enjoy the boat ride to the Channel Islands. Unless you’re susceptible to motion sickness because it can be a bumpy ride. The most action we saw though, aside from some sea lions chilling on a buoy, was a crew member retrieving a bunch of stray party balloons from the water, probably saving some leather backed sea turtles from an unnatural death.

Sea lions chilling on a buoy.

We arrived at Scorpion Bay harbor, and got ready for a mellow four-mile hike around the island led by Dave, a knowledgeable National Park Service employee. We stopped now and then to take pictures and to listen while our guide pointed out the various endemic and invasive species. While the terrain seems rather bare in places, Dave assured us that due to the gradual removal of all sheep, pigs and other critters brought over by ranchers in the latter half of the 19th century, native plants are making a comeback and the islands are becoming more and more lush. One plant in particular stands out as one that does not belong among the small shrubs and overall treeless geography: a huge eucalyptus tree dominating the campsite. Hard-core conservationists say it should be removed because historically it shouldn’t be there, but campers appreciate the shade it provides. I say, let it be so that any wayward koala bears that accidentally land on the island have a place to live. But I digress.

I had been to Santa Cruz Island before, also with a press trip, but we spent the day on a guided kayak trip along the cliff edge and through sea caves– like the one below–learning about kelp, sea urchins, geography of the islands and the like. Kayaking, when weather permits, is definitely the way to go if you want a more up-close and personal experience.

On a previous press trip, we had kayaked into this cave, where there is a hidden beach which seals use as a birthing ground.

We came to the end of the trail at Potato Harbor, named after the legendary Captain Albert “Potato” Dupé who had a thing for spuds. That’s one version. Dave said it’s because it just looks like a potato. Dubious.

Potato po-tah-to.