It was time to get out of town and go diving. I was already tired from the chores and obligations of the day. It was hot in the Valley, but at least the shimmering heat of high summer was past. For some reason I decided to go the back route along the 118 like I used to. I hadn't been that way in a long time and though it might be slower than the 101 freeway, it would be different and it was actually a few miles shorter. I grew up below Oat Mountain, but heading up to the 118 past Stoney Point, I was again struck by how massively it rises in the clear dry air. Things change over the years, but I will always know which direction I am from that mountain.
The sandstone boulders form towers proclaiming that this is their domain, a domain of sand and desert, but the old oaks contest their rule. They are younger than the rocks, but their lives are more dynamic and their roots can split rock. Take my word for it. They are near as tough as rock.
And they can claim to be far more beautiful even in this desert land.
Some of the trees along the freeway had died from the drought and there were signs of more than one fire in the past few years. As I cross the pass into Simi Valley, slabs of white rock cover the mountains. Their stark sun bleached faces are rimmed by sand and dirt, but there is a darkness in it that accents their light desert hues. It is a darkness of green shoots from the recent rains.
The dark brown brush along the freeway shows the start of the new seasons green grass peaking up after last weeks rain. It was already cooling a bit by the time I reached the off ramp for Los Angeles Avenue in Moorpark. As I left the freeway, it was different here. It wasn't all buildings and asphalt. There was light colored bare fields and long plastic covered greenhouses on their looped frames. I was following the road through the valley formed long ago by Calleguas Creek. Along the road are fields and the hills rise covered by dusty green citrus orchards. The soil is a light brown.
As you come to Somis there are large wholesale nurseries with row after row of exotic trees and plants. The Somis Nut House next to the hiway is always a fun stop for nuts, dried fruits and bags of candy. It was even cooler here. Past Somis the valley widens more and the vivid green of citrus orchards extending across the valley and into the hills no longer have a dusty color. This is closer to the ocean and there is nothing to stop the ocean moisture that drifts up this rich valley. 10,000 years ago the Chamush Indians lived here on the acorns from the hillsides and the plants and animals of the swampy low areas. Now there are old farm houses surrounded by overgrown trees. Some old buildings are returning to the land.
In the plowed fields the soil from the creek bottom is a rich dark brown. Tractors and farm equipment work in fields far from the desert of LA. Between the road and the fields are rows of tall grasses. There is a field of brilliant gold marigolds. Separating the fields are the rows of towering blue gum eucalyptus trees to break the Santana winds that can howl out of the canyons. Here it is cool and pleasantly refreshing. My mood can't help but pick up as the vitality of it all touches me. The road turns as you leave the canyon. There is a forest of wild eucalyptus in the arroyo by the road. Life is thick, vital and lush. The canyon opens onto the broad fertile coastal plain covered with miles of strawberry fields, vegetable fields, flowers and all variety of crops to feed Southern California and even foriegn markets.
Many of these crops can be grown in few places, but they thrive in this mild coastal weather.
It cools even more nearer the ocean. There are now avocado groves amongst the citrus. The road straightens and traffic speeds up. After a few miles, the on ramp to the 101 abruptly appears at Rice Road. The placid fields again give way to the rush of the freeway. It's still about 10 miles to the harbor, but already I am refreshed and invigorated by its vitality and beauty.
So next time you are going to go to Ventura or Santa Barbara to catch a dive boat and you still have some light, consider a different route. Head on up to the 118 and take the road less travelled. It's a beautiful trip.
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