Editorís Note: After a year's hiatus, the chronicle of Bryan Snyder's misadventures in the Western high country, "Off The Map", returns to the pages of The Evening Sun. Besides the usual tales of Rocky Mountain mischief, Bryan will report from the drought-afflicted backcountry of Southern California and the snow-capped, slumbering volcanoes of the Pacific Northwest.
Before heading up the Manzana Trail, I drank enough water to give myself a mild stomachache. I was only being prudent; there was no more water in the direction I was headed, either in Manzana Creek or in the Sisquoc River. At least, thatís what Iíd been told by the local rangers, and the scribbled comments in the trailhead register seemed to confirm their warnings. All I could do was guzzle down a liter of water, pack as many bottles as I possessed, and hope I wouldnít dehydrate by the end of the day tomorrow.
Temperatures were nearing 100 degrees when I left the Jeep behind, and I had to periodically pause to wipe the sweat out of my eyes. Few people were crazy enough to enter the San Rafael Wilderness in mid-July, but I had always desired to visit the Manzana Schoolhouse, and I had just the right proportions of stubbornness and stupidity to make the trip happen. The Schoolhouse was a relic from 1894, when homesteaders had, for a time, tried their luck at ranching in the Sisquoc Valley. A drought, similar to the one Southern California was currently experiencing, had driven them away. Now the site was a destination for seekers of solitude, and a home to furred and feathered residents only. I hoped to spy a few of these creatures if the search for water had not forced them elsewhere.
Much of the poison oak along the trail had been defanged by drought; their rash-inducing leaves were now shriveled and red, and they crunched harmlessly underfoot. I still had to be wary of the stems, for they also contained urushiol oils, and I didnít expect to have streams in which to bathe this time. Several other shrubs had lost their green pigments and had turned various shades of yellow, thanks to the hot winds that were scorching these hillsides. Below me, all that was left of Manzana Creek was a white ribbon of bleached stones and algae. And the oppressive heat of this valley was starting to cook my brain, replacing my stomachache with a bad headache.