Manzana Schoolhouse 2004

In early September, I began to get an itching to go back to the Manzana Schoolhouse in the Los Padres National Forest. It had been a year since I was hiking on the Manzana trail. Last time, it had been raining and I had to stop early. This time, however, I was convinced that I would do it. I left myself three days to get in and leave enough time to wander around a bit.

Having stopped off at the Clearwater campground and browsing through the register (unfortunately no one else had left any woods poetry) I plowed onward along the trail. The backcountry was quite dry and quite hot. The scenery, however, was fabulous. The creek wandered through valleys guarded by the rock formations up on Hurricane Deck, small pinnacle formations reaching towards the sky. For the first time I saw the Sisquoc River in all of its beauty. Hugged by barren mountains of a purplish hue, the wide dry riverbed meandered across the valley floor, rounded rocks strewn all around. Back in this beautiful nothingness was the historic Manzana Schoolhouse. Built in the late 1800s, the schoolhouse and its single teacher taught the children of settlers in the Sisquoc River valley. The school was open mostly during the summer months. With wide rivers and creeks all around, travel during the wet season was difficult. The school was active for only about ten years. The harsh weather of the Sisquoc made nearly all farming difficult, if not impossible, and the dry hot summers combined with a rough terrain made it difficult to raise livestock as well. Being back in the area during one of those summers, it's easy to understand why the people left. The schoolhouse was then later used as a cabin and tanning house for furriers before it was eventually abandoned. Recently, the schoolhouse was restored back to near its original form and the public is allowed to go inside. It is a beautifully proportioned log cabin style structure. The door is made of wooden planks and has a gorgeous wooden handle. Inside, the wall opposite the door is reserved for the blackboards, literally boards with dark paint on them. Unfortunately visitors felt the need to carve their names into it over the years; hopefully someday people will begin to realize the idiocy of destroying nature and historical artifacts.

The next day I began hiking up Hurricane Deck, but without a topographic map I was unaware of the sheer vertical ascent of the trail. I made it up to the top and was greeted by sweeping views of the Sisquoc River and close-up encounters with some of the rock formations I had seen from the trails below. Easily being over 100 degrees and running low on water, I turned back towards the schoolhouse to spend the night. Some fellows staying at one of the still privately held cabins at the edge of the wilderness gave me some drink besides water, and the night was a restful one with clear skies and the stars scattered across the firmament like glittering dust. Having grown up in an area of light pollution, the immensity of the night sky never ceases to amaze me.

The next day was an early hike out and then relaxing, cleaning up myself from the long dozens of miles of dusty hiking. I finally did, however, finally successfully conquor the trail, and saw such a beautiful land to which I must return.

The Photographs

Leading up to this trip, I had really gotten a severe photography itch to start trying some new things. The first roll of film I shot was Kodak Etkachrome EIR, an infrared film that also responds to visible light. I had been reading about this film for some time and was eager to try it out. I found a store in town that carried it. It really poses a number of problems for backpacking photography, namely keeping the film cool. Overall, it's a film that I need to try to use again. Some of the shots I was able to get were quite striking, but I believe I need to underexpose a bit more as well as get a thinner filter ring for the shorter focal length lenses.

The second roll was a traditional Scala 200 B&W film. I was quite eager to use it for photographing the old structures as it adds a bit of nostalgia. I also find the silvery texture to work very well with the dead vegatation around the Los Padres in the summer.

The thirds roll was a roll of Kodachrome 200 Professional PKL on which I had finally gotten my hands. I was interested in playing with the grain of the film and seeing how it performed, having finally found a place where I could order it! I was stunned by the texture it added to the cloudless skies while maintaining a good enough level of details as well.

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