I often wondered about a particular trail that I’ve seen while running Santiago Truck Trail on my way to Old Camp. After studying maps and looking at satellite images, I concluded that the trail in question is Joplin Truck trail, and it winds down the mountain dumping out somewhere in Rose Canyon. From the maps and images I couldn’t precisely figure out where to catch Joplin Truck Trail in Rose Canyon. I decided that my best bet in figuring out Joplin was to take it from above -- from Santiago Truck Trail. However, the trip to the junction from Modjeska Canyon is around seven miles. But from Trabuco Canyon, there’s a hellish trail (hellish because of the steep grade and exposure) that’s only about two miles to Joplin Truck Trail.
Yesterday, Thursday July 2nd, in the middle of summer, during the afternoon, I thought it would be a good idea to finally check out Joplin Truck Trail. I wanted something hard. And I got it.
I parked my truck at the mouth of Trabuco Canyon, off of Plano Trabuco Road, just before Rose Canyon, and I trekked up the road into the canyon. I covered a couple flat miles, past large sections of fenced properties riddled with “No Trespassing” signs. At about two miles I hit Cadillac Trail which quickly ascends into the Santa Ana Mountains. Cadillac Trail is named so, I believe because of the wrecked car a short distance up. I have no idea if the car is a Cadillac. It’s pretty smashed and all markings have been removed. Maps name this trail Trabuco Creek Road.
The trip up Cadillac was hot and steep. Flies bit my legs, my arms. And as I ascended the mountain, I noticed a couple trucks below make their way to Cadillac Trail. It was so lonely up there, I kind of hoped that one would attempt the drive up. None did, they either turned around or headed further into the canyon. I could tell 4WD’s had made the trip by the tire marks in the dirt. There were also dirt bike marks, but no mountain bike tracks. And occasionally, I’d see a footprint.
In addition to the 70 fluid ounces in my hydration pack, I carried a bottle of water for the purpose of getting my bandana wet. I frequently stopped to drench the bandana and wear it over my head or drape it around my neck. The trek was extremely slow, and there was very little running involved. I took mental notes of faraway trails I spotted in the distance. And I explored all turn offs to discover which direction they travelled. But I always went back to the main trail because my direction was up. Up. Up. Up.
All the while, I could feel the tiny chunks of flesh being ripped from my legs by the flies. A couple of times I found a bit of shade where I stopped to cool down and and the flies feasted on my flesh. I noticed there were three types. Some flies looked just like houseflies, except a little blacker and more than twice the size. These flies took the biggest bites, but they also took a second before chomping so I often swatted them away before they bit. There were also smaller flies with feathery wings. They were black as well. But these critters were much slower than the giant houseflies. When I swatted them, I often killed or maimed the devils. The third type of fly, that I didn’t identify until I sat in the shade, was an oblong insect, dark gray. They wore what looked like a helmet, which made me think that they resembled little penises. So, henceforth, I will call these flies penisflies. Their bites hurt as well. But as I got moving, the penisflies seemed to leave me.
With about 3/4’s of a mile remaining before my turnoff, I came upon another hiker. His face was red, and he hunched over slightly, presumably fatigued like myself. He commented how difficult it must have been for me going up this trail because it was so difficult going down. Quickly afterward, I came upon his hiking partner, a female who was taking the slope slowly. Poor kids (though they weren’t actually kids, but younger than myself) had come a long way -- all the way from Cook’s Corner (I’m approximating a good 10 miles, and they had more than that to get back). These two were the only people that I’d see on this adventure. I hoped that I’d see them again when I closed my loop and headed back toward Trabuco Canyon.
Two full hours into my trip, I finally made the junction down to Old Camp (a mere four miles of travelling). Before moving on, I found a sliver of shade where I sat and drenched my bandana. Heading onward, I soon found a trail that went off to the left. Unable to get a signal for my phone GPS, I hiked up that trail for a high point. I came upon the black remnants of a campfire and very little evidence of the trail reaching further. Fortunately, I got a signal and found that there was a more promising trail about a quarter mile away. I ran the short distance and found an unkempt, eroded single track. I thought this could not possibly be the trail, though I did discover some mountain bike tracks. No foot prints though. Fortunately, I got a signal to check out the GPS and sure enough, I had arrived at Joplin Truck Trail. Though no truck would ever be able to traverse this terrain. It was single-track in the truest sense. Single file, no side-by-side running for sure. The trail was overgrown, rocky and covered with ruts and erosion.
I ran along Joplin Truck Trail exposed to great heat, no shade, but glory, glory, no flies. An occasional breeze also helped out. And I still had plenty of water in my bottle to douse my bandana. All the while, I travelled in the opposite direction of Trabuco Canyon where I had parked my truck. Though I checked frequently, I no longer had a signal to access the GPS.
Close to two miles down, the trail changed directions and I found myself running back toward Trabuco Canyon. Orange County laid before me in all its glory. I could see that clouds covered the Pacific Ocean. And I could see Joplin Youth Center getting closer and closer.
Joplin Youth Center is a lockdown correctional facility for very young (15 years and younger) felony criminals. I know this because about 17 years ago, when I was pregnant with my first son I substitute taught for the county schools, which included “court schools” such as those located in juvenile hall, Los Pinos Boys Home, and Joplin Youth Center. I accepted an assignment for Joplin back then, and recall driving a windy road through what I now know as Rose Canyon. After passing through locked and guarded gates, I arrived to this facility full of wonder. How could these young teen aged boys have gone so vastly astray at such a young age? The center housed felons, rapists and murders among them. I was some months pregnant at the time, expecting my own son. I remember being weepy-eyed at the thought of mothers worrying about their criminally sentenced minors.
I was terribly frightened to take on this assignment, more so than I was running down Joplin Truck Trail toward the facility on this hot summer day (where I probably had a greater chance of dying than I did taking on that substitute teaching job at Joplin Youth Center). Turned out, the boys were terribly charming. Visibly pregnant, they dotted over me, offering to do everything -- get the television and VCR, find me a chair in the lunchroom, even serve me lunch. The way my assignment worked was this: I was locked into the classroom. Guards roamed the hallways with keys. I kept a walkie-talkie with me. If I needed help, or needed the classroom unlocked for any reason, I could radio the guards. Here’s what happened: within the first fifteen minutes locked in my classroom, my walkie-talkie disappeared. Fortunately, after (nervously) chuckling out loud and demanding its return, one of the boys fessed up and handed it over. There were no further incidents that day, except for my amazement over how these seemingly wonderful boys could be so ruthless in society. I never had the opportunity to return to Joplin Youth Center before now, and here I was, a fifty year old woman, running straight toward it down the mountain on a scorching, hot summer day.
With some of the outbuildings just in sight, I came upon a sycamore grove. There was a particularly shady spot where a waterfall obviously made its home during our wetter years. And then, bam -- my trail ended. It was washed out. But I was too committed in this loop to turn back. So, I gingerly made my way down a ravine, butt sliding where needed, and half crawled my way back up to the trail on the other side, thrilled that I would soon be in Rose Canyon. But I worried too. What if the trail ended at the boys’ home? What was I to do then? Could I skirt along the lockdown facility? If so, would I be accosted by authorities? In preparation, I hid my camera. And I also took the knife off my pack and buried it in my pocket (which of course made it now a concealed weapon -- doh!)
And then something happened that I did not expect. The trail forked, but both ends of the fork were fenced off with barbed wire. On the ground was a rusted sign that read Joplin Truck Trail, Cleveland National Forest. Erected in its spot was a sign that read: No Trespassing. Do Not Enter, Correctional Facility. I did not have enough fluids to return the way I came. I cannot say that I thought my out my situation carefully. Instead, I scampered along the barbed fences hoping that they ended in the brush. But they did not. The barbed wire scaled up and down the canyon walls. I considered trying to telephone the assholes at Joplin Youth Center and demanding that they let me in so that I could pass through, else I die on this forsaken trail. (I was pissed!)
“Okay, okay, THINK!” There’s got to be a way through this (last choice phoning Joplin Youth Center). I shook the gate, hoping that it would open enough for me to squeeze through. I tried stepping down on the barbed wire. And then I noticed that a portion of the wire across the left fork seemed to have a wider opening than the rest. And so, I got down on my knees and attempted to crawl through. My pack got caught, and the water bottle flew out, landing on the other side of the fence, way out of reach. I shimmied my pack and hat off stooped down there between the barbed wires, hoping that would be enough to get me through. No luck. And so I scooted back out, grabbed my pack and hat from the other side and wistfully waved my bottle of water good-bye.
Next, I inspected the fence along the right side of the fork. That’s when I noticed that some of the wire directly in front of the No Trespassing sign was not barbed. Hallelujah! Wait a minute . . . did I say in front of the sign? That’s right. I was standing on the side of the fence that the sign warned not entering! I hoped the non-barbed section, free and happy to be making my way down Joplin Trail legally.
The trail was steep, but it was shady. It was lonely and spooky too. With no GPS signal I felt confident that the trail lead in the right direction even though I found no tracks. Much to my dismay however, I encountered my next sign. This sign warned me also that I was trespassing, this time upon a wilderness preserve. Hell. I really had no choice but to keep on going, checking frequently for a phone signal. More and more overgrown, I feared this portion of the trail had not been walked upon for a long while. And then another No Trespassing sign. And then another. Eventually, I got a phone signal, but I could not see the image on my gps – it was too dark. I was able though to phone home and talk to my husband. I mentioned briefly where I was and that I hoped to be reaching Rose Canyon shortly. But overall, I was pretty much going to be arriving home late. I had already passed the 6 mile mark, which was what I had approximated this run to be.
Eventually, I made it to a paved road in Rose Canyon. But I was locked in, and needed to hop this little fence to get back into legal territory.
Just call me the trespasser.
I guess it’s time to mark up my maps.