It had been raining all night. Pouring would be a better description. We now realized this would be a major rainstorm and there was the remote possibility we would get stuck at the campground for a few days. For readers not familiar with Santa Paula, here’s the situation:
Santa Paula is about 15 minutes inland from the ocean and nestled in a valley with rugged mountains to the north and hills to the south. The campground was located in the mountains to the north of town and to reach it you need to cross one of the few bridges across the Santa Paula river. This ‘River’ is usually nothing more than a trickle fed by springs; in the summer it is not unusual for the river to completely dry up. Typical of Southern California, the soils are mostly clay and shale that become unstable when saturated with water.
In the winter, the mountains catch slow-moving storms coming in from the Pacific. Usually the dry ground soaks up the gentle rain without a problem. However, when a series of storms saturates the ground, the excess water drains into narrow canyons and the dry streambeds become rushing torrents that erode riverbeds and undermine roads. Hillsides turn to mud and begin to slide. You get the idea.
The campground we are staying at is at just such a location. To reach it you need to travel into a narrow canyon along the west bank of the Santa Paula river, cross the river on one of the few bridges and then take another narrow road along the east bank. The campground is on a cliff overlooking the river. About 50 feet from where we were camped the cliff drops at least 100 feet to the riverbed below. Heavy rains in prior years had already caused part of the cliff to break away forcing the road to be re-routed through the campground. The stage was set for disaster.
Today was the last day for Jeanne to spend with baby Erika, so we decided to head for CeeCee’s. One glance at the river and we were alarmed; the river was already a rushing, muddy mess roaring down the canyon at 30 mph. Crossing the bridge and turning onto the highway, we saw water flowing across the roadway. It could be crossed and putting the Jeep in 4-Wheel Drive, we just made it through the bad sections. It was raining hard.
We made it to CeeCee’s and watched the weather worsen all day long. The TV news reports were grim. While it was still light, we headed for the coach with little hope of getting there. At least we turned off most of the systems before leaving so the coach could take care of itself for a few days.
One glance at the river and we knew returning was not an option. Sure enough, the CHP had closed the road. We worried that the bridge had washed out because if it did, we could be stuck for months. We ended up spending the night with Andy and Dannette. There was nothing left to do but wait out the storm.