Posted by: James Wapotich | November 4, 2010

A Trip To The Santa Ynez River

Day hiked the Cold Springs Trail from Camino Cielo down to the Santa Ynez River (about 7 miles round trip) “recently” [Mar. 7]. It had just rained the day before and so my girlfriend and I were inspired to visit the river and the many pools along the way. The trail to Forbush and Blue Canyon is actually one of the hidden gems of the Santa Ynez Mountains—the trailhead being only 30 minutes from downtown Santa Barbara. To get there by car, take Gibraltar Rd. and turn right onto East Camino Cielo and then continue for another 15 minutes until you arrive at the first cement water tower on the right. This is also where the Cold Springs Trail from Montecito meets Camino Cielo. Forbush is 2 miles down the backside. At Forbush the trail branches, with one trail heading off to the right and descending towards Cottam camp in Blue Canyon and the other branch continuing over a small rise before descending to the Santa Ynez River and on to Mono camp.

Los Padres National Forest Hike Santa Barbara

The Emerald Pool

I’ve hiked a number of times down to Forbush and Cottam, but it had been two years since the last time I’d hiked to the Santa Ynez River from Camino Cielo. The hike to Forbush was effortless and as we continued the impact of the recent rain became evident. In particular there’s one large waterfall that has been built up over time and seems made almost entirely of mineralized deposits. And with the recent rainwater looked lit up like a storybook painting with it’s many cascades and mossy surfaces. In fact with all my recent immersion in lucid dreaming I started imagining the upper pool as being lined with a baroque design of local shell fossils and quartz and the pool itself surrounded completely by wild roses in bloom instead of poison oak.

Los Padres National Forest Hike Santa Barbara

Falls below the Emerald Pool

After cooling off in the waterfall, we continued down to the river. Along the way passing the turnoff that leads to the Sunbird Quicksilver Mine and ultimately Gibraltar Dam and Red Rock.

Los Padres National Forest Hike Santa Barbara

Gibraltar Trail Junction

Los Padres National Forest Hike Santa Barbara

Santa Ynez River

When we reached the Santa Ynez River we were reminded of our last visit to this spot two years ago. That time we were backpacking and were originally planning to hike down to Cottam from Forbush and spend the night. Unfortunately, when we started at the top I had noticed that the sign said Mono Camp 5 miles (in reality it was 5.5 miles). Realizing that this meant going to Mono was only “one more mile” than going to Cottam, a thought began to form in my mind. Rather than hike a trail that I’d already been on several times, why not hike “one more mile” and see some place new. Plus I added, that with the road closed we’d probably have Mono all to ourselves. My girlfriend was not convinced of this logic. But when I told her that the Little Caliente Hot Springs were only a stone’s throw from Mono our fate was sealed.

When we arrived at Forbush that time, we were greeted with a sudden flurry of hail that lasted only for a few minutes. Not heeding this omen we continued down towards the river—the hike thus far being deceptively easy. When we arrived at the river we were immediately reminded that although the Zaca Fire from the year before was now history, the silt it left behind was now writing a new chapter in the story. In places the silt was as much as 3-4 feet deep. Still we were able to cross the river and find the trail to Mono as it rode away from the river. However, it turns out it only goes over a small rise and then descends back into the Mono basin. The basin being a large area upstream from the Gibraltar Reservoir filled with Cottonwoods. And now with the addition of silt from the Zaca fire, it easily qualified as a boggy swamp.

It was through this landscape that we trudged only to arrive at Mono Camp and discover that it too was half buried under silt. Picnic tables and fire rings, now appearing almost comical in their diminutive appearance. Fortunately we were tired enough from our hike to appreciate any camp. To our surprise, just before dusk another couple arrived having backpacked all the way from Red Rock!

The next day we availed ourselves of the Little Caliente Hot Springs, which turned out be barely a ¼ mile from camp—less than the ½ mile I was imagining. Afterwards we retraced our steps through the Cottonwoods and the swamps of Mono, crossed the river and began our trek up to Camino Cielo. I have to admit that this was the toughest trip I’ve been on in a long time, mostly because of all the backpacking uphill.

Los Padres National Forest Hike Santa Barbara

Gidney Canyon

This time around however, on our day hike, the trail seemed less foreboding, in fact I was almost wanting to hike up river and catch the trail to Cottam and make a big loop of it back to Forbush. But cooler heads prevailed. Still it would be “fun” at some point to make such a loop or for that matter establish such a trail.

If you have a trail report, I’d love to hear it.

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