Posted by: James Wapotich | January 5, 2012

Trail Quest: A View from Inspiration Point

If you’re looking for a relatively short hike that’s close to town and offers some nice views of Santa Barbara than the hike to Inspiration Point may be the answer. The hike not only provides a good workout but is also a great place to reflect on the year that was, and gaze out into the distance of what might be. The hike to Inspiration Point is about 4 miles roundtrip.

To get to the trailhead find your way to Tunnel Road in the foothills behind Santa Barbara and follow it to the end. The trail continues along the paved access road past the locked gate and so parking is found along the road.

Arlington Cathedral  La Cumbre Peak Santa Ynez Mountains Los Padres National Forest Santa Barbara Hike Jesusita Trail Inspiration Point

A view towards the Santa Ynez Mountains

The first mile trail follows the access road, which crosses Mission Creek by way of a bridge and then continues before becoming a dirt road at which point it branches, with the Edison catway continuing to the right towards the power lines and the Jesusita Trail continuing to the left toward Inspiration Point. Shortly after this intersection the trail branches again with the turnoff for the Tunnel Trail on the right, while the Jesusita Trail continues ahead towards Mission Creek. Through this section of the hike the regrowth from the 2009 Jesusita Fire is evident.

In some ways the big story for 2011 with regards to our local backcountry is that for the second year in a row there have been no large forest fires. In the past four years we’ve seen 5 major fires in Santa Barbara County–the Zaca Fire in 2007, the Gap and Tea Fires in 2008, and the Jesusita and La Brea Fires in 2009. These 5 fires alone burned through roughly 600 square miles of land and caused substantial damage.

Much of what we are seeing now in the backcountry is the next chapter in that cycle of renewal. As if by design in the years immediately following these fires we did not see the kind of torrential rains that occasionally visit us. In fact much of the rain up until this year has been fairly gentle and well spread out, ideal for new growth. And this has been reflected in both the resurgence of plants along many of our trails, as well as the number of animal sightings that have been reported.

This year alone I’ve seen and heard of more bobcat and rattlesnake sightings than in the previous years combined. And it makes sense, bobcats and rattlesnakes primarily feed on animals that are directly benefitting from the new plant growth.

In many ways the new year for the land begins with the first rains of November. This is when what could be called our ‘wet‘ season starts. Each year the rains seem to bring something different, which often sets a tone for the year. Plentiful rain makes it easier for plants and animals to flourish and drier years set in motion in a similar contraction.

The rains can also impact our access to the local backcountry, both in terms of how long the backpacking season lasts as well as road closures. And this year the story that stands out is the road closures.

In December 2010 heavy winter rains prompted the closure of both Paradise Road at the First Crossing and the road to Agua Caliente Hot Springs. I don’t think anyone at the time foresaw how long these roads would remain closed. It wasn’t until July that the water had subsided enough to permit Paradise Road to be open at the First Crossing. And when it was, it was discovered that the bridge at Lower Oso had been undermined by the storms and would need to be repaired before Paradise Road could be open all the way to Red Rock.

Already slowed by limited funding, new environmental assessment requirements and other roads closures throughout the Los Padres National Forest it has taken a while for a number of roads to reopen. In September the roads to both Agua Caliente and Little Caliente Hot Springs were finally opened. More recently the Forest Service has secured funding to repair the bridge at Lower Oso and is working to reopen the rest of Paradise Road.

Heavy rains in March also resulted in the rescue of several different groups of hikers stranded in the backcountry.

Arlington Peak Inspiration Point Los Padres National Forest Jesusita Trail Santa Barbara Hike

Arlington Peak

At the 1.25 mile mark the Jesusita Trail again crosses Mission Creek. And from here the trail continues its climb towards Inspiration Point. From this same creek crossing one can also hike upstream to visit Seven Falls. There is an improvised trail to the series of cascades and pools affectionately known as Seven Falls, about a half mile from the Jesusita Trail.

At the 2 mile mark the Jesusita Trail crosses an Edison access road and arrives at Inspiration Point where one is rewarded with expansive views of Santa Barbara, the coast and the Pacific Ocean out towards the Channel Islands.

The Channel Islands have also seen their share of news this year, with Santa Rosa Island garnering the most attention. 2012 will mark the beginning of a new chapter for the island. In 1986 the Vail and Vickers families sold Santa Rosa Island to the Parks Service, but were allowed to continue ranching operations for another 25 years under a special use permit. In 1998, following a lawsuit, a settlement was reached that ended the ranching operations and stipulated that the deer and elk could remain until 2011.

With the controversial elimination of the nonnative elk and deer and the end of the commercial hunting operation more of the island will become open to visitors throughout the year.

Other stories regarding the Channel Islands include the first bald eagle hatching on Anacapa Island in 60 years marking their continued recovery and the discovery of a nest of the California common murre on Prince Island, off of San Miguel Island, which hasn’t been seen there in nearly a century.

Work is also underway on Santa Cruz Island to restore the native wetland along Cañada del Puerto at Prisoner’s Harbor.

Seven Falls Los Padres National Forest Santa Barbara Hike Santa Ynez Mountains Jesusita Trail Inspiration Point

First of the Seven Falls

This past year we’ve also seen the prospect of a new trail opening in our local front country. The Friends of the Franklin Trail are doing some incredible work to reopen the historic Franklin Trail which once led from the coastal lowlands behind Carpinteria, over the Santa Ynez Mountains and towards Jameson Lake and the Santa Barbara backcountry.

And the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County is working to purchase the 462-acre property associated with the Montecito Hot Springs so that it can be preserved and become part of the Los Padres National Forest.

And together this year we’ve visited over 350 miles worth of local trails through this column.

Regardless of how far you hike you’ll get to see some our local scenery and have a chance to reflect on the new year.

This article originally appeared in section A of the December 30th, 2011 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.

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