Posted by: James Wapotich | February 9, 2015

Trail Quest: El Capitán to Haskell’s

One of the best ways to enjoy the rich scenery along our coast can be with a long, secluded beach walk. Between Goleta and Gaviota we have a number of coastal access points to choose from, each of which can serve as interesting beginning and end points for a coastal hike.

The section of coast closest to Goleta is between El Capitán State Beach and Haskell’s Beach, near the Bacara. The hike between the two sites is about 6.5 miles one way, and is best done during a minus tide.

Although minus tides happen throughout the year, the best time for these types of beach walks is between November and February. There are a number of factors that influence the tides, including the position of the moon and sun. However, in January, the earth in its orbit is closest to the sun, which creates a wider fluctuation in the tides. This in turn creates more minus tides, which makes it easier to find a day when daytime tides are in your favor.

Gato Canyon El Capitan beach walk goleta coast

A view near Gato Cayon across the water towards Dos Pueblos Canyon

The hike from El Capitán to Haskell’s can take about 3-4 hours, and so it’s best to plan your hike so that you’re at the midway point when the tides are at their lowest. One way to approach the hike is as a shuttle trip, with a ride or car arranged at each end.

To get to El Capitán State Beach from Santa Barbara, take Highway 101 North, past Goleta, and take the El Capitán State Beach exit. Day-parking at the state beach is $12.00 per vehicle.

From the main parking area at El Capitán, continue down towards the beach and head east. One can also follow the quarter-mile long nature trail that starts near the park entrance. The nature trail crosses the creek by way of a bridge, and offers a chance to explore the riparian habitat along El Capitán Creek. The two routes meet just past the creek.

Continue east, along the coast as the route clears what could be described as El Capitán Point, and makes a wide curve before continuing along a largely unbroken expanse of beach towards the next point.

At about the 1-mile mark, one arrives at the mouth of Cañada de la Destiledera. A destiledera is a stone water-filter system. Water is dripped onto a porous volcanic-stone vessel and filtered into a large earthenware jar below. The filter stone is lined with clay, where moss and maidenhair fern is planted, which helps filter the water. And so, perhaps there was a feature further up the canyon that reminded someone of a destiledera giving the canyon its name.

Continuing east along the coast, the next noticeable canyon is Las Llagas Canyon. Halfway between these two canyons one reaches the end of El Capitán State Beach. From here to Haskell’s Beach, the land along the coast is privately owned. Hiking, however, is permitted along the beach below the mean high tide line. Please respect private property.

Dos Pueblos Canyon Beach walk hike El Capitan Goleta

Green algae marks the high tide line near Dos Pueblos Canyon

This transition also marks a historical boundary. El Capitán was once part of the Rancho Cañada del Corral land grant, while the land past El Capitán to the east, all the way to the Goleta Slough, was once part of the 15,535-acre Rancho Dos Pueblos land grant.

Rancho Dos Pueblos was granted to Nicholas Den in 1842 by the governor of Alta California. Den was an Irish immigrant who arrived in Santa Barbara in 1836 and was the city’s first doctor. When Den passed away in 1862, he left the western half of the land to his wife, while the eastern half was held in trust for their ten children to be equally divided amongst them when they came of age. Since then, that land has been divided and sold into smaller tracts, some of which continue as ranching operations, and others of which are where UCSB, Isla Vista, and much of Goleta are now located.

At the about 2.25-mile mark, one arrives at Edwards Point. The point is named after John S. Edwards who purchased the 1,138-acre ranch in the late 1800s. After his passing in 1890, the land was divided between his wife and daughter, becoming Edwards Ranch and Las Varas Ranch respectively.

In 1944, during the second world war, a portion of Edwards Ranch served as the site of a prisoner of war camp. The camp was one of several satellite sites managed by Camp Cooke in Lompoc, which later became Vandenberg Air Force Base. Camp Cooke was one of 135 such sites throughout the United States used to house prisoners of war. The prisoners at Edwards Ranch were German soldiers who had been captured during campaigns in Europe and North Africa. The square-shaped prison compound, complete with barbed-wire fence, guard towers and quonset huts, operated at Edwards Ranch for 14 months and housed anywhere from 200-300 prisoners. In the 1970s, most of structures were removed, with the exception of the water tank tower.

Continuing past Edwards Point, which is one of the rockier sections of the hike, one arrives at the mouth of Gato Canyon. From here, the route again follows the curve of the coast, before straightening out and following another long expanse of beach.

Eagle Canyon Goleta Beach walk hike Haskell's

The coast is seen near Eagle Canyon

At about the 3.25-mile mark, one arrives at the next major canyon along the coast, Dos Pueblos Canyon. Both the name of canyon and the land grant are a reference to the two Chumash villages located there.

On the western side of the canyon was the village of Mikiw, and to the east on the opposite side was Kuya’mu. During Gaspar de Portolà’s land expedition in 1769, Franciscan missionary Juan Crespi named the site Dos Pueblos, Spanish for two towns or villages.

Continuing passed Dos Pueblos Creek, the coast starts to narrow. Through this section, one can easily find green algae growing on the water-smoothed cliff wall, assuring you that this section is not passable during high tide.

Continuing east, the coast rounds another bend, and the views eastward start to open up along the coast towards Ellwood Pier and Coal Oil Point.

At about the 5.5-mile mark, one arrives at the mouth of Eagle Canyon. From here the route leads past Ellwood Pier, before arriving at Tecolote Creek and Haskell’s Beach.

El Capitan Haskells beach walk Goleta hike

California brown pelicans gather near Dos Pueblos Canyon

Haskell’s Beach is said to be named for local surfer Mike Haskell, who grew up in the area and regularly surfed at the beach. The beach is known for its proximity to the Ellwood Oil Field, which during the the 1930s was one of the largest oil fields in California.

On February 23, 1942, just two and half months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Kozo Nishino, the captain of Japanese submarine I-17 gave the command to fire on the installation, which was located above what is now Haskell’s Beach and included where Sandpiper Golf Course is now. Prior to the war, Nishino had visited the installation a number of times, as the skipper of a Japanese oil tanker. The shelling, which damaged the pier and an oil derrick, was the first attack on a mainland target during the war, and created heightened anxiety along the west coast. The attack was in part the impetus for the internment of Japanese-Americans.

From Haskell’s Beach, continue north along Chumash Nature Trail to the parking area to complete the hike. The interpretative signs along the trail were installed by Bacara in 2014, and describe different plants used by the Chumash. Each of the nearly 20 different signs includes the Chumash name for the plant and how it was used. The trail is ADA accessible.

The parking area at Haskell’s Beach can be reached from Highway 101, by taking the Winchester Canyon Road exit and continued west along Hollister.

Regardless of how far you hike you’ll get to see some of Santa Barbara County’s scenic and historic coastline.

This article originally appeared in section A of the February 9th, 2015 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

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