Posted by: James Wapotich | October 31, 2018

Trail Quest: Lizard’s Mouth and the Goddard sites

Lizard's Mouth hike climb trail West Camino Cielo Los Padres National Forest

Lizard’s Mouth

Recently visited Lizard’s Mouth and checked out the Goddard sites along West Camino Cielo.

The Santa Ynez Mountains, with its sweeping views of the coast, can lend itself well to quiet reflection, and the great sandstone outcrops and boulders along West Camino Cielo can balance that nicely with plenty of surfaces to scramble over and explore.

The hike to Lizard’s Mouth is less than a mile roundtrip, but can easily be extended with additional exploring of the area. The hike is short enough and manageable enough that it can be a great hike to take kids on.

The off-trial routes to the nearly forgotten Goddard sites are probably less interesting to kids, but are rewarding discoveries in themselves and offer a unique historical connection to the Beatniks.

To get to the trailhead for Lizard’s Mouth from Santa Barbara, take State Route 154 towards San Marcos Pass. Turn left onto West Camino Cielo Road, which is before the top of the pass. Continue west on West Camino Cielo Road as it winds its way towards the top of the mountains.

The road passes the Goddard sites first. Past the turnoff for Windermere Ranch, start to look for the first metal barricade on the left, followed by another further up on the right.

For the Lizard’s Mouth hike, continue further on West Camino Cielo Road until just before Winchester Canyon Gun Club. Just past the gun club, West Camino Cielo Road continues unpaved along the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

Parking for Lizard’s Mouth is in the pullouts along the road. There is a sign for Lizard’s Mouth, set back from the road; the sign is more obvious once parked and on foot than while driving by it.

There is no maintained trail, but rather a maze of off-trail routes that people have created through their own explorations of the area. For the most direct route towards Lizard’s Mouth, head southwest from the trailhead. The route threads its way through chaparral, roughly paralleling and, at times, walking on an exposed outcrop of sandstone. The route quickly crests the edge of the mountain ridge and the views open out towards the coast.

From here, veer to the right, and traverse the large, sloped outcrop of sandstone, which ends at the top of Lizard’s Mouth. The feature is so-named because of its resemblance to a lizard with its mouth gaping open. The affect cannot easily be seen from the top, but with some rock scrambling to the north it’s possible to get below the feature, and capture the iconic view.

From the top of Lizard’s Mouth, the views extend south out across the coast towards the Channel Islands, with crisp views of More Mesa, Goleta Slough, UCSB, the airport, Devereux Slough, and Elwood Bluffs. To the west, is Broadcast and Santa Ynez Peaks. And to the northeast, the views extend towards the San Rafael Mountains and beyond them Mount Pinos.

After visiting Lizard’s Mouth, I drive back along West Camino Cielo Road to find the Goddard sites. Along the way, I pass a number of pullouts on the road, each with informal off-trail routes that lead to places people must’ve have found interesting. It’s tempting to explore each and every one of them.

I park at the pullout across the road from the metal barricade on the north side of the road and walk down West Camino Cielo Road to the metal barricade on the south side of the road. The barricade, which is marked with a metal sign that reads “No Motor Vehicles”, effectively blocks the unpaved road that once led down into Goddard picnic area.

There is not much to see at the site. An informal trail leads through the barricade and quickly arrives a flat area under the oaks. Nearby is a large sandstone boulder with an oak growing right against it. Carved in the boulder are names and initials, as well as handholds leading to the top of the boulder. Stretching west from the boulder, is a long, relatively flat area underneath the oaks that would’ve been a nice place for a shaded picnic area overlooking the coast.

In his 1963 edition of a Camper’s Guide to the Tri-County Area, Bob Burtness notes the picnic area had five picnic tables, three klamath stoves, a barbecue pit, and an outhouse. Today, nothing remains at the site.

After the hike, I reached out to Burtness, as well as local historian Jim Blakley. They both confirmed the picnic area was on the south side of West Camino Cielo Road, in spite of appearing on the north side of the road on topographic maps. The site on the north side of the road is where the old Goddard residence was located.

Goddard picnic area appears on the 1938 Forest Service recreation map and offered great views out across the coast. However, as some would say, the site was loved to death, becoming a popular destination for partying, until things got out of hand and the Forest Service removed the picnic area completely in the 1970s.

Hiking back up the road, I arrive at the metal barricade on the north side of the road. Here, too an informal trail leads past a metal sign that reads, “No Motor Vehicles”. The trail veers right, and makes its way east, up a rise, where I can see some conifers.

The somewhat overgrown trail leads through chaparral before arriving at the top. Here, I pass under an oak, before spotting a rusting water tank; next to the tank on one side are some cement foundations to a structure. The trail becomes a little less distinct, but pressing eastward from the water tank, I pass through another cement foundation and arrive at three cedar trees. Although cedars grow in our backcountry, these were likely planted. Past the cedars, in a small clearing, I see belladonna lilies, or naked ladies, in bloom with their bright pink flowers, adding to the variety of non-native plants growing at the site.

As my eyes adjust to mix of native and non-native plants, and the different segments of low rock walls, I spot some olive branches. Upon closer examination, I can see the main trunk was burned, and that these are its offshoots. Nearby a rock wall drops down several feet below me, suggesting that this might’ve been the main structure.

Continuing down the hill I find several other low rock walls, suggesting the site may have had a terraced garden.

Returning back up to the cedar trees, I spot a road cut I hadn’t seen before that leads down the backside of the rise. The road quickly joins another unpaved road cut. I follow it east, as it wraps around the rise southward and becomes impassable. I then double back along the road and follow it westward passing parts of an old stove. Continuing along the road, I can see native madrone and tan bark oak amongst the coast live oak and chaparral.

The road then arrives at a small creek and follows it briefly before ending at a large hole in the ground with wood and metal pieces that might’ve served as some kind of water catchment for the Goddard residence.

Dwight Goddard was originally educated as an industrial engineer and made his fortune during World War I. After his first wife’s death, he became a Congregational missionary and went to China. His interest in non-Christian religions led him to discover Buddhism, which he began studying. In 1928, he was introduced to Zen Buddhism, and lived and studied in a Zen monastery in Japan for eight months.

Inspired by his experience, in 1934, he decided to establish a male-only monastic movement called the Followers of Buddha. The participants spent their winters at his 40-acre site on West Camino Cielo and their summers on his property in Thetford Hill, Vermont, traveling between the two by van.

The monastery was short-lived, due to lack of participants, and Goddard later deeded the land along West Camino Cielo to the Forest Service sometime during the 1930s.

It was his writings, however, that would have a more lasting impact and eventually help bring Buddhism into the mainstream culture. In 1932, he wrote ‘A Buddhist Bible’, which was a rich collection of writings from the different schools of Buddhist thought that he found compelling.

Goddard died in 1939, but his book would make its way into the hands of Jack Kerouac, the Beat Generation writer made famous by his now classic book ‘On the Road’.

In 1953, Kerouac was living with fellow Beat Poets Neal and Carolyn Cassady, and it was Neal Cassady who suggested Kerouac read ‘A Buddhist Bible’. The story goes that Kerouac promptly stole a copy of the book from the local library, and through the book became introduced to Buddhism. That influence came through in Kerouac’s second book, “Dharma Bums”, which helped to popularize Buddhism and bring it into mainstream western culture.

This article originally appeared in section A of the October 1st, 2018 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press

Cedar growing at the old Goddard site


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