Posted by: James Wapotich | January 9, 2017

Trail Quest: The Big Three

Many of the tallest mountains in Santa Barbara County are located in the San Rafael Mountains. Big Pine Mountain is the highest with an elevation of 6,827 feet. In the vicinity of Big Pine Mountain are Madulce Peak (6,536’), West Big Pine (6,490’), and Samon Peak (6,227’). These four mountains are referred to as the Big Four by peak baggers.

San Rafael Mountain is the second highest mountain in Santa Barbara County with an elevation of 6,593 feet; nearby are McKinley Mountain (6,182’) and Santa Cruz Peak (5,570’). These three summits are collectively referred to as the Big Three.

The hike visiting all three summits from Cachuma Saddle is about 31.5 miles round trip and is best done as part of backpacking trip.

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The top of San Rafael Mountain is seen from Mission Pine Trail

To get to the trailhead Santa Barbara, take State Route 154 north and continue past Lake Cachuma to Armour Ranch Road. Take Armour Ranch Road to Happy Canyon Road, and follow Happy Canyon Road to Cachuma Saddle.

At Cachuma Saddle, there is a four-way intersection, to the left is Figueroa Mountain Road. To the right is McKinley Mountain Road, and straight ahead Happy Canyon Road turns into Sunset Valley Road, which continues towards Nira Campground.

It is already raining when I arrive at the large parking area at Cachuma Saddle. The rain is predicted to continue into the next morning. However, nighttime temperatures are supposed to drop below freezing at the higher elevations, which means the rain will likely turn to snow. So for a little bit of hardship I might get to enjoy snow-covered mountains.

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McKinley Mountain is seen from Mission Pine Trail

From Cachuma Saddle, I set out along McKinley Mountain Road. The unpaved, gated forest service road follows the top of the San Rafael Mountains all the way to McKinley Saddle, which is the jumping off point for the three different summits.

After about four miles, the road arrives at metal water tank; next to it is a trough and picnic table. The water tank makes a natural windbreak and so I pause here for a moment to get out of the rain. I try the faucet on the spring-fed tank that fills the horse trough. It’s dry – another victim of the drought.

The road is fairly level for the next couple of miles, arriving at an impressive stand of big cone spruce. From here, the road becomes much more serious about gaining elevation as it continues towards the juncture with Big Cone Spruce Trail, which leads down to Manzana Creek.

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Santa Cruz Peak is seen from McKinley Mountain

I eventually arrive at McKinley Spring Camp, which is about 8.5 miles from the trailhead. The camp is situated in a grove of canyon live oak and has a grated stove, fire ring, and two picnic tables, as well as a generally reliable water source.

Rather than start a fire or cook in the rain, I just set up my tent, savor the rest of my sandwich from lunch, and settle in for the night.

In the morning, good fortune prevails. The camp is covered with one to two inches of freshly fallen snow. Breakfast proves easy to make, and I set out for McKinley Saddle.

The first tracks I see in the snow are from a grey fox who visited camp. From the road, I can see several deer paths through the chaparral, and am surprised by just how many rabbits there are in the backcountry, their tracks being the most numerous.

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Snow covered pines are seen from Mission Pine Trail

McKinley Saddle is about a half-mile from camp. At the saddle is a three-way intersection, with each route leading to a different peak. To the right is the half-mile trail up to McKinley Mountain; to the left is the beginning of Mission Pine Trail, which leads towards San Rafael Mountain; and in the middle, dropping down from the saddle, is Santa Cruz Peak Fire Trail, which leads towards Santa Cruz Peak.

I decide to visit Santa Cruz Peak first, since it’s the furthest from the saddle, about 8.5 miles round trip. The peak is not on the main ridge of the mountains, but instead on a spur ridge running off it to the south.

From the saddle, Santa Cruz Peak Fire Trail drops down into a small basin, before climbing back up to the ridge that connects over to Santa Cruz Peak. The trail looks like an old bulldozer line that was used for fire suppression or as a fuel break. It is overgrown in places, but generally easy to follow.

The trail levels out some as it approaches the unnamed peak next to Santa Cruz Peak. The trail wraps around it as it heads down towards Romo Potrero and Santa Cruz Trail. I follow the trail briefly, arriving at the fuel break I saw from the saddle that climbs over the peak.

About half-way up the fuel break, I notice that it branches and follow a second fuel break that cuts sideways towards Santa Cruz Peak. The route leads over to a mini saddle between the two peaks.

From the mini saddle, I follow the use trail that leads up Santa Cruz Peak. The trail threads through canyon live oak, before transitioning into chaparral, where it becomes more overgrown and harder to follow. As I push through the brush, I spot a cairn, which leads to another, and then another marking a route along the southeastern side of the peak that leads to the top.

At the summit, amongst the sandstone rocks, is the peak register – two tin cans painted red and nested together with a little notepad inside to record one’s name.

From the peak, the panoramic views include West Big Pine, the backside of Little Pine Mountain, the Santa Ynez Mountains, and Channel Islands. I add my name to the register and return to camp.

While the idea of peak bagging has probably around as long as there has been mountains to climb, the first official list of peaks over 5,000 feet in Southern California dates back to 1946. That was the year Weldon Heald climbed his 100th peak and resolved to encourage other Sierra Club members to participate in his 100 Peaks Game. In 1955, the Los Angeles Chapter of Sierra Club added it as an official activity. The original list included 188 peaks.

Over the years the list has grown and changed, as some peaks have been delisted, while others have been added. Currently, there are 281 peaks on the list, with 15 of them in Santa Barbara County. The list can be seen at

The next morning, I return to McKinley Saddle and make my way towards San Rafael Mountain, which is about 3.5 miles roundtrip from the saddle. I follow Mission Pine Trail east as it enter San Rafael Wilderness. The trail is still covered in snow and climbs along the backside of the mountains, briefly joining the ridge, before continuing along the back San Rafael Mountain.

The trail then crests the ridge and from here it’s a very short side hike to the top of San Rafael Mountain. The views to the south are similar to Santa Cruz Peak, but to the east stretch out past Big Pine Mountain towards Mount Pinos. To the north, I can see snow-dusted Peak Mountain, the highest peak in the Sierra Madre Mountains.

On the hike back to McKinley Saddle, the snow is already starting to disappear along the more exposed sections of the ridge.

From the saddle, I follow the fuel-break which serves as a trail to the top of McKinley Mountain. Here, the views also extend out across the backcountry and towards the islands, but McKinely Mountain offers the best views out across Lake Cachuma and the Santa Ynez Valley.

At the summit are a few remains from McKinley Mountain Lookout. The lookout was built in 1935, and was later destroyed in a windstorm and removed by the forest service in 1974. The mountain is named for President William McKinley.

From McKinley Mountain, I begin my return back to Santa Barbara. On the hike out I find myself wondering about the other peaks over 5,000 feet hidden away in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties.

This article originally appeared in Section A of the January 9th, 2017 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

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Snow covered ridge is seen from Mission Pine Trail

Posted by: James Wapotich | January 2, 2017

Trail Quest: Five places to explore in 2017

With a brand new year underway, now is the perfect time to start setting one’s intentions for the coming year, which, of course, includes hiking. Fortunately, we are blessed to be surrounded by so much natural beauty, and have an amazing amount of access to the outdoors with the mountains, beach, and islands all relatively close by.

In fact, with hundreds of different trails to choose from in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties it can be hard to know where to start. And so it’s important remember that just getting out there is often the best part of the journey. Maps can be a great resource for dreaming up places to visit. Asking hikers for their favorites destinations can also lead to learning about new trails to explore.

While it’s tempting to list the most popular trails in our area, or the ones best suited for beginners, here are five hikes that provide a sampling of what our area has to offer.

Matilija Falls West trail hike access creek ojai Los Padres national forest

Matilija Falls

Matilija Falls

One could easily fill up their weekends just visiting the waterfalls in our area. There are more than a dozen picturesque waterfalls in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties alone. And while we are in need of rain to bring them back to life, one waterfall worth visiting this year regardless of the drought is Matilija Falls.

For the past six years, access to the waterfall has been in question. In 2010, the owner of the land the trail passes through to reach the falls decided to block public access. In 2015, a coalition of conservation groups and trail users filed a lawsuit to restore access, arguing the trail had been in use for more than a century. This past fall, an agreement was reached with the landowner that permanently restores access to the falls.

The hike to falls is about 9.5 miles roundtrip and is perhaps best saved for the spring when the falls will be at their fullest for the year.

To get to the trailhead from Santa Barbara, make your way to Ojai and continue north on State Route 33 to Matilija Canyon Road. Matilija Canyon Road follows Matilija Creek upstream and ends at the locked gate that serves as the trailhead. Parking is found in the pullouts nearby. The trailhead is about an hour from Santa Barbara.

From the trailhead, continue along the road past the houses. Please respect private property. Stay on the unpaved road, past the trailheads for North Fork Matilija and Murietta Trails. At about the 1-mile mark, the road arrives at Blue Heron Ranch. From here, continue up the main canyon on the ranch road another mile, which ends at the creek.

From here, the route become less distinct and follows the creek upstream to the falls, requiring rock scrambling and offering several appealing swim holes along the way. As the hike continues, it passes a side canyon that contains West Falls, before arriving at Matilija Falls.

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Monarch butterflies gather on eucalyptus trees near Devereux Creek at Ellwood Mesa

Ellwood Mesa

A little closer to home is a hike for all ages, and the best time to visit is now. From mid-November through mid-February, monarch butterflies overwinter amongst the eucalyptus trees at the mesa. The orange and black butterflies can found by the thousands clustered together on the trees.

The hike to the main grove is about a mile roundtrip and can be extended by continuing past the grove and exploring the various trails on Ellwood Mesa or accessing the beach.

To get to the trailhead from Santa Barbara, take Highway 101 north and exit at Glenn Annie-Storke Road. Turn left onto Storke Road and then right onto Hollister Avenue. From Hollister Avenue, turn left onto Coronado Drive and follow it to the end. Parking is found along the street.

From Coronado Drive, follow the trail heading southwest that crosses Devereux Creek and leads over to the main eucalyptus grove where the monarchs can be found.

Eucalyptus trees were first introduced there by Ellwood Cooper in 1872 as a source of lumber. The trees now provide shelter for the monarchs, and the small hollow formed by the Devereux Creek drainage combined with moderate temperatures found along the coast help create an ideal micro-climate for the monarchs to gather in.

The best time to visit is in the morning when the butterflies are less active, appearing in clumps amongst the eucalyptus leaves. At times, there can be as many as 50,000 monarchs at the mesa. For more information about visiting the grove, go to

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Santa Cruz Island fox

Pelican Bay

If you haven’t been to the Channel Islands yet, then make that your New Year’s Resolution. The islands are a unique world until themselves and have been described as the Galapagos of California.

Santa Cruz Island is the largest of the islands and the hike to Pelican Bay offers in many ways the most variety for a single visit to the islands.

The 4.5-mile roundtrip docent led hike leads through a mix of chaparral, ironwood, and pines, and often includes a chance to see the rare Santa Cruz Island jay and fox.

The easiest way to get to the islands is through Island Packers, which offers boat rides to all five of the islands in the national park. For trip details, go to

The boat to Santa Cruz Island typically leaves from Ventura Harbor and often includes sea lion and dolphins sightings along the way. The first stop is usually Scorpion Anchorage. From there, the boat continues along the north shore of the island to Prisoner’s Harbor.

From Prisoner’s Harbor, the hike leads along the estuary of Cañada del Puerto, near where the Chumash village of Xaxas was located. The trail then continues west along the coast crossing a number of side canyons on its way to Pelican Bay.

It’s here, along the coast, that one is likely to see the Santa Cruz Island jay, which is found only on Santa Cruz. The jay is a brighter blue and a third larger than its ancestor, the mainlaind scrub jay.

Island foxes can also be seen along the trail as well. Descended from gray foxes, the island fox is a third smaller than its mainland ancestor.

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Santa Cruz Island jay

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Indian Canyon Falls

Indian Canyon

In addition to hiking opportunities, we are surrounded by a wealth of backpacking destinations. In Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties there are over 500,000 acres of designated wilderness areas to explore. The least visited of these is the Dick Smith Wilderness.

The hike along Indian Canyon Trail provides an opportunity to visit this remote and rugged section of the backcountry. The hike to Indian Canyon Camp is about 17 miles roundtrip, and from there it’s another three miles roundtrip to reach the scenic double waterfall further upstream.

To get to the trailhead from Santa Barbara, find your way to Gibraltar Road in the foothills behind Santa Barbara. Follow Gibraltar Road to the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains and turn right onto East Camino Cielo Road. Continue along East Camino Cielo to Romero Saddle. Here, the road becomes unpaved and continues down the backside of the mountains and eventually arrives at the Indian-Mono Trailhead. The trailhead is about two hours from Santa Barbara.

From the trailhead, continue a mile along the gated road to the beginning of Indian Canyon Trail. The trail follows Indian Creek upstream before turning up Buckhorn Canyon. The trail then continues past Lower Buckhorn Camp and climbs over a small rise, returning to Indian Creek and arriving at Meadow Camp. Along the trail one can often find the tracks of coyote, fox, bobcat, mountain lion, bear, and deer.

From Meadow Camp, the trail enters the Dick Smith Wilderness and becomes much more overgrown as it continues upstream to Indian Canyon Camp. Past the camp, one can find remnants of the old trail that leads towards the falls, although most of the hike involves rock hopping. Additional exploring can had by continuing above the falls.

A helpful resource regarding water and trail conditions in the backcountry is The website features user generated reports for trails and camps in Los Padres National Forest.

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Pines grace the hillside along Tumamait Trail

Mount Pinos

Visit almost any of the taller peaks in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties and to the north or northeast you’ll see Mount Pinos in the distance. Known as Iwihinmu to the Chumash, which translates as place of mystery, the mountain is the tallest in our local area. Part of the Transverse Ranges, it serves as a transition point between the flora and fauna of the Sierra Nevada and our local mountains.

Often covered in snow during the winter, the mountain can make for a great summertime destination when other areas of the backcountry become too hot to enjoy. And because of its distance from urban areas, Mount Pinos is also an excellent place for star gazing.

To get to the trailhead from Santa Barbara, take Highway 101 south to Ventura and merge onto State Route 126, and continue east towards Interstate 5. Turn north onto Interstate 5, and continue to Frazier Mountain Park Road. Follow Frazier Mountain Park Road west to Cuddy Valley Road, which leads to the trailhead. Along the way, the road passes McGill and Mount Pinos Campgrounds, which offer car camping. Cuddy Valley Road ends at the the trailhead, which is near the Chula Vista walk-in campground. The trailhead is about 2.5 hours from Santa Barbara.

From the trailhead, it’s about three miles roundtrip to the top of Mount Pinos along an unpaved access road. From there, one can extend the hike along the length of Vincent Tumamait Trail, which follows the top of the pine-covered mountains towards Cerro Noroeste. The trail leads through the Chumash Wilderness and offers short side hikes to the top of Sawmill and Grouse Mountains.

About four miles from the trailhead, Tumamait Trail meets North Fork Lockwood Trail. From here, it’s roughly a quarter of a mile down to Sheep Camp, which is worth the side trip. Sheep Camp is the highest camp in Los Padres National Forest and can also be visited as part of a backpacking trip. The full hike along the ridge from the trailhead is about 12 miles roundtrip.

These are just a few of the trails in our area that one can explore during the coming year.

This article originally appeared in Section A of the January 2nd, 2017 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

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Jeffrey Pines are seen near Sheep Camp

Posted by: James Wapotich | December 28, 2016

Trail Quest: Big Caliente Hot Springs

Sometimes venturing out into nature and immersing in the elements is the easiest way to step out of our everyday lives and see things from a fresh perspective. And sometimes the circumstances of the world around us align just right to give us the opportunity, or, at least the excuse, we need.

Big Caliente Hot Springs is a popular destination for obvious reasons, there is just something satisfying about soaking in the springs while surrounded by the great outdoors, particularly at night with the stars out above. The springs are reached by a lengthy drive along a bumpy dirt road, which doesn’t seem to deter that many people.

However, when it rains the forest service closes the road at least several days before and after the rain to protect the road and to prevent people from getting stuck back there. When the road is closed the only way in is by foot, mountain bike or horseback. The shortest route is 18 miles round trip, which significantly reduces the number of visitors.

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Blue Canyon is seen from North Romero Trail

When the rain arrived on a Thursday, I saw my opportunity. I called the forest service the next day and learned the soonest the road would be open was Monday. It was one of the few times I was actually excited that the road was closed.

I was already looking for a place to go backpacking and with winter’s chill settling in and the hectic energy of the holidays in full swing, the hot springs seemed like an ideal destination.

There is no camping allowed at the hot springs, however, just a quarter-mile down the road from the springs is Rock Campground. The site is normally a car-camping destination, but when the road is closed it effectively becomes a trail camp, complete with fire ring and picnic table.

The shortest route to the hot springs on foot is via Blue Canyon. The trailhead is reached from Santa Barbara by taking Gibraltar Road to the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains and turning right onto East Camino Cielo Road. East Camino Cielo continues along the top of the mountains to Romero Saddle, where the paved road ends and unpaved Romero-Camuesa Road begins. A half-mile from Romero Saddle, North Romero Trial crosses the road, which leads down into Blue Canyon. Near the trailhead, the road is just slightly wider to allow for parking.

At the trailhead, I round up my gear, appreciating the clear skies. Not only has the storm closed the road, but it has graciously cleared out of the area.

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Outcropping of sierra blanca limestone along Blue Canyon Trail near the Santa Ynez River

From the trailhead, North Romero Trail quickly descends the mile and a half down into Blue Canyon. The trail passes through a mix of toyon, scrub oak, ceanothus, and manzanita; and as it nears the canyon floor, the blue-green outcroppings of serpentine that give the canyon its name come into view.

At the canyon floor the trail meets Blue Canyon Trail. Here, I turn left and continue over to Blue Canyon Camp. The camp is marked with a metal sign nailed to a sycamore tree and above it are the scratch marks from a bear. The camp has a picnic table and fire ring plus three ice can stoves. I make a quick run down to the creek, there are a couple of good size pools filled with fresh rain water, but the creek itself doesn’t appear to be flowing.

Back on the trail, I continue towards Cottam Camp. The trail follows the canyon downstream through a mix of coast live oak, chaparral, and riparian plants. In the creek below I can hear running water.

About a mile and a quarter from Blue Canyon Camp, the trail arrives at a large meadow where Cottam Camp is located. The camp is named for Albert Cottam, who with his brother Russell, built a cabin there in 1915. Both experienced guides and horse packers, they used the site as a pack station when taking guests into the backcountry to hunt and fish.

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Agua Caliente Canyon

When Albert Cottam was 14, he was invited by the foreman of Pendola Ranch to spend a couple weeks there. The route he took from Montecito, more than a hundred years ago, followed Romero Trail over the mountains and down into Blue Canyon, and then over to the Santa Ynez River and upstream to Pendola Ranch. A route that I was more or less following on my way to the hot springs.

Cottam Camp is at the edge of the meadow under a couple of oaks and a large cottonwood and features a fire ring and picnic table. Currently there is no water at the camp, but usually there is during the spring.

The large meadow is at the juncture of Forbush Canyon and Blue Canyon and it’s here, that Blue Canyon turns north and heads towards the Santa Ynez River. Blue Canyon Trail follows the creek downstream as the canyon widens and then cuts across the broad floodplain of the river.

As the trail leaves Blue Canyon it enters a grove of coast live oak. Hiking through the grove, I’m struck by just how many oaks there are along this stretch of the river. Impressed by the grandeur of the scene, my perspective shifts from being on a backcountry trail to standing amongst oaks that have probably been here for thousands of years, growing undisturbed, generation after generation.

Caught in the timelessness of the moment, the words of T. S. Elliot come to mind, “And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

The trail then passes crosses the Santa Ynez River, which is completely dry, and continues on the other side, passing through more oaks before arriving at a large outcropping of sierra blanca limestone. Here, the trail turns to the left and follows a side channel of the river before climbing away from the river and arriving at Romero-Camuesa Road.

The road makes for easy hiking, passing P-Bar Flat Campground, which has five campsites each with a picnic table and metal fire ring. The camp is currently closed due to hazard trees. The road then passes Middle Santa Ynez Campground which has 11 campsites, each with a picnic table and metal fire ring. There is no one at any of the camps, and the only tracks on the road are from a coyote making its rounds.

At about the 6.5-mile from the trailhead, just past Middle Santa Ynez Campground, Romero-Camuesa Road crosses Agua Caliente Creek and arrives at the intersection with Big Caliente Road. I turn up Big Caliente Road and continue past Pendola Station.

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Creekside pools at Big Caliente Hot Springs

The station was built in 1934. Next to it are the remains of the original Pendola Adobe, which was used by the Pendola family as a headquarters for their cattle ranching operation. The adobe fell into disuse after the construction of Gibraltar Dam, when the family’s grazing lease was discontinued over concerns of cattle contaminating the water downstream.

Continuing up Big Caliente Road, I arrive at Rock Campground in the late afternoon. I set up camp and continue up the road to the hot springs.

The first visitors to the hot springs were the Chumash. However, it was George Owen Knapp who built the first cement pool at the springs. Nearby, he built a cabin, which is no longer standing. Knapp was also instrumental the construction of East Camino Cielo Road, which provided access to one of his other mountain retreats, now known as Knapp’s Castle.

I continue up the canyon, past the cement pool, to two smaller pools located along the creek. I get in the water at twilight just as the stars are coming out and claim my reward for the long hike.

In the morning, inspired by the frost on the ground and temperatures below 30 degrees, I decide to hike back up to the hot springs for another soak. Feeling the expansiveness of the world around me and the freedom of time in this moment, the need to accomplish things slowly falls away.

On the hike out, I can’t help but notice that my pace is less hurried and the urgency I felt around just about everything is all but forgotten; and even with the long miles, I still feel rejuvenated from just one night in the woods.

This article originally appeared in Section A of the December 26th, 2016 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

Posted by: James Wapotich | December 19, 2016

Trail Quest: Montecito’s Olive Mill Grove

Along Olive Mill Road in Montecito is an oak grove rich in local history. The site was once the estate of George Huntington Gould, and one can still find a small stand of olive trees there that may have been part of Montecito’s short-lived olive processing industry.

A short trail leads through the grove and is open to the public. The trail is known as Peter Bakewell Trail, is less than a mile in length, and can be used to make loop hike through the site.

To get to the trailhead from Santa Barbara, take Highway 101 south to the Olive Mill Road exit. Turn left onto Olive Mill Road, and continue north towards the intersection with Hot Springs Road. The trailhead is on the right, just before the intersection and Casa Dorinda retirement community. Parking is found in the pullouts along side the road.

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Olive trees from the Gould estate are seen from Peter Bakewell Trail

At the trailhead is a stone gateway, the original entrance to the Gould estate. From the trailhead, Peter Bakewell Trail follows a somewhat weathered asphalt path, which soon crosses Montecito Creek by way of a bridge. The path is wheelchair accessible.

Just across the bridge the trail branches. The asphalt path continues to the left and improves dramatically in condition. To the right, a footpath continues around the edge of the property. About halfway around the perimeter, the footpath rejoins the asphalt path, which can be used for the return hike.

Continuing along the footpath, the trail leads through a scenic grove of coast live oak. Interspersed amongst the oaks, in the understory, is the occasional chaparral plant. In fact, the distribution of these plants and their location directly under the branches of the oaks suggests that they may have started from seeds dispersed by birds. Amongst the oaks, one can find elderberry, toyon, lemonade berry, and holly-leaf cherry. Some of the birds that can be observed at the site include acorn woodpeckers, northern flickers, scrub jays, morning doves, house finches, and black phoebes.

As the trail reaches the eastern edge of the site it turns north, and continues past a double row of olive trees, which were part of the original Gould estate. Past the olive trees the trail rejoins the asphalt path for the return hike back.

In 1886, George Gould purchased 40-acres of land, including this site, from John P. Neal. He built a modestly-sized house, located near where the olive trees are located. Around his house, he had an expansive lawn and garden, but left the balance of the property in its natural state, which is the oak woodland still seen today.

In 1893, William P. Gould, who may have been a distant cousin of George Gould, purchased land just south of George Gould’s property and built an olive mill, which is what gives Olive Mill Road its name.

Olives were first introduced to California in the 1700s by Franciscan padres through the mission system. The tree does well in our Mediterranean climate and was cultivated for its fruit and oil.

In the 1870s, Ellwood Cooper began a large scale operation of growing and processing olives in Goleta. Inspired by Cooper’s success, William Gould started his own mill in Montecito, but never quite saw the same level of return and, in 1905, closed the mill. The property was later sold and the mill converted into a residence, which at one time was owned by actress and singer Lena Horne.

It’s not clear if the olive trees on George Gould’s estate were for ornamental purposes or agricultural. However, George Gould did own other properties in Montecito where he grew olives that would’ve been processed at the mill south of his home. George Gould passed away in 1926, and the property was sold. Gould also owned property in Cold Spring Canyon; after his passing that land was donated to the city of Santa Barbara by his brother. The undeveloped land is now known as Gould Park.

The property just north of the Gould estate was owned by Isaac Rieman Baxley, who had purchased it from Gould in 1886. Baxley called his estate Everdene. In 1916, Baxley sold the property to William Henry and Anna Dorinda Bliss, who built an 80-room residence on the property to serve as their winter home. The estate gardens were designed by Peter Riedel, who also designed the gardens for the Gould estate, as well as other estates including that of George Owen Knapp.

In 1946, the Bliss estate was sold to by Dr. Homer F. Barnes, who opened Montecito School for Girls. Barnes also purchased the land that was formerly the Gould estate, combining the two pieces of land into a single property. The school closed in 1956, and the property was sold.

In 1971, the land was purchased by Casa Dorinda Associates, which redesigned the school and former Bliss estate into a retirement community. At some point, the buildings from the Gould Estate were removed, but the olive trees and oak grove were left unchanged.

In 1973, Montecito Trails Foundation, working with Casa Dorinda and the county, secured a trail easement through the undeveloped oak grove. The trail was later named Peter Bakewell Trail.

Bakewell was a past president and one of the original founders of Montecito Trails Foundation. He helped secure many of the easements that make up the network of community trails in Montecito and Summerland, maintained by Montecito Trails Foundation.

Founded in 1964 by a group of equestrians and hikers, the local non-profit organization actively works with private property owners and the county to secure and protect easements for public use.

The organization also maintains the front country trails between Gibraltar Road and Franklin Trail, from East Camino Cielo down to the beach. Many of these trails are within in the National Forest or on county-owned land, but receive maintenance from Montecito Trails Foundation.

The work of Montecito Trails Foundation is supported through fundraising and membership donations. Individual membership is $35 and includes a trail map that shows the trails between Gibraltar Road and Franklin Trail. The map is unique in that it shows community trails such as Peter Bakewell Trail that are not shown on other maps. For more information about the organization go to,

Regardless of how far you hike you’ll get to visit some of Montecito’s local history.

This article originally appeared in Section A of the December 19th, 2016 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

Posted by: James Wapotich | December 5, 2016

Trail Quest: Adobe Trail

Sometimes a good hike is one that works out well in the end, in spite of whatever challenges might arise. In fact, it’s that same uncertainty combined with being outdoors that can lift a hike from simply getting some exercise to feeling part of something dynamic and ever changing. It also helps to not take weather predictions too literally.

My plan was to hike Adobe Trail, which is about five miles roundtrip. The weather prediction called for rain starting in the morning and continuing through the day. However, recalling that the last time rain was predicted to start in the morning and didn’t actually arrive until the afternoon, I thought I’d take my chances. Rather than stay home, I figured if I got an early start I might be able to make it to the top of the trail before it started raining.

The Adobe Trailhead is located along State Route 166, which is reached from Santa Barbara by taking Highway 101 north to Santa Maria. Continue past Santa Maria to the exit for State Route 166 East, which is the very first exit as Highway 101 crosses the Santa Maria River.

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Scenery along Adobe Trail

State Route 166 leads through the foothills of Temettate Ridge before crossing over the Huasna River as it enters Twitchell Reservoir, which is also fed by the Cuyama River.

Gazing out across the reservoir from the road, I can’t help but notice that it’s completely empty, just plants and grazing cattle. No water whatsoever. Twitchell Reservoir actually has more carrying capacity than Lake Cachuma, but is often empty because its primary purpose is to recharge the groundwater basin and provide flood protection for the Santa Maria Valley downstream. The reservoir is not open to the public.

Past the reservoir, State Route 166 essentially follows the Cuyama River upstream towards the trailhead, as well as all the way to the towns of Cuyama and New Cuyama.

As I continue along road, I look for the landmarks that will help me pick out the trailhead, which is easy to miss. Just past Tepusquet Road, on the right, is Pine Canyon Fire Station, on the left. Roughly four miles past the station, on the right, is the Willow Spring trailhead marked with a sign. From here, I know it’s just two more miles to the Adobe trailhead, which is on the left. Parking is found at the trailhead.

At the parking area, I gather up my gear and notice that there is a fair amount of frost on the ground. To the south, I can see grey clouds continuing to build and crowd the sky, but where I am it’s sunny, and to the north there is still plenty of blue sky. Perhaps the storm will skirt past me to the south.

From the trailhead, the trail quickly gets to work climbing away from the Cuyama River, following a series of switchbacks that lead through sparse chaparral composed of mostly coastal sagebrush, purple sage, yucca, and buckwheat. As the trail climbs, it offers views back down towards the river.

After about three-quarters of a mile, the trail branches. The trail to the right continues uphill along the ridge, while the trail to the left leads into a side canyon. The two trails meet up about a mile later.

Having read that there’s a spring in the canyon, I opt to take the trail through the canyon, saving the ridge route for the hike back out. This worked out well given the relative steepness of the ridge route.

As the trail continues, it transitions into chamise and black sage, and then joins the small creek in the canyon. Here, the trail enters a stand of coast live oak and arrives at the spring. Under the oaks is a cattle trough, fed by a pipe, that catches the slow drip from the spring. Nearby is a second, overturned trough.

Past the spring, the trail follows the dry creek up the canyon, which proves to be one of the more scenic parts of the hike.

The trail then climbs out of the canyon, where it meets the ridge trail. From here, it leads uphill through wild grasses and canyon live oak. As I continue along the ridge, the wind starts to pick up. With each passing cloud and alternating clear sky, I find myself questioning and then praising and then questioning my choice to try beat the storm, until the storm arrives.

The rain begins quickly and doesn’t waste any time settling in. I slip on my rain gear and continue uphill, and within a few minutes arrive at what looks like a jeep road. Looking at the map, I realize that I’ve reached the top of Adobe Trail. The rain is cold, but light enough to keep hiking.

I turn right onto Twin Rocks Road, having heard that there’s a cattle pond that one can find, plus an off-trail route that can be used to make a half-mile loop hike back to Adobe Trail.

Twin Rocks Road descends along a ridge between two canyons, passing through more oak savannah. As I continue, I start to see the earthen dam and dry pond through the trees, in the canyon on my right.

Arriving at a fairly large oak tree overlooking the pond, I continue off-trail, descending towards the dam and quickly join a well-established cattle trail that crosses the dam. On the other side, the trail is less distinct; apparently, the cattle are not able to agree on a single route. I opt to follow a trail leading uphill in a straight line from the dam. The trail soon becomes more established and eventually wraps around the hillside, linking back up with Adobe Trail. The intersection is marked with the trunk of a charred oak.

From here, I make the return hike. As I descend back down the ridge, I start to notice a lot more bird activity. It is still raining, but I suspect the rain might be letting up, since the birds always seem to know about these things in advance. And sure enough within 20 minutes the rain stops completely, and for the balance of the hike, it’s just overcast.

With all of its simplicity, Adobe Trail is also part of a larger route called the Condor Trail.

Back in mid-1990s, Alan Coles envisioned a route across the southern Los Padres National Forest that could be through-hiked, similar to the much longer Pacific Crest and Appalachian Trails. The route utilizes existing trails and roads, and as the concept grew and began to take hold, the idea was expanded to create a route that now traverses the entire Los Padres National Forest, connecting both the southern and northern portions of the forest.

Starting in the south at Lake Piru, Condor Trail travels through Sespe Wilderness to State Route 33 in Ventura County. From there, it continues through Santa Barbara County, passing through the Dick Smith and San Rafael Wilderness areas before arriving at State Route 166.

As it approaches State Route 166, Condor Trail follows Willow Spring Trail. From there, it continues along State Route 166 to Adobe Trail and follows it to Twin Rocks Road and continues through the national forest in San Luis Obispo County. The trail then leaves the forest and follows California Coastal Trail up to the northern portion of Los Padres National Forest in Monterey County, where it reenters the forest. The trail ends at Botchers Gap.

Last year, Brittany Nielsen, 30, from San Diego, became the first person to backpack the entire 421-mile route. She started at Lake Piru in May and 37 days later arrived at Botchers Gap. She was supported by “trail angels” who left food and supplies for her at prearranged locations along the route.

Condor Trail was also included in the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act introduced by Representative Lois Capps and Senator Barbara Boxer in 2015. If the act passes, it will add close to a quarter-million acres of new and expanded wilderness areas and designate an additional 159 miles of creeks and rivers as National Wild and Scenic rivers within Los Padres National Forest and Carrizo Plain National Monument, as well as make Condor Trail a National Recreation Trail.

Meanwhile, Adobe Trail still makes for a nice day hike, even with a little rain.

This article originally appeared in Section A of December 5th, 2016 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

Posted by: James Wapotich | November 28, 2016

Trail Quest: Frémont’s Ridge

On Christmas Eve, 1846, Lieutenant Colonel John C. Frémont made his historic ascent along what is now known as Fremont Ridge during the Mexican-American War. Frémont and his men were en route to capture Santa Barbara, which was then still part of Mexico.

Starting from East Camino Cielo one can make a short day hike along a portion of Frémont’s route. The hike is about three miles round trip and includes some sweeping views of the San Rafael Mountains and Santa Ynez Valley.

To get to the trailhead from Santa Barbara, take State Route 154 to the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains. Turn right onto East Camino Cielo Road, and continue about two miles and look for an unpaved access road on the left with a metal gate that leads down the backside of the mountains. You’ll know if you’ve gone to far as a mile later you’ll arrive at the intersection with Painted Cave Road. Parking is available in the pullouts alongside the road near the gate.

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The San Rafael Mountains are seen from Fremont Ridge Trail

From the trailhead, the access road, also known as Fremont Ridge Trail, descends gradually through a mix of coast live oak and madrone. The views then open up back towards the top of the mountains and stand of Coulter pines, a number of which are suffering from the drought.

As the road continues it settles in on the ridge and here, the views open up dramatically. Across Los Laureles Canyon one can see State Route 154, the Cold Spring arch bridge, Broadcast Peak, and the sweep of the Santa Ynez Valley, including what’s left of Lake Cachuma. Continuing in an arc, the panorama takes in the San Rafael Mountains stretching from Lookout Mountain to San Rafael Mountain.

Past this vista point, the road descends more rapidly downhill, eventually leveling out and arriving at a set of power lines. Here, the route Frémont used continues through private property and is closed to the public.

The steepness of the route in places and the healthy stands of chaparral on both sides of the road give some sense of what the climb might’ve been like for Frémont’s forces as they trudged uphill with their horses and artillery.

John Charles Frémont was born in Savannah, Georgia in 1813. In 1838, he joined U.S. Army Corps of Topographic Engineers, becoming a second lieutenant. Through the Corps he participated in a number of survey expeditions through the western territories the US had acquired as part of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase.

In 1841, he married Jessie Benton, whose father was Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri. An influential Senator, Benton was a proponent of the expansionist movement and saw to it that Frémont was put in charge of a number of expeditions to survey and help open up the American West.

During his first expedition in 1842, Frémont met Kit Carson, who he enlisted as a guide. Frémont surveyed the area between the Missouri River and Rocky Mountains, and his subsequent survey report, which was published in various newspapers, garnered him celebrity status.

His second expedition in 1843, surveyed what would be become the second half of the Oregon Trail. From Oregon, he continued south into Alta California, making a loop back through the Great Basin.

His third expedition west in 1845, was likely a pretense used by President Polk to send Frémont to California to be available should war break out with Mexico. In April 1846, the Mexican-American War began.

In July 1846, the US Navy captured Monterey, California. Commodore Robert F. Stockton was put in charge of land operations and appointed Frémont in charge of the California Battalion, which Frémont had helped organize with men from his survey expedition, volunteers from the short-lived Bear Flag Republic, and a group of Indians from Oregon.

Towards the end of 1846, Frémont left Monterey with 478 men and traveled south, bringing with them several wheeled cannons. On December 18, they arrived at William Dana’s adobe in Nipomo.

From there, they continued south, crossing the Santa Maria River and following it upstream to Sisquoc River, where they camped. The next day, they covered little ground and camped in Foxen Canyon, where they were visited by Benjamin Foxen, who owned the land. The site today is marked with a plaque along Foxen Canyon Road.

Over the years, It has been suggested that Frémont was originally planning to cross the Santa Ynez Mountains at Gaviota Pass, but was tipped off by Foxen that an armed ambush awaited him there. Foxen is said to have suggested that Frémont cross near San Marcos Pass instead and with his son guided them along the route.

However, local historian Walker Tompkins has pointed out there are several problems with this story. First, there wasn’t a viable route through Gaviota for wheeled vehicles until 1859. Second, the soldiers and most of the able bodied men from Santa Barbara had already gone to Los Angeles to make a stand there. And third, there is no written record of the story in either Frémont’s journal or those of the men with him.

The most common route in those days from the Santa Ynez Valley to the coast was along El Camino Real, which connected the Missions, and led over the mountains at Refugio Pass, where Refugio Road is now.

From Foxen Canyon, Frémont and his men continued to Alamo Pintado Creek, near where Los Olivos and Ballard are today. On December 21, Frémont decided that instead of following El Camino Real, it would be quicker and safer to follow an old Chumash trail over the mountains near San Marcos Pass, along what is now known as Fremont Ridge.

On December 22, they camped along the Santa Ynez River, near where Cachuma Dam is now, before continuing upstream. The next day, they camped along the river, near where Frémont Campground is now located on Paradise Road.

On December 24, they began their march up the eastern ridge of Los Laureles Canyon. Frémont’s advanced scouts made it to the top by noon and continued west towards Kinevan Canyon where they camped. The rest of battalion, slowed by the heavy cannons, didn’t make it to the top until just after nightfall and likely camped near Laurel Springs.

On Christmas Day, it started raining. Frémont and his men spent the entire day and long into the night, making their way in the rain down the front side of the mountains to the foothills behind Goleta, where his advanced scouts had located a place to camp.

There, they spent the next several days drying out, recuperating, and recovering gear and artillery that had been abandoned during the descent. The ordeal cost Frémont close to 120 horses and mules; miraculously no human lives were lost.

On December 27, Frémont resumed his march towards Santa Barbara. The next day, with Santa Barbara undefended, Frémont’s forces took the Presidio without incident and raised the American flag.

On January 3, 1847, Frémont’s forces left Santa Barbara and continued to Los Angeles, where the Mexican Army had surrendered to Commodore Stockton and General Kearny. Upon his arrival, without authorization, Frémont negotiated and signed the Cahuenga Articles of Capitulation with Mexican General Andres Pico, effectively ending the conflict in Alta California.

Fremont was appointed military governor of the newly acquired California Territory by Commodore Stockton. However, General Kearny had orders from President Polk to serve as governor. Frémont initially refused to step down, but eventually accepted the order and was court-martialed for mutiny and insubordination.

President Polk commuted Frémont’s sentence, but Frémont nevertheless resigned his commission and returned to California, where he purchased land.

In 1849, when the gold rush hit, Frémont was fortunate to own land with gold on it and made a handsome fortune. In 1850, California was admitted to the United States, and Frémont was elected as one of the two first Senators from California. In 1856, he became the candidate for the newly formed Republican Party and was defeated by James Buchanan.

At the start of the American Civil War in 1861, Frémont was made Major General and put in charge of the Department of the West by President Lincoln. Later that same year he was relieved of duty by Lincoln for insubordination.

Frémont later served as territorial governor of Arizona from 1878-1881, before retiring to New York. He passed away in New York City in 1890.

Frémont’s march through Santa Barbara has become part of our local history and the ridge that bears his name provides an opportunity to explore first hand part of the route he covered.

This article originally appeared in Section A of the November 28th, 2016 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

Posted by: James Wapotich | November 21, 2016

Trail Quest: Upper Cold Spring Canyon

Nature has many secrets that if we’re patient are often revealed over time. More often than not, these insights come through the gradual accumulation of experiences rather than epic breakthroughs. In this regard, learning about nature is more like hunting and gathering, with the day to day work of paying attention to ones surroundings interspersed with discoveries that are sometimes catalyzed by specific events.

The old trail that leads above Tangerine Falls is a good example. Who knows how long the original trail lay forgotten before it was revealed after a forest fire. Today, the trail provides access to the upper reaches of Cold Spring Canyon and its natural wonders.

After hiking many of the trails in our backcountry, I was feeling called to revisit the hidden world above Tangerine Falls and the homestead site known as the Root Cellar.

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A dry Tangerine Falls is seen from the trail leading above the falls

The hike to the Root Cellar is about three miles round trip with a dose of uphill hiking, and can be extended by continuing up to East Camino Cielo Road, which adds another three miles round trip.

The trail is reached from Santa Barbara by taking Highway 101 south to the Hot Springs Road exit and continuing north along the road to East Mountain Drive. Turn left onto East Mountain Drive and follow it to the Cold Spring trailhead. Parking is found in the pullouts along the road on either side of the creek crossing.

From the trailhead, Cold Spring Trail follows the eastern side of the canyon up to the juncture with West Fork Cold Spring Trial. The route leads under a canopy of coast live oaks mixed with riparian plants along the creek.

At the juncture, I cross the dry creek bed and continue along West Fork Cold Spring Trail, which follows the west side of the canyon and is also shaded.

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Upper Cold Spring Canyon

The trail follows the original route through Cold Spring Canyon, which was built in the 1870s to provide access to the quicksilver mines along the Santa Ynez River, near where Gibraltar Reservoir is now. The route led around the west side of the falls to the top of the mountains, continued east over to what is now North Cold Spring Trial, and down to the river. The trail was shorter than going over San Marcos Pass or taking Arroyo Burro Trail.

In the early 1900s, a new trail was built through Cold Spring Canyon that follows what is now East Fork Cold Spring Trail, which supplanted the original trail. And while the lower portion of West Fork Cold Spring Trail was later extended up to Gibraltar Road, the original trail to the mines eventually fell into disuse and was forgotten.

According to local historian, E. R. “Jim” Blakley, it wasn’t until 1964, when the Coyote Fire burned through the canyon and cleared the brush that the original trail along with the homestead was rediscovered.

After just three-quarters of a mile, I arrive at the turnoff to Tangerine Falls, which is now marked with a sign, thanks to a recent boy scout project. The trail crosses West Fork Cold Spring Creek and continues up the main canyon, sometimes referred to as Middle Fork Cold Spring Canyon. Almost immediately, the trail branches. On the left is the trail that leads above the falls, while the trail to the base of the falls continues up the creek.

Here, the original Cold Spring Trail leaves the creek and winds its way up through exposed chaparral, offering views of West Fork Cold Spring Canyon, as well as the main canyon. As I continue up the trail, I can see Tangerine Falls in the canyon below, its dry surface a stark reminder of the lack of water we’ve received over the past several years.

Eventually the trail crests the wall of Matilija sandstone that Tangerine Falls tumbles over.

Past this ridge, the trail descends back down to the creek and the shaded canyon above Tangerine Falls. The first time I ventured above the falls, I felt as though I’d discovered a hidden world. The creek was flowing and the rock “wall” provided a sense of separation from the more popular canyon below. That sense was heightened when I saw bear sign on the trees further up the canyon.

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A stand of cottonwoods along the trail above Tangerine Falls

As the trail follows the creek upstream, it threads its way through California bay laurel, maple, and even cottonwood, with an understory of coffee berry and other riparian plants. The trail has something of a backcountry feel and the presence of bear sign only seems to add to that.

Bears will mark trees along their route by scratching and biting them, and here, the bay laurel provides the softest bark of the available trees. Perhaps it’s the lack of visitors and year round water that makes the upper canyon enticing to the bears.

Eventually, I arrive at the next trail juncture. Here, the trail on the right leaves the canyon, following what may have been the original route up to the top of the mountains. The trail climbs another mile and a half through mostly chaparral before reaching East Camino Cielo Road.

Continuing to the left along the trail that follows the creek, I begin to hear the sound of running water.

Just below the next crossing, clear water is flowing through pools lined with copper-colored leaves from the maple and bay laurel trees. Since the drought, this is the only place along the upper trail with year round water.

From here, the trail continues upstream, passing a couple more bay laurels that bears have decorated with their mark. At the last crossing before arriving at the Root Cellar there is a faint side on the left that leads to a small collection of artifacts from the homestead, including part of a stove and plow.

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Remnants of the homestead in upper Cold Spring Canyon

Continuing off trail, I look around for more evidence of the homestead, making a wide cross-country foray through the tangle of bay laurel and brush, eventually making a loop back to the creek.

Standing there in the dry creek bed, I remember my last visit to this same spot. That time, I had heard something large crashing through the brush towards me. It sounded like a bear chasing a mountain lion, and then as it got closer, maybe a mountain lion chasing a bobcat. Either way, it was headed straight towards me, and because of all the brush I couldn’t see anything.

I debated what to do, where to flee, but the creek was so congested with brush there was little I could do, so I just waited to see what would happen. A split second later, to my surprise, two grey foxes burst out the brush and raced right past me. They were in a mad chase with one hot on the heels of the other, crashing their way downstream. A brief glimpse into the goings-on of nature.

Not finding any foxes or additional remnants of the homestead this time around, I make my way back to the trail, and follow it as it climbs through chaparral, passing under several large coast live oaks, before arriving at the Root Cellar.

Here, the canyon opens up and I can see the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains. There is a feeling of returning to the sunlight and a sense that this might’ve been a nice place to have a home. Nearby, under two coast live oaks, is the low pile of stones referred to as the Root Cellar.

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The Root Cellar

Taking in the scenery, I hear the cry of a hawk and follow the use trail that leads past the Root Cellar and down to the creek to look around. Just as I arrive at the creek, a medium-sized raptor flies down the narrow course way and lands on a branch in front of me. It looks at me for a moment and then, before I can even move, continues down the canyon.

Based on its coloring and size, it could’ve been either a sharp-shinned or Cooper’s hawk. Both hawks like to hunt small to medium sized birds, and, from the birds I could hear in the canyon, would have at least Northern flicker, Steller’s jays, canyon wren, and woodpeckers to choose from.

Appreciative of another chance encounter with our local wildlife, I make the return hike and wonder what else awaits to be discovered in our backcountry.

Article appears in Section A of today’s edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

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A pair of banana slugs are seen along the creek

Posted by: James Wapotich | November 19, 2016

Trail Quest: Pine Mountain Lodge

In the fall, one of the challenges in the backcountry is finding places to visit that still have some flowing water. Pine Mountain Lodge is located in the Sespe Wilderness, near the eastern end of Pine Mountain Ridge, and is a good destination for either a backpacking trip or a long day hike.

The camp is along Gene Marshall-Piedra Blanca Trail, which leads past two other trail camps along the way that can make for shorter hike destinations.

Curious how much water would be available at the camps I opt for the day hike, telling myself that the climb into the mountains will be rewarded with a visit to the pine forest surrounding Pine Mountain Lodge. The hike to Pine Mountain Lodge is about 13 miles roundtrip and involves a gain of about 3,000 feet.

To get to the Piedra Blanca Trailhead from Santa Barbara, make your way to Ojai. From Ojai, continue north along State Route 33. The road follows the Ventura River and then continues along North Fork Matilija Creek, before climbing out of the canyon. Just as the road levels out, it arrives at the turnoff for Rose Valley. Turn left onto Sespe Road and follow it past the turnoff to Rose Valley Campground, as well as the one for Middle Lion Campground. The road ends at the trailhead.

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Piedra Blanca sandstone is seen along Gene Marshall-Piedra Blanca Trail

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Big cone spruce are seen along Gene Marshall-Piedra Blanca Trail

At the trailhead, I gather my gear, noticing the cool morning air is in the low 60s and that perhaps fall has finally arrived. The trail from the parking area drops down towards Sespe River and crosses Lion Creek, which is dry. Both the cottonwoods and willows are showing their fall colors, and along the trail I can see red rose hips glistening the sun.

The connector then trail crosses Sespe River, which is also dry, and joins Sespe River Trail. I turn left and follow Sespe River Trail west to the beginning of Gene Marshall-Piedra Blanca Trail. The sign at the junction indicates that from here, it’s 5.5 miles to Pine Mountain Lodge. Just past the sign, the trail enters Sespe Wilderness.

As the trail continues, it leads through the large weathered outcroppings of Piedra Blanca sandstone, or white rock, that gives the trail part of its name. The outcroppings are interspersed with chaparral and dotted with the occasional big cone spruce, creating a vista that could easily serve as the backdrop for an old western movie. Then, as if on cue, the trail passes directly between two large outcroppings of sandstone, before dropping down into a side drainage of Piedra Blanca Creek.

From there, the trail turns and follows Piedra Blanca Creek upstream. As I continue up the canyon, I start to hear the sound of running water somewhere down in the creek, and notice my enthusiasm rise, knowing that there will likely be water at the next two camps.

At about the 3-mile mark, the trail enters a small grove of coast live oaks and I arrive at the turnoff for Piedra Blanca Camp. I continue over to the creek, which is lined with alder and flowing even now, suggesting that the camp likely has year round water. The camp has three sites each with a fire ring and grated stove. Two of the sites are close together and a third is just downstream.

Continuing up the trail, about a quarter-mile later, it crosses Piedra Blanca Creek, and arrives at the signed turnoff for Twin Forks Camp. I follow the side trail across North Fork Piedra Blanca Creek, which is also flowing, and continue up to the first camp site. A somewhat indistinct trail leads from the first site down to the second camp. Both sites have a fire ring and grated stove. The camp is named for its proximity to the confluence of the two creeks just downstream.

From the turnoff to Twin Forks, the trail continues along North Fork Piedra Blanca Creek and begins its climb towards Pine Mountain Lodge. The ascent starts off gradual, but then become more much serious about the work out it provides as it approaches the upper end of the canyon.

At the next crossing, I pause marveling at the amount of shade provided by all the alder trees growing along the creek. Here, in the dappled sunlight, even the poison oak with its gold and red leaves seems magical.

The trail crosses the creek two more times, and at the third crossing, looking downstream, I notice that the creek appears to just drop off suggesting that there’s a small cascade to be found. I make my way towards it, pushing through some poison oak, which is now seeming a little less magical, and scramble down the rock face to visit the pool and take in the cascade.

Past the third crossing, the trail climbs above the creek, offering views of the canyon in both directions, before then arriving at the fourth crossing, which is completely dry. I don’t know it yet, but here is where the real work begins. Over the next mile and a quarter the trail gains 1,600 feet.

The first part of the climb is exposed, leading through mostly scrub oak and ceanothus. As I climb, I find myself pausing more frequently, the hike seeming longer than I remember from last time. The trail then, transitions into a stand of big cone spruce and canyon live oak, which offer some shade, but not an end to the uphill.

Eventually the trail crests out of the canyon and I arrive at a refreshingly level area filled with Jeffrey pines, sugar pines, and cedar. Nearby, I can hear two Steller’s jays calling to one another and suspect that there must be some water in the vicinity. The trail soon arrives at a trail sign, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Past the sign, the trail crosses a small creek and then arrives at the turnoff for Pine Mountain Lodge Camp, which is also the beginning of Cedar Creek Trail. Past the turnoff, Gene Marshall-Piedra Blanca Trail is currently closed due to the Pine Fire.

I cross the creek, which has barely a trickle of water in it. The camp has four sites close together, each with a fire ring and adjustable grill.

The camp takes its name from the lodge that was built in the area in 1895, by a group of hunters and outdoorsmen who called themselves the Sisquoc Rangers. Often spending the better part of the summer hunting in the area they had decided to pool their resources and build a cabin to serve as a base for their extended stays. The 16 x 20 foot lodge was built from native pines and cedar, and included a stone fireplace; and was said to have enough space to accommodate twelve people.

In 1898, the Pine Mountain and Zaca Lake Forest Reserve was created and local rangers began using the site as well. As time went by the lodge fell into disrepair, until the forest service was ready to tear it down, however public outcry saved the structure.

Then, ironically, an effort to preserve the lodge through preventative maintenance dealt the final blow. Around 1945, the forest service decided to remove an ailing pine growing next to the lodge over concerns that it would fall onto the building. Using a block and tackle to guide the tree, they cut down the troublesome pine only to have the block and tackle break and the tree fall directly on top of the lodge splitting the roof in half.

The lodge was never repaired. Over the years the logs were used for firewood and the chimney stones gathered by campers to make fire rings, and the remains of the lodge slowly disappeared.

Just as I leave the camp, I notice a use trail continuing upstream along the eastern side of the creek. The trail leads up a side canyon to several small pools with flowing water fed by the spring further upstream.

I filter some water, and add the camp to the list of viable destinations for the fall; and make the return hike, grateful that the balance of the hike is downhill.

This article originally appeared in Section A of the November 14th, 2016 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

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Scenery near Pine Mountain Lodge

Posted by: James Wapotich | November 8, 2016

Trail Quest: Shoreline Park

Located on the Mesa, this scenic neighborhood park is a great destination for a short hike close to town. The popular park plays host to a variety of activities. On almost any given day you can see people walking, jogging, riding their bikes, having a picnic, playing sports, or just taking in the views from one of the many benches.

A loop hike can be made combining a walk through the park with a walk along the beach when the tides are low enough. The hike is about two miles roundtrip.

To get to the park, from Highway 101 in Santa Barbara, take the Carrillo Street exit and head south on West Carrillo Street. The road leads over Carrillo Hill, becoming Meigs Road as it continues down towards the Mesa. Continue on Meigs Road past Cliff Drive. As the road continues past La Mesa Park and the lighthouse, it turns east and becomes Shoreline Drive and continues towards Shoreline Park. The park has two parking areas, one near San Rafael Avenue and another past La Ondas.

The 14.6-acre park is maintained and managed by City of Santa Barbara Parks & Recreation Department and is open to the public from sunrise to 10:00 p.m. Dogs are permitted on leash in the park, and off-leash along the beach. The park features 20 picnic tables spread out through the park, each with a pedestal barbecue. There is also a group picnic area that can be reserved. No alcohol is allowed in the park.

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A plover pauses along the beach

During the 1920s, the land surrounding the park was farmland, owned by the Low and Babcock families. When the land was later subdivided in the 1950s for the construction of homes, the bluffs where the park is located was left undeveloped.

In 1963, concerned that the bluffs would be developed, a group of citizens urged the city to purchase the land for use as a park. The next year, a ballot measure was passed allocating funds to acquire the land and develop it as a park. In 1966, the city purchased the land. Local landscape architect Richard B. Taylor was hired to design the park.

The site had been informally known as Shoreline Park, however it was felt the park needed an official name. In 1967, La Mesa Improvement Association held a contest to formally select a name for the park. There were over 500 entries, with names ranging from Sobre las Olas, which means Over the Waves, and Punta de Ballenas, which means Whale Point, to Mayor MacGillivray Park, St. Barbara Park, and even John F. Kennedy Park. A panel of judges weighed all of the options and in the end, selected Shoreline Park, which was also one of the entries.

On December 14, 1968, the park was officially dedicated.

shoreline park beach walk hike Santa Barbara thousand steps leadbetter mesa

The beach below Shoreline Park

For the loop hike, starting from the parking area near San Rafael Avenue, the park walkways lead eastward towards the playground area. Sometimes referred to as the “Tot Lot”, the design of the site when it was first unveiled was met with some controversy concerning both its aesthetics and safety. In the original design, the Douglas fir poles that enclosed the playground had level tops. However, concerns over kids climbing on them and falling led to the poles being cut at a 45-degree angle.

To the right of the playground, is a viewing scope and several interpretive signs, as well as a bench shaped like a whale’s tail. Whales can be seen from the park February to May as they migrate north through the channel. On a clear day, one can see the Channel Islands and at night, gazing out towards the islands, one can see the faint traces of the Milky Way in the sky.

Continuing along the walkway, one arrives at MacGillivray Point. The point was dedicated in 1995, in honor of Don MacGillivray, who was the city’s mayor at the time of the park’s creation. In 2012, the point was fenced off due to safety concerns that the point might collapse in a landslide as a result of the ongoing erosion of the bluffs.

Past the point, the walkway passes the group picnic area and arrives at the wooden torri gate and stairs that lead down the beach. The gate was completed in 1998, and donated by Santa Barbara’s Japanese-American community.

The stairs provide access to the coast and are roughly midway along the length of the park.

The route then leads past the second set of restrooms and arrives at the second parking area. Here, the walkways lead to an overlook that provides some great views out across Leadbetter Beach, towards the breakwater, and out along the coast. On most days you can watch surfers and stand up paddlers working the long rides created by the point.

Just past the end of the park, from the sidewalk, an asphalt path leads down to Leadbetter Beach. From here, turn and head west along the beach and continue around the point, also known as Santa Barbara Point.

When the tides are low enough it’s possible to round the point and continue along the beach. Here, one can see a variety of shorebirds including sanderlings, plovers, California brown pelicans, and western gulls. In one of the eucalyptus trees overlooking the beach, one can also spot nesting cormorants.

During the winter when the sand has been stripped away by storms, there are additional opportunities for exploring the tide pools.

Both the rocky pools and cliffs below the park are composed of Monterey shale that has been weathered and sculpted over the many years.

About midway along the beach portion of the hike, one arrives at the stairs that lead back up to Shoreline Park. Another half-mile up the coast, one arrives at Thousand Steps, which lead back up to Shoreline Drive.

The steps are said to have been built during the 1920s, and follow an old trail that led down to the beach. The route was originally called Camino al Mar, or Trail to the Beach, but has since become known as Thousand Steps.

The stairs lead to the top of the bluff, arriving at the end of Santa Cruz Boulevard. The residential street can also serve as an alternate starting point, however parking is very limited. From Thousand Steps, continue north a half block along Santa Cruz Boulevard to Shoreline Drive. Turn right on Shoreline Drive and continue a few blocks back to Shoreline Park to complete the loop.

Regardless of how far you walk, you’ll get to enjoy one of Santa Barbara’s more scenic parks.

This article originally appeared in Section A of the November 7th, 2016 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

Posted by: James Wapotich | October 31, 2016

Trail Quest: Plowshare Spring

Pine Canyon is in the northwest corner of the national forest within Santa Barbara County. There are two trails through the canyon, Kerry Canyon Trail and Indians Trail.

When I hiked these trails several years ago, I somehow missed the turnoff to Plowshare Spring, which is in a side canyon off the main canyon, and was now feeling called to go back and look for it.

During that previous hike, I also found it odd that the trail through Pine Canyon changed names mid-way through the canyon. Kerry Canyon Trail actually starts to the east in Kerry Canyon; follows Kerry Creek up to Pine Flat; and then drops down into Pine Canyon. Half-way through Pine Canyon it becomes Indians Trail. There’s even an old camp right where the trail transitions, as if at one time it sat at the intersection of two trails.

Sierra Madre Mountains Indians Trail Pine Canyon Los Padres National Forest hike

Sierra Madre Mountains frame a view from the old Indians Trail

A visit to the USGS website with its online collection of historic topographic maps revealed the answer. The original Indians Trail started near Lake Ridge Trail and dropped down into Pine Canyon, where it met Kerry Canyon Trail, before continuing down to Brookshire Campground, as it does today. The question remained, however, was there anything left of the old section of trail to be found and how badly overgrown would it be?

Using another modern convenience, I reviewed Google satellite images of the area. Tracing the old route, it appeared to pass through mostly grassy hillsides dotted with oaks. It also looked like there was a trail of sorts. It was indistinct coming up out of the canyon, but became more defined as it followed the ridgeline overlooking Pine Canyon.

My plan was to start from Pine Flat; visit Plowshare Spring; and use the old section of Indians Trail to make a loop down to Brookshire Campground, where I’d camp for the night. A hike of about 15 miles roundtrip.

Pine Flat is reached from Santa Barbara, by taking Highway 101 north to Santa Maria. Continue past Santa Maria to State Route 166 East.

State Route 166 East heads towards Cuyama, passes Twitchell Reservoir, and follows the Cuyama River upstream towards the turnoff for Sierra Madre Road. Sierra Madre Road is an unpaved road that leads to the top of the Sierra Madre Mountains and along the way offers some exceptional views out across the Cuyama Valley and down into Pine Canyon. The road eventually arrives at a 5-way intersection. To the left, is the road up to Miranda Pines Campground; straight ahead, Sierra Madre Road continues along the top of the mountains; to the right, is Miranda Pine Road, which leads down to Pine Flat; and closer to the right is the road to Miranda Pine Spring.

Miranda Pine Road intersects Kerry Canyon Trail at Pine Flat, where there is also parking. The road ends at Brookshire Campground.

Kerry Canyon Trail Indians Pine Canyon hike Los Padres National Forest

Unnamed camp at the intersection of Kerry Canyon Trail and Indians Trail

From Pine Flat, I followed Kerry Canyon Trail down into Pine Canyon. The trail quickly descends through a mix of canyon live oak and chaparral before reaching the canyon floor. The scenic canyon slowly widens as it continues downstream. Noting the different side canyons along the route, I easily recognized the one for Plowshare Spring as the first one wide enough to even have a trail. Not sure how I missed it the first time around. Concerned about how much time I might need to find the old Indians Trail, I decided to save Plowshare Spring for the hike out.

In the distance, I could see the hillside where the old Indians Trail would’ve been and was again relieved to see that it was not covered in chaparral.

A half-mile later, I arrived at an even larger side canyon. Here, was the unnamed camp where the two trails intersected. At the camp is a broken down picnic table and a metal stove with a chimney set in a cement foundation. Bryan Conant on the 2015 revision of his San Rafael Wilderness map has opted to call it Pine Canyon Camp to identify the site; the revised map also includes the old Indians Trail.

According to the topographic map, Indians Trail continued up this broad canyon a short ways before turning up the first distinct side canyon. I proceeded from the camp, following a well-established cattle trail to a small side wash on the left, where I found an open ridge large enough for both man and beast to start the climb out of the canyon. The trail was distinct, but started to fade as if the cows fan out to graze after reaching a certain point in the climb. I continued cross-country up to the ridge overlooking Pine Canyon and arrived at a more established trail.

Here, the cattle trails again converged making a single clear route. As I followed the trail, I felt my sense of anxiety around reaching camp before dark start to dissolve. The trail proved easy to find, no bushwhacking through chaparral, just a simple hike up the hill thanks to the cattle. The route also matched the old Indians Trail almost precisely.

Nearing the top, I could see a wooden fence, likely part of the ranch building shown on the map, which meant I was also nearing the beginning of Lake Ridge Trail. In the distance along the ridge I could see cattle grazing.

Lake Ridge Trail hike Pine Canyon Los Padres National Forest

Pine Canyon is seen from Lake Ridge Trail

At the top, the trail joins a ranch road and continues to the left around the building and over to Lake Ridge Trail, which follows the ridgeline between Pine Canyon and Aliso Creek.

After about a mile along Lake Ridge Trail, I caught up with the cattle. They were enjoying the shade and grazing on new growth from our recent rain. And when they saw me coming they bolted, not wanting to take any chances with a potential predator coming down the trail.

I caught up with them again at a dry vernal pool, which likely gives the trail its name. The cattle again fled, and we continued in this fashion all the way down to the intersection with Willow Spring Trial, where they finally turned to the right, while I took the trail to the left.

From the ridge, I followed Willow Spring Trail down to Pine Canyon, where it meets Miranda Pine Road. This last section of the hike was more overgrown, having not received the benefit of heavy cattle traffic. From the road I continued up the canyon to Brookshire Campground.

The campground has two sites, each with a picnic table and metal fire ring. Nearby, in the creek, I found only standing pools of water with far too many cattle tracks. A short way up the creek, however, I was able to find a clear, unmolested pool of water to filter.

That night I was serenaded by a pair of screech owls calling to one another. In the morning, I was rousted awake by a gang of woodpeckers out-competing a neighboring group of scrub jays over who could greet the day with the most fervor.

I followed Indians Trail up Pine Canyon to the intersection with Kerry Canyon Trial, and continued from there to the side canyon where Plowshare Spring is located.

The trail to the spring starts out easy to follow and then climbs to the right above the creek as it passes through an outcropping of conglomerate stone. Above these narrows, the trail continues upstream along the creek and alternates between being distinct and indistinct depending on how the different cattle, animal, and hunter paths converge.

As I continued up the canyon, it became necessary to push through chaparral. I’d found my bushwhacking opportunity after all.

About a half-mile up the canyon, I arrived at Plowshare Spring Camp, nothing more than an old ice can stove marking the location. Across the creek, amongst the rocks, I found an old trash heap filled with rusted cans. Just upstream from the camp, I spotted a dense growth of healthy looking deer grass along the creek. There was no water in the spring, but it did look like it had flowed earlier in the year.

Having found the camp, I returned back down the canyon and completed the hike, inspired to find more old trails and camps to visit.

This article originally appeared in Section A of the October 31st, 2016 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

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