Posted by: James Wapotich | January 17, 2017

Trail Quest: Refugio to Gaviota, Part 1

Hiked from Refugio to Gaviota weekend before last, about 9.5 miles one way. Part 1 covers from Refugio to the Trestles at Arroyo Hondo. Part 2 will take it the rest of the way to Gaviota.

Article appears in Section A of the January 16th, 2017 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

Older articles can be seen by scrolling down or using the search feature in the upper right corner. Articles from the News-Press appear here a couple months after they appear in the paper.

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View looking west near Tajiguas Beach

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Tajiguas Beach

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A striped or thin-lined shore crab watches from the rocks

Posted by: James Wapotich | January 9, 2017

Trail Quest: The Big Three

Visited the Big Three over Christmas Weekend. Hiked in the rain the first day, which turned to snow in the middle of the night, and so was treated to snow in the mountains. On the second day hiked down to Santa Cruz Peak, and on the last day visited San Rafael and McKinley Mountains. These three peaks are collectively known as The Big Three and are three of the 15 peaks in Santa Barbara County over 5,000 feet on the Sierra Club’s Hundred Peaks List..

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

Older articles can be seen by scrolling down or using the search feature in the upper right corner. Articles from the News-Press appear here a couple months after they appear in the paper.

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

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McKinley Mountain is seen from Mission Pine Trail

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Santa Cruz Peak is seen from McKinley Mountain

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Snow covered pines are seen from Mission Pine Trail

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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

I was asked to write a 5 hikes/trails for 2017 type article for the new year. The five trails I picked were Matilija Falls (because the access issue has been resolved), Ellwood Mesa (because it’s butterfly season), Pelican Bay (because the Channel Islands duh, and because foxes are cute), Indian Canyon (unique/remote backcountry destination), and Mount Pinos (as with the islands a great summertime destination when the rest of the backcountry is too hot enjoy – also highest mountain in our area).

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

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Matilija Falls

Older articles can be seen by scrolling down or using the search feature in the upper right corner. Articles from the News-Press appear here a couple months after they appear in the paper.

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

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Santa Cruz Island jay

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Santa Cruz Island fox

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Indian Canyon Falls

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Pines grace the hillside along Tumamait Trail

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Jeffrey Pines are seen near Sheep Camp

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Scenery along Tumamait Trail near Cerro Noroeste

Posted by: James Wapotich | December 28, 2016

Trail Quest: Big Caliente Hot Springs

Backpacked to Big Caliente Hot Springs weekend before last while the road was closed and had the place all to myself. Soaked under the stars at night, and then with the nighttime temperatures dropping below 30 and into the 20s, felt the need to take another long soak in the morning to thaw out.

When the road is closed it’s about 18 miles roundtrip from the nearest trailhead. Hiked in via North Romero Trail to Blue Canyon and then along the road to Rock Campground, lots of great scenery along the way.

Article appears in Section A of the December 26th, 2016 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

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Creekside pools at Big Caliente Hot Springs

Older articles can be seen by scrolling down or using the search feature in the upper right corner. Articles from the News-Press appear here a couple months after they appear in the paper.

Agua Caliente Canyon Big Caliente Hot Springs Los Padres National Forest hiking backpacking Santa Barbara Los Padres National Forest

Agua Caliente Canyon

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

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Blue Canyon is seen from North Romero Trail

Posted by: James Wapotich | December 19, 2016

Trail Quest: Montecito’s Olive Mill Grove

Hiked the Peter Bakewell Trail last week. The trail follows an easement through the undeveloped property south of Casa Dorinda. The oak grove there is part of the former Gould estate as are the olive trees. George Gould’s neighbor to the south, William Gould, operated the Olive Mill that gives Olive Mill Road its name.

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

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

Older articles can be seen by scrolling down or using the search feature in the upper right corner. Articles from the News-Press appear here a couple months after they appear in the paper.

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.

Pine Mountain Lodge Gene Marshall Piedra Blanca trail hiking backpacking Ojai Sespe Wilderness Los Padres National Forest

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.

plover shoreline park hike walk beach thousand steps leadbetter santa barbara

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.

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