Posted by: James Wapotich | November 28, 2016

Trail Quest: Frémont’s Ridge

Hiked the Fremont Ridge Trail last weekend. This is the ridge that on Christmas Eve, 1846, Lieutenant Colonel John C. Frémont made his historic march over the Santa Ynez Mountains on his way to capture Santa Barbara.

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

John C Fremont Ridge Trail Los Laureles Canyon hike Santa Barbara east camino cielo San Rafael Mountains Los Padres National Forest

The San Rafael Mountains are seen from Fremont Ridge 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 | November 21, 2016

Trail Quest: Upper Cold Spring Canyon

Made the hike above Tangerine Falls last weekend to the Root Cellar. Still a little bit of water near one of the crossings along the upper trail. Also made the trek up to East Camino Cielo.

Tangerine Falls Cold Spring Canyon Trail Santa Barbara Montecito Hike Los Padres National Forest Santa Ynez Mountains

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

Cold Spring Canyon Trail hike Santa Barbara Montecito Los Padres national forest Santa Ynez Mountains

Upper Cold Spring Canyon

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.

Banana Slug Cold Spring Canyon Santa Ynez Mountains Los Padres National Forest

A pair of banana slugs are seen along the creek

Posted by: James Wapotich | November 19, 2016

Trail Quest: Pine Mountain Lodge

Did a day hike to Pine Mountain Lodge a couple weeks ago. There is good, flowing water at both Piedra Blanca and Twin Forks camps. There is also water to be found at Pine Mountain Lodge, barely a trickle crossing into camp, but good water can be found by following the use trail upstream along the eastern side of the creek. Just as it turns up a side canyon there is flowing water and some nice little pools to filter from.There was only standing water at the alternate Pine Mountain Lodge site, i.e. the one with the picnic table and ice can stove.

Article appears in Section A of the November 14th, 2016 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

Piedra Blanca sandstone Gene Marshall Ojai sepse wilderness hike backpacking Los padres national forest

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

Big cone spruce douglas fir

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

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

One of my favorite parks for evening walks and a fun loop hike when the tides are low enough to connect from Leadbetter over to Thousand Steps.

Article appears in Section A of the November 7th, 2016 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

plover shoreline park hike walk beach thousand steps leadbetter santa barbara

A plover pauses along the beach

shoreline park beach walk hike Santa Barbara thousand steps leadbetter mesa

The beach below Shoreline Park

Posted by: James Wapotich | October 31, 2016

Trail Quest: Plowshare Spring

In 2013, I hiked through this area while hiking the Condor Trail and somehow missed the turn off to Plowshare Spring and thought it might be interesting to go back and look for the site. I was also a little perplexed the last time I was out there as to why the trail changed names in the middle of nowhere. That is, Kerry Canyon Trail comes up from Kerry Canyon, crosses Pine Flat, and then drops down into Pine Canyon. Halfway through Pine Canyon it becomes Indians Trail.

After a visit to the USGS website with its collection of historic topo maps I learned there’s an old section of Indians Trail that’s no longer shown on the map. That section came down from Lake Ridge Trail and met Kerry Canyon Trail right were the existing trail changes names. And so I thought, in addition to looking for Plowshare Spring, I’d make a loop of it and try for the old Indians Trail to tie into Lake Ridge Trail and camp at Brookshire.

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

Sierra Madre Mountains frame a view from the old Indians Trail

The old section of Indians Trail leads through mostly oak savannah. It’s a little indistinct coming up out of the canyon, but then turns into a well-established cattle trail that follows the old route more or less precisely.

Not a whole lot of water out there along the trail and no water at Plowshare Spring. I was able to find water at Brookshire. Right by the camp, there’s nothing but standing pools of water, all mucked up by the cows, however, I was able to find a clean pool a little ways upstream.

Article appears in Section A of the October 31st, 2016 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

Kerry Canyon Trail Indians Pine Canyon hike Los Padres National Forest

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

Lake Ridge Trail hike Pine Canyon Los Padres National Forest

Pine Canyon is seen from Lake Ridge Trail

Posted by: James Wapotich | October 31, 2016

Trail Quest: Surf Beach

Now that we’ve reached the end of snowy plover season it is once again possible to hike this 4-5 mile long sandy beach west of Lompoc. The beach can be accessed from either Ocean Beach Park, located along the estuary of the Santa Ynez River, or from Surf Beach, located at the site of the historic Surf Train Station, which has since been replaced with the current Amtrak commuter station.

Surf Beach tide pools Wall hike lompoc Ocean Park

Tide pools along the coast near Surf Beach

Article appears in Section A of the October 24th, 2016 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

Bird track Surf Beach lompoc hike

Bird tracks line the shore at Surf Beach

Posted by: James Wapotich | October 31, 2016

Trail Quest: The Search for Mono Adobe

The Mono Adobe was a guard station along the North Cold Spring Trail. The station was destroyed when the Mono flooded and cut a new course through the middle of the adobe. Today, all that remains at the site is a grove of willows and the two dead ornamental trees that stood next to the station.

Three years ago I wrote a similar article on this topic. It was one of the first, first person articles I submitted to the News-Press, only they edited it and turned every first person reference to third person and created an article that made no sense.

As part of the process to shift to the column to first person I submitted a reworked version of that original article, leaving out the longer hike description I had in the original version and adding in more content around the actual search.

Mono Adobe North Cold Spring Trail Los Padres National Forest

Ornamental tree and willows are seen at the adobe site

Article about the adobe and it’s history appears in Section A of the October 17th, 2016 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

Posted by: James Wapotich | October 31, 2016

Trail Quest: Catching the show at Raspberry Spring

Watering holes are often the best place to see a variety of animals, particularly birds, which seem to linger near them. Raspberry Spring is on the backside of Pine Mountain, about a half-mile from the top. It is one of the few sources of water on the mountain, which made it seem like an ideal location to see a concentrated amount of wildlife. 

Recalling the advice of accomplished birders such as Joan Easton Lentz and Roger Millikan, who shared that the best time to see birds is in the morning before 10 a.m., I made a plan to camp there the night before and get an early start.

Most birds are not very active at night, and it isn’t until the sun comes up that they start their day. In the morning, one of their first tasks is to find something to eat. It stood to reason that getting water would also be part of that routine; therefore, the spring might have a lot of activity during that same time period. 

western grey squirrel raspberry spring los padres national forest

A western grey squirrel makes its way to the spring

Pine Mountain overlooks the Cuyama Valley to the north and the Sespe Valley to the south and is part of what’s known as Pine Mountain Ridge, a collection of peaks in Ventura County that are part of the Transverse Ranges.

The mountain is reached from Ojai by heading north along State Route 33 to Reyes Peak Road, which leads to the top of the mountain. The paved road leads past both Pine Mountain and Reyes Peak Campgrounds, which together offer a dozen campsites on a first come, first served basis.

There are also two trail camps near the spring, which would’ve made it convenient for me to visit the spring first thing in morning. However, because of the Level IV fire restrictions, I opted for the easy life of car camping. Level IV fire restrictions ban all campfires throughout the forest and cook stoves are only permitted in designated campgrounds such as car camping places. In other words, no cooked meals for dinner and no hot coffee in the morning at trail camps.

Rising early the next morning, I made my way over to the trailhead on the north side of the road, across from Reyes Peak Campground, and hiked down to Raspberry Spring. The half-mile trail leads through a mix of conifers, including ponderosa and sugar pines, as well as white fir. 

Steller's jay raspberry spring los padres national forest pine mountain

A Steller’s Jay stations itself near the spring

On the hike in, I set off several bird alarms that preceded my arrival at the spring. Birds make a variety of calls to communicate with one another including birdsong and companion calls. An alarm call alerts nearby birds of potential predators. The call is spread through the woods as each bird in turn passes the call along, essentially telegraphing the presence of any disturbance or predator as it moves through the forest, in this case, a lone hiker still waking up. 

From the trail camps, I followed the short side trail, quickly found a shaded spot overlooking the spring, and settled in. I figured that once I stopped moving and quietly waited, the birds would start to return.

When I was a kid there was an actual redwood tub at the spring that was set in the ground and came up about knee high. Water was piped from the spring and filled the tub. Growing around one side was a clump of wild raspberries. The spring has since fallen into disrepair. 

Today the site has two metal pipes, one that flows into the remnants of the old tub, where there are still a few raspberry vines, and another a couple of feet away. Even with the drought, both still provide a steady drip of water, which creates puddles beneath them. 

pygmy nuthatches birding pine mountain raspberry spring

a pair of pygmy nuthatches gather at the spring

As soon as things quieted down, red-breasted and pygmy nuthatches along with mountain chickadees started to filter in. These little birds would scamper up and down the pines making a rustling sound on the bark, before then hopping furtively from branch to branch, as they inched their way closer to the spring to get a drink. 

Steller’s jays, along with white-headed and acorn woodpeckers soon followed suit, each working their way down from the higher branches, and incrementally making their way to the spring to get at the water, before then retreating back up the branches. 

As the birds continued their routine, several western grey squirrels started moving in. Across the spring from me were two pine trees growing close together and beyond them a couple more trees in a row. The squirrels seemed to favor two routes. They would either scamper along the hillside, like little commandos, pausing at the base of each tree before making a dash to the waterhole. Or they would make their way to the two trees nearest the spring, climb up the backside, and stealthily make their way down the front, displacing along the way whatever birds may have been in line for a drink.

White-headed acorn woodpecker, band-tailed pigeon birding raspberry spring pine mountain hike

White-headed woodpecker, band-tailed pigeon and acorn woodpecker crowd together at the spring

While all this was going on, I watched a band-tailed pigeon settle in several trees back from the spring. It sat there for a good while and then moved in one tree closer, and sat some more. Its advance was so slow I was beginning to wonder if pigeons even drank water. It eventually made its way down to the base of the tree nearest the spring, where it waited some more. And then when it felt satisfied that it was safe, went in for some water. 

Soon more birds and squirrels began filtering in towards the spring, including two more pigeons. It was as if everyone else was saying, “Well if the pigeons are getting a drink, it must be safe.” 

As the activity increased, it started to feel like quite a menagerie was building. Among the birds, there were nuthatches, chickadees, woodpeckers, Steller’s jays, and pigeons. And whereas before the different animals each took their turn, now two or three of them would go in at a time for a drink. A lone warbler joined the party, and at one point, a bold little chipmunk dashed in and got a drink. 

chipmunk pine mountain raspberry spring los padres national forest

A chipmunk pauses near the spring

By now we were up to about a half-dozen grey squirrels, including a pair that were busy making sure that there would be more grey squirrels for future generations of naturalists to appreciate.

I wasn’t sure if the animals had gotten used to me or if my presence was keeping away their predators, but there was a growing feeling of safety and good cheer at the spring. I could hear the rustling of nuthatches and chickadees on the trees on every side of me and the sounds of more birds moving in closer through the forest. As the sounds continued to build, I was even starting to feel like I might be overrun by wildlife.

Arriving late to the party, this one squirrel in particular worked its way up the two pines closest to the spring and started down the front side of the nearest pine. It took one look at me and did not like what it was seeing. How could everyone be fine with this large potential predator lurking so near the spring? And with that, it excitedly started making its alarm call – a loud, repeated chirp that reverberated through the small canyon where the spring is located. At first, the other animals just let the sound wash over them as part of the moment, but soon each in turn dispersed from the area, moving to a safe distance to assess what all the ruckus was about.

I continued my vigil for another 45 minutes feeling appropriately reprimanded, while the nuthatches and chickadees slowly returned, along with a couple of the calmer grey squirrels. However, it was clear that the party was over and with mid-morning arriving, it seemed like that was my cue to head home. Nevertheless, I left feeling inspired by the amount of wildlife I’d seen and on the hike out was busy thinking of other water holes I could visit. 

This article originally appeared in Section A of the October 10th, 2016 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

Acorn woodpecker birding raspberry spring pine mountain hike

Acorn woodpecker

The inspiration for this article came from a desire to get to see a variety of wildlife in one location. Recalling the amount of birds I saw when I was at San Emigdio Mesa Spring, I thought I might have similar luck at Raspberry Spring given that it’s one of the few water sources near the top of the mountain.

Posted by: James Wapotich | September 13, 2016

Navigating Wilderness

Wilderness Navigation backpacking nature connection trails skills class workshop Santa barbara los padres national forest Mike Kresky Lanny Kaufer Edible Medicinal Plants animal tracking


Wilderness Navigation backpacking nature connection trails skills class workshop Santa barbara los padres national forest Mike Kresky Lanny Kaufer Edible Medicinal Plants animal tracking


Navigating Wilderness
Saturdays, Oct. 22-Nov. 12

Learn from local experts how to read the landscape and trails, and become more familiar with the native plants and animals of our area through this immersive class.

The Santa Barbara and Ojai backcountry offers more than 500,000 acres of designated wilderness and hundreds of miles of trails to explore, and yet often the biggest obstacle to venturing out on the land or going deeper into nature is simply having the skills and confidence to get started.

Through this immersive four Saturday workshop, you will learn how to read the landscape and trails; become more familiar with the edible and medical plants of our region; learn about the animals of our area and how to recognize their tracks; and build skills and awareness that allow you to feel more at home in the woods.

Each class takes place outside, on one of our local trails, and provides a mix of hands on instruction, immersive exercises, and council sharing circles that allows for learning on many levels.

Reading the Landscape
October 22nd, 9AM-2PM

Learn how to orient yourself to the local landscape, read the topography, and create your own mental maps. Discover how to navigate the backcountry without the use of a compass or GPS; and learn to remove the word lost from your vocabulary.

Edible and Medicinal Plants
October 29th, 9AM-2PM

Venturing out onto the land is even more rewarding when we take time to develop a meaningful connection with nature.

Join local plant expert Lanny Kaufer as we learn about the edible and medical plants in our area. Many of these plants were first used by the Chumash and have a rich ethnobotanical history.

Plants are great teachers of how to adapt to a particular place and move with the seasons. Learn how to recognize a number of our native plants; where to find them; and their different uses.

Animal Tracks and Tracking
November 5th, 9AM-2PM

Our backcountry is home to a rich variety of animals that often goes unseen by us. Join local tracker and naturalist Mike Kresky as we learn about these animals and their relationship to the land. Learn how to recognize some of the common tracks of our local mammals, birds, and even reptiles.

Tuning into the wildlife around us can deepen our awareness of place and through our senses connect us to the aliveness of the natural world.

November 12th, 9AM-2PM

Many of our local trails are overgrown, particularly those off the beaten path.

Learn how to read the trails, practice route-finding, and develop your own sense of “body radar” to help you navigate in the wilderness. We will work with how to create a trail narrative and interpret the landscape, and begin to see nature as an ally and how to hone and trust your senses.


James Wapotich is a Volunteer Wilderness Ranger with the Forest Service and the author of the Santa Barbara News-Press hiking column, Trail Quest. He leads guided hikes and has hiked many of the trails in our local backcountry.

Lanny Kaufer regularly leads Herb Walks and Nature Hikes in Ojai and Santa Barbara and is celebrating his 40th year of teaching people about edible and medicinal plants. He has studied with William LeSassier and has led herb walks with the late Chumash plant expert Juanita Centeno and Dr. Jim Adams of the USC School of Pharmacy.

Mike Kresky is an accomplished naturalist and wildlife tracker. He co-authored the field guide Animal Tracks and Scat of California and has completed the intensive Kamana Naturalist Training Program. He leads workshops on tracking and has explored much of the local backcountry.

All four Saturday classes take place on our local trails.

To sign up or for more information, please contact:
James (805) 729-4250

Workshop is $175 per person, or bring a friend and both $150 each.
Must be able to comfortably hike 2-3 miles

Posted by: James Wapotich | September 13, 2016

Hiking Santa Barbara’s Historic Backcountry Trails

Hiking Santa Barbara’s Historic Backcountry Trails backpacking los padres national forest wilderness homesteads mining cattle chumash routes


Hiking Santa Barbara’s Historic Backcountry Trails

Free Slideshow Presentation with Q&A

Wednesday, October 12th, 7:00PM
Karpeles Manuscript Library
21 W. Anapamu St., Santa Barbara, CA

The original trails through our backcountry were along routes used by the Chumash. When settlers began homesteading in the backcountry new trails were added. And during the early part of the 1900s, and the 1930s, the Forest Service built additional trails.

This talk will highlight three historic trails in our backcountry. Routes that can still be explored today. The Mono-Alamar Trail, which was used during the Chumash Revolt of 1824. The Sisquoc River Trail, which was built by the early homesteaders. And the Alexander Trail, which was a cattle trail into the backcountry between what is now Rancho Oso and Santa Cruz Camp.

Join local author James Wapotich as he shares images and stories from his hikes along these historic trails. James has hiked many of the trails in our local backcountry. He is a Volunteer Wilderness Ranger with the Forest Service, and is the author of the Santa Barbara News-Press hiking column, Trail Quest.

For more information call (805) 729-4250 or email

I’ve also been invited to participate in a panel discussion at Antioch University, Wednesday, Oct. 19th, from 4:30-5:45pm, at their Community Hall, 602 Anacapa St., Santa Barbara, CA.

The Benefits of Nature Connection on Mental Health

For millennia, humans have connected with nature as a means of sustenance, healing, and rejuvenation. In our modern times however, we have become increasingly disconnected from the natural world. Recent research has shown that nature connection can have far-reaching impacts on our mental health and overall well-being.

Join us as we hear from a panel of experts who will share stories and anecdotes from their clinical experience, indigenous Chumash wisdom, and time on the land that have helped people find healing, self-awareness, and clarity through connecting with nature.

For those who regularly enjoy the outdoors, or those looking to bring more balance to their lives by trying something new, this discussion is sure to expand your understanding of the benefits of spending time in nature. Bring your questions, your curiosity, and your loved ones to this enriching discussion on integrating nature connection into your personal mental health practices.

Panelists include:

    • Linda Buzzell Saltzman, MFT and Eco-therapist
    • Art Cisneros, Elder in the Chumash Community
    • Jennifer Ferraez, LCSW and Homeless Outreach Clinician
    • Doyle Hollister, MFT and Life-long Wilderness Wanderer
    • Alexis Slutzky, MFT and Wilderness Guide
    • Dan Spach, MFTI and Nature Connection Mentor
    • James Wapotich, Wilderness Guide, Author, and Artist

For more info call Sierra (805) 708-4058 or email or go to of Nature Connection on Mental Health Antioch University Linda Buzzell Saltzman Art Cisneros Jennifer Ferraez Doyle Hollister Alexis Slutzky Dan Spach

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