A mere ten minutes from our downtown Santa Barbara motel we turn left on to the winding Tunnel Road heading to the mountains and roadside trailhead parking. It’s a mid-morning in January and the temperature is a Mediterranean 75F without a cloud in the sky.
Climbing the weathered paved trail into the mountains for a good ¾ of a mile, we are looking for the seven-mile round-trip Jesusita Trail.
Spanish – the language of passion and melody. I missed a golden opportunity to learn Spanish when I taught many Chicano kids in the Phoenix, AZ area for eight years in the 1970s. Just say Jesusita (Hey-sue-see-ta). It’s lyrical and flows off the tongue.
For a second day the trails are poorly marked. We see one sign for the Jesusita Trail and then we are on our own. With a hike of 1200 foot gain (i.e., from the lowest point on the trail to the highest there is a difference of 1200 feet), we are looking for a good three hour workout on our last day in Santa Barbara.
What we guess is the trail is a steep climb up a wide fire road. That doesn’t sound right, but we see no alternative. Straight up the hill we trudge. One half mile later the trail dead-ends at the base of one of the most beautiful transmission towers you have ever seen. I’m kidding. It is the typical erector set tower that is kin to the tacky, garish highway billboard. We have no sense that the trail exits from this plateau. With no intention of bushwhacking through the brush, we say no mas.
The climb down from the transmission tower is worse. The dry, loose stone trail has us slip, sliding away. We brace our legs and inch side-saddle down the quote trail. Hannah hugs the side of the trail knowing this can’t be good for her once broken left leg. We escape and, as we did yesterday, look for a Plan B.
We double back down the trail to the Tunnel Trail sign. What the heck? Let’s give it a go. It’s billed as a 9 to 11 mile hike so today we will not reach the summit of the nearly 4000’ La Cumbre Peak, the highest peak in Santa Barbara. But 40 minutes up and then 40 back will give us a solid morning of hiking. Goats have worked this trailhead to clear vegetation to minimize the fire danger.
In Great Day Hikes in Santa Barbara by Diane Soini we learn that the Tunnel Trail is one of the most popular hikes in the area. A YELP review is encouraging – Great hike. Took me about 5:30h roundtrip, but that’s b/c I did take lunch and take time to eat at the top. A tough, sweaty 3h up, and a relatively easy 2h down.
Immediately we fall in love with the trail. Generally just wide enough for one, the trail has switchbacks that make the mountain ascent a challenge but very doable. Hiking through the chaparral and brush country under a cloudless sky, I feel like we are in a desert landscape something similar to what you would find at South Mountain Park in Phoenix, Arizona. In the midst of this terrible drought in California, every so often we see a yellow flower the size of a small button.
From the Santa Barbara Independent newspaper – Long-term water planners are now suggesting the state is in the worst water predicament since the 1880s. Grabbing national headlines is the fact that 17 communities throughout California are now officially without water. Hydro geologists are tossing about the term “mega-drought”…
It’s a serious, steady, challenging climb under a full sun. With what we imagine is the summit always in view, we know that we will return next winter to hike the entire Tunnel Trail.
After some time by the pool for Hannah at our motel and a siesta for me, we take The 101 highway north in the late afternoon to see the campus of UCSB (University of California, Santa Barbara). A good three or four miles from town right on the Pacific Ocean, this campus of 21,000 students reflects the melting pot that is California. Caucasian students (39%), Hispanics (29%), Asian students (23%), and American-Africans (4%) make up most of the student body.
We notice the campus is made for biking. Bike paths cross the campus like an intricate morning spider web. With signs promising a $181 fine for bike riders taking short cuts off the bike paths, I don’t see a single bike rider pedaling off any bike path during our hour on campus.
And aren’t these bins so California! As a New Jersey kid I always thought that all the social and cultural trends began in California, jumped to the East Coast then oozed from the West and East into the rest of the country. You do remember that California was the first to have “right on red” turns for drivers before anywhere else in the country.
We are sold on the California coast.