Dan and Hannah Hike the Carpinteria Bluffs (southern California)


Albert Hammond got it, at most, 60% right this drought busting February of 2017.  You know, he’s the singer of It Never Rains in Southern CaliforniaClick here to be taken back to his yearning in verse.   Yet, even when it rains, southern California delivers for the outdoor-minded.  After stretching and meditating, Hannah and I walk from our cottage out into the light rain for our morning two and a half miles in the foothills just south of Santa Barbara.  The light rain cleanses, not soaks.

The morning precip returns me to our Arizona roots when rain was such an anomaly in the desert that Hannah and I would stare out into our backyard transfixed, to watch the hydro manna fall from heaven, even for just ten minutes.


In the high fifties, this first week of February in Summerland, the warmth of the rain conjures up memories of my choice for one of our two wedding songs – Summer Rain by Johnny Rivers.  Click here to be transported back to the music of our generation to our hilltop wedding in East Penfield, New York on July 1,1972. (By the way, Hannah’s choice was Crazy Love by Helen Reddy.)

Once back after our morning in the hills, we have coffee and Hannah’s biscuits, but no Sports Center, as is my routine with breakfast at home.  Nor do we have the Weather Channel, the perfect medium for obsessing – in this case, over monster snowstorms blanketing our Maine coast.  Turns out that our cottage just has basic cable; I mean basic as in only networks and reruns of Modern Family, Big Bang Theory and MASH.


Rather than channel surfing, I read up on what’s going on in the Santa Barbara area through the local free tabloids – Montecito Journal, Santa Barbara Independent, and the Carpinteria Coastal View News.

Today, mist to light rain eliminates any thought of Friday Pickleball at the outdoor Municipal Tennis Center in Santa Barbara.  So, we opt for Plan B, born in the Carpinteria Coastal View News.


Just four miles to the south of our cottage in Summerland lies Carpinteria, a small town of 14,000.   Known for it literally having the safest beach in the world, or so they claim, Carpinteria is home to seals and sea lions nesting below the nearby Carpinteria Bluffs.

With our grandsons, Owen (4.5) and Max (nearly 3), coming with their parents, Molly and Tip, in the weeks ahead, we are scoping out places to take the boys while their parents are off hiking.


Driving a mere six miles south on The 101 highway from our cottage, we turn off the Bailard Street exit and immediately arrive at the parking lot of the Carpinteria Bluff Nature Preserve.  On this upper 50F degree Friday afternoon, few others are here.


Our non-trail sandwiched between the bluffs and the railroad

With no guiding signs, we walk with faith toward the ocean for the bluffs.  California delivers when it comes to extraordinary bluff trails: Montana De Oro State Park outside of San Luis Obispo, San Simeon State Park north of Cambria, and the Wilder Ranch State Park in Santa Cruz.  Today we are hoping to add one more pearl to our necklace of bluff hiking gems.  (Click each park name above to read the blog and see the breathtaking photography of these rock star bluff hikes.)


With no signage telling us where to go, we take a sandy path towards the bluff’s edge.  Crossing the active railroad, we look over the edge to see 6 to 8′ rounded rocks in the sandy shore, but no seals.  With no discernible trail, we are sandwiched between 70’ cliffs to the ocean below us and twenty foot bluffs above of us.  Something is just not right; this is not a trail for visitors.

Discouraged, we head back and wonder what’s the big deal about this Carpinteria rookery!  Thank goodness, we checked this out so we wouldn’t make the mistake of wasting one of Owen and Max’s days in California here.


Still, something gnaws at us that we have missed something.  Ready to drive off, we approach a young man who explains that the seals are further north, beyond where the 12’ gravelly park path ends, on towards the pier.   No signs indicate any of this, but we take it on faith that this young fella knows what the hell he is talking about.


Highly motivated to find an afternoon’s fun with Owen and Max, we hike north on a sandy trail heading to the pier.  With others walking dogs, we all come upon a sign that directs us to a bluff overlook.  Seventy feet beneath us are three harbor seals, big blobs that blend into the smooth rocky shoreline with rocks as big as they are.  I defy you to pick out the seals among the rocks, even though I use my telephoto lens on my iPhone to get as close as I can.

We have an alternative for you to consdier.  If you come to California in January or February, go 150 miles north near San Simeon on the central coast, to see hundreds upon hundreds of elephant seals at Piedras Blancas.  Click here for that blog.


Successful in discerning that this is no place to bring preschoolers, we are about to win again as we meander through the town of Carpinteria on our way back to the cottage.  There, we check out the Carpinteria Beach State Park for beach fun for Owen and Max.   Learning that admission is $10 per day to the park, we are surprised, and pleased, when the attendant tells us to drive to the exit where we will find free street-side parking on Linden Avenue.  That beach is literally the same beach as the state park.

We should go to Vegas with the winning streak we are on.


Dan and Hannah Pickle, then Hike the Rattlesnake Trail in Santa Barbara


Newbie!  It’s a word that shouts outsider, who’s the new kid, let’s see what you got.  I am not a fan of being the newbie – the fish out of water when everyone else knows the ins and outs; has their circle of friends, knows what’s up.  It’s the antithesis of Cheers – Nobody knows your name.

Today has all the awkwardness of a first week at college or a new job or moving to a new town.  You see, Hannah and I have come to southern California to take a February bite out of winter in New England to play pickleball in Santa Barbara.

Fact is, many of the best things that have ever happened to me were because I had the courage to step past the fear of being the new kid – transferring to Arizona State University as a college senior, not knowing a soul, 2500 miles from home; taking my first teaching position in Anaheim, California without a friend or family in the area; moving to Maine with Hannah and our preschool daughters Molly and Robyn with no job, basically sight unseen.


The four dedicated pickleball courts in Santa Barbara

So today, Hannah and I buck up, put on our big boy and big girl pants, drive four miles, and just show up at the courts of the Municipal Tennis Center in Santa Barbara.  Showing up! which you fans of the Woodman (Woody Allen) know the truth that 90% of life is just showing up.  To our newness, today we’ll add playing pickleball outside, something we don’t do as indoor players of the pickle throughout the year in Maine.


The woman with the dynamite overhead smash

Arriving early to get used to playing outside on this first Wednesday in February, Hannah and I soon meet up with Brent and Wayne.  In quick succession, we hold our own and play games two and three; funny how no one seems to be paying much attention to us now, which they likely never were anyway.

Playing on a doubles team with Wayne, he turns to me and asks, Is that your wife, referring to Hannah?  What else can I say but, Yes, I’m the lucky guy.  He says, She’s good.  Something I’ve known for 50 since years since we first met as a first year students on the tennis courts at the College of Wooster in Ohio in 1967.


With the sun setting, Hannah moves in for the kill

After playing for an hour, I take a break and watch Hannah work her paddle magic.  Across the way, I can see three very good players in need of a fourth.  And soon of a gun, if my body just doesn’t elevate by itself and move over to their court to be their fourth.  Playing to 11,  I succeed in not embarrassing every pickleballer in the state of Maine.  Courage comes in many forms.

Rattlesnake Canyon hiking


The next morning, our plan is to figuratively go rattlesnake hunting in the San Ynez Mountains above Santa Barbara itself.  Click here for excellent directions from the website, Santa Barbara Hikes, to the Rattlesnake Trail as well as details of the hike itself.  We learn that our chances of seeing a slithering, scaly reptile rattling its way up the trail are lower than, well, a snake’s belly.


Driving from our cottage in Summerland, we jump on the four-lane 101 highway, exit Olive Road, eventually driving via Canoas Road to Skofield Park.  Here in the Front Country, tucked among the multi-multi-million dollar homes is an open area park for youth groups.  A group of mostly Hispanic-American middle school kids are seated in a circle and calling out the gratitudes in their lives, as three of American’s saints – public school teachers – encourage them and add their positive energy.

In the overcast, we walk 200 yards along the Canoas Road, and then cross a stone bridge over Rattlesnake Canyon Creek.  On our climb of 1000′ feet of elevation gain, our mission is to see the creek waterfall on our way to a meadow beneath the San Ynez mountaintops.


With Hannah in the lead, the rocky trail is easy to navigate with switchbacks taking us up the mountainside.  Soon we easily step stone across the flowing creek.  After six years of drought throughout California, and especially in Santa Barbara County, any flowing water is a victory of hydroponic-proportions.  The bubbling sound makes it seem everything is right in the world, despite the turmoil across the country along the turbulent Potomac.


Many times we see side trails that could be the main trail but aren’t.  Keeping the creek’s gurgling within earshot, we are unlikely to get lost.  Rating the hike moderate plus, we climb steadily, giving us the excellent workout we had hoped.

Creek crossings are easy as we climb into the mountain.  Seeing cascading water falling three feet over the rocks, we wonder does this pass for a waterfall in parched California?  It can’t.  That’s embarrassing.  We hike on.


Bombing along the Rattlesnake Trail

With the 2000+ foot mountains high above us we hope for some big time falls, but clearly to think that, we must be on that now legal California weed.   With the trail skirting the Rattlesnake Canyon Creek, we, weedless, see more rapids, a cascade or two, but definitely no waterfalls.


Our little buddy, the pocket gopher

Soon, high above the creek switchbacking on to the mountain meadow, we spot a rattlesnake snack sticking its head out of its recently excavated tunnel.  It’s a pocket gopher, maybe four inches long who checks us out, stays put, and decides today is not the day he will push his luck.

At the meadow, we know that we can take the Rattlesnake Connector trail, another ¾ miles to the Tunnel Trail.  Click here for our hike of the Tunnel Trail during the Great drought of 2014.  But that’s a steep and rocky climb.  Why ruin a fine day of hiking by being rock climbing idiots?   Hiking for us is for the enjoyment of a good workout among nature’s playground, not battling the mountain into submission.


The meadow at Rattlesnake Canyon

Taking a water and granola break at the meadow, we realize that we, in fact, have totally missed the waterfall, thinking it was a mere cascade.


The quote waterfall

Upon our hike down the mountain, we spot the quote waterfall, walk down to the water’s edge, where I find a fetching woman to model our discovery.   See my 17 second video below.

Dan and Hannah Evening, Then Morning Hike in Seaside Summerland, California


Summerland is five miles south of Santa Barbara

California!  The La La Land of opportunity.  The sixth largest economy in the world!   The number one state for tourism.  Home to Anaheim, where I began my teaching career in 1970.  To live our California Dream, we are renting a cottage through VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner) four hundred yards up the hillside from the Pacific Ocean.


Our reasons for coming West in February are many, but three dominate: (1) to be physically active in the outdoors during a traditional frigid month in New England; to walk each morning, to sit on the front deck with early coffee or later wine, to explore the area without being bundled up, (2) to find a community of pickleball players to sharpen our game and connect with the locals in more than a passing way, and (3) to hike its trails for both exercise and grist for my Saturday blogs, the writing that feeds my soul.


Pickleball Hannah on the courts in Santa Barbara

On our first full day on the southern coast of California, we drive four miles to Santa Barbara to check out the pickleball courts at the Municipal Tennis Center.  Later, we get our walking jones a workout by strolling the seaside campus of Santa Barbara City College (tuition for California residents at $700/semester!)

PM walk

After chilling for the afternoon, we take to the foothills just behind our cottage.  With a hillside community of homes within literally an arm’s reach of each other, we pass the 69-student elementary school and the local petite Presbyterian Church on our way to the roadside trail.

Turning left on the frontage road (Lillie Road), heavy with late afternoon commuter traffic, we walk south on the sidewalk just above the clogged four-lane 101 highway.  Traffic is constant, but the white noise is a sonorous reminder of how lucky we are to be here in southern California’s warmth in February.


Dan, the Afternoon Hiking Man

Just past the upscale Summerland Market, wooden stairs lead us to a wood chip trail.  With a grassy dog park to our left, we are twenty feet above the frontage road.  Soon, passing the upscale “don’t even think about coming in” gated communities, we are soothed by the hum of the homeward bound commuter traffic and the occasional coastal Amtrak train.


Hannah, the Inland Trail Hiking Woman

After 15 minutes, the trail takes us inland; designed for horses, we step around the horseshoe imprints of the semi-muddy path.  Fact is, we can’t believe our good fortune in having stumbled on a trail minutes from our hillside cottage.

Heading inland along the low stone wall of the adjacent expansive polo field (the size of at least twenty football fields), we have the trail to ourselves heading into the Front Country (i.e. foothills).  Noticing that we have been out 40 minutes, we u-turn to explore this trail further on another day.


Summerland Sunset

Warm enough for wine on the deck, we toast our good fortune on our first day in paradise.  Why two days ago, I was chipping ice off our front deck in York, Maine and resigned to having the four-inch layer of snowy ice on our driveway basketball court there until spring.)

AM Hike

Mornings come early these first few days of California-ing because the three-hour time change from East Coast to Left Coast messes with our sleep cycles.  A little after 5A, we stretch for thirty minutes, then meditate together.


Before breakfast, we drive a mile down the same frontage road (Lillie) then veer left onto Greenwell Drive, which takes us towards the Summerland foothills; there we park at the Greenwell Preserve trailhead.   Our trail, maintained by the Montecito Trail Foundation, takes us into coastal horse country, far removed from the congestion on The 101.  Click here for the link to the MTF site and its magnificent work.


Hiking the trails between horse farms just after dawn

As with the inland trails of last night, clearly these trails were created for horses of the well-to-do, the amazingly well-to-do, and the Bill Gates and Warren Buffet well-to-do.  The average home in Summerland is north of $1M.  Due to the recent rainy weather, the trail is pock mark by the horse’s shoes.  This, my friends, is a first world problem.

Before the rest of the county is up and about, that is other than the migrant Hispanic workers tending to the animals of the estate owners, we have a narrow trail away to ourselves.



The MTF gets four stars for trail marking.  At each turn when we aren’t sure where to go, there is a trail sign saying, you guessed it, “trail.”  Soon we are climbing into the foothills with a lemon, then later mandarin orange orchard to our left.   The rutted trail has been grooved by the horses and often we must squeeze onto the ridges on either side.



Not exactly lambs lying with lions, but this goat and horse seem like sisters in spirit

Passing potbelly pigs, the occasional barking dogs, and the most beautiful horses with goats sharing their fields, we hike in nature’s paradise on a mostly level morning trail through the foothills of Santa Barbara County.


On the trail again

Thirty plus minutes in, the trail becomes swamped with long, wet grass from the previous week’s rain.   Though 50F, Hannah is chilled from her wet feet to her always cold hands.   So being a man of amazing insight, I connect the dots and agree to head back to the trailhead.


After 75 minutes of hiking the trails of the Pacific coast, I sip my morning Peet’s coffee complemented by Hannah’s buttermilk biscuits.  Our California breakfast of champions.

Dan Introduces Hannah’s Poem for the New Year

You may or may not know that Hannah is quite the poet.  In fact, she is one of my favorite poets!  I love this poem of hers and asked her if I could post it for this her 69th birthday, February 6, 2017.   She introduces her poem with this quote from Dr. Albert Schweitzer.

Sometimes our light goes out but is blown into instant flame by an encounter with another human being. Each of us owes the deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this inner light. 

Love’s Pure Light

Another year before me,

behind me many more;

each has taught me in its own way

what I have come here for. 


Learning, healing every day

is what I’m here to do.

Things happen for, not to me;

every day I start brand new.


To be who I was sent to be –

an expression of Love’s light;

may I help another live in faith ~

they’ll get through Life’s darkest night.


It’s others who keep my own light lit;

you keep my heart unfurled.

Each of you, a breath of grace:

Together we light the world.

Hannah Banana (2017)

Dan and Hannah are Snowbirds (Yikes)

When Hannah and I were twenty-somethings living in the Valley of the Sun (Phoenix metropolitan area), each December we braced for the snowbirds – those retirees, often from Minne-snow-ta, Io-where?, and Nebraska to descend like a plague of locusts, like the Black Death, like 35 pickleballers for three courts!  They would nest and swarm across the Valley.


Valley of the Sun with Phoenix at its center

And, was I ever self-righteous!  Silently mocking their clothes, their shapes, and their leisure while I was busting my butt teaching elementary school students.  I was Smug with a capital S.   I’m not proud of that now; in fact, embarrassed.  Can you tell that I’m trying to cleanse my soul with these admissions?

And then, what do you know?  Now that Hannah and I have retired, we are sheepishly thinking of joining the flock of our white-feathered brethren somewhere warm ourselves.   Order me a big slice of humble pie (with four and twenty black and snow white birds).

For the past three years to prepare to join the pasty flock from the North, we’ve traveled to California each January for a fortnight of hiking.   Last year we also spent some of February in southern Utah as well as a few days back in Arizona.


Jasmine Cottage

Doing the VRBO (i.e., Vacation Rental by Owner) thing in California, we have rented the three-bedroom Jasmine Cottage in Summerland, 400 yards up the hillside above the Pacific Ocean; it’s just south of Santa Barbara and 85 miles north of Los Angeles.  California offers me an alternative to the indoor winter routine and its punishing cold and dark.

With pickleball in nearby Santa Barbara, we have the local coastal Santa Ynez Mountains for hiking.  San Luis Obispo is just a hundred miles to the north, with hiking at nearby Montana de Oro State Park.  With the state parks of Big Sur three to four hours away, we are living the snowbirds’ dream.

For me, this whole “California” thing had its roots during my high school years in the mid-60s in New Jersey.  Who was cooler than the Beach Boys for surfing wannabes like myself?


In time, megabands like California’s Spanky and Our Gang and the Mamas and Papas rose to the top of my hit parade.  The Mamas and Papas classic California Dreamin’ worked its way into my heart, my soul, and my belief that there was something better than New Jersey.  No offense, Garden Staters.   When times were tough for me, I could always escape to California in my mind.  And once I conceive an idea, action soon follows full speed ahead.  After college, I took my first teaching job in Anaheim, California.

Three years ago, Summerland was where we first started hiking in California.    Thanks to Hannah’s friend Rose, we walked the beach at Summerland to warm up our hiking muscles.   Who knew three years later we’d been spending a month overlooking that very beach?  Click here for that Summerland Beach blog.


Summerland is a hillside community of less than 1500 where there is no mail delivery (i.e., just general delivery at the local post office).   With no super markets, we can drive to Trader Joe’s five miles up The 101 highway to Santa Barbara. On coastal bluffs, Summerland has an average high temperature of 65F in January, the same for February, and 66F for March.   Is it any wonder that this temperate climate draws snowbirds aplenty to the “American Rivera?”

In the 1880s, Real estate speculator H.L. Williams founded the town of Summerland, divided the land into 25’ x 60’ plots (i.e., postage stamps) for his fellow Spiritualists. (Spiritualists believe that the spirits of the dead can communicate with living people.)  The spiritual center of the town was a Spiritualist Church, with a séance room, later demolished when The 101 was constructed in the 1950s; Summerland was once referred to as “Spookville.”


Our first night, a Summerland sunset

In the 1890s, oil development began in Summerland with wooden oil derricks constructed on the beach and on piers stretching into the ocean.  In January 1969, a blowout at an offshore oil field platform caused the infamous Santa Barbara Oil Spill.  Unfortunately, a recent spill from an oil pipeline is currently fouling the local beach.  Fortunately, we have sandy alternatives nearby in Santa Barbara and Carpinteria.


Along the one mile Ortega Hill Loop in Summerland

During our first week here, we walk each morning.  One morning we happen upon the Ortega Hill Loop overlooking the pacific not ten minutes walk from our cottage. Along the trail are workout stations.   Can you guess what this one to the right is for?  (Answer below.)


And one more thing from the Handbook of Snowbirds – Never complain about the days when it rains or when there is a nip in the morning air.  The sympathy meter will point to zero by your family and friends up North who have two more months of roof raking, snowy roads, and cabin fever, while you are California Dreamin’.

Answer: Body stretcher for your back