Just a week ago, Hannah and I hiked the East Fork of the Cold Spring Trail; it’s our new favorite hike in the Santa Barbara area. Click here for that blog. Today, on the last Thursday in January, 2020, we drive twenty minutes to the same trailhead in Montecito to hike her little brother, the West Fork.
Taking the common trail with the East Fork for a quarter of a mile or so, we then branch left towards the mountains.
Crossing the creek quite easily, I take a picture of Hannah in front of the boulders for scale to show what type of boulders came bounding down this creek bed two years ago.
I am immediately struck by the regeneration of the flora, just two years after the Thomas Fire laid waste to this mountain hillside; and then obliterated everything in its path, through the canyon and into nearby neighborhoods. The black stick figures of the oaks and sycamores are moving to the background behind green bushes and new tree growth. Mother Nature is the winner and still champion.
The single track trail takes us steadily into the mountains, soon climbing high above the West Fork of the Cold Spring Creek. There are some dicey, sandy gravelly sections of the trail that kick up dust as we lean into the mountain to maintain our balance. It’s no trail for our grandsons, Owen (7), Max (5), and Brooks (1). In time, Brooks’s sisters will kick butt and leave these boys in the dust.
It’s a winding trail through the Santa Barbara Front Country that once lead to Tangerine Falls, now a distant memory thanks to the Biblical debris flow. Climbing steadily along now dry riverbed, we are not surprised by the parched landscape as Santa Barbara County is experiencing a mini-drought this winter.
Thirty minutes into our hike, perhaps a mile in, we come upon the Cold Spring Tunnel, built in 1905. It has seen better days. It was Santa Barbara’s first municipal water supply for this semi-arid area that gets just 18” of rain per year. As a point of reference, uber-arid Phoenix, Arizona gets 7” of rain per year while Portland, Maine gets 49” of rain.
At this point, the trail takes a steep turn into the mountains with pebbly gravel switchbacks that take us by more evidence of the redemptive power of Mother Nature. The Grand Lady aside, we find the footing uneven and have no interest in climbing further into the mountains without much shade.
Now forty-five minutes into our hike, we abandon ship and U-turn for the trailhead. Upon our return, we inch slowly down the trail as I hike fifteen feet behind Hannah. The reason being, if I were to slip, I don’t want to take Hannah with me into the canyon below.
All’s well that ends well. Though the West Fork of the Cold Spring Trail takes a backseat to its Big Sister, the East Fork, what’s not to love about sunshine and blue skies on the trail.