It’s the last week of our two months in California during the winter of 2022. Sunday we attend the Unity of Santa Barbara service and learn the exciting news that a new team of ministers (Cathy Norman and Temple Hayes) are going to lead the church. It’s our spiritual home albeit three thousand miles from York, Maine.
That afternoon Hannah and I take part in a popular ritual of winter in this area – the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. We attended the showing of King Richard with Will Smith and Aunjanue Ellis (both up for Academy Awards) in the 2000 seat Arlington Theater on State Street in Santa Barbara. Loving the movie, we listen to the director after about the making of the film.
We are looking for one final warm weather hike into the mountains of the Front Country of Santa Barbara before we return to the snow and cold of Maine in March.
Choosing the San Ysidro Trailhead, after a half mile we turn east (right) on the Pueblo Trail immediately above some of the poshest estates in Montecito. Though we have been by this turn-off for years, we’ve never explored its trail until today.
Meeting up with another hiker, we listen how he is surprised that the county has let this homeowner rebuild their house in this fire zone. Five years ago this very house burned to the ground in the Thomas Fire in 2018.
Soon we are on the Wiman Trails then hike along Park Lane to the Buena Vista Trailhead.
There it is a steady climb on the driest of crumbly sandstone (there has been no rain during our nine weeks here during their January to March rainy season!). It’s quick turning switchbacks which has me breathing heavily.
One mile straight up the Buena Vista Trail we hit the Edison Catway.
Descending rapidly on the Catway of crumbly dry on dry pebbly sandstone, we arrive in no time at the San Ysidro Trail a mile from the trailhead. It’s all downhill from there.
With one thousand feet of elevation, Hannah and I have ourselves a wonderful two-hour workout just fifteen minutes from our condo at Carpinteria Shores.
On a mid-February morning, Hannah and I return to the San Ysidro Trailhead just ten miles from the condo in Carpinteria where we escape the dark and cold of New England (2022).
For the first half mile, we hike along the San Ysidro Creek as if we were heading to the San Ysidro waterfalls.
But no! This morning we turn left crossing the creek to the clearly marked McMenemy Trail.
The rocky, sandstone-y trail is a workout as we climb above the uber-wealthy village of Montecito (Oprah and Ellen wealthy). Fortunately the trail builders have built switchbacks into the mountainside which makes for an enjoyable climb.
We soon have views into the San Ysidro Canyon, up to the towering Santa Ynez coastal mountains, and then out to the Channel Islands of the Pacific Ocean. Strong winds are blowing out whatever smog has settled in after a winter weekend near 80F.
One point four miles in (I can be so precise because our Strava app gives us mileage to the one hundredth of a mile), we have the Colonel Logan McMenemy Bench looking to the Pacific.
At this point, we climb single file further up a still rocky, gravelly, pebbly Girard Trail into the mountains.
At the two mile point in our hike (actually 1.99 by Strava), we meet the Edison Catway. Catway? I first think mountain cats (i.e. lions). Then it dawns on me that the cat- of catamounts is a possibly origin of catway. Whatever its origins, it’s a fire road that narrows to a single track. Though there is nary a cat, we have a quite steep track of pebbly sandstone. It’s nothing as slippery as our recent hiking descent on the West Fork of the Cold Spring Trail from Gibraltar Road back down the mountain. Click here for that blog with pictures of that descent.
At 2.71 miles into our hike (gotta love our Strava hiking app), we have the steady downhill on the San Ysidro Trail that is just so suitable for easy walking and talking.
It’s an enjoyable hour and a half in the Front Country of Santa Barbara into our sixth week in California without a bit of rain. I mean zero. And that is not a good thing, even for us winter sunbirds. If I could, each week I’d give up a full day of sunshine for a day of rain to help out the locals. You gotta be thinking, he’s a helluva guy.
Though Carpinteria has but one trail into the mountains (the popular Franklin Trail. click here for that 2022 blog), nearby Montecito has many. This morning we drive ten miles from our condo, and eventually up Romero Canyon Road to “Road Closed” signs. We are not surprised as the bridge at the trailhead has been washed out regularly since we began coming here in 2017. Heavy rains and debris flows are the culprits.
This morning the Santa Barbara Highway Department is not making it easy for us to get to the trailhead.
Undeterred, we make it the trailhead for our two-mile hike up the canyon itself and then switchbacking up the mountainside to Old Romero Road.
The “trail” begins on a wide fire road of gravelly and pebbly rocks amid larger angular ones. In fact, it’s charmless. But wait, it gets better. After a half mile of the fire road, we cross the creek and take the trail left into the mountains, not the fire road up to the right towards the ocean views.
The dirt, sharp rock trail follows above the Romero Creek. At times, we are thirty feet above the creek bed, hiking within feet of the steep cliffs but never do we feel in peril. Well, never do I feel in peril. Hannah? On such trails, Hannah walks close to the mountainside, memories of her fall down such a cliff five years at the next canyon over. (Click here for that fateful San Ysidro blog.)
The trail is mostly shaded and for a mile we follow the creek easily fording it as we steadily climb. It’s a good workout with nearly 1400’ of elevation gain to the Old Romero Road.
After a mile and a half on the trail, we cross the Romero Creek for the last time and head into the mountains towards the Old Romero Road. The trail is more dirt than rocks and switchbacks make the climb enjoyable.
All of sudden, we are at junction of the Old Romero Road, our turn around point after an hour of hiking. Lunching on pbj and pb for Hannah, we cool our jets trailside pleased with an hour of California coastal hiking.
On the way down, we come to a creek crossing as another couple approaches from the opposite side. The husband calls out “Go ahead.” I smile and say, “You must be Canadians!” That gets just the reaction I want (i.e. laughter, but laughter of truth!) and sets us four up for a moment on the trail.
We learn that they are, in fact, from Kentucky. We talk about trails that they have hiked and learn that finding housing for two months in the Santa Barbara area has been a challenge for them. It seems people are coming to California in the winter of 2022 to work remotely.
Unprompted, she brings up that they are from the “blue” city of Lexington, Kentucky. I quickly let them know that we are from the blue coastal part of Maine and come to California to be with kindred spirits for two months in the winter.
We smile all the way back to the trailhead. Kentucky? Who knew? Blue!
Driving north from Carpinteria on The 101, we exit at Salinas Road in Santa Barbara and weave our among the seven- and eight-figure homes into the hills. Returning to a favorite hike of ours, Hannah and I have a rare overcast day for our trail hiking. You see, we are ending our first winter month in California and have had, to paraphrase Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, sun, sun, sun… but alas we have no T-Bird.
On the last Monday in January 2022 we park at Skofield Park with a few others.
Hiking along the Rattlesnake Creek with its boulders and rock strewn sandstone trail, we very quickly passed by an athletic twenty-something woman who smiles our way. I ask Hannah what is the first thing you think of when you see her? Ever the wit, Hannah says, Where is her dog? OMG, there are dogs everywhere in our part of California.
I think, Great parenting. Let me explain. Here is a young woman hiking on her own on this challenging trail. It’s not a stretch to think that her parents let her know that there are many things that she can do with her life. That she is much more than a pretty face. She’s out her proving that! Job well done, mom and dad, wherever you are.
At the half mile point of the trail, watch out. There is a seductive spur trail to our right. Don’t take it unless you like high-wire hiking and gravelly trails on steep cliffs. Two years ago, Hannah and I hiked to the Rattlesnake Meadow with Molly’s family, including then five-year-old Max and seven-year-old Owen. Inadvertently, I took them up this sometimes, harrowing cliff hanging trail. Click here for that February 2020 adventure.
The shady, well-maintained, relatively easy, gentle trail that we take is why the Rattlesnake Trail has the reputation as the most popular trail in Santa Barbara.
Bear left, for a steady climb along the creek bed along trails of green grasses and verdant bushes thanks to December’s rain. We pass three fit women about our age coming down from the meadow joyful in their hiking success and long-term friendships. Yes, I’m just guessing, but I have a sense about people of a certain age. They mentioned they touched the meadow rock before descending. We have a new goal!
Nearly two miles into our hike, we arrive at the meadow to celebrate our hour on the trail with peanut butter and jam sandwiches (no jam for Hannah) on a cool winter day in the upper fifties on the central coast of California.
On the way down the hill I guip to hikers, No rattlesnakes today. It gets just the reaction I am hoping for – laughter. Could it be that the rattlers in winter are sleeping off all the mice and chipmunks they’ve eaten in the past year and only in the warmth of the summer sun will they return to the trail?
Two hours after first leaving the trailhead we are strolling to our rental Nissan Sentra, pleased with another “excellent” hike in the Front Country of Santa Barbara.
The beauty of the Santa Barbara area for hikers is that they can climb into the mountains on so many trail as well as walk the beaches and the bluffs of the Pacific Ocean. Twenty minutes from Carpinteria, this morning Hannah and I take The 101 to the Los Positas exit for the bluff trails of the Douglas Preserve within the city limits of Santa Barbara.
Parking at Hendry’s Beach (officially Arroyo Burro Beach) at the trailhead of the Douglas Preserve can be a challenge, especially on this late Saturday morning when we arrive. So leave early you two!
Well, we are not about to mess with up our morning routine of walking the Carpinteria Beach, breakfast on our condo patio, watching Sports Center (moi), writing postcards (Hannah), and deciphering Wordle (five-letter word game) just to get a parking spot. Fact is, there is parking on the side streets in a nearby neighborhood, if we must. Fortunately, parking spots are still to be had this late February at 11:20 AM.
The 70-acre Douglas Family Preserve is a public park of undeveloped ocean-front land that represents the largest area of coastal open space within the city limits of Santa Barbara. In 1996 Santa Barbara residents raised millions of dollars including a $600K contribution by Michael Douglas, the actor.
Climbing the dirt trail to the mesa above Hendry’s Beach, we’ll circumnavigate it with its bluffs some 70-80’ above the Pacific Ocean. If you love dogs, you will have found Nirvana here as our four-legged friends can be off leash everywhere, and are!
The dogs we encounter are not the annoying and threatening sort. There’s canine peace and love on the bluff. Note the dog washing station in the parking lot for both beach and mesa dogs.
Thinking we are just a little ways down the beach from Santa Barbara’s Famous One Thousand Step Staircase, we set our sights on the climb from the beach to the bluff. With just enough room to skirt the incoming waves at high tide, we use our iPhones to confirm that we are heading to the One Thousand Steps.
Half-mile down the beach, we ask a young couple if we are close to the 1000 step stairway. The guy assures us that it’s just beyond the eucalyptus trees ahead. Hallelujah. This is going to be closer than we thought.
Stepping on first concrete, then metal steps, we begin counting steps, wouldn’t you? It’s known for 1000 steps, could there be just 995? Relentlessly we climb and count. Soon we see the top of the stairs though we’ve only gone 200 steps. WTF!
Stopping mid-staircase, we ask a basking senior citizen if they are messing with us about 1000 steps? He says that this stairway has about 250 (later we count 243) steps. The 1000 foot step stairway is further down the beach, maybe a mile.
We’ve had enough hiking fun today, but the 1000 steps is close enough for us to return to later next week. We wonder how cool it would be for our grandsons, Owen (9) and Max (7), when they come to visit us in California during their school vacation week, to climb 1000 steps.
…eight days later Hannah return to scope the legendary steps.
Arriving at 11 AM on a mid-February Monday at Santa Cruz Street, we go right to the steps, counting by twos we are pumped to get so many Fitbit steps.
Then, too soon, within say ten seconds, we see the bottom of the steps at the beach. There are no 1000 steps! In fact, we meticulously count 186! Even seventy less than the stairway at Mesa Drive!
We are dumbfounded. Perhaps, it’s a secret the locals know that 1000 is placeholder for a ton of steps. It’s like me saying the hyperbolic “I could eat a horse.” Now we are in on the “1000 Step” secret. We just need to learn the secret handshake.
We do make lemonade out of this numerical fantasy by walking a mile and a half on the beach at mid-tide to the marina in Santa Barbara.
Upon our return, we pass two surfers climbing down a third stairway to the beach, this one of 86 steps.
It’s a cool morning finding out the mythology of the 1000 steps!
No, no, no, I’m not talking about the retirement opportunity of a lifetime for Hannah and me dealing Mary Jane to the locals in Santa Barbara County or back in Maine. I’m just trying to better understand the conflict between the marijuana growers in Carpinteria and their nearby homeowners ever since California passed It’s Marijuana for the Masses (i.e. for recreational use in 2016). With its temperate climate, Carpinteria is ground zero for legal cannabis.
With our winter of 2022 in Carpinteria coming to an end, Hannah and I choose the local Franklin Trail for our hike today. The sweet thing about the Franklin is that we can ride our cruiser bikes to the trailhead.
At the trailhead, we are dismayed to see the lack of care in dealing with the garden dedicated to our friend Susan. As a Carpinteria High School English teacher, she gave her students an environmental focus to their education. The neglect of landscaping is in stark contrast to her dedication to her students. We would not let that stand. Check out the plaque below.
And then check out the plaque once Hannah and I removed, cleaned, and returned the plate to its rightful condition.
Click here for the story of the plaque transformation.
Though the Franklin Trail goes five plus miles into the mountains, today we’ll hike 3.1 miles to the Duca Bench high above the valley floor. We will test our will and lung capacity as we have a sun and clouds 1400′ of elevation gain into the coastal Santa Ynez Mountains.
Taking the corridor trails along the west boundary of Carpinteria High School past the avocado orchards and later the greenhouses for orchids and cut flowers, we do not see or smell any weed. We are just high on life!
But our hike is far from over. The bracketed fences of the trail soon rise above the playing fields of the high school.
Sweet climbing switchbacks greet us as we scale the mountain. Under filtered sun that makes for a hazy view out to the Pacific Ocean, we steadily climb.
At the two-mile mark, we legally slip to the side of a trail blocking metal gate which leads us to a steady assent along a one-time fire road.
It’s been three months since the beneficial rains of December 2021 have fallen. The cracked dirt trail is testament to the lack of rain, especially during the eight weeks that Hannah and I have been here.
1400’ of elevation gain is no joke as we plod into the mountains.
After one final turn, we settle in for pbj (pb for Hannah) on the Duca Bench three trail miles above the valley.
Soon local musicians, Keith and Frank arrive. I call out, We have room on the bench for you. Frank shares his homegrown orange slices and Keith invites us to the Lucky Llama, a local coffee shop Saturday morning for their music making. Locals, Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, have been known to get their morning cup of joe there.
Back to the trail, sadly, we never smell or see any weed, be it as the growing plant or smoked by the local pot heads. Nor do we find a jay discarded on the trail. You’ll be happy to know, Hannah and I remain pot-free and high as a kite (that is when we are on the mountaintop).
Postscript: Two days later, Hannah and I walk down to the Lucky Llama on Carpinteria Avenue to listen to Keith and Frank’s Americana Cats band. After one set, Keith calls out a welcome us by name. Anonymous no more, we put $ in their guitar case and come back later with five of Hannah’s monster cookies, one for each band member.
For one morning, there is peace in our part of the world.
This mid-February 2022 morning Hannah and I drive to a trailhead with two possible hikes: the uber-popular Inspiration Point Trail as well as the mysterious Seven Pools, Three Falls Trail, which we have been unable to find since we first came to Santa Barbara in 2014. Perhaps today…
Parking on Tunnel Road among the mansions of Santa Barbara, we are well aware that our car will be towed if it strays beyond the white lines on this winding narrow road into the mountains.
Safely parked, we pass around a rusted metal cattle gate onto the ¾ of a mile of cracked paved road to the trailhead.
Once at the trailhead for both trails, we have a steep climb on a wide fire road until the turn-off to the left for Inspiration Point as well as the Seven Pools, Three Falls Trail.
Figuring we will just hike to Inspiration Point, since we’ve been stymied in the past from finding the Seven Pools Trail, we fortunately meet up with an agreeable twenty-something hiker who gives us directions to the Seven Pools Trail.
And find it we do. But, and there is a big But.
This trail is not for hiking; it is for bouldering. Bouldering is climbing over and around boulders in the creek bed. This past December of 2021, the Santa Barbara area got three weeks of off-and-on rain. A windfall for this parched, drought-ravaged area. That is the reason for the green hills and mountainsides that we see for the first time in years. Fortunately, the rain has filled the pools which helps us identify the trail.
Bouldering up the creek, past a pool here and there, sometimes we stretch between rocks (see Hannah below) and most of the time we are use handholds to get up and over the rocks.
Then a barrier of boulders presents itself and we skirt to a creekside trail that looks like it was made by others who couldn’t handle the boulders either. In time this quote trail narrows and we are fully content wrapping up our Seven Pools Trail experience. We make a quick 180. And, let me tell you, we will never go abouldering again. It’s not a lot of fun. We’ll take hiking instead.
Retracing our steps down the boulder creek, Hannah and I return to the Inspiration Point Trail into the mountains. The trail is easy to negotiate and there is very little chance of getting lost. The switchbacks take us to the top for a 180 degree view of the coastline out to the Pacific and the Channel Islands.
A week after hiking the East Fork of the Cold Spring Trail (Click here for that blog.), Hannah and I return to Montecito, ten miles from Carpinteria, to hike its fraternal twin, the West Fork.
For the first 0.3 of a mile the East and West Fork Trails are one. In short order we turn left and step carefully on rocks over the Cold Spring Creek.
Two years ago this trail was compromised by landslides from the Debris Flow of 2018. At that time, Hannah and I hugged the mountainside on a pebbly narrow trail, forty feet above the creek below.
Hiking today in the shade into the mountains, we see that the Montecito Trail Foundation has shored up the trail in many places quite nicely.
Our first half hiking destination is the wide culvert once used to transport water into Santa Barbara. Today its crumbling concrete and rusted, forbidding gate block the adventurous from seeing where the culvert tunnel goes into the mountain.
At this 1.2 miles point of the trail, we turn left into the mountains as we have the Gibraltar Road in our sights. Engaging a young couple (probably 30s) descending the trail, we ask what we have ahead since this part of the trail is all new to us. The guy says that we have a mile to go with 400’ more feet of elevation gain. To Hannah and me that all seems quite doable on this mid-60s full sun day on the last Tuesday in January. The guy seems believable. Why you ask? He is handsome, fit, dresses hiking-well and speaks with authority. Oh, the assumptions I make!
After some initial switchbacks to take the steep out of the trail, we have Adirondack switchbacks (straight up the mountain) for the next four-tenths of a mile. But more challenging is the pebbly trail into the mountains. Unspoken for both of us is that hiking down this trail will be far harder than climbing up due to the possibility of slip sliding away.
Climbing further up the mountain, we ask another older couple whom I make no assumptions about, how far do we have to go? Jubilantly they say, You are almost there. Maybe five minutes. As they take the switchback turn past us, I shout, I could kiss you. They laugh. I don’t kiss them.
Arriving at Gibraltar Road jubilant, five minutes later, we, in fact, did not have as far to go nor have as little elevation gain as the young man had said. I learn that handsome, fit, and confident may be charming, but I just might hold off on my foolish assumptions.
Lunching on our pbj (just pb for Hannah) at the turnout of the Gibraltar Road,, we don’t delay in dealing with the pebbly steep climb down. We figure we may have to just slide on our butts, but we don’t. Hannah, in the lead, grabs the chaparral bushes on the side of the trail as I do the same and side-saddle my way down; we handle the vertical handily, albeit slowly.
Once back at the trailhead we know that we have another Santa Barbara hike for you to feast on.
It’s Another Day of Sun (La La Land)! No truer statement has been said of our winter home away from home. It’s right up there for accuracy with It Never Rains in Southern California (1972) by Albert Hammond. A “bad” winter day in Santa Barbara is cloudy in the upper 50s. I think we’ve had one such day in the six weeks that we have been here. Not bragging, just the facts, ma’am. Good news for us is bad, bad news for the locals who are in the midst of a 20-year drought.
Today we have another jewel on the diamond bracelet of hikes in Montecito, just six miles to the north of Carpinteria just off The 101.
We’ve been to the East Fork before. It was just days before Covid-19 turned the world upside down in the winter of 2020. At that time, we saw the bridge across the creek washed away due to the Debris Flows of January 9, 2018.
The massive boulders (the size of SUVs and large vans) raged down the mountain killing 23 locals in the predawn hours. All of this destruction was born the year before when the Thomas Fire destroyed the vegetation in the mountains above Montecito. The following year heavy rains unencumbered by the trees and bushes of the Front Country of Santa Barbara dislodged the boulders and sent them crashing into the homes below.
Reputed to be one of the three most traveled hikes in the Santa Barbara area (the other two being the Rattlesnake and Jesusita Trails), the East Fork of the Cold Spring Trail is a three-mile loop with creek side hiking to a small waterfall.
Today, we see the new one-lane bridge across the creek. Our morning sun at the shore is gone as the clouds of fog engulf the mountain trail. Still sporting my new St. Joe’s College hiking shirt (I choose white for my hiking shirts for photo ops because it stands out about among the greens, browns, and grays of nature), I warm nicely climbing higher and higher.
Before us, we have a three-mile loop trail along the Cold Spring creek with 800+ feet of elevation gain. As with most hikes above Montecito (see recent San Ysidro and Hot Springs Trail blogs), it’s a steady climb on dirt trails that are easy to step around the trail rocks. Though there are steep cliffs into the ravine, never did we feel threatened or in danger.
With December rains, the creek is bubbling in ways we haven’t heard in the past four years. Gott love nature’s rejuvenation and rebirth.
After a mile, the trail meanders east and the creek can no longer be heard. We reach the Ridge Trail that will take us down the mountain with its gentle switchbacks which makes for a hike families will love.
Three miles later in just over an hour, we return to the trailhead. No heavy lifting today but good times.
Our first week in California this January 2022 has been picture perfect. Hannah and I have mid-50s mornings to walk the Carpinteria Beach and afternoons to ride our Cruiser one-speeds along the bluffs above the same beach.
Today we are off to the Cold Spring Trail ten miles away in Montecito to hike into the mountains. Driving down East Mountain Road, we are surprised to see a parking spot at the trailhead for the uber-popular Hot Springs Trail. You see, the Hot Springs Trail has soothing sulfur-tinged warm waters in a series of descending pools that are, oh so popular in the Santa Barbara area. Just before the pandemic hit in March of 2020, we were introduced to this trail by our pickleball/hiking friend Claudia.
Notorious for little parking, the Hot Springs Trail trailhead is offering us a gift we can’t ignore. Ditching the Cold Spring Trail like a bad habit, I lace up my Merrell Moab hiking shoes to hike the 1.3 mile trail to its healing waters with Hannah.
Paralleling the creek bed to our right, the trail is filled with rocks that make catching a hiking rhythm challenging. Walking single file, Hannah and I are pleased to see the effects of December’s rain in the Santa Barbara area. Green grasses line the trail and spring green bushes make a corridor of life as we head into the mountains.
Soon we notice the stream has turned milky in color and the sulfur odor cues us in that we are close to the warm pools. Spotting a graffiti-defaced sign for the Montecito Creek Water Company, we remember not to take what looks like the main trail straight ahead but make a sharp turn to the left over the creamy blue/white stream.
On this mid-January Thursday, we join eight to ten others dipping their feet or submerged to their necks in the warm waters.
Finding pool-side rocks upon which to de-boot, we soak our hiking shoes-bound feet into the soothing waters. Hot springs? No, they are not hot, but they caress our feet nonetheless.
You’ll see on our Strava map below that after soaking we hike briefly into the Santa Ynez Mountains above for our best views of the Santa Barbara coastline, the Pacific, and the distant Channel Islands.
On the way back to the trailhead, we meet up with three separate couples coming to the warm pools for the first time and let them know how important it is to turn left at the Montecito Water Creek sign. To a person, they smile in appreciation; ain’t it cool to be the one does providing just the right information at just the right time.
One point three miles each way which makes the Hot Springs Trail an enjoyable family hike (we’ll take Molly’s family here when they visit next month) and a delightful way to spend a few hours, especially when temps in Maine are heading to zero and two feet are predicted for January 29, 2022 throughout New England.