“Fortunately, the task of preparing this volume has been carried on by those who have had the feeling that a piece of work must be done, but who also have had a purpose to make it reveal beauty and exude the historical atmosphere of the region with which it is concerned.”

—Santa Barbara: A Guide to the Channel City and Its Environs (1941)

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Barger Canyon Arch

Barger Arch Santa Barbara HikingLooking through Barger Arch toward Santa Barbara.

A coast live oak tree obscured for most of my life this frontside feature of the Santa Ynez Mountains. Arroyo Burro Trail, which cuts the mountainside nearby, was one of the first trails I explored as a boy. Riding my bike to Stevens Park and hiking up San Roque Canyon. My house sat beneath Barger Peak, just a few miles as the condor flies from the arch.

In later years we’d hike up Northridge Road, a steep length of skin-stripping asphalt below the trail and arch, and bomb it on skateboards wearing down the chosen Powell IIIs until they lost their bulky cubic form, turned into long thin cylinders and eventually got core-rot, could no longer bear the torque and ripped apart. We walked up La Vista Road innumerable times, also beneath the arch, and flew down it on skateboards testing our humble high-speed skills against gravity and pushing luck.

We wandered on foot the empty ridgeline above Northridge and connected it to Arroyo Burro Trail and down into upper San Roque Canyon. Now there are a couple of estates perched on that ridge overlooking Santa Barbara making such walks legally impossible.

We hiked, bushwhacked and crawled our way over and through the various folds of Barger Canyon. Thoughtlessly rode motorcycles across private land therein and were run into the hillside by an irate Robert A.

Barger Canyon Arch Santa Ynez Mountains Santa Barbara HikesA frontal view of the arch showing the burnt branches of the oak tree.

Yet in all that time, through the years, in all those hours of unsupervised and unstructured recreation, crisscrossing the foothills of this particular section of the Santa Ynez Mountains, I never knew the arch in Barger Canyon existed.

Perhaps, though, it did not exist as it does today. Maybe it was smaller or even nonexistent. Standing beneath it now one can clearly see how a massive chunk of sandstone fell at some point from the outcrop thus creating the arch, if not entirely, then as it currently stands.

Barger Arch Santa Ynez Mountains Los Padres National ForestSitting under the arch.

Then the Jesusita Fire stripped bare the mountain slope in 2009 defoliating the oak tree and exposing the arch as I had never seen it. A new feature was suddenly and dramatically revealed.

And along with it so too came the revelation that there was, amazingly, even this close to the city in a place in full view from areas all over town, and somewhere I grew up roaming, still some frontiers to explore, still some of the unknown to discover, still surprises and new experiences to be had, even in the nearest portions of Los Padres National Forest.

Barger Arch Santa Barbara HikesView through the arch.

Santa Barbara Hope Ranch Laguna Blanca dry droughtOverlooking a dry Laguna Blanca, living up to its Spanish name due to the drought, with Barger Canyon arch noted by red dot. (Laguna Blanca Lake)

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Finding Frontier In The Forest Conquered

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Chumash Rock Art, a Pool of Water and a Chipmunk

Chumash rock art pictograph painted cavesA Chumash pictograph with inset showing a recreation of the design.

A seasonal creek flows by this Indian rock art site in Santa Barbara County and there is a spring not far from the paintings. When flowing the creek cascades several feet over an exposed outcrop of bedrock and into a small pool near the painted alcove. On the face of the outcrop where the waterfall flows there is a cavity in the rock that catches and holds water for far longer than the pool below the falls.

I checked this natural tank in mid-July out of an interest in seeing, during the current severe drought, how long it will hold water through the summer. It was still holding a decent amount despite no rain in over three months, the last precipitation amounting in total to about one inch which fell on the first and second of April. As of August 8, the tank still held water, remarkably clean looking water, and was a magnet for honey bees seeking moisture.

water hole tank Chumash Pictograph Rock Art site Santa Barbara

The small protected tank.

I sat beside the small puddle watching polliwogs wiggle around. A week earlier I had scooped up and saved twenty or so of those same tadpoles from a tiny volume of water, nearly dried up, which was held in a cavity on the same rock, just above the puddle where they now swam.

I sat wondering if the longstanding puddle ever served as a precious source of stored water for the Chumash. There is the spring lower down the creek, but in such a dry landscape, during a record drought, any bit of water catches my attention and seems remarkable.

I had been sitting there for ten minutes or so when I suddenly noticed a chipmunk clinging precariously to the rock just above the waterline. It was wet and shaking and had his face pressed against the rock. It looked like it was going to fall into the water at any moment.

My camera flash caused it to do so and I watched it for a couple of seconds frantically trying to swim, fatigued, its puny body vertical in the water, barely able to keep its nose above the surface. It was unable to claw its way back up onto the rock despite its desperate bid for life and after bobbing there for a moment its head dipped below the waterline. I could see it wasn’t going to make it.

water hole

I jumped off the rock and snatched a stick from the ground and thrust it into the water. Should have seen how fast and how solidly the little thing grabbed the wood. I brought the stick out of the water and slowly set it beside me. The chipmunk just sat there clinging to it.

I reached into my pack to grab a few raw almonds, thinking to leave them there for it to nibble as I left, but realized I had taken out my trail snacks and left them in the car. It was getting close to sunset, and as the chipmunk sat there shivering, I wondered if it would live through the night or succumb to hypothermia in its wet and weakened condition.

In making an effort to carefully carry the chipmunk on the stick up to a patch of sunshine, he jumped off and scampered through the brush. He found his way up to the exposed bedrock shelves, which were still soaking up the day’s last remaining rays of direct sunlight.

As soon as he left the shadows and hit the sunny rock he froze and collapsed like a lizard on a hot stone on a cold day. I laid my palm flat on the stone beside me which had already fallen into the shadows and it was exceptionally warm to the touch. The heat radiating from the bedrock must have felt awesomely good to the poor little cold bugger, which had just spent who knows how many hours or maybe days trying to avoid drowning.

chipmunkClinging on for dear life.

chipmunk rescueThe moment of rescue.

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Hiking Every Season In All Conditions

Sespe Wilderness Cedar Creek hikeBryan route finding off-trail in Sespe Wilderness.

“I came to know that country, not in the way a traveler knows the landmarks he sees in the distance, but more truly and intimately, in every season, from a thousand points of view.”

N. Scott Momaday, The Way To Rainy Mountain (1976)

“If I think about one lifetime, maybe we have eighty years if we’re lucky. That’s not many seasons to be out. If we only come out during one season we’ve missed out on three quarters of a lifetime.”

Ray Mears

I have heard talk of a “hiking season” in the southern Los Padres National Forest, as if walking is akin to hunting and only legally permitted for a short time during a select period of each year.

The reasoning, I presume, is that summertime temperatures in the backcountry tend to be hot, in the nineties and upwards of one hundred. The land and creeks and rivers are dry or stagnant. The forest is swarming with pesky nostril and eyeball loving flies and campfires are prohibited. These conditions differ greatly from spring when the streams tend to flow, the temperatures are mild, the flies have yet to emerge and a rippin’ good fire can be freely kindled.

Self imposed limitations, however, necessarily result in limited experiences, and in turn a narrow understanding of the land, its plants and animals. It may also, perhaps, result in a more limited appreciation for the forest than might otherwise be afforded the person who visits the woods during all seasons and conditions.

Sespe Wilderness Cedar Creek TrailCedar Creek Trail, Sespe Wilderness

A mountain field carpeted in poppies and lupine for a few weeks during the mild temperatures of April is a remarkable sight, but it is all the more striking and incredible when one knows what the field looks like in August during 100 degree heat. (Seasonal Change In Wildflower Fields of Figueroa Mountain)

The dynamic and lively sound of a rushing creek filling a canyon is likely not appreciated as much by those who have never heard the same canyon dead silent during late summer when the creek has gone dry.

I wish to know the forest and everything there within during all seasons, when it’s hot and when it’s cold, when it’s dry and when it’s wet or frozen, when skies are blue and when they are cloudy, when it is not raining and again when it is pouring, when the days are long and when they are short, when the shadows are long in early morning and late afternoon and when they are short at midday.

For during each span of time a world of difference can be found resulting in a greatly varied collection of experiences which all hold in themselves their own unmatched value, and when the various pieces are combined the puzzle is put together and the picture complete.

Cuyama BadlandThe Cuyama Badlands. One of the wildest and least trod stretches of land in all the southern Los Padres National Forest.

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Lower Lion Canyon, Sierra Madre Mountains

JackSquaring off with the sun in the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains in 96 degree heat.

I like to see it for myself. When looking at a map of the forest I want to know what each particular attraction noted thereon looks like in person.

I also like to get out and see the lesser visited locations, those places without trails, the cartographically unlabeled, the ignored, places with little if any notable features, and other backcountry nooks only the few of the few may rarely venture to lay eyes upon, because, to the general population, there isn’t anything notable there, and even among avid hikers, there’s not enough there to warrant the strenuous and uncomfortable hike required to reach such remote off-trail places.

When Stillman mentioned an interest in lower Lion Canyon I needed neither further explanation nor incentive. (DavidStillman.blogspot.com) I like to clock my time crawling around in backcountry bushes. I need little excuse.

Sierra Madre Mountains Santa Barbara CountyNorth slope of Sierra Madre Mountains below Montgomery Potrero.

It’s mid-summer. A severe drought, worst dry spell in over 120 years, intensifies the often brutal and inhospitable, already desert-like Cuyama foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains. Last year 2.32 inches of rain fell here, this year a measly 1.71 inches.

An occasional, fleeting puff of breeze floats by, taunting us with refreshment before vanishing, but mostly we trudge through a suffocating stillness. Distance distorted by heat shimmer. The south facing slopes mostly devoid of vegetation. Little shade other than the crosshatched strands of shadow cast from the nearly bare branches of chaparral. Powdery, desiccated soil erupts in puffs of fine particulate like tiny gunshots exploding from under our heels with each step. Sweaty skin a magnet for dust, my face is coated in the grit, my nostrils collecting it, my moist eyeballs rolling in it, grinding and irritated.

I press on ignoring it all, lost in thought, traversing the trailless terrain, up over ridges, down into dry ravines and back up. Stillman always a faster hiker, I follow his footsteps meandering through the scrub over the bajadas, disappearing across the exposures of caliche and reappearing in the alluvium, his footprints the only trace of other humans, I seemingly hike alone.

My motivation and interest to set out on foot and see my backyard at large is driven by passion, but sometimes it may seem fueled more by pathology. My body often suffers for my mind’s compulsion to force it to wander and roam the local weed patches, sometimes in grueling conditions.

Cuyama Valley Lion Canyon Caliente RangeLooking over the Sierra Madre foothills toward Cuyama Valley with the Caliente Range in the distance. The mouth of Lion Canyon runs out of the lower right hand corner of the frame toward Lower Lion Spring. Note the golden faced south facing slopes bare of vegetation.

As the day progressed, the sun rising higher in the sky, the sparsely vegetated earth absorbing and radiating ever greater amounts of heat, and as we covered further distance and burned more energy roaming off-trail, the temperature became a greater factor in the day’s equation.

It is not easy to cool a body in conditions like these once it’s overheated. These conditions can be deadly.

Sierra Madre Mountains David Stillman hiking CuyamaSpeck in the scrub, Stillman ranging off-trail on the way to Lion Canyon. The rock outcrop seen in the distance frame left is the same one shown in the photo below.

Lion Canyon Sierra Madre Mountains CuyamaOverlooking lower Lion Canyon creek, back from whence we came atop the creamy white-faced slope in the distance, which Stillman is shown crossing the top of in the previous photo.

We entered into a grassy bowl rimmed by sandstone on our way back to the truck. While Stillman poked his way through the brush to investigate a cluster of oak trees growing from the base of an outcrop, I proceeded up the slope across the grassy bowl. I suddenly felt as if I had wandered into the focus point of a parabola. It was intensely hot. It had to be well over 100 degrees.

I looked about searching for a flat patch of ground in full shade, but saw little. I needed to get into the shadows and lie down to let my heart beat slow and my body temperature fall or at least stop rising. I wasn’t in trouble, but I needed to escape the punishing rays of the sun and get off my feet.

A small alcove in the bedrock  across the bowl cast a sliver of shadow over a rocky and uncomfortably sloped floor. It wouldn’t do. Too much energy required to reach it, too much body heat generated, and too little shade on a piece of stony ground hard to relax on for its angle and roughness.

I turned and settled for a sloping patch of ground under a scrub oak. It offered little respite, but was my best option. I was unsure where Stillman went until I heard a few branches breaking down in the oak-shaded wash that drains the bowl during those infrequent and scant winter rain showers.

Lion Canyon hike Sierra Madre CuyamaWe found a trail along the creek just above Lower Lion Spring which served its purpose for a brief spell before we parted ways with it.”Wanna go check the spring?” Stillman asked. “I do, but I don’t,” I answered in the withering heat. “Yeah, me too.”

We reached the top of the grassy bowl and, a few yards beyond, seeing a shadow cast by a vertical rock face, we plopped down for a short rest. We were not sure how far we were from the truck or how easy or how hard it was going to be to get to it.

The brush for the last bit of distance had been thin enough to easily wind our way through, but I feared that as we crested the ridge in front of us in order to drop back into the canyon where we parked, that we would find a wall of dense chaparral covering the westward facing slope.

But the slope was nearly bare enabling us to quickly tromp down the loose hillside and into the dry creek, where after we reached the truck easily within a few minutes to complete a meandering loop surveying a section of lower Lion Canyon.

heaving slab David Stillman Sespe Brush Ninjas

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Alligator Pears First Successfully Introduced To USA In Santa Barbara

dew covered avocado leafMorning dew on an avocado leaf in my small backyard orchard.

“. . .the avocado became definitely established [in California] through the introduction of three trees from Mexico in 1871 by Judge R. B. Ord of Santa Barbara. Two of the three trees of his importation bore fruit for many years in Santa Barbara and served to create interest in further plantings.”

Robert W. Hodgson, “The California Avocado Industry” (1930)

According to the California Avocado Commission, Judge R. B. Ord is credited with not just establishing avocados in Santa Barbara for the first time, but his trees represent the first successful introduction of the bumpy skinned fruit, sometimes called an “alligator pear,” to the United States in general.

It can be said that the roots of the California avocado industry, which today produces about 90 percent of the nation’s half-billion dollar domestic crop, were sunk in Santa Barbara and that the blossoming of the nation’s love of the fruit began with three trees planted in the sunny seaside town known as the American Riviera.

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Earth Day Founding Inspired By Visit To Santa Barbara

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