“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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Fritillaria Ojaiensis, Rare Wildflower

Fritillaria ojaiensis checkered lily rare endangered santa barbara santa ynez mountainsA single Fritillaria ojaiensis growing along Fremont Trail in the Santa Ynez Mountains. This photo is from early spring 2014.

This variety of lily is endemic to California. It’s listed by the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) as being rare throughout its range, considered to be an endangered species. I completed a California Native Species Field Survey Form for the Department of Fish and Wildlife. The data will purportedly be added to the state’s Natural Diversity Database, which according to CNPS is “the largest, most comprehensive database of its type in the world. It presently contains more than 65,000 site-specific records on California’s rarest plants, animals and natural communities.”

Checkered Lily Mission Bells Fritillaria ojaiensis rare endangered Santa Barbara
Fritillaria ojaiensis leaf Santa YnezA Fritillaria ojaiensis leaf sprouting from a bank along Oso Creek in the Los Padres National Forest. There is a fairly large grouping of them at this site, more than 100 individual plants. Photo from February 2015.

Fritillaria ojaiensis Santa Barbara County Los Padres National ForestWith more sun exposure the leaves take on a bronze hue.

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Antimony and Eagle Rest Peaks, San Emigdio Mountains

Antimony Peak San Emigdio MountainsAntimony Peak

I strive to not waste the time of readers with unnecessary, empty words and pointless rambling. I have never had much interest in writing “trip reports” or “trail reports.” I have done that, I suppose, but it is not what I’m after here.

I typically find such posts tedious to read and boring to write. The title itself, report, connotes something dry and institutional, something constructed like a document that one laboriously wades through with two fingers pressed to the temple, rather than a mellifluously crafted story that entertains and delights.

Antimony Peak San Emigdio Mountain hikeAntimony Peak

I started this blog, in part, to fill a void, to offer wilderness literature, something that speaks to the human condition and universal themes in the context of hiking and outdoor recreation in my backyard at large. What trip report information I may include I’d prefer to be incidental not central.

Trail conditions change. Aside from the tedium of reading bland, uninspired, blow-by-blow descriptions of the forest’s contents found along a trail, as if listing the arrangement of furniture in a house, trip reports become, sooner or later, largely pointless.

A trail report written in fall may become useless just several months later after a rainy winter, full of information which no longer accurately reflects the reality of conditions on the ground.

Eagle Rest Peak San Emigdio MountainsEagle Rest Peak, the checkered patches of San Joaquin Valley in the distance.

David Stillman Eagle Rest Peak hikeThe indefatigable Stillman taking in the view.

San Emigdio Canyon upperThe view into San Emigdio Canyon.

Whereas a story about what a man feels and thinks when out hiking, if properly written, is timeless. That is what I aspire to. Perhaps I have failed miserably, but I hope I have achieved something close to that on occasion.

I also thought, after years of wandering cyberspace and reading various local blogs, that the natural world surrounding my hometown was being ignored and when mentioned was given short shrift. There were plenty of websites covering metropolitan life in Santa Barbara ad nauseum; the city and county, its social life, arts, restaurants, viticulture, entertainment and the like. But few sites gave voice to the natural world in a manner I thought it well deserved.

Most sites I did see focusing on the outdoors were not doing it justice. The posts were hastily put together, thin and superficial. Many were little more than photo journals with verbose captions or they read like itineraries of a person’s outings. First we hiked here, and then we turned there, had lunch over here, continued on up there, and finally came back over here. A lot of telling was going on, but little if any showing. The content lacked feeling and depth.

Eagle Rest Peak San Emigdio hikesThe push up to Eagle Rest summit.

Eagle Rest Peak Stillman San Emigdio Wind WolvesEagle Rest Peak

Eagle Rest Peak view of San Joaquin ValleyThe view looking over San Joaquin Valley.

San Emigdio Canyon Wind Wolves Preserve HikingDropping from Eagle Rest into upper San Emigdio Canyon.

San Emigdio Canyon hikingSan Emigdion Canyon hikingUpper San Emigdio Canyon. With no trail and waist to chest high scrub brush in sections, it was a long, hot, tiresome fight up the canyon.

I held off posting anything on a hike DavidStillman.com and I did awhile back because I had nothing worthy to say about it. I offer here in this installment a bare collection of photos with little said of the experience.

Jack Elliott Eagle Rest Peak hike San EmigdioEagle Rest Peak

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A Skillet Full of Fish

Santa Barbara California spearfishing freediving A calico bass might of been the first fish I shot as a kid while spearfishing. They seemed to be the most common, best tasting game in the water at that time. Which merely means that they were largely the only fish I was observant and skilled enough to routinely catch sight of as a floundering young freediver.

In other words, the meager water skills I possessed as a kid were nonetheless sufficient enough to enable me to bring home small kelp bass more often than anything else. I always hoped for the halibut, and I nabbed a few lobsters, caught a fleeting glance of a couple white seabass, but mostly came away with calicos.

I was always stoked to shoot a calico. In later years, however, as I got more experience in the water, and came to better understand the sea life community surrounding coastal kelp forests, both perennial inhabitants and seasonal visitors, and the potential to take larger, more highly prized game fish, kelp bass lost their attraction.

California beach Santa Barbara Channel IslandsWhereas I had previously been proud, or at least happy, to bring home a calico for dinner, they became almost an embarrassment at times when compared to halibut and white seabass and yellowtail and lingcod.

Calico became the grubby little fish you lied to your buddies about having shot to cover the big game jackpot you were hiding on board and didn’t want them to know about.

“Get anything?” He shouted over the gunwale as our boats idled beside each other in the Santa Barbara Harbor entrance.

“Not much. Just a few calicos,” my buddy replied, hoping they wouldn’t see the bloated cooler bag stuffed with limits for four guys of 40 to 50 pound white seabass, big fan tails sticking out.

We’d drive up to a favorite spearfishing spot and, right after killing the engine, somebody would grab a pole with an iron on it and hurl it as far as he could, then crank it in, hooking a calico. “A couple of tacos,” they’d say with a shrug, downplaying the catch while throwing it into the cooler. Then we’d suit up and slip into the water to see about shooting some real fish. Big WSBs.

Santa Barbara spearfishing white seabass catchJack in blue with a friend and well over two hundred pounds of freshly caught white seabass shot somewhere in Santa Barbara County.

But what about the pellucid waters of late fall or early winter, when the weather is exceptional, the swell nearly nonexistent, the seawater invitingly pacific and clear, yet when the halibut have moved into deeper water far offshore to spawn, and the white seabass have migrated away, and the reefs have mostly been plucked clean of lobster?

This during an epic drought in California, when the Los Padres National Forest is drier than it has been in at least a century, when the creeks and rivers meandering in silence through the forest have been nothing but desiccated crusty cobblestone pathways for months or years.

Well then, in these conditions, the pull of the sea becomes irresistible for a saltwater junky like me despite the lack of bigger game fish. I mentally cannot bear to stand on the coastal bluffs of Santa Barbara County overlooking the Pacific Ocean, peering through the shimmering, crystalline aquamarine waters, and refuse its offer.

Jack Elliott spearfishingJack heading out. (c) John Pierpont

I kicked out into the sea scanning the rippled sand bottom hoping to spot a laggard halibut perhaps confused by shifting weather patterns and ocean currents and temperatures. But the submarine forest was mostly vacant apart for several varieties of small fishes. That is except for those other perennial residents, calico bass.

I was fortunate enough to cross paths with a respectably-sized calico among a stand of kelp and manage to get off a well-placed shot. I was stoked to have fresh fish for dinner and something wild and healthy I harvested myself   to offer my children.

Yet were I too walk by somebody on the beach afterward, traipsing back to my truck hauling my gear, I’d shy away from letting them see it and have no interest in letting it be known that I had a calico bass. Unlike hiding larger game fish so as not to attract people’s attention and give away a prime fishing zone, with a calico I’d actually by embarrassed.

When I got home, however, and prepared the fish and its brilliant white fillets completely filled my iron skillet, sputtering in rich butter made from the milk of grass-fed cows and freshly-pressed olive oil, I understood the silliness of my earlier feelings of embarrassment over a supposedly inadequate catch. I came to appreciate that I need far less to be satisfied than I sometimes think, that I can be a tad greedy, and that I’m far more fortunate than most of the seven billion people on this planet, nearly half of whom purportedly still cook meals over open flame campfires for lack of modern technology.

I hear from friends and see their photos of lunkers, the big flatties, big croakers, big tunas, but what do I have to complain about with a skillet full of fresh fish I caught myself? Halibut and white seabass are exceptionally tasty, but a couple of calico fillets cooked properly are pretty good, too.

Santa Barbara freediving spearfishing bassThe centerpiece of one night’s modest dinner for the small family Elliott. Center mass shot, not bad, eh?

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Lost Hikers and Search and Rescue

Santa Ynez Mountains Los Padres National Forest creek poolA winter scene in the Santa Ynez Mountains, Los Padres National Forest.

“No, I can’t say I was ever lost, but I was bewildered once for three days.”

“I wouldn’t give a tinker’s damn for a man who isn’t sometimes afraid. Fear’s the spice that makes it interesting to go ahead.”

Daniel Boone (1734-1820)

cowboy up
[kou-boi uhp]


1. ( US, informal) to adopt a tough approach or course of action
2. to tuff up; to get back on your horse; to never back down or give up; to face the hand you’re dealt without complaint

I’m going to opine here and perhaps ruffle a few feathers if not anger some people, but I’m not one to remain silent out of concern about such trivial and fickle matters as human emotions. I’m sick of hearing about so-called “lost” hikers calling in Search and Rescue (SAR) to save them from having to face the inconvenience and discomfort of the consequences of their own poor decisions.

In the neighborhood where I grew up, and within the school from which I come, a man was measured by his willingness to accept without complaint the consequences of his actions. That whatever situation a fella got himself into he was first and foremost responsible for getting himself out of before calling on others to risk their health and lives to help him. He looked not to others to relieve him of unwanted, though entirely bearable circumstances. And I do not mean a fleeting or cursory attempt, but a damn good, all in, everything tried sustained effort.

I do not intend to say that a person should never call on SAR or rely on their selfless and noble service, but that I believe such services should be reserved for rescuing people who have sustained serious injuries or are facing imminent great bodily harm or death. I routinely read about so-called “lost” hikers who when the sun goes down have rescue personnel deployed, at great expense, to save them from a few hours of uncomfortable cold and darkness, circumstances brought on by their own thoughtless actions or misguided behavior, situations entirely survivable without injury let alone death. SAR does not exist, in my opinion, to save people from fear or a few shivers and goosebumps or a sleepless night.

I have noted on this blog before, and I am sincere in saying it, that “I’d rather spend a cold miserable night lost in the woods and have another try at finding my way out next morning, rather than call for help. I’d die sooner from embarrassment than exposure.”

When discussing this matter with my wife recently, after reading a post one night from a lady requesting help on the Santa Barbara Swap Facebook page to locate her boyfriend who had misplaced himself in the Santa Ynez Mountains above Santa Barbara, my wife said she wouldn’t hesitate much in calling SAR if I failed to show up after dark. (We do, however, have an understanding that I should be granted a solid chunk of time well after the sun goes down before she even considers calling in the troops.)

I replied in jest as if acting like a rescuer, “We located the lost hiker, but it was the strangest thing. Upon seeing us he fled further into the bush and we were unable to catch up to him. After several hours of fruitless attempts at relocating him we called off the effort.”

I would dread seeing SAR arriving to “rescue” me if I was not incapacitated or not facing serious harm. We later read that rescuers were purportedly dispatched to find the lady’s confused boyfriend and his friend and found them in the vicinity of Seven Falls. Numerous news reports over the years recount similar events. Were they rescued from serious harm or from mere fear and discomfort?

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Fight With a Condor: Experience of a Forest Ranger in Santa Barbara County (1902)

Although the forest ranger mentioned in the newspaper article below is Joseph Montgomery, I wonder if it may actually have been a brief about Josiah T. Montgomery, for whom Montgomery Potrero atop the Sierra Madre Mountains is named. I do not know if Josiah was a forest ranger, but he was a pioneer of the Sisquoc River region and his was the last official homestead claim made in that particular area (Blakley & Barnette 1985).

The article was originally published in the Los Angeles Herald in 1902. About that time the California condor population is estimated to have numbered about 600. By 1987 the condor population had been decimated by intentional and unintentional human actions. In that year the last California condor still flying free in the wild was captured in a desperate attempt to save the species from possible extinction.

California condor Sespe Wilderness Los Padres

A condor soaring over Sespe Wilderness, as seen on a hike to Whiteacre Peak. (Return to Whiteacre Peak or Day of the Condor)

Fight With a Condor: Experience of a Forest Ranger in Santa Barbara County

SANTA MARIA, March 12 As Joseph Montgomery, one of the forest rangers, was on his way to town last week from the government forest reserve he had quite an experience with a California condor. Coming down a wild canyon he noticed a commotion in some brush near the trail, and on investigation found that two mountain foxes had attacked an immense condor, which was apparently sick and disabled. As the fighters worked out of the brush Montgomery tried to lasso the bird, but with no success, as he would fight the rope off with his wings. It attacked Montgomery by striking at him with his beak and talons, and for a time was getting the best of him until the ranger picked up a club and soon dispatched the bird, but not until his clothes were in a sadly demoralized condition, and he still can show several ugly scratches. The wings, which he brought home, measured nine feet across. As this species is vary rare, he tried to capture it alive.

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