“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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A Wander In Hawaii Turns Up Ancient Rock Shelters

imageThe dry wash described below lets out into this small cove on the lee side of the point.

“Where you off to?” she asked.

“I saw a big crack in the Earth just down the road that looks like it needs to be explored,” I said.

imageLooking over the dry wash from above. Shortly beyond the last visible trees the canyon narrows into a gorge.

We had just returned from a six hour road trip and I desperately needed to get out. This dog needed to be released from the kennel and unleashed for a run.

One might question how a six hour drive could possibly be called a road trip. It’s a fair question. I have a good reason.

Spend five hours locked in the van with two four year olds and a seven year old with nothing to do, with but an hour break for lunch, and you’d call it a trip, too.

I drink little and infrequently, and rarely ever order a cocktail let alone in early afternoon and never with lunch, but this day I ordered one. “Oh wait,” I said as the waitress started to walk away. “I need some liquor.”

Suffice to say our day hadn’t gone according to plan due to approaching tropical storm, Darby. We essentially drove for six hours to eat lunch. We never made it to Volcanoes National Park. Damn right I was ordering a drink!

Fortunately the Mai Tai had hit like a mule kick and took me out of commission. Yeah, I know, I’m a real lightweight. Leveled by a single drink. My only defense is to say that it was stiffer than the British upper lip in WWII.

The drink helped to relax and soothe my frayed nerves, but also resulted in the Mrs. taking over driving duty. This in turn gave me the opportunity to gaze out the window, that had then resulted in my having spied that aforementioned big crack in the ground.

imageThe ragged and rugged scene while hiking up the canyon.

That crack was really a chasm that had been carved deep into the lava rock by heavy rains that fall high up on the slope of Kohala (5,505′). Passing over a short bridge at speed, I had caught a glimpse of this small red-walled canyon filled with the green canopy of kiawe trees (Hawaiian mesquite). It winds its way up the slope of surrounding desert-like dry rolling grassland and narrows to a gorge. It looked too appetizing to be left alone. “No way,” I muttered to myself. “Wow.” I was compelled to go.

I stepped cautiously in my flip-flops down into the wickedly spiny forest of kiawe filling the canyon and had walked about forty yards up the dry creek bed from the beach when I saw it.

imageThe ruins were hard to capture clearly in a photo, but look carefully and the circular shape of a stacked stone design should be visible.

There on a bench beside the wash, above flood level, was a large circular-shaped group of boulders. It resembled an old stacked stone wall enclosing an open space within where a patch of grass grew and it stood about three to four feet tall.

There was no question in my mind when I saw it that it was something of archaelogical significance, though it should be noted that I am not a trained expert and nor do I have confirmation by an expert. But what else could it be?

Many if not most of the boulders were too heavy for one man to lift and would require at least two or more people to move and arrange. It was not the sort of creation I would imagine modern people to have built for it clearly required a great deal of strenuous work and many hours. It was not some beach hut thrown together by modern locals at their favorite spot to hang out at.

imageLooking at same ruin from another angle.

imageA closer view of the stacked stones.

imageLooking out the mouth of the dry wash to the ocean.

The site seemed well-suited for a camp. It was tucked back in the narrow canyon away from the immediate seashore and was sheltered from wind by forty to fifty foot sheer cliffs on either side. The mouth of the dry wash drained into the sea on the lee side of a small point and was protected from the prevailing winds. The location allowed for quick and easy access to the ocean for fishing or whatnot.

In the preceding days I had been freediving in the area nearby popping scallops from the rocks. My brother-in-law, a native Pacific Islander born on Hawaii, had introduced me to his friend who had shown me a photo of a thirty-five pound ulua he had recently shot nearby while spear fishing. They had told me of a man having disappeared last year while spear fishing not too far away, presumably due to a shark attack (link to story here). They told me about another guy who, four days later, survived a tiger shark attack while spear fishing in the same area (link to story here). I had also been told that in winter humpback whales pass by this place hardly more than a stone’s throw from the beach. Not that anybody needs one line anecdotes to appreciate that these coastal waters of Hawaii were (are) exceptionally rich, but this area probably wouldn’t have been a poor choice to camp in prehistoric times.

imageTwelve hours later the formerly dry wash was raging, the eerie thud and crack of boulders being swept to sea, which is just visible here through the trees frame left.

The wash, while relatively small, was one of the more significant drainages in the area; a fact that was confirmed early the next morning when, after a night of heavy rain on the mountain, the formerly dry creek bed was a torrent of runoff that pushed a fluvial discharge of muddy water far out into the sea for several hundred yards.

No other such plumes of runoff could be seen along the coast anywhere in the immediate area. It was remarkable enough that it even caught the eye of my four year old son who pointed it out. Two days later the wash was empty again but, standing on the edge of the canyon high above, I could see a few pools of water dotting the otherwise dry creek bed. The silt had settled and the pools were clear; plenty of water to slake the thirst of the ancient ones who may have lived there.

imageOne of the other ruins, which appears far more distinct when standing before it than it looks in this photo, but the circular shape should be evident.

After spotting that first circular stand of boulders I began scanning the area more closely than I had previously, and out of the jumbles of lava rocks I began to notice several ruins of other lesser structures of similar form. I had overlooked them previously, but now they began to standout.

The ruins were grouped in the same area and all constructed from large and heavy boulders that would require group effort to move and arrange. It was plainly evident that a considerable investment of time and energy went into putting them together; not something I’d imagine modern people to have any interest in troubling themselves with.

Who else would bother with such hard work for so long as it took, but prehistoric people seeking to secure shelter and comfort from the elements along a coast naturally rich in sustenance?

Of course, supposing the ruins were indeed constructed long ago, they could be something other than the remains of prehistoric camp shelters. What might the purpose have been?

imageA cave about thirty-five feet above the dry wash on the cliff adjacent the ruins.

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‘Akaka Falls, Hawaii & Cliff Climbing Goby

image‘Akaka Falls on Kolekole Stream on the Big Island of Hawaii plunges 442 feet.

‘Akaka Falls may be one of the most remarkable waterfalls in the world. Not because of its impressive height nor natural splendor, but because of a tiny fish measuring no longer than five inches that lives in the creek, and which accomplishes an extraordinary journey as part of its life cycle.

The Hawaiian freshwater goby or Lentipes concolor was a traditional food source of the ancient islanders. It was raised in the waters of flooded taro fields in an early system of aquaponics, wherein the fish and plants were farmed in a symbiotic relationship.

Today the ‘o’opu ‘alamo’o, as it is known in the Hawaiian language, is noted for its incredible ability to scale the 442 foot sheer cliff over which ‘Akaka Falls pours to reach its natal habitat and spawning grounds.

imageA male Lentipes concolor. The fish is endemic to Hawaii.

The following description is taken from an interpretive sign near the waterfall:

“The name ‘o’opu ‘alamo’o comes from the Hilo area and refers to the lizard-like (mo’o) shape of the head.

The scientific name for the ‘o’opu ‘alamo’o is Lentipes concolor. This name recognizes the ability of the male to change colors during courtship and periods of aggression.

For the ‘o’opu ‘alamo’o, a native goby living in Kolekole Stream, life is full of challenges. Imagine having to swim 2.5 miles upstream from the ocean and then climbing 442 feet straight up against the flow of the waterfall!

An ‘o’opu begins as an egg laid in the upper reaches of the stream, often between rocks in the streambed. Once the egg hatches, the embryo drifts downstream with the current to the open ocean. Here the larvae remain for up to six months. When the ‘o’opu receives the freshwater signals from the stream, it’s time to begin the swim back upstream.

The ‘o’opu uses its suction disc and pectoral fins to climb up the water-slickened surfaces along the rocky sides of the waterfall. As an adult, the ‘o’opu measures about five inches. It stays upstream amongst the rocks and lays its eggs to start the next generation of ‘o’opu.”

image

Kirill Vinnikov, a PhD student working in the Department of Biology at the University of Hawaii whom researches amphidromous gobies, provides an explanation that helps clarify the graphic above which is posted near ‘Akaka Falls:

“All species of gobies have a unique morphological feature: their adults have a peculiar fusion of pelvic fins to form a disc with a strong sucking power. Amphidromous gobies use their sucking disc to move upstream; the disc allows them to attach to stones and climb on vertical rock surfaces, and finally, to reach their home habitats even when they are located at high elevations above waterfalls.”

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Bear Trail Don’t Burn

bear prints tracks santa barbara los padres santa ynez mountains hikesTwo bear footprints worn through dried leaves to the soil beneath in an area burned by the Sherpa Fire along the Gaviota Coast. This print pattern, more distinct in some places than others, continues for some distance along the unburned trail seen in the next photo.

Bears around these parts tend to have a remarkable habit of stepping in the exact same places when walking some sections of their own trails. I’ve seen it all over the forest.

A bear trail will often resemble a human trail. Typically it’s a foot-wide or so single-track path pressed into the leaf mulch of the forest floor.

However, unlike human trails a bear trail through leaf mulch is sometimes also dotted with individual paw impressions that mark the particular places that the bear steps each and every time it walks the path.

These are not distinct paw prints with toe and pad impressions as often seen in mud or silty dirt and which are left by a single footstep, but rather they are roundish holes pressed into the leaves from each foot having been repeatedly placed in the exact same spot.

In areas of heavy oak leaf mulch under forest canopy these paw impressions can become potholes up to six inches deep or more and sometimes push through the leaves entirely to bare soil. To follow in the bear’s footsteps is like taking the sort of measured and precise steps needed when walking on stepping stones.

bear trails santa barbara santa ynez mountains los padresBear trail don’t burn. A burned out understory in an oak grove with brown crispy dry leaves marking the course of a bear trail. The trail continued on to a three-way intersection. The same boulder in the upper right corner beside the oak tree shown here can be seen from the other side in the photo below.

While wandering the woods I came upon a puzzling sight. A trail of dried leaves and grasses led an incredible distance across land blackened by wildfire.

Multiple sections of paw impressions in the leaves, as mentioned above, revealed that a bear had left this trail that did not burn. The golden-brown path wound through a charred oak grove for some fifty yards or more between two creek crossings.

In a few places the unburned trail disappeared into large white patches of powdery ash where large oak trees had fallen and burned away, then it reappeared on the other side as a trail of unburned leaves and grasses surrounded by blackened, baked and crusty soil.

The trail could be seen from across the burned out forest from many yards away. In one location this remarkable trail of brown leaves formed an even more notable feature: a triangular intersection at a point where a path branched off on another route.

The trail had been used after the fire. There were fresh paw prints through ashy sections, which was a good sign to see, because not far away the body of a scorched bear lay dead in an arroyo with it’s head missing; the skull apparently taken for a trophy by some eager scavenger in desperate need of a curio for his shelf.

The forest is open and easy to walk through after the wildfire, but the bear continues along its same trail walking the line that oddly didn’t burn.

bear trail los padres forest santa ynez mountainsA three-way intersection on the bear trail. The trail as seen here leads into the distance through center frame, and disappears there around the oak tree and boulder mentioned in the previous photo. The trail continues in the photo here around the two thin sycamores on the right in the foreground and on out of frame toward the lower right corner. Another branch of the trail leads out of the lower left corner. The untrampled triangular space created by the intersection of the trails had burned, but the trails making the triangle largely did not.

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Matías Reyes, Santa Barbara Mission (1887)

Don Diego Guiterrez Santa Barbara Mission 1887.

“Old Matías Reyes lived in Mission Cañon. He used to bring wood to town and sell it.”

—Santa Barbara: Tierra Adorada, A Community History (1930)

In her book, “Canyon Voices: The Nature of Rattlesnake Canyon (2006),” Santa Barbara resident Karen Telleen-Lawton writes of local historian, Jim Blakley:

“Blakley uncovers a sheath of fragile, yellowed paper wrapped in heavy parchment. One document dated 1875 shows the transfer of title of much of the land in Rattlesnake Canyon to Matías Reyes. Reyes’ wife Griselda, an American Indian from a tribe near Riverside, California, signed the title with an “X.” The Reyes homestead encompassed the lower part of the canyon, including some relatively flat areas above the immediate flood channel that could provide building sites.”

Telleen-Lawton also writes of Frank Van Schaick who had lived in Santa Barbara since 1936. He was a teacher of natural history, among many other subjects, wrote the column “Nature Walks” for the Santa Barbara News-Press, and co-authored a couple of books with Dick Smith, after whom the Dick Smith Wilderness was named. Van Schaick had built with his own hands a home in Rattlesnake Canyon made of redwood and sandstone. Rattlesnake Creek is a tributary of Mission Creek. Regarding his home Telleen-Lawton continues:

“Van Schaick shifts focus and strides purposefully to the front door. He gestures to the sandstone slab doorsill, noting it came from the original adobe dwelling on the 19th century Spanish land grant of which this was a part. The Spaniard’s name, he says, was Matías Reyes.”

A seldom used and unkempt backcountry campsite located a short walk from the Santa Ynez River, beside a sunny patch of grass on the north slope of the Santa Ynez Mountains, takes its name from Mr. Reyes: Matías Potrero Camp. Reyes had staked a claim and built a cabin there, according to Blakley.

I imagine during Reyes’ time walking down to fish the river for three foot-long steelhead. (Native Steelhead of Yore, Santa Ynez RiverSteelhead Fishing, Santa Ynez River [1948])

Bald eagles and osprey would have been working the stream for fish and perhaps an increasingly rare grizzly bear or wandering wolf, both heading toward extinction. When in 1887 Jacinto Damien Reyes (no relation to Matías) arrived in Ventura County not too far away he said the forest “was infested with wolves, coyotes and grizzly bears.” (Gladiator Games of Bulls and Bears: Recollections of Jacinto Damien Reyes [1880])

Today the fish eagles still fly and we’re left with coyotes, but only a meager steelhead population of about one to two percent of its former size. “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds,” wrote Aldo Leopold. “Nostalgia for the good old days when everything was abundant is almost universal among conservationists.” Sorry for the sorrowful digression, but we can’t rightly dream of what the world can be if we don’t keep in mind what it once was.

Aside from the natural splendor surrounding Matías Potrero Camp, an old weathered handcrafted sign placed in an oak tree by Boy Scouts is perhaps the most notable human-made feature of the campsite nowadays, where the old rotten picnic bench has finally collapsed and a small stone fire circle lies rarely used.

Matias Potrero Los Padres National Forest hikes camping Matías Potrero

(Author’s note: Several sources identify the man in the historic photo featured here as being Matías Reyes. Among those sources are two mentioned here: The book, “Santa Barbara: Tierra Adorada, A Community History”, as well as historian Jim Blakley. However, it should be noted that the man is said to be Don Diego Guiterrez by somebody associated with the Black Gold Cooperative Library System and University of California.)

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Mastodon & Mammoth Sign: Reading Trees in the Santa Ynez Mountains

Santa Ynez Mountains Los Padres Forest hikes Santa BarbaraSanta Ynez Mountains

“Elephants’ habit of snapping or uprooting trees could explain why species such as oak, ash, beech, lime, sycamore, field maple, sweet chestnut, hazel, alder and willow can regrow from the point at which the stem is broken. In eastern and southern Africa there are dozens of tree species which resprout—or coppice—from the snapped trunk, and ecologists recognize this as an evolutionary response to attacks by elephants. … Trees that survive the attention of elephants often come to dominate the places in which the animals live: the ability to coppice confers powerful selective advantages.”

George Monbiot, “Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea, and Human Life” (2014)

I went for a walk in the woods up an unnamed trailless canyon in the Santa Ynez Mountains. That water trickled in the creek was probably sign enough somebody was growing weed somewhere nearby. Marijuana seems to be everywhere that there is water in the forest.

Sure enough I came across an old grow site. The guerrilla growers had thinned the forest canopy and understory to let sunlight onto the ground where they had rooted their crop. I could make out vague depressions in the earth that had once held the pot plants, now filled with leaf mulch and the flush of annual spring greens.

caost live oak tree coppiceA coast live oak tree (Quercus agrifolia) cut in half by the growers that resprouted a limb.

A number of oak trees had been cut in half or coppiced some time ago by the growers, but had resprouted from the remaining trunks. How hardy are the oaks.

Fell an oak near ground level and a burst of new branches explodes from the stump. The burly hardwood withstands much abuse in campsites and other popular areas: shot for target practice, chipped and hacked up with hatchets and axes, and used as billboards for the carving of initials, driving of nails and stakes and whatever else. The scars can last decades.

Sometimes one finds old barbed wire fencing strung through the solid live wood of big trees. One can still see today in the backcountry of Santa Barbara County an “E” and an “F” carved into an oak around a century ago by the son of a pioneer family. (Eddy Fields’ Initials)

In A Sand County Almanac (1949) famed conservationist Aldo Leopold wrote of reading pine trees like books on his Wisconsin farm. The “spaces between the successive whorls of branches … are an autobiography that he who walks with trees may read at will.” The longer the space between each annual whorl of branches, Leopold advised, the more rain had fallen the previous year. The shortest spaces reflect drier years and droughts.

I wondered if, to the keen observer 100 years hence, the signs of marijuana grow sites would remain evident in the particular form of the once butchered trees, which had sprouted new limbs and grew on.

coast live oka treeAnother tree that was decapitated by the growers and sprouted new branches.

But what else might the observer glean about the past from the way the trees appear today? What else might one read in the subtle clues of the forest? The “small-talk,” as Leopold called it.

In the particular growth habit of the oak had I also been witnessing a telltale sign of the late proboscideans, the distant relatives of today’s elephants that once thrived in California?

Was it a defensive characteristic imprinted through evolution into the tree’s genetic code in response to the behavior of American mastodons or Columbian mammoths, which had grazed or mauled the trees for millions of years?

Coast live oaks dominate the landscape around these parts like few if any other trees. One wonders if this is in some part due to the elephant-like megafauna that roamed the region during the Pleistocene and evolved alongside the trees. Prehistoric herbivores whose behavior was perhaps similar to that of today’s elephants, and in turn whose evolutionary influence might account for the particular growth habits and adaptations of certain trees, as Monbiot suggests.

santa barbara pygmy mammothA fossil pygmy mammoth (Mammuthus exilis) skeleton found in Santa Barbara County, as displayed at the Museum of Natural History.

santa barbara mammoth mastodon natural history museumA painting at the museum depicting a Columbian mammoth and the smaller American mastodon.

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