“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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‘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.”


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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Arlington, Cathedral, La Cumbre Peaks Scramble & More

Santa Barbara hikes Arlington Cathedral La Cumbre PeakThe stairway to Arlington climbing out of Mission Canyon.

“Genji climbed the hill behind the temple and looked off toward the city. The forests receded into a spring haze.

‘Like a painting,’ he said. ‘People who live in such a place can hardly want to be anywhere else.'”

—Murasaki Shikibu, “The Tale of Genji” (1008)

A smattering of rain has moistened the Santa Ynez Mountains raising the seasonal precipitation total to 72 percent of normal county-wide, better than each of the four previous seasons, but not what was expected this year during the strongest El Nino ever recorded. The weather is cool. A low ceiling of shifting cloud cover obscures the peaks over town sprinkling them in intermittent showers of light rain.

Be back by four, she says. That allows six hours, which isn’t enough time, but I go anyways. I have to go. “The mountains are calling and I must go,” John Muir wrote. I’ve never heard that call, but I think I’ve felt it.

Drop by seldom seen drop on through another warm and dry winter in this fifth year of epic drought. Any moisture falling from the sky provides an irresistible impetus to get out for a walk in conditions that are fleeting and seem to be increasingly uncommon.

I keep thinking I need to read Edward Abbey again to get used to the coming desert.

Arlinton Peak hike Santa BarbaraAnother look up the stairway to Arlington. The trail winds through the rocks to summit in the clouds.

Arlinton Peak hike trail santa barbaraThe trail passes under this jumble of boulders shown here and below.

Arlinton Peak trail hike Santa Barbara

On spotless days exceptional long views from the eastern salient of Arlington Peak; look over the canyons to the Santa Barbara littoral and the Pacific Ocean and Channel Islands beyond. What about the messy days? With low clouds and rain the hike takes on a mysterious and intriguing quality.

On cloudless days land lays bare under glaring sun; the nude sunbather on the beach leaving nothing to the imagination. The curves of the mountain, the hills, ridges, valleys and peaks are seen for what they are. It’s all out in the open.

Secreted away in clouds and only partly seen, however, an eager imagination will paint fantastic landscapes, completing the rest of the unseen picture in the mind and making the peaks rise another few thousand feet. A brief flash of a thought and it’s gone. The intrigued mind takes over as the mental image fades. Who knows what could be up there hidden amid the swirling mist of the coastal cloud forest? What country am I in? The mind wanders, enamored with the possibilities.

The airborne droplets flow over the sandstone and chaparral of the mountain slopes, thickening and thinning, enveloping and reducing vision to a matter of feet, the rocky hillside fading into the grayness, then release from the cool darkened grip gives way to views thousands of feet below.

I march on along a trail I’ve walked before, but through an enchanted cloudland I’ve never seen, a hunched character in the hazy montane landscape of a Japanese sansui painting. I perch on a boulder gazing into the distance over the city as a red-tailed hawk floats by at eye level screaming at me. The mind wanders, enamored with the possibilities.

Cathedral Peak hike Santa BarbaraApproaching Cathedral Peak along the saddle from Arlington.

Cathedral Peak cave hike Santa Barbara La CumbreLooking out of Cathedral Peak cave over Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean.

La Cumbre Peak Cathedral Peak trail hikeThe trail cutting through a patch of miner’s lettuce along the saddle between Cathedral and La Cumbre peaks.

La Cumbre Peak hike Santa Barbara Los PadresView from La Cumbre Peak of the backsides of Cathedral and Arlington.

La Cumbre Peak Fire Lookout Santa Ynez Mountains Santa BarbaraLa Cumbre Peak fire lookout.

Arlington Peak, Cathedral Peak cave La Cumbre hike santa barbaraThe banner feature photo for the blog shows the peaks in question lined up; the pyramidal Arlington just right of center frame, the huge sandstone knob of Cathedral, and the conifer-capped mound of La Cumbre on the top left.

After a couple of hours of sipping warm Santa Barbara tap wateran acquired tastethe shady and cool low saddle between Cathedral and La Cumbre provides an abundance of crisp and succulent miner’s lettuce beaded with rainwater. I kneel down and snatch it up by the handful, eagerly chomping it down and enjoying the tasty refreshment before the slog up the steep south face of La Cumbre.

Rain begins falling somewhere along the three mile stretch of Camino Cielo Road on my way from La Cumbre to Arroyo Burro Trail. I had walked from Tunnel Trailhead up to Arlington summit, to Cathedral cave and on up to La Cumbre. It’s a steep and sassy two and a half miles up.

My feet and legs like the flat asphalt road and push the pace leaving the battered old fire lookout atop La Cumbre behind without stopping to rest. But my mind does not settle until reaching Arroyo Burro. Back on the dirt; into the bowling upper canyon of San Antonio Creek; the rain pattering against me. You know the smell of wetted woods and fields of grass; the soft and subtle sounds of damp forested mountains, a trickling creek.

prickly phlox santa barbara wildflowersLeptodactylon californicum (prickly phlox)

Anise swallowtail caterpillar santa barbaraAnise swallowtail caterpillar.

Santa Barbara hikes Arroyo Burro Trail Santa Ynez Mountains Los PadresArroyo Burro Trail runs out of the lower right-hand corner of the frame as it drops into the canyon shown below.

Arroyo Burro Trail Santa Barbara hikes Santa Ynez Mountains

Arroyo BUrro Trail hikeUpper Arroyo Burro Trail.

Arroyo Burro Trail San Antonio Creeks Santa BarbaraSan Antonio Creek crossing.

phacelia santa barbara wildflowerPhacelia grandiflora

Santa Barbara newtA California newt (Taricha torosa) crossing the trail heading away from the creek.

rattlesnake hike santa barbaraSee the viper. 

Five hours into the walk and I’m on autopilot stomping along Arroyo Burro in the rain, traversing eastward below Barger Peak after having climbed out of San Antonio Creek. I’m energetic, my body eager to walk, my mind happy to endure. I feel like I have “the body of a taught, preteen Swedish boy.” I want to complete the 14 mile loop, merging onto Jesusita Trail and back up to Tunnel Trailhead where I parked, but I’m out of time, supposed to be home. That’s what she said.

Then I see the rattler. A juvenile coiled in the middle of the trail. On a cool and rainy day in late afternoon it’s among the last things I expect to see.

Fortunately it’s wound up in a circular shape that stands out from its surroundings and I spot it and it registers accurately in the brain. Had it been stretched out my eyes might have seen it, but my mind might have passed it off as just another twig on the trail. Who expects a snake in the rain on a cool afternoon? Its fangs would have readily pierced my thin and worn nylon pants; a wee spot o’ wild in the wilderness. I stop. Admire. And plod on.

The trail becomes overgrown with scrub and grass, hard to impossible to see clearly. After the viper it’s not a comforting occurrence. Were I to slow enough to make certain I see the trail and avoid stepping on a snake it would take me four times as long to finish the hike. I stomp on without regard or slowing my pace, plowing through the drenched brush getting showered in water and playing the odds, hoping they’re in my favor, that I won’t get bit.


rattlesnake santa barbara hikingI opt out of the hike prematurely, leaving Arroyo Burro and walking down lower Jesusita to Steven’s Park, where I get a ride home just a few minutes away. I suppose the distance for the day at 11 miles.

Next go around I’ll have to allow enough time to complete the loop; the Santa Barbara Triple Crown. Start at Steven’s Park, up Jesusita to Mission Canyon, up to Arlington Peak, Cathedral Peak, La Cumbre Peak, across Camino Cielo, and down Arroyo Burro to Jesusita and back to Steven’s.

It’s nowhere near as long or grueling as my friend Stillman’s 28 mile “masochistic odyssey” that he dubbed the Ojai Triple Crown, but it’s a worthy hike nonetheless. I’d rate it, myself, as the best hike in the Santa Barbara frontcountry.

Arroyo Burro Trail hike Santa BarbaraView from Arroyo Burro Trail looking up San Roque Canyon at the three peaks from whence I came.

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