“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)

Posted in Reference

Carrizo Plain Elk Under Full Moon

Tule elk graze Carrizo Plain.

Two photographers perched before one end of Selby Rocks outcrop shooting the moon rising over the broken spine of white sandstone.

We drove past, along the meandering dirt road, through the undulating beige grassland, down into the flat of the vast Carrizo Plain.

We drove Soda Lake Road, toward home by way of Ventucopa, and before us spread an exceptional view matchless in my 20 years of brief and intermittent experiences on the plain.

A full moon shown large and luminous over a pink-tinged Temblor Range lit in warm sunset hues, the low sky beyond shadowed by the mountains was layered in the cool blues and violets of twilight, all brilliant to the human eye and mesmerizing to the mind, but mostly imperceptible to the cell phone camera and unreflected in the drab and puny image it captured in that moment.

And grazing the plain before the moon and mountains stood some 80 elk.

A moment later a San Joaquin kit fox bounded across the road and out into the plain.

I thought of the two photographers.

Their composition looked rather appealing and admirable as we had driven by, with the large white rocks in the grass and the full moon rising beyond.

If only they had known of the show playing just down the road.

Related Posts:

Pronghorn, Carrizo Plain National Monument

El Saucito Ranch House, Carrizo Plain (1878)

Night on Carrizo Plain, Tule Elk and Caliente Peak

Dragon’s Back Ridge, Carrizo Plain

Carrizo Tom

The Carrizo Experience: Ten Hours on the Plain IV

The Carrizo Experience: Ten Hours on the Plain III

The Carrizo Experience: Ten Hours on the Plain II

The Carrizo Experience: Ten Hours on the Plain I

Cave’s Eye View on the Carrizo Plain

Soda Lake Reflections, Carrizo Plain National Monument

Carrizo Plain Wildflowers: Temblor Range, San Luis Obispo County

Dragon’s Back Ridge on the San Andreas Fault, Carrizo Plain National Monument

Wallace Creek Offset at the San Andreas Fault, Carrizo Plain National Monument

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Wind Poppy (Papaver heterophyllum)

Rancho Nuevo Canyon, Dick Smith Wilderness (Early May, 2012)

“It is possible to be indifferent to flowers—possible but not very likely. Psychiatrists regard a patient’s indifference to flowers as a symptom of depression. It seems that by the time the singular beauty of a flower in bloom can no longer pierce the veil of black or obsessive thoughts in a person’s mind, that mind’s connection to the sensual world has grown dangerously frayed.”

—Michael Pollan, Botany of Desire

This here poppy, Papaver heterophyllum, is one of the lesser seen wildflowers in the hills around Santa Barbara County so far as I’ve seen in my few years and limited experience.

I saw a wind poppy at the mouth of Rancho Nuevo Canyon eight years ago.

Dusty David Stillman and I had just finished up a hike through the canyon—Deal Cyn, Rancho Nuevo Cyn 17 Mile Day Hike—and as we came off the trail I glanced over and spied wind poppies in bloom.

Seven years would pass before I saw another wind poppy.

I don’t think Mr. Stillman had any interest, which is not in any way to suggest he isn’t of sound mind. He’s solid like bedrock. Plants just do not interest him like they do me.

I’ve long been fascinated by the plant world and have been a grower of various plants since I was a small boy. When I was about ten years old I rode my bike down from the top of Hope Avenue to La Sumida Nursery on upper State Street, now no longer there, and bought a load of cactus which I somehow managed to transport back home. The clerk overlooked one of those plants and neglected to charge me and I remember feeling like I had won the lottery.

Later as a young adult I worked for Hilton Sumida at that same nursery together with the wife of Dick Smith’s son, for whom the Dick Smith Wilderness was named.

She held in her head an encyclopedic knowledge of plants and people would stop into the nursery all the time to pick her brain, and she always obliged the interrogators.

Once on the side of a mountain below Owen’s Peak in Indian Wells Canyon, Stillman peered over me in curiosity as if watching wildlife.

I had been collecting a can of granite gravel within which to plant the small piece of beaver tail cactus, Opuntia basilaris, I had just respectfully collected for my home collection.

“You’re a real weirdo, you know that?” he had said.

I couldn’t rightly deny the charge. Several years later the cactus offered up a single bloom, seen here.

Back to the Rancho Nuevo Canyon wind poppies. The flowers were freshly popped and new, but the lighting was weak shortly before sunset, the temperature cool and falling, and the blooms were already half closed hunkering down for night.

The poppies grew in a patch of grass between clumps of scorched chaparral. This was five years after the Zaca Fire burned the area in 2007.

The land in Rancho Nuevo Canyon was still in the early-successional stage of regrowth following the wildfire and the poppies appeared to thrive in this particular habitat.

Lost Valley, San Rafael Wilderness (Late May, 2019)

In May of 2019 a good friend and I ambled down Lost Valley Trail after two nights hiking and lounging around in the San Rafael Wilderness in the Santa Barbara backcountry.

The land still looked somewhat scorched from the Zaca Fire, although that fire was 12 years past. Or did another fire sweep the area after the Zaca? Fire has burned so much around this neck of the woods in recent years it can be hard to keep track.

Small pockets remained between the chaparral, yet to close over, where delicate annual herbaceous plants sprouted with gusto.

Here in one of these pockets, much like in Rancho Nuevo Canyon years earlier, right along the trail just before reaching the old rusty sign at Lost Valley Overlook, I glanced over and saw a number of wind poppies in bloom.

This was late May and the flowers were days old and on their way out, but still vibrant.

Wind poppies resemble fire poppies, previously noted on this blog: Fire Poppy (Papaver californicum). Without a careful look one may confuse the two.

Readers of that post may recall the fascinating relationship between fire and Papaver californicum and I imagine the same phenomenon may be at work with wind poppies:

The burning brush and trees of a wildfire produce chemicals found in smoke that regulate plant growth known as karrikins, which are deposited on the surface of the soil. When watered in by seasonal rains karrikins stimulate rampant germination and vigorous seedling growth.

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Long Lost Trail Discovered, Hiking In A Time Of Lockdown And Distancing

Jack-in-a-crack doing what he does. Wandering. Searching. Hunting. Looking. Seeing. Sometimes discovering.

Looking to get my hike on, and so surveying various trailheads through my car window during the COVID-19 governor’s lockdown order, I saw more cars parked than expected, more cars than often seen without the lockdown. I expected far fewer.

Holy nightmare, Batman!

This despite the low ceiling of clouds sucking over the Santa Ynez Mountains in breezy 48 degree weather with snow capped peaks beyond in the San Rafael Range. In April!

We’ve been bestowed with a desperately needed late season blast of rain.

The state largely shut down in an unprecedented effort to halt the spread of the debilitating and deadly SARS-CoV-2 virus and people took advantage of the downtime from busy schedules for much needed mountain medicine, as I expected they would.

But I hadn’t expected such trail traffic in less than hospitable weather. Foul weather friends abounded. And good for them. Get out of town, Leroy Brown!

The Grouch of the Woods kept driving. Naturally. Onward forth.

Because, apparently, as per the lockdown law, my “neighborhood,” to quote the governor’s order, includes the entire county. Hmmm. As long I “continue to practice social distancing of 6 feet.”

I wonder if the eses on the East Side and West Side know that the güeros on the North Side own all now.

¿Que onda, güey? ¡No mames!

Time to get inked by Mister Cartoon.

This doesn’t make sense, I know. Neither does the law.

But Governor Newsom has an 83% approval rating so what senselessness may be found in his policy doesn’t matter. He’s headed toward the presidency.

“Not a chill to the winter but a nip to the air”

Days earlier I made the mistake of hiking a trail in the Santa Ynez Mountains I figured sufficed for my needs, since only three cars were parked, and the trail split in two different directions at this trailhead, and so what few people were around could have been divided between the frontcountry slope and the backcountry.

My needs being outdoor exposure in undeveloped unimproved nature and plenty of distance from my fellow humans.

Anybody spending much time out in the forest around Santa Barbara County well knows that on some trails, in many areas, it is not possible to maintain the six feet of separation called for in the social distancing guidelines enforced by police and advocated by health officials and learned professionals on disease and epidemics.

We’re talking about foothpaths a foot-wide.

Have you hiked one of these trails that cut through chaparral, along steep mountain slopes?

In a noteworthy number of places the only way to maintain proper separation between another hiker or biker or equestrian would be to leap off a cliff or slip and slide precariously off the beaten path into the slough on a steep slope or somehow burrow your way into a bristling wall of chaparral.

Or trail users approaching each other would have to yield one to the other and perhaps backtrack to find sufficient room to pass safely. But to exercise this option requires a willing participant on the other end, which does not always happen.

Case in point: I was ambling that aforementioned trail, having made the mistake, and several groups of mountain bikers appeared now and then. I stood on a foot-wide path with a wall of mountain on my right and a cliff on my left at one point, where I had stopped to flower gaze. I could not escape to maintain proper distance.

The bikers slowed, respectfully, we exchanged a quick greeting, but they did not stop and nor did they show any concern for distancing etiquette. I was forced to take one step, all that was possible, up a slippery and rocky slope, turn my back and let them pass.

Huffing and puffing, I imagined their aerosolized  breath vapor floating all about, possibly carrying tiny balloons of the virus. I held my breath hoping the breeze would flush it away.

Belgian-Dutch Study: Why in times of COVID-19 you should not walk/run/bike close behind each other.

Rare wildflower Ojai Fritillaria. Previous post: Thoughts on Rare Lily Ojai Fritillaria and Indian Fire

Not long after this encounter I happened upon two riders on horseback. Once more I yielded the right of way this time by stepping into the poison oak under the oak tree canopy.

Fortunately, I long ago stopped being allergic to this wicked little greasy-leafed plant: Eating Poison Oak.

So, in other words, the nature of our local trails renders the state’s guidelines not easy to follow in many places and difficult to impossible to follow in others, and sometimes dangerous.

Again, as per the law, I am allowed to hike in my neighborhood contingent on keeping my distance from others. If I cannot maintain distance, then the option of outside recreation is prohibited.

To the extent that the law is not enforced makes the code no less clear, nor muddled.

That is the problem with such speedily thrown into place, rigid one-size-fits-all blanket laws: They do not account for the nuance of reality across time and space.

If we are to read the law by its letter rather than spirit, as defendants in court are routinely held to—strict and narrow definitions of language because words really do hold certain and particular meanings—then we are to remain within our own individual urban residential areas if outdoors for non-essential activities.

The law is clear on this point.

These distancing guidelines and the lockdown order have been enforced by police:

Police Across CA Issue Citations for Violations of Stay at Home Order

In Santa Cruz, deputies issued about 40 citations to people who were not social distancing around beach areas.

This is not to say I am fearful of arrest, although arrests in California have occurred. In at least one case that gained nation-wide attention, a man was arrested despite being nowhere near anybody at all, arrested in open ocean:

California surfer in handcuffs after enjoying empty, epic waves

Other unreported anecdotes tell of similar encounters.

In addition to the law and my concern for my health and the health of others in my community, regarding the possible danger of distancing on narrow trails, the last thing I need is to get hurt and require some sort of rescue or a trip to the hospital.

Santa Barbara County Search and Rescue team member, Nelson Trichler, has said flat out, in the context of a recent ATV accident, to keep away from trails. Do not play too hard in the forest for sake of the health and well-being of SAR members, he has suggested.

“We understand that people feel the need to get out,” Trichler said. “I love the trails and I can understand why people want to be out there, but now is the time to give them a break.”

Ray Ford: Santa Barbara Search & Rescue Asks Community to Give Trails a Break

Healthcare workers on the front-lines, which include some of my family members and friends, have pleaded to adhere to the distancing guidelines and lockdown order to prevent the hospitals from being overwhelmed.

I wouldn’t want to clog up healthcare facilities should I twist an ankle or break a bone or whatever in trying to maintain distancing on trails.

Fortunately, as also reported in the county’s preeminent news outlet, Noozhawk, as per Brian Goebel, the curve in California has been crushed.

“. . .the statewide curve was flattened days ago and is now completely bent downward.”

Órale vato. ¡Que viva!

Maybe these restrictions will soon be eased.

Okay. Alright. I know. I know. Enough with the parsing, Jack! Good grief. You’ve mentally masticated this thing into a pulpy sludge. Let it alone already.

That’s what I do. Chew the cud. Ponder.

That’s what this back alley blog is all about. Thinking.

I analyze the reality of the world around me as shot through the prism of outdoor pursuits in the natural world. Readers should not mistake exploring all possibilities about certain issues as paranoia. This is an exercise in thought. It is academic.

Now to what I found out yonder. . .

From a short distance away I spied on the right-hand side of this beautiful boulder what appeared to be foot holds carved into the stone. Before a closer inspection I sat in the shelter of the small pocket at its base to eat a few calories to fuel my machine.

I could quote Robert Frost on the path less taken making all the difference. But that’d be hackneyed. Oops. I did anyway. Because it is true.

Not having found an empty trailhead I parked aside the road in an unpaved unsigned nondescript pullout and headed into the mountains without a trail. I knew where I was headed despite no path leading me there.

In recent weeks I gazed from my house at the hills, as usual, and late one afternoon the oblique sunlight cast a revelatory beam onto the slopes and illuminated a particular area against its surrounding shadowed backdrop.

Whoa! I thought.

Never before had I seen this nook exposed in such light and at that moment I could see with the naked eye what appeared to be a small oak-studded flat high on the mountainside. Leading further up the mountain from the flat, towards an unremarkable peak, was a small and short ravine.

Reading nature’s telltale signs from afar I knew that the oaks grew there because water drained through the ravine and quenched their thirst on this south-facing hot and otherwise dry slope.

I knew immediately I had to venture out to take a looksee. This place called to me as I imagined it might have to other people in times past with similar minds.

When I arrived afoot at this place I found traces of those others.

Upon closer inspection the possible footholds appeared no less striking, but in my attempt to find a way up to the first hold I was thwarted. There did not appear to be any way to reach the first step, though I didn’t give it my best try because I didn’t want to fall back into the stiff scorched skeletons of manzanita surrounding it.

I trudged up the mountainside in my approach, after steep rocky descents and steep ascents along my way and the crossing of a gushing clear water creek, nearly scrambling in some sections here and there.

I neared the crest of the ridge I had my sights set on and of a sudden broke onto what I immediately recognized as an old, long unused trail.

“No way. No way,” I muttered to Me, Myself and I. “Wow.”

In my first reaction I wondered how old the trail was, that it could possibly be of Native origins, maybe an old Chumash route from the coast to the Santa Ynez Valley and interior hinterlands. The location made this a real possibility, not wishful thinking.

Moments later, however, looking up and down the old footpath, then following it for a short distance, it became apparent that in its well-labored over construction and character and how it crossed over the lay of the land, that the old trail was of more recent origins and the work of Yankee Barbareños in modern times.

Americans may be persnickety about their trailcraft and meticulous in design and construction and it was readily apparent that Indians would never have built a trail of this nature.

The old trail bed as first discovered, cobbles removed to form a clear pathway.

I followed the trail a bit further and came to a cluster of large boulders through which it weaved and continued on down the mountain turning corners smoothly here and there as it found its way across the steep and rugged terrain.

At the base of one outcrop by which the trail led I found a spent rifle cartridge. Without my eye glasses I could not decipher the caliber but felt it had obviously been left by a deer hunter.

I did not recognize the caliber from the form of the shell casing and so at that moment it seemed remarkably old. Although the casing appeared rather old, this find confirmed my notions of a much more recent trail than I had first thought.

Later in my home study I eyed the cartridge and was amused to find that it seemed likely to have been from sometime between World War I and World War II.

Of course, the round may have been new old stock (NOS) when fired and left on the trail. It may have been manufactured much earlier than when it was left on the mountain.

Remington-Union Metallic Cartridge company 8 millimeter French Lebel. I believe this may be circa WWI due to the Lebel marking.

A moment later I found that ubiquitous sign of modern man in the woods, a rusty beer can. “Hayduke sign,” as Edward Abbey wrote in The Monkey Wrench Gang, “beer cans.”

The can was made sometime around the 1930s to 1940s, I’d posit, based on the churchkey design whereby a separate handheld can opener was required to puncture two holes into the tin, one to drink from and one as a carb.

I still wonder as of this writing if the trail was built upon the moldering bones of an old Chumash path. Maybe this path had followed the ancients.

Standing on the mountain and gazing over the land I could make out two or three sections of the trail as it led down the mountain in the direction of, and along a canyon which, leads to an area where, in fact, an old Indian village was once located long ago somewhere in the vicinity of today’s Tucker’s Grove Park.

Among common folk interested in these sorts of things around this neck of the woods it’s common knowledge, and has been mentioned in media outlets in passing here and there through the years, that relatively near the location of the trail I found was once located an old Native footpath used to transit the Santa Ynez Mountains.

I have yet to look into the matter, but whatever the case may be, adding up the two telltale clues I found in the cartridge and can, it appears this trail is a leftover remnant from, perhaps, roughly about 100 years ago.

Bullets and bear cans, the ubiquitous sign of humanity throughout the forest.

More old trail bed which with rain turned into a runnel. On either side of the photo frame the trail meanders a curvaceous route through a boulder field and remains remarkably clear to the eye and well preserved after all these years.

A faint section of the trail, center frame, seen from afar leading along the razor edge of a steep-sided ridge. The aforementioned oaky flat seen from my home lies just out of frame on the left. Downtown Santa Barbara is seen in the distance.

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Baby Blue Eyes Wildflower

A single baby blue eyes now blooming in the folds of the Santa Ynez Mountains, standing tall and strong though alone, maintaining proper social distancing from family and friends in the background, beneath a blue spot of sky above.

Happy Easter. Happy Sunday.

To health and happiness!

Sunny day
Sweeping the clouds away
On my way to where the air is sweet
Can you tell me how to get
How to get to Sesame Street

Come and play
Everything’s A-OK
Friendly neighbors there
That’s where we meet

Can you tell me how to get
How to get to Sesame Street

It’s a magic carpet ride
Every door will open wide
To happy people like you
Happy people like—
What a beautiful day

Sunny day
Sweepin’ the clouds away
On my way to where the air is sweet
Can you tell me how to get
How to get to Sesame Street
How to get to Sesame Street
How to get to. . .

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The Sign

Santa Barbara backcountry

The men emerged at dawn from the confine of darkness with strained faces wet and ruddy as writhing newborns and the forested land materialized before their bloodshot eyes by the minute in the lightening day, ever larger, until mountain wilderness reared all around in the faint and colorless twilight and the view was strange and desolate. 

Slopes thick and tangled with bristling chaparral rose from the creek and folded and blended into one another and compressed with distance into an olive drab felted wall of mountains that encircled their world.

They stepped off the main trail pounded bare and wide through the river valley and slunk into the bush to enter the narrow canyon mouth of a tributary creek. 

The stream flowed clear and steady. The cool water pooled among boulders in the shade of alder and willow and sycamore.

Tree tops spread over the creek and the canopy filled the canyon like a lumpy green reservoir pooled between sheer sandstone cliffs framing the canyon mouth.

The men bounded across creek stones through the tunnel of trees.

Native trout flitted between the stones like green torpedoes fired underfoot each time they leaped over the purling water, fish of the oldest origins untainted by the genes of McCloud River rainbows that had by mankind’s hand taken over the world. 

Holt Carson stopped and turned about his small wiry frame, chest heaving, mouth agape.

“We’ll know we’re close to the Indian cave when we see the sign warning us from going there.”

He sucked in a fresh breath through a wry smile and turned and waded onward through the creekside scrub. 

“What?” Daniel Hillman snapped.

Holt kept walking letting his comment hang.

Hillman followed, waiting for him to elaborate. 

“Can’t go there?” Hillman pressed in a confused inflection when Holt offered nothing more.

“Nope,” Holt said, almost sounding pleased.

“What the hell you talking about?”

“It’s illegal. Five thousand dollar fine and a six month jail sentence for trespassing,” Holt said.

They kept walking. “Maybe I forgot to tell you that part,” Holt said.

“Yeah pretty fucking sure you never mentioned that tidbit of invaluable information,” Hillman said. “So what’s the deal? We get to leer at this place from afar through field glasses?” 

Holt laughed. Always quick on the rhetorical draw, he fired from the hip: “Well, if you can climb the fence, that might work.”

“A fence? There’s a fucking fence? We’re in the middle of nowhere!”

Holt laughed. They hiked on.

* * *

The blaring white sign reared up in the forest as they approached, an intimidating, bristling hackle of authority unwelcoming of anybody.

“There it is.” Holt pointed up the draw with his chin, hands resting atop trekking poles.

Hillman tramped past him with eyes on the sign and his mouth cracked open. He pulled up short and leaned back on a straight leg, other knee bent, gripping his two trekking poles with tight fists. “Unreal.”

“Read it.”

“Hear ye. Hear ye,” Hillman bellowed in a stentorian blast that resonated from his bearish chest. “To protect fragile resources for future generations the area behind this sign is,” and here he outright yelled to convey that the next few words were printed in all capitals, “CLOSED TO ENTRY.” Then he tagged on the end bit in a low rapid mumble, “until further notice.”

“How ‘bout that?” Holt said. “Guess we have to go home.”

Hillman turned. He fixed Holt in an intense glare through crystal blue eyes. “Horseshit!”

“Here we go,” Holt said, grinning.

“So let’s follow their reasoning. . .”

“Whose reasoning?” Holt interjected, leading the conversation in a direction he knew Hillman would appreciate.

“Good question. Nobody knows. The nameless. The faceless. The unelected. The unaccountable. Some desk-bound cog in the bureaucratic regulatory wheel whose profession it is to revoke without reasonable justification the rights of others on the pretext of supposedly protecting sensitive resources.”

“The wheel that just rolled us,” Holt said, wiping his wet beaded brow with the back of his forearm.

“Ground like grist,” Hillman added.

“No soup for you!” Holt shouted.

They stood in silence, thinking it over, looking about, sucking warm tap water through clear hoses running into their backpacks.

“So the man that lives today,” Hillman began. 

“The man that woke in the wee hours like some tortured lunatic from over the cuckoo’s nest,” Holt declared “and hiked his ass through half the night and all the next damn day.”

“Yes. Yes, indeed. This glorious sentient man of action present before you in the here and now. He is forcibly denied access from his own public lands on behalf of the man that does not exist, for the man that has yet to be born.”

“Insane.” Holt said, shaking his head.

“Utterly. We’ve been stripped of a right that’s been reserved for fictitious people that don’t even exist. What the hell kind of sense does this make?”

“That’s not now a right, my friend,” Holt said. “That’s called privilege.”

“Un-American. Is what it is. What about equal treatment and access and opportunity?” Hillman said. 

“Well, come back in a decade or two, after you’ve been born again as a future generation, and you’re in like Flynn,” Holt said, a double click of his tongue sucking wind through his teeth as if guiding a horse.

They stood silent.

“Or wait here for further notice,” he added.

Hillman grinned and lowered his chin to his chest looking at nothing in particular. He looked up at Holt. “Meanwhile the chosen few come and go as they please, no doubt.”

“Oh yes, of course. It’s all in who you know. We lowly unassociated kulaks get nothing.”

“Nope. We get lectured by Gevlin Dandy. Do as he says, not as he does. He asks for directions to trespass while telling us not to.”

“Yes he does.”

Hillman looked up into the vast cloudless sky, looked ahead, and marched on in a sudden surge of energy, touching the sign with a single gloved finger as he passed. 

Holt fell in behind him. “Just keep to the ravine,” he called ahead.


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