I spent a long cold night at Cottam Camp. When it’s dead dark by 5:30 and you’re out on the trail with minimal provisions there’s a bit too much time to kill ‘tween sunset and sunrise. Sitting beside a campfire doesn’t always cut it on a frosty night. Especially with damp firewood that smokes and smolders more than it burns.
I nodded off somehow at dusk laying on the narrow plank picnic bench seat. When I woke crickets were chirping and I was staring up into the star filled blackness of night. I laid there for some time stargazing through the leafless cottonwood tree limbs listening to the trickle of the creek before heading to the tent.
I woke in the morning to a classic Santa Barbara blue-skied day without a cloud in sight. The water in the skillet by the fire ring had frozen over, but it was warm in the sun. I brewed up a batch of stiff coffee and watched morning head toward noon. Every so often a puff of steam would rise from the dewy meadow and shoot into the air in a plume like somebody exhaling a drag from a cigarette.
After throwing back a tall cup of joe, and gathering a few essential items in a daypack, I hit the trail down Santa Ynez River way for a hike around. The river was mostly dry and crusty but for a few shallow puddles of slowly flowing water that promptly seeped back under ground and disappeared.
When I reached the trailhead on East Camino Cielo Road later that day the sun was sinking into the sea. The backcountry mountains were tinged red from the sunset and the city lights in Santa Barbara were flickering on. Oddly enough, as I sat for a rest before driving home, the same fella I saw on a previous trip down the trail in August came hiking up to the crest of Cold Spring Trail with his dog. He crossed the pavement, as I saw him do last time, touched the far shoulder of the road and turned back toward town. I started the engine and pressed peddle on down the mountain glad to be driving rather than hiking home.