El Roca Grande circa 1909 overlooking the Santa Barbara littoral, Pacific Ocean and Santa Cruz Island in the distance. Note the metal poles and cable handrail.
“In the 1970s this was The Place. Well, if you were a teenager on a Saturday night it was. Located on Gibraltar Road about two miles past Mountain Drive there was a large place to pull off the road to park, party and enjoy the lights of the city below.”
—Neal Graffy, Santa Barbara Then and Now
“There was a time when courtesy and winning ways went out of style, when it was good to be bad, when you cultivated decadence like a taste. We were all dangerous then. We wore torn-up leather jackets, slouched around with toothpicks in our mouths, sniffed glue and ether and what somebody claimed was cocaine. When we wheeled our parent’s whining station wagon out into the street we left a patch of rubber half a block long. We drank gin and grape juice, Tango, Thunderbird, and Bali Hai. We were nineteen.”
—T.C. Boyle, Greasy Lake
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride!'”
—Hunter S. Thompson, The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967
Party, Graffy writes, a local historian. That comes off far too innocent. There’s a lot packed in that small word.
Boyle nailed it, a local writer. I see him walking his dreadlocked dog by my office window.
Far more was enjoyed up yonder at The Rock than mere city lights, and maybe all those fantastical lights weren’t from the city anyway.
El Roca Grande
Farewell to The Rock. Somebody will be living there now.
For decades a dirt pullout on Gibraltar Road, the outcrop of sandstone bedrock wrapping the bend in the road, and the long views up and down the coast, along the south face of the Santa Ynez Mountains overlooking the Pacific Ocean, formed a singular attraction known as The Rock.
Here the local intoxicati and psychonauts loitered day and night to take flight. They never left the ground. But boy did they fly high!
Numerous illicit drugs and controlled substances and brain depleting chemicals and vast quantities of alcohol of various kinds fueled savage pursuits of addled depravity worthy of a rambling mutter of approval from the late Hunter S. Thompson.
The bennies, the ludes, the coke, the weed, the ether, the nitrous, the acid, the mushrooms, the mescaline, the XTC, the crack, the crank, and aerosol cans of computer cleaner lifted from high school classrooms.
Animalistic loveless sex in the darkened bushes and silly warm young love in cramped cars with feet out the window.
Warm Santa Ana winds in summer with shirts off at midnight.
The Ratch fell off The Rock. My good friend since fourth grade at Monte Vista, he stumbled over the edge and fell to the road below and broke his leg and had to hobble around Santa Barbara High in a big cast.
Cheech: “Wow, man. That’s some heavy shit.
Hey man. . . Am I driving okay?”
Chong: (Slowly looks around through car window)
“I think we’re parked, man.”
Note the old steps carved into El Roca Grande.
Remnants of the old handrail on El Roca Grande.
Then there were the earlier generations and heroic tales of sheer stupidity from the 1960s and 1970s related first-hand by the family and friends that survived them, and could remember.
A metal pipe once jutted from a knob of sandstone historically known as “El Roca Grande” that protrudes from the mountainside just below Gibraltar Road.
“This was a must-see stop reached by a trail leading up from Mountain Drive and connecting to La Cumbre Trail,” Graffy writes of El Roca Grande.
See related previous post: Trail Up Mt. La Cumbre (1914).
Today’s Gibraltar Road, he notes, was built during the 1930s and was originally known as “Depression Drive.”
Back in the day hikers and equestrians would walk up a series of steps carved into El Roca Grande, along a metal pole and cable setup as seen on the old postcard image above.
Today the remnants of this metal handrail remain.
El Roca Grande noted here, which sits just below Gibraltar Road. The new house still under construction sits stop the larger sandstone outcrop which is just above Gibraltar Road.
For shits and giggles in the 1960s and 1970s the boys would scramble over the sandstone outcrop of El Roca Grande, grab a piece of the old pipe, and dangle over the steep chaparral slope below.
Performing the white-knuckled stunt was a hell of a thrill.
If you were really brave or stupid or a little of both you did it at night.
But nothing compared to “hanging the pipe” in the dark on three hits of acid.
I tell you, I can’t for the life of me imagine why they closed this place down.
Probably the same reasons they closed Goddard: Goddard Campground: The Lost Jewel of West Camino Cielo. I know a guy that was run over on West Camino Cielo back in the day one night by Goddard while lying in the road out of his mind on hallucinogens. He lived to tell his tale, but his face was never the same.
This is classic Santa Barbara.
“When Santa Barbara was first incorporated, back in 1850, of the first 32 business licenses issued by city fathers, 30 were for dealers in spirituous liquors,” Walker A. Tompkins wrote in It Happened In Old Santa Barbara (1976).
These days, Santa Barbara County may be the cannabis capital of California.
“Santa Barbara County’s famed wine region — with its giant live oaks and destination tasting rooms — and the quiet beach town of Carpinteria have become the unlikely capital of California’s legal pot market.
During the statewide lockdown order declared by Governor Newsom amid the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, which shuttered most businesses, recreational weed shops were declared “essential businesses” and remained open slinging smoke and various other cannabis-derived intoxicants.
Because getting high in Santa Barbara has always been essential, from the beginning.
After decades of generational use, the authorities placed cement barricades along the dirt shoulder of Gibraltar Road to bar access to the big dirt pullout at The Rock, where everybody parked.
And that was it. They killed it. Dead. Done. In one fell swoop. The end of an era.
Somebody bought the land above the road, where we once stood on top of the big outcrop we called The Rock.
Somebody built a house.
Somebody’s front yard now is where it all happened back then.
Farewell to The Rock.
Standing on the old dirt pullout, now barricaded by cement walls, looking back at what we called The Rock.