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

  1. Robert Hazard says:

    There are so many ways that this “lock-down” can be held to critical scrutiny, and in the main, isn’t. Just one is that the most potent virus killer is in our own body, vitamin D. And the best source of it is being outdoors and in the sun. Yet they tell us to stay home, inside our houses. And then there are the children, denied education for months, maybe longer. Getting little or no exercise, becoming couch potatoes, playing video games, denied social interaction. What is generation ‘P’ going to be like in 10 years when they hit college or work? I can’t help but be reminded of the old fable “The Sky Is Falling”. Bob

  2. Jack Elliott says:

    I am wondering what sense it makes to treat the man living in a cabin in a rural northern California county outside a small town the same as the man living in an apartment complex in the inner city of Los Angeles.

    Matters of this nature are what I have in mind when I write of “the nuance of reality across time and space.”

  3. I can’t believe they arrested the poor surfer – what on earth wrong did they think he was doing?!

    That can looks to me like it’s from the 1950s/60s/70s as it has those 2 triangular holes we used to make in cans to drink from them with those special tin-openers back then.

    You seem to be doing much better than us – we’re not allowed on the hills at all apparently (not sure why hills give you Covid-19) and they’ve herded us all onto narrow paths and lanes where we all end up much too close for comfort.

    Mountain bikes are generally a menace I find – riding along narrow footpaths here and tearing up our mountain paths – they also expect you to vacate the path when you have the right to be on it and (here) they don’t!

    • Jack Elliott says:

      Wow. Restricted from the hills.

      Well, I don’t want to tell you what you may already know from the article, but the beach at Malibu was closed. The surfer disobeyed the lifegaurd and crossed the beach to get into the water.

      So I suppose the argument was that that individual (although peacefully recreating and not near anybody whatsoever in anyway until authorities violated their own distancing law to arrest him) violated the rules everybody else was following, which had then left the waves empty for him to enjoy alone. Otherwise the surf would have been packed with people. That’s Malibu.

      However, the surfer was charged with violating the state order not a local ordinace. So that argument falls apart instantly in the face of the facts.

      I find that argument to be straining the bounds of common sense and reason rather strongly and takes the willing suspension of disbelief to accept. In other words, mindless submission.

      If the law is that we are allowed to recreate so long as we maintain proper distance then there is no reason that should not apply to the ocean as it supposedly does on land.

      The truth of the matter is that the ruling class does not know what the hell they are doing and are in a reactionary mode fueled by fear and they are trying to play catch up because they were ill-prepared from the beginning and so they find it easier now to revoke everybody’s rights across the board, no matter how senseless.

      In these United States we always pay for the failure of the government with the loss of our freedoms.

      The same state lockdown order that requires all the most productive, hard working upright citizens to remain indoors and maintain distancing etiquette expressly exempts one of the most at-risk and suceptable, least productive groups of people in the state, the homeless. The people of the poorerst health and worst physical condition most likely to catch and pass on the virus are exempt from the order the rest of us are lectured about being so important.

      Nobody of sound mind can present a reasonable argument as to why somebody near nobody should be arrested, while the homeless are exempt from everything.

      They can offer empty opinions. And they can cast aspersions on those citizens who are skeptical of this obvious senselessness regardless of the good intentions of the ruling class pushing these lockdowns.

      But they do not have a reasonable argument.

      • Well said again. There’s a lot of ‘mindless submission’ going on over here unfortunately. I was hoping all the hillwalkers would rise up and ‘mass trespass’ on the hills (as they did in our past) but they all just agreed to everything without any critical thought and are all sat at home getting fat and unfit!

  4. Jack Elliott says:

    This news just out:

    Los Padres closes Monterey Ranger District roads and trails to the public until June 1

    Contact(s): Andrew Madsen (805) 961-5759

    In alignment with current Federal, state, and local guidance for social distancing and to ensure the health and safety of its visitors, volunteers and employees, Los Padres National Forest will temporarily close roads and trails on the Monterey Ranger District to the public effective April 16, 2020.

    This forest closure order will be in effect through June 1, 2020.

    These roads, trails, and trailheads are drawing increasingly heavy vehicle traffic and large groups of people, creating circumstances where social distancing is not possible. Additionally, some roads, trails, and trailheads are located adjacent to residential properties and could potentially contribute to exposure risks to local residents. Roads and trails may create unmanageable vectors for further community spread of COVID-19.

    This forest closure order includes the following roads, trails and trailheads:


    Tassajara Road – Forest Road No. 18S02
    Milpitas Road – Forest Road No. 19S09
    Nacimiento-Fergusson Road – Forest Road No. 22S01
    South Coast Ridge Road – Forest Road No. 22S05
    Baldwin Ranch Road – Forest Road No. 24S06
    Los Burros (Willow Creek) Road – Forest Road No. 23S01
    Sycamore Canyon Road – Forest Road No. 19S05


    Boranda Trail – Forest Road No. 20S03
    DeAngulo Trail – Forest Trail No. 2E07
    Kirk Creek Trail – Forest Trail No. 4E17
    Prewitt Loop Trail – Forest Trail No. 5E06
    Sand Dollar/Jade Cove Trail – Forest Trail No. 5E13
    Cruickshank Trail – Forest Trail No. 5E10
    Soda Springs Trail – Forest Trail No. 5E17
    Buckeye Trail – Forest Trail No. 5E09
    Salmon Creek Trail – Forest Trail No. 6E11
    San Carpoforo
    Salmon Creek
    Soda Springs
    Prewitt South
    Prewitt North
    Mill Creek
    Kirk Creek
    De Angulo

    This closure is an interim measure. Los Padres National Forest will continue to evaluate the emerging circumstances around COVID-19 and follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, as well as State and local health departments to ensure that the safety of our employees and our visitors remains our top priority.


  5. Jack Elliott says:

    Get your hike on, ladies and gentleman!

    “Regular Exercise Can Protect Against Deadly Coronavirus Complications, Study Says

    According to a researcher at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, …

    Dr. Zhen Yan says his research found a powerful antioxidant that helps protect against disease and can be produced through exercise.

    Yan explains that the antioxidant extracellular superoxide dismutase (EcSOD) could have a lot to do with keeping the majority of coronavirus cases mild.

    The study says EcSOD hunts down free radicals and protects the body’s tissue from disease. Our muscles naturally make EcSOD, but the study adds that its production is increased by cardiovascular exercise.


  6. Is that experience on the trail the moment to shout, “Don’t pop my bubble!” with a hiking pole outstretched, held at a piece of tape that marks 6 feet from core to end? I’m trying to “gamify” social distancing. “If nobody pops the bubbles, everybody wins!” It probably doesn’t work out so well if someone needs to backtrack more than half a mile to find a passing point.

  7. Jack Elliott says:

    Three days ago in the long comment above I observed the fact that while the governor of California was forcing everybody else at gunpoint into a lockdown he was explicitly exempting the most at-risk people of the poorest health in the state in the homeless population.

    (Regarding gunpoint: We have law. And law enforcement. How do you think the law is enforced? With a gun. What happens when you violate the law and then resist arrest? You see a government gun. Gun violence is inherent in the law whether you see the gun up front or not.)

    This point is starting to get wider coverage:

    April 17

    ‘We need to fix it quickly.’ Asymptomatic coronavirus cases at Boston homeless shelter raise red flag

    When an outbreak of coronavirus in a Boston homeless shelter prompted officials to do more testing, the results caught them off guard. Of the 146 people who tested positive, all of them were considered asymptomatic.

    “These are larger numbers than we ever anticipated,” said Dr. Jim O’Connell, president of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program. “Asymptomatic spread is something we’ve underestimated overall, and it’s going to make a big difference.”


    April 14

    COVID-19 Spreads Faster Through LA’s Homeless Population

    The deadly coronavirus is now spreading faster through Los Angeles’ homeless population, outreach workers tell the NBC4 I-Team. Sources say at least 23 more homeless people have tested positive for COVID-19, with fears an explosion of cases is not far behind.

    “Nothing has changed on Skid Row. There’s no social distancing,” said Estela Lopez, who represents business owners in the Skid Row area.

    NBC4’s cameras Tuesday documented crowds of people on Skid Row lined up side-by-side to get handouts of food, grouped closely together on benches in San Julian Park and sleeping in tents pitched next to each other.


  8. george says:

    We hiked that route in early February to climb what I call “Burnt Peak”, actually peak 3269. We met a guy down low on a quad who asked us if we knew we were trespassing (“Garsh! We thought this was National Forest”) but he was cool and let us continue, saying the owner would not have been as friendly. We went up the easternmost ridge, finding the amazing old trail the map clearly shows. The peak is just inside the unburnt, rocky perimeter and was a short struggle to attain. (I should have left a register, like I did on Barger Peak right after it burned.) We descended a ridge just west of the one we ascended, lovely and interesting with a a few small challenges. Encountered no one all the way to 154.

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