Widow’s Tears Falls, Santa Ynez Mountains

“Out around Glen Annie and Cathedral Oaks if you look toward the Front Range after a pretty good rainstorm you can sometimes see a tiny little set of falls that has a vertical drop of circa 100.’ It is set against an outcropping of rock and drains a quite small drainage. With good optics, it will appear as just a small thread of sparkling water and, if the wind is blowing, mist.

I’ve always known it by the name ‘Widow’s Tears.’ The name that old timers used…My main source for the name was Chuck Begg from a pioneer Goleta family. He pronounced it ‘Widda’s Tears.’

There seem to be a lot of Widow’s Tears falls around the US so I think the stories are probably apocryphal. After Chuck told me the name years and years ago, I heard it from other old timers.”

—woodman40 on SantaBarbaraHikes.com (2005)

Widow’s Tears is the one big waterfall, a cascade really, draining off the frontside of the Santa Ynez Mountains that’s seen from places throughout Goleta after heavy rains.

A blurb about Chuck Begg can be found in the Congressional Record (2002).

In an outcrop on the slope rising out of the steep and tumbling creek, not far above the falls, there is a cave with ocean and island views.

The top of “Widda’s Tears.”

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Pronghorn, Carrizo Plain National Monument

Pronghorn on the Carrizo Plain National Monument, March 1, 2017.

“We were taught how the pioneers went into the West. They opened their eyes and made up what things could be. . . .People think there aren’t frontiers anymore. They can’t see how frontiers are all around us.”

I first visited the Carrizo Plain seventeen years ago, shortly before it became a national monument in 2001. That day, in the waning light of late afternoon on the drive out of the immense plain, my friend M.G. and I came across a lone bull tule elk. I was stunned. I had no idea at that time that elk ranged a mere fifty miles, as the condor flies, from Santa Barbara.

At first glance the Carrizo Plain had appeared to my unknowing and unappreciative eyes as a wasteland devoid of life or anything of interest aside from the Native American pictographs that originally attracted me to the place. The elk opened my eyes to the fact that my extended backyard was a lot wilder than I had known.

The Temblor Range seen in the distance runs along the edge of the San Andreas Fault.

What first drew me to the plain those many years ago was the archaeological site of Painted Rock. Once on the plain it was its absence of humanity and desolation and quietude that compelled me to return. In subsequent years I made more trips to the plain than I can remember, and in that time I began to develop a deep appreciation for the subtle richness to be found there.

I’m not sure it is accurate to say that there is a lot to do out there, but I have no reservations in stating positively that there is a lot to see, although it may not appear that way at first glance. There is a difference between looking and seeing. In a moment a body may look, but in time with patient observation one may begin to truly see; take that time.

There are numerous pictograph sites, more recent historic points of interest like Saucito Ranch or the peculiar looking old wooden grain harvesters resembling some sort of bizarre insects, bountiful fields painted over by loads of wildflowers in early spring through early summer, dry creek channels rerouted at 90 degree angles by the slipping of continental plates along the San Andreas Fault, the mirrored reflections of ephemeral Soda Lake and its seasonal hosting of Sandhill cranes, and other iconic wildlife like the San Joaquin kit fox, tule elk, and pronghorn.

In my experience it is not common to see elk or pronghorn, though that is likely due to my lack of understanding in where to find them, but in those aforementioned seventeen years, in all the trips I’ve taken to the Carrizo, I still have seen far more pronghorn than I have other people.

Pronghorns are commonly said to be the fastest animals on land in all of North America and second in the world only to cheetahs. While today’s African cheetah can reach a top speed of about seventy miles per hour, pronghorn can run at about sixty miles per hour.

Spring is a great time to see pronghorn, as they stand out against the verdant backdrop of the plain during the brief eruption of annual grasses. In summer through fall and winter, the pronghorn’s creamy tan hues nearly perfectly match the dried grassland, and they can be hard or impossible to spot from a distance on a plain that measures some fifty miles long by many miles wide.

Immerse yourself within the universe of which I write and you may be rewarded. Although you very well may not see any wildlife at first, there is also the chance that you may have your eyes opened to a world out there that you never knew existed, as I have. It has enriched my life in many ways. Consider giving it at least one chance to do the same for you.

As a general principle, this may be applied by anybody living anywhere to any place. Remember, the frontier begins where one’s own personal experience ends. (Blog Post: Finding Frontier in the Forest Conquered)

How well do you know the hinterlands around where you live? What might be out there that you never knew existed or have underappreciated due to a lack of personal experience which you’ve never allowed yourself? What have you been missing? How might it enrich your life?

You never know, until you go.


Related Posts On This Blog:

The Carrizo Experience: Ten Hours on the Plain I: Ruminants on the Range.
The Carrizo Experience: Ten Hours on the Plain II: The Bedrock Mortars of Selby Rocks.
The Carrizo Experience: Ten Hours on the Plain III: Pictographs of the Plain
The Carrizo Experience: Ten Hours on the Plain IV: Soda Lake
El Saucito Ranch House, Carrizo Plain (1878)
Night on Carrizo Plain, Tule Elk and Caliente Peak
Dragon’s Back Ridge, Carrizo Plain
Wallace Creek Offset at the San Andreas Fault
Cave’s Eye View on the Carrizo Plain
Summertime Soda Lake
Soda Lake Winter Reflections
Elkhorn Plain
Selby Rocks
Carrizo Plain Wildflowers
Datura Bloom on the Carrizo
Carrizo Tom

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Tangerine Falls, Santa Ynez Mountains

Ocean and island views from Tangerine Falls.

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San Ysidro Tank


Total rainfall county-wide for Santa Barbara measures in at 125% of normal so far this season.

The San Marcos Pass gauge has recorded more rain during the first half of this season alone than during both the two prior years combined.

Not since 2011 has so much rain fallen.

The rivers, the creeks, falls, pools and ponds have come back to life in ways not seen in years.


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Condor Petroglyphs, Death Valley National Park

death-valley-national-park-petroglyphs-rock-artTwo men, a valley, and ten thousand foot peaks.

“Who heard the Desert whispering? The gray prospector, hope-wandering that land of vacant sadness, saw through his burning thirst, where from far receding margins gazed the wrinkled ghastly ranges. . . And on the long gravel washes of the Panamints, where terrible Death Valley yawned in awful silence. . .”

—Sunset Magazine, “The Desert’s Secrets” (1907)

The “awful silence” still lives, a character of the land as much as its visible features or wildlife. Suffering “hunger and thirst” for months on end with inadequate supplies, the deafening absence of sound was understandably awful back then. I imagine it could drive some people mad even today.

Within the desolate basins lie vast seas of absolute silence. The soundlessness is huge. It’s heavy. It presses against a body. It’s always waiting out there, ready to rush in.

The silence here is awesome.

death-valley-national-park-hikingHumanity afoot, but a tender speck.

“In the neuter austerity of that terrain all phenomena were bequeathed a strange equality and no one thing nor spider nor stone nor blade of grass could put forth claim to precedence. The very clarity of these articles belied their familiarity, for the eye predicates the whole on some feature or part and here was nothing more luminous than another and nothing more enshadowed and in the optical democracy of such landscapes all preference is made whimsical and a man and a rock become endowed with unguessed kinship.”

—Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian (1985)

The sheer immensity of the place has an inebriating effect on the mind.

Hundred mile unobstructed views over barren fields of grit and rock, the valley a colossal volume of wide-open space. Naked mountains with faces heavily creased by thousands of years of runoff clench the earth with plummeting ridgelines like the gnarled fingers of monstrous fists jammed into the ground, a wall of peaks rising straight from the valley floor to over ten thousand feet.

The world feels large here.

saline-valley-fertility-site-archaeology-white-cliffsNumerous petroglyphs resembling pregnant women are etched into the face of this white rock outcrop. It is said by some to be a fertility site.

I stand gazing across the arroyo at the massive footing of alluvium running along the base of the mountains. The peaks appear half buried in fans of sediment forced from the range a particle at a time by the relentless work of the elements.

The miles long sweep of these stony deposits all pointing down the arroyo give physical expression to the tremendous gravitational forces yanking at the earth, and it’s almost as if I can feel the planetary pull sucking my body down the canyon.

Hiking here is a much different experience than plodding down a trail surrounded by chaparral covered mountains or through the narrow cropped view of a deep forested canyon. It’s more than the difference between desert and forest.

There’s a sensation here unlike anything in the forest. Some sort of power seems to emanate from the unfathomable openness. A hell of a land to gaze upon, the earth here seems to hit with a physical impact I can feel in some strange and subtle but intense way.

Anywhere, generally, when looking into the void of cloudless sky overhead it is like looking at a huge bare wall. There is nothing to define the space and so it’s difficult to comprehend its size. When the dot of a jet flies by thirty-thousand feet above then one begins to understand how vast that sea of space really is and the mind can make some sense of it.

Here the distant emptiness is given definition and depth and scale by the big barren mountain ranges running as backdrops across flatlands covered in little more than stones. That there’s nothing between the eye and the ends of these flats but cobblestones, nothing like mountains or stands of timber to obscure the open space, seems to accentuate the feeling of largeness that so characterizes the place.

I walk and I walk. And I walk. And the ground moves by beside me and runs like a conveyor belt before me and under foot, but looking into the distance over the flat barren land I don’t appear to be moving.

I stop walking, the sudden halt of feet rhythmically crunching across the grit and pebbles. Silence rushes in. I spin a slow circle, peering into the indiscernible distance and the immense sea of space enveloping me. Here humanity afoot is but a tender speck disappeared amid the harsh unforgiving vastness, a grain of soft sediment no better than a rock.

I feel puny and insignificant, humbled. Cleansed of the hubris that too often plagues humanity’s relationship with nature in our belief that we are ever in control, and always the dominant factor in the world. Here a good perspective on life can be found.

saline-valley-white-cliffs-fertility-site-petroglyphsPregnant women? I suppose they look like people with big bellies and big belly buttons.

The bird figure petroglyphs, scratched into a wall of solidified prehistoric volcanic ash, are remarkably large relative my experience in the land of generally much smaller Chumash pictographs.

The size of the birds seems fitting in the context of the immensity of the surrounding landscape, as if land is the call and art the response. (Call and Response)

Many different motifs, some clearly identifiable such as bighorn sheep, decorate several different rock faces in the canyon, including a purported fertility site with pregnant women and a long panel with many bighorn sheep and much more.

The birds seem to me to be a prominent feature for their size and the way they were rendered as stand alone figures. These are impressive petroglyphs.

death-valley-petroglyphsLooking up canyon from the fertility site toward where the birds are located.

I don’t know what type of birds the rock art is supposed to depict, if any particular bird at all for that matter. Perhaps the birds represent an imaginary creature made up by the artist. I am hesitant to assume anything when so little is known.

Some say they are mythical thunderbirds, the pecked chest pattern symbolizing rain drops. Others say they are condors by virtue of their size and body characteristics.

It seems to me the most prominent and distinguishing characteristic of the birds are their pecked or dotted chests. And from what limited personal experience I have viewing condors, the markings on the chest are a remarkably accurate representation of what the play of sunshine looks like off the condor’s fringe of long, thin neck and chest feathers.

A lesser distinction may be the depiction of raked wings; wings spread but slightly arched with wingtips pointed downward. This posture is seen among perched California condors, but also other birds as well.

On these two points it seems that the rock art can be seen as a fairly accurate depiction of real condors, considering the minimalistic medium and tools used to create it.

It’s a wild guess. “I know one thing; that I know nothing.”

death-valley-petroglyphs-rock-artA long panel depicting many bighorn sheep and lots more. Note what appears to be a human figure on the left, below a bighorn sheep.

saline-valley-white-cliff-petroglyphsSame panel as the previous photo.

saline-valley-white-cliffs-petroglyphs-death-valleyThe biggest bird here is about three feet long, I believe. I didn’t measure them exactly.



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