Stay at home, but get outside.

December 3-16

It’s been about 2 weeks since our last post. Let’s catch up.

We returned from our epic Big Sur tour and worked 6 of the next 8 days, making up for the eight days we had off for our trip. The in-between days off were spent hanging with friends and checking out other areas of SB we hadn’t been acquainted with yet. At the same time, Governor Newsom sliced up the state into 5 regions for Covid management purposes, and SB was lumped in with its big brothers LA and San Diego in “Southern California.” So on December 6th, SB and the rest of SoCal were placed on a stay-at-home order, and we had to say “see you later” to our favorite wineries, breweries, and restaurants for at least three weeks.

There are worse conditions in which to spend time under shutdown mandates, though, and we rolled with it.

At the end of our long stretch of work days was a six day break that seemed to leave a lot of question marks. What would we do with six days off and nowhere to “go”? Hiking the area thus far had been pretty good but nothing outstanding. But we decided to dig in and see what else SB and the surrounding region had to offer.

Friday kicked off our “staycation”, and we made our way to the Carpinteria Bluffs Preserve, a bit east of SB in the neighboring town (Carpinteria), and situated along crumbling cliffs above the water. Harbor seals congregate on its shores to relax, regulate their body temperature, give birth, and molt. A spot we did not check out, but now considering a return trip to see, is the tar pits, with naturally billowing black tar that rises to the surface along the beach. The native Chumash used the tar for their boats to waterproof them years ago. How about that?!

For sunset Friday evening, Jamie, Charley, and I headed up Rt 154 into the Santa Ynez Mountains, along the ridge overlooking Santa Barbara and its suburb Goleta. Lizards Mouth Rock sits high above the city and the Santa Barbara Channel beyond, and from there we took in the sunset and braved the chilly gusts relentlessly pressing up the side of the mountains.

Upon waking Saturday morning, we had some ideas for the day but nothing solid. We had hiked Cold Spring Loop from the foothills in Montecito before, but I had noticed Friday night that we could take it even farther into the mountains, and summit Montecito Peak from the same trailhead. So summit we did.

Montecito Peak looms about 3200ft above the nearby sea, and the views from the top are simply breathtaking. As we started the trail, we weaved through tormented trees charred black with soot from recent fires, whose limbs contorted in a way that just seemed painful. Having the trail to ourselves on a Saturday during a lockdown (a reward for starting just after sunrise) was indescribable. With only an occasional trail runner scooting past us, we enjoyed the silence of being alone in nature. It felt like we could be in the middle of the wilderness, though we were only a 15 minute drive from our home.

We passed the point at which we had stopped on our last hike up the trail, and took in the exceptional vistas down over SB and along the coast eastward toward Ventura. I found it peaceful to think of the quiet we were enjoying, while overlooking a city that was certainly active with its Saturday morning bustle. With another 2 miles to go up the mountain, though, we didn’t stay long.

As we climbed higher, winds picked up and it seemed like we were constantly debating “coat or no coat?” But the climb was strenuous enough to keep our blood warm, and we pushed the last quarter mile up a steep pitch of loose rock and dirt to the summit. It couldn’t have been a more satisfying summit, as we approached it from the north, crested the top, and were treated to opening sightlines of the city, the Channel Islands, and the Santa Ynez Ridge with all of its chaparral-blanketed wrinkles. Santa Cruz Island, the largest of the Channel Islands, was playing hide-and-seek with us, shrouded behind a soft blanket of clouds that only offered glimpses of the land behind it. I joked with Jamie that it seemed like it could be a fairy-tale island; one that only appears to those who believe in it.

We made our way back down the mountain, passing more and more hikers as everyone that got a later start began their trek upwards. It seemed we made it down just in time, as Charley was starting to show signs of overheating from the sun exposure.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing, with no urgency in our bones at all. I picked some fruit from the trees in our yard- oranges, lemons, tangerines. I think I’ll need a citrus tree in my permanent yard eventually.

Sunday was a slower day, and we took a trip down to Montecito along Butterfly Beach in the morning with our friend Brandon and the dogs. He showed us a bike path with incredible gardens on either side, with plants I probably could never identify. All I know is that they were beautifully manicured, and made the place feel like heaven on earth. We strolled around the neighborhood streets, gawking at the unfathomably large and expensive estates, all offering ocean-views and protected by tasteful fencing or massive shrubbery and trees.

In the evening we headed down to Maggie and Brandon’s RV park and played some of the games they’d taught us over the past couple months (wizard, 5 crowns, and the popular jackbox party pack). We had some local grub from Mesa Burger, and made sure to take advantage of the free sauces and aioli offered (I think we got eleven different ones??). Our other friend Julie brought over ice cream, which seemed like the perfect ending to our evening.

Monday morning, much like Saturday, started with the thought of going on a hike, but not much more than that in the way of plans. A coworker had recommended a couple places in the Ojai area, about 45 minutes southeast of SB. We picked out a trail on AllTrails and headed down the 101 to Ventura, then north to Santa Paula and the trailhead for the Punch Bowls within Santa Paula Canyon.

We followed the meandering Santa Paula Creek for a bit, enjoying the sound of water running for the first time in a while, it seemed. A caution sign at the trailhead had us searching the hills on either side of the creek bed for mountain lions. We figured Charley might look appetizing to them.

Being a Monday, the trail was entirely ours on the way in to the Punch Bowls, save for an older couple making their way back to the start (must’ve arrived at sunrise). Foliage of yellow and tired brown guided us much of the way along the creek. We could hear the sound of critters scurrying through thickets of crispy dried brush, moving out of the area as Charley drew nearer.

When we arrived at end of the trail as shown on my GPS, a gentle cascading brook greeted us. Though nice, we felt it wasn’t the real destination and so we carried on down through the creek and back up the other side, only to drop down another decline via a set of ropes. This led us to the Punch Bowls, named (I assume) for the rounded shape of the rock formation, with tighter walls at the top and bottom than in its middle. A waterfall dropped twenty feet or so from a narrow slot above the bowl. The area was our personal temporary sanctuary, and we three enjoyed it alone for some time. The pool at the foot of the waterfall was a window, so clear that the rocks resting on the bottom were shimmering with impressive definition. And the trees around us shone a fire yellow as the sun crept over the walls of the canyon. The water’s reflection danced on the Punch Bowl in a never-ending procession downstream.

Nothing gold can stay. So once we’d had our fill of the sights and sounds around us, we gathered our gear and pup, climbed out of the tiny canyon, and set our direction southward back to the trailhead and civilization.

After a shower and a late lunch once we arrived back home, we thought it’d be nice to grab a bottle of wine and head down to “the spit” along Santa Barbara Harbor for sunset. It was a beautiful chilly evening, and with our coats and helmets on, we biked down to the Harbor with our wine and blanket. Unfortunately, we had picked a night of unusually strong wind gusts, and our evening was cut short as sand began to fill our wine glasses at an alarming speed. We enjoyed the ride down, though, and were able to snap a few shots of Santa Barbara fronting the Santa Ynez ridge to our north, as well as a photo of a lone Christmas tree braving the elements on the spit.

We spent Tuesday bopping around Santa Barbara and spending as much time outside as we could. I went for a run down to Hendry’s (Dog Beach), and Jamie and Charley met me down there for a walk down along the water beneath the cliffs. Even with it just having receded from high tide an hour prior, there was plenty of beach to stroll down- it seemed we could go on forever, following the ins and outs of the shoreline headed west toward Goleta. Charley spent most of the time with her nose to the sand, seeking out the nastiest sea-debris she could find to ingest. It’s one of many reasons she’s lost her off-leash privileges.

Much like our routine for the prior 4 days, we relaxed at home in the afternoon. The sun sets around 4:50pm these days, so we made our way down to the Harbor, again, to try our luck on the spit and see if the wind was less aggressive this evening. It was, thankfully, and we watched the Santa Ynez ridge transition from a bright yellow glow, to a soft orange, and eventually purple and pink, as the sun sank around the distant curve of the sea. I’m starting to think there isn’t one bad sunset all year here in Santa Barbara.

Today, Wednesday, is our last day before returning to work for a bit. We had set our sights on a hike along a trail appropriately named “Dragon’s Back”, a spiny and steep ridge of boulders leading up to the summits of Arlington and Cathedral Peak. Informally listed as one of the most difficult hikes in the Santa Ynez range, it climbs about 100 feet for every tenth of a mile, calling for strenuous hiking and rock scrambling at times.

Unfortunately, when we reached the trailhead, tucked way up behind the Santa Barbara Mission in the hills of Santa Barbara, a sign gave us the bad news: “Trail closed”. When I inquired about the closure, a fellow told me it’d be open again starting tomorrow, but there was construction happening near the beginning of the trailhead.

Instead, we rerouted to Montecito, 10 minutes down the 101, and parked at a trailhead familiar to use from previous hikes up the East Fork of the Cold Spring Loop. This time, Jamie, Charley and I split off west and headed up the West Fork. A less “interesting” trail allowed us to have the path to ourselves for much of the time. I’m realizing more and more each time we hike that I’d trade a nice view for some peace and quiet on the trail.

We climbed about 1300 feet over 2 miles or so, and enjoyed the views back south behind us, catching glimpses of the coastline to the east, and Anacapa Island, shimmering with impressive clarity on this particular morning. When we’d reached the end of the trail, we returned the way we came, thankful for each tree and shrub that offered some shade as we descended. We always worry about Charley overheating, as it seems to come on quickly and sometimes results in me carrying her for a while.

As we get ready to return to work, it’ll be interesting to see how much has changed in the way of our covid management and vaccinations etc. A lot can change in the six days we’ve been off, it seems.

One thought on “Stay at home, but get outside.

  1. How lucky you are are to see so much of our beautiful country! And we are so lucky to have you share your stories and these gorgeous pictures with us ! can’t wait to see you guys and Charlie, who will be so bored when you get back to your boring life here in good old Massachusetts. You are in my prayers every night asking God to keep you safe in your travels🙏 Remember what I told you before “There’s no place like home “ Love you guys and miss you so much❤️❤️

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