Santa Barbara front country
Locate the trailhead.
I don't remember ever going all the way up Tunnel Trail and set myself to doing so. It is very near to Rattlesnake Canyon, which was such a common trail for us as children. The trail follows Mission Canyon up and has a number of other trails coming to it. Hiking starts at a gate on Tunnel Road and proceeds up a utility road. Jesusita splits off to the left as the trail starts properly a ways up the road from the gate. About halfway up, the Rattlesnake connector trail joins from the right. At the top, it meets with Camino Cielo as the road to Gibraltar Dam turns off.
The trail was apparently the route used to build the tunnel from the dam but existed before that. As near as I can tell, reading an old guide book, this was either the La Cumbre trail (as it comes up near that peak, so most probable) or Las Canoas (which as near as I can tell is what we call Rattlesnake now. The streets of the area still bear the name.) This was the main route used when one wanted to climb to the top, according to my 1904 guide book. It recommended coming back down by the Chamber of Commerce trail, by which I think it means the connector trail to Rattlesnake Canyon. The book says, "It may be explained that the Las Canoas trail proper runs up the Las Canoas Canon and joins the Chamber of Commerce trail among the rocky crags about half way to La Cumbre, from which point the trail is the same." The use of the words "Las Canoas trail proper" makes me think it was just as easy then to find oneself on a random use trail then as it was when I was little hiking Rattlesnake. Actually doing this loop now would mean a lot of walking along roads with decent traffic and no sidewalks.
After finding a legal parking space along the road near the trailhead, I walked up past the gate. The road turned off to the right where bins and dog mits were provided for dog walkers. The road became smaller but continued to be paved. The area stank of left dog waste and quite a number of people were walking up and down that area of the trail, many with dogs. Old pipes and supports from water handling could be found along the side of the road. The trail continued up to some water handling facility where it crossed over Mission Creek, with a small trail up it, then the pavement got particularly rough and soon ended. The dirt road continued and then split, a sign pointing to the left for both Tunnel and Jesusita trails. Soon after that there was another split, signed with Tunnel to the right. All along the way, small signs of the somewhat recent fires could be seen but it was mostly green and growing.
|Just past the end of the publicly accessible road, a ribbon of tar road continues up the hillside. Tunnel trail is ahead, Camino Cielo is 4.5 away.|
|Getting into the wilder areas of Mission Canyon as I get to the last of the houses on the far side.|
|Trails to the left, unsigned utility road to the right.|
The city provides an informative sign to say how far I would be climbing and how many miles that would happen in as well as who yields to who and some of the more common dangers which I ignored as I turned up the narrower and steeper trail. I met a bloodied mountain biker coming down who asked me what he was going to come out at. Managing to stop staring, I told him and he mentioned there were broken fingers too. Apparently not ones that operate breaks as he was still sitting on the bike. The trail promptly climbed to the end of a spur of utility road and the electrical tower it services. I crossed the road and continued up on the trail.
|Checking out the canyon mouth and the city. It's a bit of a misty day today so visibility isn't as good as desired.|
|The majestic sweep of the high tension lines as they proceed along the mountains. Utility roads provide a lot of alternative routes for walking around here.|
|The holly is coming back from its roots. Even more towers with roadways dot the distance.|
Crowded as it was below, once on the trail there were nearly no people to be seen. From time to time I would see people along the other trails. Further up, I heard voices from down in the canyon. The terrain is alternately rugged, jagged rocks or smooth and easy due to the varying hardnesses of the rocks. It makes for great panoramas, but the trail can get difficult as it traverses these areas, becoming steeper than trails usually are and having a few two foot steps to clamber up.
|Hard and soft rock layers tilted up are carved away by the creek making impressive vistas.|
|Some folks taking in the view as well. They're probably up on Inspiration Point along the Jesusita Trail.|
|The trail coming up to one of those rock walls that it will have to find its way around in order to continue up.|
|Climbing up to expansive views of the channel.|
|That same rock wall as before. Someone thought the rock wall needed a little something more, so added a peace sign.|
Sometimes I saw hawks riding up on the thermals as I went. They dove at each other some, slowing down their climbs. Getting around one rock outcropping, I came to a shaded area where the dirt had frozen and not thawed yet. I came to the junction with the connector trail and then to the top of a dry waterfall.
|A few hawks could be seen from time to time. This is one of three that were climbing on the thermals.|
|A couple hawks in the sky. (Yeah, it's slightly modified. These were actually further apart but hawks are more interesting to look at than blue.)|
|A couple of the hawks just after one dove at the other.|
|A small, diamond headed snake along the side of the trail. The rattle seems to be injured, or maybe it's that young. It wasn't moving, but it wasn't there as I returned.|
|Some folks climbing up along another trail, also taking in the view. This is further up the canyon than the viewpoint.|
|The upper canyon and another layer of hard rocks. In wetter times, this is probably a waterfall.|
|The holly was looking very bright with lots of red berries although they were all short with taller but burned branches sticking out above.|
|Rattlesnake trail, according to the sign. There is a fork in 1 mile, Depression Drive (which has been Gibraltar Rd since at least 1954 and may never have had this as an official name although it was still generally known as this into the late 1970s) is in 1.5 miles, and Las Canoas Rd is in _.5 miles, but the bugs have eaten it. On the other side seems to identify this as Jesusita Tr, giving no direction or mileage to that, and gives 2 more miles to Camino Cielo.|
|The bay trees were also recovering from the fire by growing up from the still living roots while charred remains still poke out of the top.|
The trail crossed above the dry waterfall of a tributary and continued to climb high above the canyon bottom. As I turned a corner, I could hear water flowing loudly far below. As I continued, the water sounds continued. They were particularly loud in one spot. As I passed that spot and the water sounds began to fade, I could hear no more. It seems likely that there is a spring down there feeding the small flow. Climbing further, I came upon some more frozen dirt. A disused power line could be seen coming down the canyon, and I was able to identify some burned posts below, first seen just after the connector, which had had funny bits of metal near them as the poles for this line based on the unburned ones at the top. The canyon and trail eventually came to a similar level making it easy to see it was quite dry and then I was at the top. Many trails wound around all over the place as this area has been (illegally) used for motor bike play. I made my way toward the road and then followed Gibraltar down a little way for a view of the far side. This was a good spot for a bite to eat, too.
|A communications point and what looks like an old fire lookout at the top of La Cumbre Peak.|
|Destruction of the pass by motorbike.|
|Over the ridge, a gated roadway leads down to Gibraltar Dam in 7 miles. The mountains roll along below.|
|A few small birds came out and played among the bushes while I sat on the far side of the ridge.|
|Far below, the blue expanse behind Gibraltar Dam can be seen.|
I walked up Camino Cielo a little way to the west, starting up La Cumbre Peak. I found a nice place to look out over the front side of the ridge as well.
|The islands out across the channel almost show their separation from this high up.|
|Another hawk, this time perched up on some rocks.|
|Looking back down the canyon which comes up to the top of the ridge along to the left. There's fewer rock walls at the back of these ridges of harder rock.|
I walked back down the road to the pass and found my way through the many trails at the top to the trail signs on the other side of that. It was actually a little hard to find the right route back down without them. There was a simple "trail" sign on the far side of the apparent dirt bike racetrack and then another of the large green signs the city has put up a little way down the trail. There was nothing at the road to indicate the trail. The start of the canyon was tempting as a possible trail and a few footprints were down there. I was tempted to try it to look for that spring, but decided I didn't really want to do the hike out again and there is probably no route down the canyon floor without a rope, so I made my way back down the way I'd come.
|Some very hairy plants along the trail, just trying to get a drink.|
|Back at the top of the dry waterfall, I followed the short spur over to the top and found there were some pools with a little water in the bottom of them so it wasn't totally dry.|
|Geology on display.|
|Another little bird in a sugar bush.|
As I got close to the utility roads, I started to meet people, mostly dog walkers, again. When I got back down to the tower, I decided to follow the utility road down the rest of the way. I was quite tired of all the downhill and that section of trail was plenty steep. The road had a single track going down it among much growth. There was a slide spot where it had lost sufficient thickness to be impassible showing that this road was not used anymore. The road I was on got down to the main road after some gentle downhill winding. The main road had much less growth on it due to having much more traffic, but still wasn't kept up for vehicle use. There were a lot of people using that portion in the early evening as I passed. I quickly got down to the Y where the sign directed everyone left and then it was the same again.
©2011,2012 Valerie Norton
Posted 13 January 2012