03 November 2012

West Camino Cielo

After failing plan A and plan B and finished poking around the old bit of highway bridge, I returned to Refugio to put plan C into motion.  I would head up to Camino Cielo along Refugio Road and then see what it was like on the way to San Marcos Pass.  As I start to climb, I come to a sign saying there is a bridge out 10 miles ahead and the road is closed to through traffic in 7 miles.  It doesn't look so good for plan C, and I was thinking that the plan would most likely fail because the road isn't good enough to travel in a little car with six inches of clearance.  I continue up the road anyway.

Refugio is a tight, shady canyon.  In the lower section, it crosses back and forth over the stream.  It makes one crossing warning of a narrow bridge, widens back up for about 10 feet, then narrows down even further and pretty much stays that way.  I have a fair amount of traffic coming down the hill at me including a small FedEx truck, but there were plenty of wider spots to allow passing.  The road starts to climb out of the canyon and widens to something very comfortable for driving and dodging people leaving their cars with the doors wide open while they pick up their mail.  Once the road is really climbing, it makes a few tight turns and the hillsides are much brighter but much browner as well.  I should note that the road is full of pot holes and patches.  In spots, it gets quite lumpy.

A road appears to my right, and without a road sign, I'm not sure it is the one I want.  Refugio says the bridge is out in 2 more miles.  I'm not sure what was supposed to happen a mile ago, but I didn't notice it whatever it was.  The road to the right says it is unmaintained and the county takes no responsibility for anything you may do to yourself or your property while traveling on it.  I decide it must be Camino Cielo, and turn down it.  Soon after, I realize that Refugio was headed down again, so this really has to be the sky road I am looking for.

Initially, the road is beautiful and smooth.  It does not seem like it should have such a dire warning on it, but I know the pavement won't last.  In the distance, a number of peaks are decorated with antennas and this road is only paved to the spur up to the first one.  Who can worry about that as views open up to left and right?

Solvang from West Camino Cielo.

At first, the northern views are of Solvang and the surrounding area.  Southern views show islands and canyons and the odd ridge.  The hard layers of rocks seem to stick out more along here, having had the soft layers around them eroded on both sides.  Perhaps it is just that they are light layers among the greening land.  I come to the first spur road to the towers and the pavement ends as expected.  The road beyond is rough, but passable and still wide giving many options for travel.  It is also designate with a vertical number which is code for 4WD road.

Lake Cachuma looks a little low, displaying a bright white stripe around the edge.

Looking back somewhat along the ridge.

 Immediately after the last spur road, a forest gate stands open, but could be used to bar the rest of the road from me for travel.  After this gate, the road is often narrow for long stretches.  I meet a motor bike coming the other way along one narrow bit.  He seems not to know what to think of me as he gives my wheels a good looking over but seems to settle on amused.  I give him a smile and a thumbs up as I navigate a patch not quite rough enough to shift down from second.  A few patches do need first gear, but nothing really worries me throughout the whole road.  What most gets to me are the sections where the sandstone has been carved away into a narrow roadway with high walls.  I pass someone in blue enjoying the wind up on a point, but don't see what means he got there by so might be a hiker.  I don't spot the trail I was looking for near where he was sitting.

One of the valleys stretching toward the ocean.

And the sea of mountains on the other side.

After stopping a few times for the view, I stop one more time at a locked gate.  I was looking for the top of a couple trails, but not closely enough.  To be honest, the road has taken a bit more of my attention than hoped and I haven't been able to enjoy the view as well as I would like so it would be easy to have missed the trails even if they are fairly easy to find.  A bare foot path is easily seen in the dead grasses covering the road, so at least I did find one trail.  While I'm parked, a truck with plenty of clearance passes going the other way.

Where there was once a road, there is now a trail heading down from this gate.

I can hear many gun shots while I'm stopped, but could hear them the last couple of stops too.  The sounds seem to travel well.  This time, though, it is just a quick climb up to the gun club and smooth, wide pavement.  Just before reaching the pavement, I find two more people walking down the road.  They seemed particularly worried about my wheels.  They had parked an SUV at the end of the pavement, so I guess they were worried about their own that should have been more capable.  Once on the pavement, there seems to be quite a crowd.  Many cars are parked at the gun club, and two more are at the other side of the road for the view.  I pass many cars on the road and many more parked in bunches on the side.  The road drops in tight turns through trees and in very little time I find myself at the pass with a fairly strait shot home.

All in all, a very fun little drive with exquisite views, although it would get downright scary if I was meeting people as much on the dirt as I was on the pavement.

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