08 March 2013

Cold Spring, Main Fork

Santa Barbara front country

Locate the trail head.

It was feeling like time to revisit Tangerine Falls and the rain the night before was, at times, quite heavy. With the last of the storm's rain still to fall, I headed for the Cold Spring trail head to see what I could see. Even as dry as it has been this winter, with the land sucking up any water that falls on it, I was hopeful that the waterfall would be impressive the day after a night of heavy rain. I parked the car in the lot with the rest of the people lazier about finding a parking spot than walking a hundred yards, skipped the first trail head that climbs missing the stream entirely, and started up the second, signed, trail head. Hikers may start on the west side of the stream as well, joining this trail in about 1/8 of a mile.

Cold Spring trail head for all forks
The trail head for all things up the Cold Spring drainage. Mileages under the falling paper sign are for destinations up the east fork trail and marked as meters, but they mean miles.

This year's crop of poison oak looks to be very healthy. There are plenty of wildflowers out and by the trail junction just one quarter of a mile up, I'd passed great crops of sweet pea and coreopsis and honeysuckle. Next to the first of the old Private Property plaques in the rocks, the new detailed sign tells of both the west fork and east fork trails, but doesn't feel the need to mention the main fork. Next to the second one, the trail from the other side of the creek joins.

private property plaque set in the stone
The second of the plaques indicating this is private property and permission to pass is subject to control by the owner. Presumably these signs predate 1926 when much of the land was donated to the city.

Just before a bench, a very solid torch cut sign marks the route up the west fork. This is the way to the waterfall, so I turned up it and crossed the stream. Pipes of rotten, ancient iron and fragile PVC follow along the side of the trail on this fork. Some of them head up to the City Tunnel, one of four tunnels in the drainage which are basically horizontal wells, that the rerouted west fork trail now passes next to.

After the crossing, the trail climbs up to a few feet above the stream. It passes some nice rock formations. A few slides make footing slightly non-ideal, but are now old and well trod down now. This part does pass through private property along an easement. I found even more flowers along the way with hummingbird sage and some tiny white flowers. Along the way, there are a couple spots that allow viewing the waterfall, which was looking very nearly dry and I decided to head up above the falls instead. After about a mile, the unsigned main fork trail breaks off to the north and I dropped down it.

some little white flowers that hang a bit like bells
Some little milkmaids by the side of the trail.

Tangerine Falls as seen from the west fork trail
A good view of the waterfall, somewhat obscured by a tree, along the West Fork Cold Spring trail.

The trail drops into the west fork and continues downstream for twenty feet before climbing back up onto the main fork bank. It then follows beside more pipes as it goes upstream. With a switchback, the trail starts up the hillside while a use trail continues beside the pipes to the bottom of the waterfall. The use trail was the original plan. The climbing trail was the original Cold Spring Trail. The 1904 publication A Guide to Rides and Drives in Santa Barbara and Vicinity with a Map of the Country and Some General Information of Use the Tourists says this "Old Cold Stream Canon Trail" is "quite free from chaparral, but has shale in the upper part, and is somewhat washed out by winter rains." This did not continue to be the case some years later when the forest service decided they really only needed to maintain one trail and chose the next entry, "The New Cold Stream Canon Trail" which continues down the other side to Mono. The east fork flourished and the main fork vanished into the chaparral. In Ray Ford's Day Hikes of the Santa Barbara Foothills, it says that historian Jim Blakley found remnants of the old trail after the 1964 Coyote Fire, but much of this found trail washed away again in 1969 floods. The route has opened up again with the determination and use of hikers and a maybe little help from another fire. I turned and climbed this poorly treated and now well worn and steep trail, carefully taking the switchbacks instead of the even steeper cuts, to the ridge between main and west forks.

pipe crossing the use trail to the waterfall base
Clear use trail continues along the pipe at the side of the stream while the long unmaintained trail starts to climb to the left.

a bush with small white flowers that are each like little explosions
Most the bushes full of white flowers are ceanothis, but there are also these little explosions.

fat green and yellow caterpillars with big thorns at one end
A couple wild critters that make the local plants cringe.

The ridge allows views of Anacapa Island and overlooks the switchbacks of the west fork trail. A boisterous group was going up it. The abandoned section of trail is still easily followed down to a washed out switchback and then vanishes into the hillside. From here, the trail circles around and climbs a little further to duck behind the Pinnacle giving a few glimpses of the waterfall although the only way to really see it is to take the other trail.

west fork trail climbing to Gibraltar Road
The west fork trail climbing its new route up to Gibraltar Road.

from Pennacle to near the bottom, the waterfall is only moist
One of the better points to see the waterfall, but it looks nearly dry from here. The Pinnacle watches high above the left side of the falls.

ceanothis on the hillside
Ceanothis is starting to turn the hillside white, and blue, and in one case yellow.

Some showy coreopsis are starting to open up.

trail meandering along to duck behind the Penacle
Profusely blooming ceanothis along the trail as it makes its way behind the Pinnacle and into the stream bed again above the waterfall.

Once above the waterfall, the canyon becomes cool and moist. The trail crosses multiple times. There was water in the stream, but not much flow. Further up, the flow became stronger. I passed the once thin track that heads up to Camino Cielo above and found it to now be the major trail while the route further up the canyon is now a thin grassy track. The path up to the plow and root cellar is still clear and easy to follow.

wide shallow pools reflecting the trees as I look downstream
The trickling creek as it flows downstream.

water flowing over lime pool edges
Pools rimmed in deposited limestone along the stream.

a few stacked stones making three walls
The root cellar that people seem to haphazardly rebuild from the flattened stones in the area.

The curious sound of rain drops started as I checked on the plow and when I got to the root cellar, I sat on a flat rock in the mixed sun and rain for a snack. The rain was weak, but coming from the north so the mountains hid whatever was coming next. It turned out to be just a passing cloud and next was more sun. The clouds looked promising to allow a good view, so I decided to see what this route to the top was like. I retraced my steps back down the canyon and turned up the hill at the new trail.

some more water flowing over the rocks
After the passing rain cloud, the sun plays again on the water.

The trail wiggles steeply up over unsteady footing and quickly gains views of Santa Cruz Island. It gains the ridge and sticks to it closely eventually climbing up to a substantial prominence along the ridge between main and east forks. This part of the trail is even steeper than the lower sections.

Santa Cruz Island
From this vantage point, Anacapa has vanished behind the canyon sides and Santa Cruz dominates the ocean instead.

Up on the ridge, one must be content with a bit of bush poppy for flowers. The route is being kept wide open for now, but it is not the proper trail. If the steep path and ridge following wasn't enough to convince one, the fact that all of this is in service of gaining a couple hundred of feet that will be lost again just as quickly is quite persuasive. Ford says Blakley found the remnants of the homestead while tracing the trail implying that it actually did not leave the canyon until after that.

current route of main fork climbing up to the top
The cut through the chaparral shows where the current trail climbs up to Camino Cielo.

Santa Barbara and the foothills
The mixed sun and rain made for exquisite views of the city and foothills as I climbed.

I dropped down to the saddle and found that there were some cuts on the bushes below as though someone had thought about pushing the trail through along something more likely to roughly follow the old route. I continued up, picking up views of Montecito Peak and the east fork trail skirting its base. Nearing the top, there are views of Carpinteria to the east and the islands to San Miguel to the west. I found a little snow up there as well while the current weather tried to rain a couple more times, but not enough to make anything wet.

Monticeto Peak
The east fork trail skirts the bottom of Monticeto Peak.

unnamed peak along the current trail route
The prominence along the trail which makes this route much harder than necessary.

A view of Carpinteria from near Camino Cielo.

the sky road wiggles to the west
The clouds almost clear the nearby mountains along Camino Cielo.

I decided to head down by way of the east fork instead of returning the same way, so turned east to hike to the water tank there. It turned out to be more than a mile along the pavement to the other trail. It does look like there are paths along the way to avoid the pavement some, if desired. There is no view to the north from where the main fork meets the road, so heading along the road meant I could see more of the mountains. The views included a sparkling Divide Peak and Jameson Lake although the clouds were quite low and obscured the far distance.

some rounded stones above the bird refuge
Some nice rocks along the road with the bird refuge in the background.

the continuation of the Cold Spring trail to Mono
The continuation of the Cold Spring Trail as it heads off to Mono and a nice, snowy bit of mountain.

Getting to the water tank, I had one last look at the snowy mountains in the distance and started down the east fork. I took the same, familiar route down the well worn trail until a little past the spot where the trail leaves the Edison Catway. I skipped the use trail spur up to the top of Montecito Peak even though there would be a much better view from there this time because it was getting late. Also, I'd walked up enough steep with unstable footing. Along the way, I passed a new burn over about five acres that happened in November.

more city views, now from a different angle
The view of the city is a little different from this angle.

eucaliptus, small but old
The only trees along the route are eucalyptus that were planted about a hundred years ago.

colors changing over Carpinteria
The sun doesn't seem that low yet, but the colors are changing over Carpinteria.

purple lupin in the reddening light
A few more flowers can be found blooming along this trail, too, like this lupine.

Shortly down the trail where the loop trail continues high, I turned along it to see what it's like. This might not have been a good trail to try out in the gathering gloom. It has many trails going off upward toward lookout points and many switchback shortcuts going downward that aren't always obvious to be that. I managed to pick the right trail each time and get good views of the city as the lights came out. The trail then drops in some very fast switchbacks to the road next to the trail I started on to finish with a loop where no part of the trail (except spurs) is repeated.

city lights
City lights coming on in the gathering gloom.

©2013 Valerie Norton
Posted 11 Mar 2013

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