16 June 2014

Cold Spring Trails in search of Humboldt lilies

Santa Barbara front country

Locate the trailhead.


Humboldt lilies are the big, showy flowers dangling from five foot and taller stems, sometimes referred to as tiger lilies. They are hard to miss when they are blooming. I have sometimes come across stems with 6 or 8 flowers bigger than my fist between buds and wilted. I spotted a couple single blooms along San Ysidro on the Friday hike, just short of the falls. It seems it might be time to visit the spots I know to have a good number of stems that might be blooming. I saw plenty of stems along Murietta Canyon and Valley View along Pratt Trail is a reliable local for blooms. Locally, I have seen quite a few stems along the Cold Spring middle fork above Tangerine Falls and in the little canyon down the trail on the other side, so that is where I will start looking for a good show.

Since the middle fork is unmaintained, there are no signs for it. I start at the main trailhead at the bottom and turn up the west fork by the sign and the bench about a quarter mile up. The trail branches again about a mile up from the trailhead. The right side is the middle (or north) fork and has now become very obvious from use, but I pass by it for a short spur further along the west fork. Just past the junction, there is a Humboldt lily stem cruelly broken off a couple feet up. The stem is particularly thick and the rings of leaves huge, but it must have been across the trail and someone took care of it. The trail continues along the canyon bottom past where it once started climbing and up to the old city water tunnel. There is a patch thick with lilies along the way, but the ones close to the trail are broken and the ones further off look shriveled at the top. It does not look like it will be popping out with flowers.

broken Humboldt lily stem
A Humboldt lily by the side of the trail at the junction between the middle and west fork trails has been broken by some passerby. The tutu of leaves is distinctive for recognizing these even without their flowers.

locked gate entry to the Cold Spring Tunnel, completed 1905
The Cold Spring Tunnel is basically a water well sunk horizontally into the mountain to provide a handy exit for the water stored in the sandstone. Water can be heard flowing down the pipes still.

purple flowers
Of course, there are more flowers than just the big, showy ones.


After the tunnel, the trail starts to climb, so I return to the junction and start to climb that instead. This trail has a couple places where a steep switchback has been cut by an even steeper bit of trail, and the first is just across the creek. One can either slog directly up to the pipe or jog twenty feet downstream and take a stable trail up. There are a couple more lily stems without flowers down this low. The creek below is a mixture of dry spots, stagnant pools, and clear flowing pools, depending on how much the underground flow is pushed up. The trail crosses the pipes a few times, then leaves them as another well used trail follows them toward the bottom of the waterfall. (This other trail requires bouldering.) Usually, a waterfall is a place where the water gets pushed up to the top, but not for Tangerine Falls, which appears exceedingly dry. The trail is steep until it starts crossing over the the pinnacle beside the waterfall. After this, it drops into the valley where I am expecting to find blooms.

clear water in pools in the creek
A little flowing water in the middle fork below Tangerine Falls.

Tangerine Falls
The top of the dry Tangerine Falls.

small rattlesnake
With the sun coming out, there is many a lizard on the trail and scattering as I walk, then a garter snake, then this little rattlesnake.

rows of purple on a stem
A big bush of purple lines on the exposed hillside.

I have never taken the trail spur that heads over to the top of the waterfall and feel the whim to do so today. This means pushing through a lot of poison oak and the whim quickly evaporates at the appearance of a cheap, frayed, knotted rope. It looks like it is not frayed enough to worry about, but I am just not in the mood for that. The creek up here is dry at first, but then there are a couple stagnant pools. There are a few lily stems. One has grown normally outward, but is severely stunted. Two more look diseased at the top, but then I see some orange down by the creek.

large leaves stacked up on top of each other
There usually seems to be nearly a foot between each ring of leaves, so this does not look right.

Humboldt lilies in Cold Spring middle fork
Two Humboldt lilies on separate stalks with a single stalk with three flowers in the background. Unfortunately, the buds on all of these are starting to rot and this looks like it for these flowers, except maybe the one in the middle that is only a bud.

more Humboldt lilies
The background Humboldt lilies. The flowers at the top are the youngest, but look like the oldest due to rot.

There is one more stem of flowers hanging across the trail just before the junction with the trail to the homestead. I take the spur, but do not see anything along it. The trail has been getting thicker lately. This was once the large trail and the trail to Camino Cielo was a little thing, now it is the other way around. The creek has more water as I approach and even has a section of loud flow. The spur to the plow is still there, but only goes to the plow and few other scraps of metal as though only people who know this is all there is go there. There is a trail down from the root cellar, the only structure still standing, to the creek, which is looking a little stagnant again in this section.

even more Humboldt lilies
A set of Humboldt lilies that are hanging over the trail and have distinctive characteristics from the others.

stacked stones in a square
All that is left of an old homestead up here is three sides of a small, square root cellar of stacked stones that have fallen somewhat and been restacked at the edges.

After the homestead, the only thing left to do is climb to Camino Cielo. The trail here makes what has passed before seem, well, not so steep after all. Some sections I climb sideways just to try to get more shoe in contact with the trail. The sun is coming out, which makes it warmer but also improves the view.

lizard gripping a tree with some long toes
A lizard on a tree showing off its great toes.

At the top, it is about a mile down to the west fork, which is the part that continues into the back country. The road walk has some good views of the mountains there, but is otherwise just a paved gentle downhill.

back country
Looking down over Santa Ynez River from the Santa Ynez mountains.

It is about half a mile down from the trailhead at Cold Spring Saddle to the possible flowers and feels longer, but the reward is the best show of Humboldt lilies of the day. The first two stems, the ones most exposed to sun, are showing off plenty of flowers and more buds for later that do not seem to be rotting. Unfortunately, they are the only ones. The stems closer to the little trough are broken, rotting, or died before they grew very tall. Still, it is worth the little walk and coming back up seems less long.

a little section of Cold Spring Trail
Two Humboldt lily stalks loaded with flowers.

three flowers and three developed buds and three forming buds
The first of the Humboldt lilies. Three big flowers with the buds above looking about ready to open rather than like dead flowers and more are forming at the top.

three more flowers and six buds
The second of the Humboldt lilies is a little further along and has three flowers opened and six more buds ready to open. A couple do have black spots on them, but it looks generally good.

three short stems with discolored leaves
Three lilies that were not so lucky. They seem to have grown a little and died. Now they are already discolored from chlorophyll decay.

As I start down the west fork, it has cleared off enough to see a few islands.

Montecito Peak and the Santa Barbara Harbor and Santa Cruz Island
Looking past Montecito Peak at Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz Island.

scarlet larkspur
A scarlet larkspur.

eastern view to Carpinteria
The view over Montecito and Carpinteria. Still plenty of haze in the sky.

Coming to the old "private property" sign with the new "trail" sign mounted to it, I decide to finally take this trail. This takes me down a different section of Hot Springs Canyon than I have been in before and past some much hotter water than I have found in it, excepting when I touched one of the pipes. There is another new Montecito Trails Foundation sign at the bottom of the trail which also does not show all the possible directions.

shallow and hot pool of water
A shallow pool along the trail that contains some quite hot water.

Someone is making rock art up in the old hotel ruin now. The Edison Catway provides a second way back up to Cold Spring Trail. Signs have been added to the trail that sneaks into the Hot Springs Club property along the water pipes now that it is no longer sneaking. From the top, I follow the proper trail down. It is longer, but it is also more pleasant with sections where flowing water and frogs can be heard. The frogs are distressingly few.




©2014 Valerie Norton
Posted 17 June 2014

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