31 May 2016

Romero Canyon

Santa Barbara front country

Today is the day I will head up to the BLUE benchmark. It sits and it teases me. It would be so easy to find it from the road at the top. There are actually a few old road cuts around it that might be fun to explore and do appear to get hiked on. I have decided to do it the hard way, from the bottom. I will hike the long and easy road up, then drop down the quick way along the trail. A lazy start is easy when the city is covered in cloud and nice and cool while knowing there is plenty of light. As I start, I am quickly in the clouds rather than under them. They shroud everything in a bit of mystery.

up the road in the fog
Clouds dancing around the foothills as I climb along the road. The monkey flowers are still putting on a show.

I can hear water in the creek below. It actually sounds a little louder than it has. Perhaps in the cool and with little sun, the trees are not doing much with it today. There is a spring house along the way below the road and it also is quite loud with the movement of water. The creek crossing just before the trail starts looks like it might be a little higher than I have been seeing. The trail is for later, so I stick to the road and continue on its wide excursion right out of the canyon.

prayer flags in the clouds
The Tibetan prayer flags seem to have been renewed and doubled as they flap still in the cloud.

The turnouts along the road that usually give excellent views are all a sea of white. Agave and a cactus make it look like a garden has been getting away at one, but the only thing visible below these are the flapping Tibetan prayer flags. Shortly after this odd growth, I can hear a buzzing. The clouds seem to muffle all but the very closest of sounds and the buzzing really stands out suddenly. Stopping and looking up, there is definitely a bee highway. They are zooming in and out of the rocks, which is quite an unusual place for a hive. There is usually not much space in such places. I watch them for a bit in disbelief, but they are landing and entering, leaving and taking off. There is a hive in there somehow. Unfortunately, somewhere in the chain of events of charging the extra camera battery, putting it in the pack, moving it to the smaller pack, and getting it back into the regular pack, there is a weak link. There is no battery. It is not even a mile back, plus the drive, to get it. There is probably time, but I do not really want to. Maybe it will be happier when it is warmer.

I continue up, wondering what else I will find with my senses restricted to a small area. As the road wraps around, I hit the edge of the cloud. Sunlight and clarity extend up the mountain while dank and weak light illuminating nothing visible still holds down the mountain. I take a moment to take in the contrast then continue up into what is, for here, normality. Some bicyclist ride past, huffing but with enough breath for a "hi". It does not matter what day, there are always plenty of mountain bikes making their way one way or another on this road.

I twist past the power lines again seeing all that is far off and not so much that which is within touching distance. Then, below an old cement ford, there is a next. It is a tiny thing with two eggs no bigger than the last bit of my pinkie tied into the weak branch tips of a bush. The parent must be scared off. Who might have laid these?

Eventually, the road passes the last power tower and the wide open track is replaced by a thin track through grasses and past shrubs taking advantage of the flat area. More rocks have come down than I remember and it is starting to look like a single track trail after 40 years of closure. There is a little bit of creek up here and I wonder if it is flowing although it always is. A few more old concrete fords provide false negatives before rounding a corner finally brings the delightful sounds of water dropping off the edge of one last one. There is a shovel below the edge, which seems a little odd. The rest of the fords after this are under many feet of debris which has raised the road height.

It is getting warm and as I come to the crossing of the road and trail, I wonder if it would not be better to head up that way, climbing more quickly. The trail above here is rather exposed, so I figure there is really no gain to changing my plan. It is nice for the moment under the trees. Turning the corner to the southwest face, the warm seems to get turned up. I continue on to more old turnouts along the road, now with the views expected although greatly simplified. The camera does not feel any better about taking another picture in the warm, so I settle to recording a little with some quick brush pen strokes instead.

sketch of clouds
The things of man that are visible here above the city are only a few houses that top high hills, the road I have come up along, and some distant antennas.

I check my water, but have most of two liters left. That seems like plenty although I may have been conserving it a little. Sipping a little less than needed really is not the best way to go about things, but we are all susceptible to irrational behavior. I pack up and climb some more. The old major slides in this section have become so well trod that they look like they have constructed trail through them now. I remember at least a little like rock hopping though the worst of them some years before. Besides the major slides, this section is really like a road again.

Past the plaque at the southernmost turn of the section, it feels like the heat has been turned up again, but this time it is all the way to bake. There are a few bushes that offer some shade and I take it for a minute here and there. Mostly, I just go for a bit more water. There are lots of flowers up here, but the heat takes away from them. At the saddle, the fuel break going my way looks plenty clear to use, but I decide to continue on the cooler road. It is not all that much cooler.

Just before the gate, another fuel break presents itself and I go for it. This one has had many feet on it. Oh, and it is hot. Checking the clock, it is probably a half hour to the hottest part of the day. Ah, there is a reason to not be lazy about getting out or to not take the easy, slow route up. I might not have been hitting the last climb in the absolute hottest part of the day. I take it slow, there is still plenty of time to dark after all. There is a rock cairn and the trail splits to continue on the fuel break or turn and catch an old road just after a thick bunch of brush blocking it. I turn for the road, which has some shade. The other route rejoins soon enough. It levels off a little as it passes the first, smaller, peak then climbs sharply just past the second. At the end of this, it is a quick scramble up an old bulldozer path to reach the top.

rocks with a benchmark
One reference mark of the set can be found here above the clouds.

At the top, I can try to find the benchmark that is on the map. The first is easy and I spot it as I come up to the top. It is reference mark 2 and I follow its arrow to nothing much. It does look like a bulldozer has been right through the center of things. Looking for that first reference also comes up empty. Looking out to the ocean, the islands can finally be seen poking up out of the clouds. Turning around, the backcountry actually looks very inviting although getting a little bit dry. It really is quite a stunning view out that way today. The camera, of course, still does not care enough to try to record it.

I check my water again and it is surprisingly low. I drank half of it during the last two miles and now there is about 3/4 of a liter left. It seems minimal but sufficient for the rest of the hike. There is a higher outcrop just about a hundred feet east of the benchmark, and I go to tag it before heading down. That is unlikely to be the difference between triumph and disaster although when standing at the top of the high rock, it feels like it certainly could be. Okay, too much, get down carefully. And I continue the rest of the way carefully and slowly back to the road, although using the shortcut along the fuel break.

The pavement of the road does not add to my discomfort with the heat, surprisingly. A couple trucks head past with no pause on the transition from pavement to dirt. There are always a few traveling this way no matter what day, too. I take to the little bit of Camino Cielo Trail with no pause as well and start to climb. The climbing is, however, slow and steady. Taking it easy with little exertion and little need to sweat. This and the next hill are really the last of any climbing anyway.

As I head over the hills, there is a sound below like someone is dragging a muffler and then more sounds rather like a tractor engine. I cannot get to see what is going on down there. As I head down into the grass, I am again paying attention to little things near me. Specifically, there are always a lot of grasshoppers in this area and the ones here have a nice blue wing instead of the orange wings seen a little more often in nearby areas. I like them, but they never seem to give a very good view of those wings. The trail junction is less marked than it has been, but now I am following the large path anyway as I turn onto Romero Canyon Trail.

The top part is indeed exposed, but now there are a few spots getting shadow because the sun is low enough in the other direction. The two trucks I saw heading down are back, but now one is parked at the end of the pavement and the other is off on the turnout. I look away and then back again as a tow truck starts dinging a backup warning. I am briefly jealous at how fast they got one when I had to wait an hour to then call back and get told it was not coming after all. But then, I had not taken the time to travel the two miles back to the pavement when I called. Oh, and it is never a good day to need a tow truck. As I wander downward, I stop in a few of the deeper shadows to allow sweat free cooling, but these are the places with the most flies and a few of them are biting. I do not spend long among the flies and as I near the junction, the growth closes in overhead anyway. The clouds are getting nearer and as I turn the last corner before the crossing, there is a puff of cold air from below.

mileage marked at the junction
There are a few signs at the crossing between road and trail, but this is the only one with any real meaning.

There is a cut bit of bay set into a couple live bay trees next to the junction and I take to lounging on this for a bit. There have been many before me and the branch is some of the smoothest pieces of wood ever. The bit of trunk I am leaning against has also been smoothed out perfectly, too. I ponder the comical nature of this junction. The Montecieto Trails Foundation has contributed two sign posts each with two signs pointing along the road and trail all saying, simply, "trail". The Forest Service has placed information on a third sign that no longer sits where it should, but some innovative person along the way left it cradled in the roots of the bay trees above where it is perfectly oriented anyway.

I am actually a little bit cold by the time I get up to continue down the rest of the trail. One last check of the water does not look good. There are only two or three sips, but it is two miles downhill under cloud cover from here. The creek is flowing, of course. I wonder again where the water that crosses the road above enters. It is not obvious along the way. Meanwhile, the creek is flowing nicely as I cross it a couple times. A couple downed trees make a brief obstacle course on the way down. The first would be good for limbo, except I seem to have a backpack on and am no longer 10 years old. The second just takes a quick hop.

A patch of Humboldt lilies draws my attention for a bit. I look for one that looks healthy. None of them do. The little waterfall seems to have had a few of the blocking branches cleared away so that it is more visible. Below it, there is a nice surprise. Two more Humboldt lilies are beside the trail hanging out toward the water. One has two blooms, perhaps a little smaller than usual but still bigger than anything else that grows here, dangling open. The other has plenty of buds, one turning bright orange and will soon open. There are a few blooming!

I keep going that last bit to the road again and my water is definitely gone. Still, it is a cool and easy piece back. Just before the bridge, I am suddenly aware of a lot more buzzing again. Could there be another bee hive nearby? There does not seem to be a highway of bees anywhere and as I look, they just seem to be swarming over the oaks. Do oaks have flowers? Maybe I can let the bees show me. I watch them and they seem to be looking for the flowers rather blindly. They are tagging tiny acorns and fresh branch ends and buds of all sorts. I ignore them for a moment and look myself. There are flowers. The bees even find them sometimes. They must be quite good to warrant all that extra energy to finding them. I watch and listen to the many bees a little longer, then turn for the last stretch down.

©2016 Valerie Norton
Posted 2 June 2016

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