Baron Ranch

Santa Barbara County Park

Locate the trailhead.

This trail is certainly an oddity. James Wapotich seems to have the most complete description of it. The southern half of the ranch is an orchard and special rules are in effect because of this. The trail is open to the public Saturday, Sunday, and Monday from 8AM to sunset as long as they are on foot and without any pets. No bicycles, no horses, and no cars (belonging to hikers) are allowed past the gate. The trail is only seven or eight miles long total, so I figured I would have plenty of time to dally along the way and loaded up the GPS with cache locations to try geocaching out properly. Taking the right turn off the highway and a quick left onto the rough frontage road, I park at the gate and get the GPS going to find that I've already missed one of the geocaches associated with the trail. Really? I can't be bothered to go back for it, so the first one is at the trailhead. It turns out I can't be bothered to spend all that much time looking for something when getting on the trail beacons either, and the time spent is not enough.

Baron Ranch gate
Hikers must stop at the ranch gate and hike in. The rules are enumerated to the right with a map of the trail.

ridges in Gaviota
The hogback ridges on the far side of Arroyo Hondo can be seen from here.

A blanket of fog sits far out on the ocean, but overhead it is sunny and clear. The start of the route is paved. Signs at every road junction point the way along the "trail" and indicate there is no entry along each "ranch road". They really don't want any confusion. The highway is often loud just a few feet to the side. With the GPS showing the map so that I'll know I'm near a cache by the arrow getting near a box, I find that the next cache is near the corner where the road turns away from the freeway and into Arroyo Quemado. The freeway noise dwindles as the road drops into the canyon. The pavement ends at another gate and a mailbox with a thermometer (reading 44°F) and yet another cache. Somewhere.

lower section of Arroyo Quemado
A little bit of the lower valley of Arroyo Quemado.

Entering the orchard proper, there is a stand of recently removed avocados and some guys that passed me earlier in a car are settling in to dig holes all over the area. Past that, there are a number of bee hive boxes. The bees are still shaded and moving slowly in the chill of the morning. Past them, there's the rest of the orchard. The signs direct me up onto one of the roads among the trees which allows a bit of a view. A few stands of trees are getting watered and there is stagnant water down in the creek bed. There are a few birds and other wildlife around, too. Glancing at the GPS shows I can't even be bothered to notice I'm passing caches and backtrack just a little to look for yet another one. The road leaves the orchard and gets into something more like forest. A whiff of sulfur catches me and looking around shows a small, blocked trail to the side. As the forest closes in, there's another gate and another cache to look for. Looking for them occasionally gets me to notice something I wouldn't have.

circles in the wood
Patterns in a bit of wood beside the gate.

Continuing on, there's another whiff of sulfur by a murky puddle that looks like it could be related to the source. Above, the cliffs show evidence of water weeping through them. Further up, there is a bit more sun, and then the trail splits. Along the way, there is a bit more searching and even some finding of caches.

yellow cliffs with lime seeps
There's something grandiose, although obscured, about this yellowed cliffs.

The junction is signed including a map. I take the left hand side, which looks like a gentle stroll up to the high point. This crosses the creek of stagnant water and then climbs with trees on one side and shrubs on the other.

stagnant water along the route
There is water here, but it is a source of the mosquitoes here. At least the birds are fed.

road climbing above the trees
The road along this side canyon climbs between the trees and the chaparral.

It gets wonderfully quiet as the trail curves around into the side canyon. Eventually, there is a switchback and it starts to climb up toward the main canyon again. At the end of the switchback, good tread of the old trail keeps on climbing. This should be the other end of the trail that split off from the one I used to get to the cabin in Arroyo Hondo. It is also the start of a proposed route up to Camino Cielo. Although both ends look passable, there's no telling what goes on in the middle.

scrub covered hills
The hills along the way as I climb.

Using the GPS map function isn't really doing it for me, so I try the list of nearest waypoints instead. This gives me a distance and rough bearing to everything nearby and the makes the truth of the matter of the geocaches glaringly obvious. In a short walk, I am 300 feet short of the next cache, 250 feet past the last one, and because of the switchback, there's a third about 200 feet away. The only rest from searching every few minutes is if one was made premium so isn't on my list. Climbing back toward the main canyon gives a straight shot back to the road, and the cars zooming by far below becomes audible again. Still, the views are excellent. I perch on the edge of the road for some drawing and the sun is almost too warm. It is a big difference from the morning down in the bottom. Out on the ocean, the blanket of fog still sits exactly like in the morning.

back down the road
An old trail finds its way up over that ridge. It might be fun to try it.

view down the canyon
The view down the canyon all the way to the highway and the fog out on the ocean. Santa Cruz pops up out of the fog on the left and an oil derrick stands in front of it on the right.

layers of rock sticking out with trees growing in the cut
The rock looks inhospitable in this section, but those trees that have found a hold look happy.

Noticing a stand of non-native yucca, I make a mental note to climb up to it while passing on the road below it. Turning a corner, the sound of cars is instantly drowned out by something coming from up the canyon. With another corner, it gets quite a bit louder. A little closer, and diesel fumes are noticeable. The noise is deafening. The road ends at a 40kW generator. Someone has put a cache near it, but somehow I don't want to stay long enough to find it. Something that can only loosely be called a road descends directly down the canyon where a shrill noise with entirely too much volume eventually asserts itself over the generator. It is an electric pump. I have figured out where the water for the trees is coming from.

after the road, overgrown trail
Defined tread, but with low ceilings and often branches to push aside. It isn't a bear tunnel yet, but it may become such.

After the pump, a narrow and overgrown trail extends along what is sometimes recognisable as still being old road bed. The last person through broke off a few of the branches stretching across and I break off a few more. There is a fork with a small branch over the right side that seems to be heading into some large bay trees. I take the hint and take the left side which climbs in a serpentine path along the roadbed through raspberries. Turning into a narrow canyon full of bay, it is wonderfully quiet again. Climbing some more, the noise returns.

canyon with the pump and generator
A noisy spot overlooking the high point of the road as it climbs to the generator and pump.

looking down the canyon
Another view down the canyon.

shed skin from a growing snake
Snakeskin, a fun find that was just along the trail.

The trail quickly hits the high point and then drops back down even more quickly. It gets quieter again as I drop and there is more rock and tree between me and the generator. It hits maintained road again where a gate blocks further travel and a sign directs users up the way I came. Down a little further is the expected ruins of a home. Around it, there are giant yucca and Monterrey pines planted.

what is left of an old home
An odd structure that was probably once a home.

A path leads up the old orchard with lemon root stock determined to survive and fruiting while the tree above has died for most. A few oranges can also be found. I follow it, but it doesn't complete the journey to the crop of yucca I had seen from above. Making my own way gets me to what may have been a poor man's swimming pool. Shredded black plastic seems to have once lined a large hole in the ground that is surrounded by these giant yucca. It would have been a nice spot for it.

maybe a swimming pool or just water storage
This could have been a swimming pool, or maybe just water storage.

yucca before the cliffs
Yucca standing around the swimming pool down below some cliffs.

the woody portion of a yucca
The woody parts of the yucca, which isn't quite woody.

I notice the faces in the rocks above me as I leave and make my way the back to the junction. Pipe from above can be seen in many places and approaching it, I can hear the water flowing inside. Further down, I see water flowing in the creek and notice there was a deer partaking when it notices me watching the water. This turns out to be just a few feet above the junction and the spot of apparently stagnant water. Walking back, I get whiffs of sulfur in the same places. I check out the old dam by the gate and look for the caches I've missed on the way up. The guys are still digging their holes. It is still quite cool down in the canyon by the orchard, but the bees are now in the sun and much more active. The thermometer reads just 63°F as I leave.

faces in the cliffs above
A hawk rides a thermal above the rocky faces high above.

hills between here and the dump
The grassy hills of the coastal area. The vegetation above is all due to the nature of the rocks. The grass signals a claylike rock.

another view of the hills around the canyon
Another look at the hills around the canyon on the other side of the orchard.

It's an odd hike, to be sure. It would certainly be interesting if they actually get to putting in the trail to Camino Cielo. It was enjoyable, to be sure, especially when I was high up and not hearing the generator. Trying geocaching properly added very little. Doing so on the private property section was very odd, and I think I'll skip those in the future. There's just no meaning to these little pill bottles painted deep green and the frequency with which they are hidden is just silly. Maybe I'm just sore I only found four of some twenty.  It certainly isn't a very good performance.  Even with the dallying, I got down with hours to spare before sunset.

©2014 Valerie Norton
Posted 21 January 2014

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