Springing Up Again

Last week’s post ended with a “To Be Continued…” of spring time in Santa Barbara. Here’s more of our good times.

Frontcountry, Backcountry

Santa Barbara is well-known for beaches and shopping, somewhat well known for wine tasting, but less known (I would imagine by outsiders at least) for its hiking. The Los Padres National Forest and the Santa Ynez Mountains are right in our backyard, and Kierstin and I don’t often take advantage of the great hikes. But the rain has been good this year, making the flora thrive, and the weekend weather has been moderate as always, so we set out on a few hikes this last spring.

On Easter, Kierstin went home for her spring break, but I still had to do lab work and attend classes. But instead of taking the weekend to get well-rested or doing something productive, I awoke before 5 am on Easter Sunday to catch the sunrise at Grass Mountain right near Figueroa Campground, where we camped a couple years ago. It’s a 40 minute drive past Lake Cachuma and through the small town of Los Olivos to get there. My car was one of two parked by the trailhead in the dewy morning. The green grass that gives the mountain its name looked rusted from below, but as Simba and I ran up the trail, we noticed that the appearance of orange rust was from overgrown fields of poppies in bloom.

The sun rose above the mountains in the middle of our hike. We were just about the only ones there for most of the morning; not until our way down did we run into large groups. The peak of the mountain offered views of the blue Pacific on the horizon and Santa Barbara County below. The sun washed us with warmth as it rose above the mountains, and we sat near a field of bright orange before heading back into Santa Barbara.

On a later weekend, I had been itching for another hike and convinced Kierstin to tag along. But as the week was coming to an end and our Saturday hiking date was approaching, Kierstin came down with a stomach bug. No matter how much I willed her to recover, she wasn’t 100% by the morning and balked but promised to attend the next hike. I myself almost decided to skip the trip, but sunshine in the morning this past May was rare, and it was beaming bright that day. So I went ahead without her; to Knapp’s Castle i was headed.

Santa Barbara trailheads and Santa Barbara homes in the hills often converge to the extent that, in some cases, you might not be sure if you are trespassing or beginning a hike.The wealthy and their mansions creep higher and higher like vines around a fence, or perhaps, the public also wanted to behold the best views that were already staked out by bold entrepreneurs of decades passed. Either way, the one location that made me feel the most invasive, despite its popularity as a hiking vista was Knapp’s Castle. 100 years ago, Knapp’s Castle was built atop a hill in the Santa Ynez Mountains. After the original owner sold the castle, a forest fire destroyed most of the structure, with only a few stone pillars and columns surviving.

The castle has been (unofficially?) a popular outlook, even after the property owners attempted some unpermitted construction a few years ago. The hike in is less than a mile, marked with a few signs that suggests the property owner might not want visitors but nothing explicitly forbidding trespassing. Construction equipment gather cobwebs, untouched since the county halted construction. The serenity of the ruins in the morning along with my adrenaline pumping from toeing the line between interloper and hiker had me on edge and at peace. The view through the old ruins gave a unique perspective of the surrounding mountains and forest, and I spent a few minutes exploring and admiring the crafted sandstone against nature’s beauty. Just around the corner from Knapp’s Castle was the Chumash Painted Caves, and since I had barely raised body temperature, let alone broken a sweat, I decided to check that out as well. As it turns out, there is no hiking involved to get to the ancient cave art, but the sight was interesting enough.

Finally, Kierstin was able to join Simba and me on a hike. A couple of her teacher friends came with us to the McMenemy Trail and the Saddlerock Loop. Rain had wet the ground in the dark morning hours as we slept, and misty clouds still hung near sea level. We have seen lots of purple and red painted sunrises and cotton candy sunsets in our time in Santa Barbara, both of which always can be chillingly magnificent when taken in with a long breath of fresh air. But the misty morning like that one is truly underrated, and I only found appreciation for the gloominess when I was in the middle of it during our hike. There’s something obvious and almost too cliché in here somewhere about finding beauty in the gloom, but the peacefulness of the cold mist and the unexpected clarity can’t go unstated. On a hot day, the uncovered trail would have been sweltering and a tough climb, but on that morning, cold droplets hung in the sky and kept us cool for what was merely a mild stroll.

Birthday Week

Kierstin’s birthday celebration started early and lasted nearly the length of a normal work week. Thursday was Bike Moves, a community bike ride that we’ve joined a few times since arriving in Santa Barbara. Each month, a hoard of cyclists gathers at a park on lower State Street downtown and rides up the popular tourist street, blocking traffic in one direction in a hedonistic trade for a good time. Each ride is themed, and for June, the bike circus came to town. Kierstin and I improvised with what we had at home and managed to fit in with the other clowns, trapeze artists, mimes, and animals. The ride stops at the Santa Barbara pier for bike sumo (just what it sounds like). We ended the night with the rest of the bikers at Telegraph Brewery downtown to finish Kierstin’s first night of birthday.

Zoo Brew was our next celebratory stop, on Kierstin’s actual birthday. That Saturday we took Simba for a walk along the beach before saddling up on our bikes and cruising down to the zoo. We had never been to the Santa Barbara Zoo but had heard good things about Zoo Brew, where local breweries serve tasty beverages right next to the exotic animals. Kierstin and I got there early enough to get some glimpses at flamingos, monkeys, and elephants before moseying around the temporary tents that house the different breweries. We had more than enough tastings and couldn’t even come close to trying them all. Lines were short and random run-ins with friends were aplenty. Operation Zoo Brew Birthday was a great success.

But the birthday fun didn’t stop there. The next day we walked to State Street for brunch and had our fill at a local Mexican restaurant, El Paseo. The buffet-style brunch gives you the best of both worlds: you can choose Mexican dishes like crispy fried flautas and chimichangas, cheesy enchiladas, and delicious savory tacos on homemade tortialls, or you can get standard breakfast food like greasy bacon and sausage or sweet French toast sticks. I ate more than I should have; we stayed for nearly 3 hours and promptly headed home to hibernate. I didn’t eat for the rest of the day. Birthday weekend was fantastic, and a great way to kick off summer.

So now that summertime is just around the corner we look forward to more adventures ahead. Next stop: Lake Almanor.

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