Name of hike: Gibraltar Dam easy loop-hike
Mileage: Six-mile roundtrip
Suggested time: 4-5 hours with a leisurely lunch break along the lower Santa Ynez River; suitable for sturdy children at least six or seven years old
Map: B. Conant’s San Rafael Wilderness Trail Map Guide (only the extreme lower right hand corner, and this is incomplete)
Where can we find some explanation for that incurable longing to get outside and beyond the lovely city where most of us live and flourish with our families? Explanatory clues abound in eminent psychiatrist C.G. Jung’s writings, and especially in his recently printed Red Book — Liber Novus (2009). Jung, who died in 1961, kept many private journals, and we can learn a lot about this great thinker’s ideas about nature and our “childlike” ancestors who lived lives almost completely outside.
Long view of Gibraltar Dam
I made the fairly easy six-mile loop hike to the base of Gibraltar Dam and lower Santa Ynez River trail on a gray day in mid-December with Guru Franko. The conditions were lousy, it was a cold and forbidding day, and a very light rain had come in earlier. Prior to setting out, my spouse asked innocently enough, “Why are you going there today?”
Lower Santa Ynez River
Because of this recurring and uncontrollable urge to barge out-of-doors and get away from the urban white noise, negative news all around on ubiquitous screens, and earnest chatter of busy, directed people.
The roadhead where we parked my truck is the well-known Red Rock Camp. Directions to the Paradise Road turnoff and the Santa Ynez river crossing (“First Crossing”) can be found in my earlier Nineteen Oaks column, except you turn right immediately after crossing the river at Lower Oso; then cross the small bridge heading for the Red Rock day-use area. On this final 4.2 driving miles of the River Road you will pass the Falls and Live Oak day-use areas before Red Rock.
When we pulled into the large parking area at Red Rock around 9:30 a.m. there were absolutely no other cars present, which wasn’t surprising given the blustery and cold day. Since this was to be a loop hike we started out on the barred dirt fire road (the Gibraltar Dam Reservoir Road) and immediately begin to ascend steeply. For about a mile the road goes up, and eventually gets you to Gibraltar Dam. There are a couple of concealed trails off to the right which shorten the road hike, but be sure you rejoin the road before getting to the area below Gibralter Dam itself. Along the road and trail there are interesting geological formations, including one of this sedimentary strata tilted to an almost perfect 90 degrees.
The Swiss psychotherapist Jung believed there are two kinds of thinking: one was “directed thinking” with its scientific, logical, and real-world emphasis. Then buried within us was a primordial “fantasy thinking” self. When we fall completely into directed thinking, materialism and the external social world dominate us. Jung thought that the more creative fantasy thinking could only commence when the self managed to stop the directed thinking.
Giving rise to the discipline of analytical (or depth) psychology, Jung worked through his own layer of the collective unconscious for 17 years, and the result is most clearly shown in the drawings and revelations of the posthumously published Red Book. One of Jung’s big goals as he made the interior researches was to recover the emotional tone of childhood. This “aha!” feeling can also be located and recovered in deep hikes into raw wilderness; we never saw another human along the lower Santa Ynez River or under the Dam!
Under Gibraltar Dam
That incurable lust to cross over the local coastal mountains and hike along the river has archetypal overtones. While Jung favored a now-antiquated anthropological theory comparing the “prehistoric, the primitive, and the child,” this equation he held explains his fascination with the earliest art and with childhood fantasies. The Stone Age hunter-gatherers (we wouldn’t use “primitive” today) were outside in raw nature most of the time, and their many shamans were often in close, even ecstatic, contact with their fantasy selves. There are many pictographs in our local mountains that bear this out. The power of nature to transform our directed- thinking “I” personas into more playful and relaxed and creative fantasy folk becomes clear on every longer hike I take, including this one under the dam.
An older hiking master intoned that one reason he had to go out into the backcountry was to mellow out the logical insanity from town-living and the growing childishness, and to simultaneously release the one filled with child-like wonder and humility.
Up to Angostora Pass
After about three miles on the dirt road, including one side-connector trail portion, Guru Frank and I were under the dam and as close to the dam as is allowed. Here you begin your return by crossing the riverbed, which was mostly dry on December 14. Before turning and entering the riverbed, you see a trail sign on your right which, if followed up for about three steep miles, will go through Angostura Pass and hit East Camino Cielo.
Return river trip, with Franko
Crossing into the riverbed brings a tricky portion. You have to scramble around a bit down in the creekbed and on the rocks while seeking a path to get up onto the right (north) bank and locate the river trail back to Red Rock.
Remnant on boulder
Down in there is this boulder with the remnant of the dam-building phase from around 1920. After less than a quarter-mile we managed to clamber up onto the right bank of the Santa Ynez River, and there you see Guru Frank heading back from the rocks toward Red Rock with his faithful Labrador, Gina. Soon the river trail is lovely and smooth with gorgeous green winter grass.
Lower Santa Ynez River pool
Franko and I have been hiking together for 40 years, and we often maintain several hundred yards distance between us while on hikes like this one. This eliminates the need to talk or chat all the time, and allows the unconscious and the “irrational” a bit of play. The awesome if austere late fall beauty surrounding us enhances this retrogression into one’s own primordial thoughts; what Jung would’ve termed “the phylogenetic layer” of the “I.”The decaying sycamore leaves and stunning yellow cottonwood tree leaves spark color and that active imagination we all should seek to recover.
While some trail guides recommend the road both ways, one should be sure to take this river trail back since it’s much more beautiful, and there’s no chance of a noisy motorcycle or ATV (all-terrain vehicle) blasting by. At one time there were active campsites down here, and you can see remnants of old tables in a few of the haunting river bank protreros. While it’s also possible to see mountain bikers on this portion (we aren’t in a federal wilderness), the very difficult river crossing pretty much discourages this.
River trail, green
This moderate hike works for a gray and cold day in December, but it’s not good after much rain or especially after a heavy rain. The dam isn’t that impressive, and we had no interest in going on to the abandoned Sunbird quicksilver (mercury) mine since the splendor and natural beauty of the return river trail was our main goal.
But the true goal was similar to Jung’s – going out there, amid silence and primordial natural beauty, hoping to regain some of the innocence of the child-like self. Buddhists inform us about the necessity and difficulty of emulating the exciting “beginner’s mind.” Jung believed that with very serious interior work the tortured modern human could regain his soul and overcome the spiritual alienation of his epoch between the two World Wars. Some 21st Century humans periodically flee to nature for the same reasons.
The Red Book — Liber Novus, A Reader’s Edition by C.G. Jung, edited by S. Shamdasani (Norton 2009), is available in paperback at Chaucer’s Bookstore.