Sci-Fi Skies

Zaca Fire smoke plume (as seen from Carpinteria on July 28).
Bill Kienzel

FIRE ON THE FRINGE: Few positives can be wrung out of the prolonged incendiary scenario and the lurking dread of the Zaca Fire, apart from the realization that it’s all perfectly in sync with nature’s clearing process. But, as we slink and cower beneath the sci-fi skies of orange hue and snowy ash, certain clarifying ideas hit home. There comes with the picture a sense of solidarity and awareness of the greater forces of the landscape that surrounds our urban coastal outpost.

The Zaca Fire (which hasn’t burned Zaca Lake, just as the Painted Cave Fire spared Painted Cave) is an oddly unifying presence and a humbling reminder of the power of nature, quite beyond the machinations we smugly attend down here in the flatlands of Santa Barbara. The county of Santa Barbara is making an impact on the city, the forest, and the town. Now that we are faced with the prospect that winds could actually send the flames down this way, we’re encouraged to think outside the box of our petty civic squabbles and our keep-up-with-the-Joneses property propriety.

DAY TRIPPING: Under the circumstances, it may seem a fine time to get out of Dodge. If you can’t manage to head way outta town, unfold your Google maps and find dope routes within a day trip’s distance. Here’s one suggestion: get thee to the Dunes, specifically the Guadalupe-Nipomo dunes. This wonder of nature, with its vast sandy contours and unspoiled stretches of beach, is an overlooked prime destination for day trips from Santa Barbara.

Beyond the purely natural and ancient splendor of the place, hopeless cultureniks (present company included) may delight in the cultural imprint of artists on the terrain. Several movies have been shot here-from Cecil B. DeMille‘s Ten Commandments to Pirates of the Caribbean-and legendary photographer Edward Weston was so entranced by the place that he shot the imagery here through which his work illustrates in visual terms how dunes and nudes are anagrams. We’re intrigued, too, by the legacy of a group of poetic mystics and proto-hippies called the “Dunites,” who called this place home in the ’30s and ’40s.

It takes all of 75 minutes to get there, and you feel much more than 75 minutes transported. Head to Santa Maria and turn left, proceed to Guadalupe, the charming little nook of a town that time half forgot, bless her. Check out the Dunes Center and the impressive Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, with its mix of culture, archeology, anthropology, and more. Grab a bite downtown at Garibaldi’s of-for instance-the scrumptious and ample molcajetes, and prepare to unwind.

Oso Flaco Lake is accessible a few miles north of Guadalupe. Oso flaco means “skinny bear,” commemorating a “conquest” by Spanish explorers here in 1769. You walk from the parking lot through a densely wooded area, over the long wooden bridge on the lake to the beach, areas of which are blocked to human traffic in the interest of protecting the nesting snowy plovers.

Head back to Guadalupe, hang a right at the cemetery, and you can drive to the sea through a vegetation-choked debriefing area, before arriving at the Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve, another astonishing expanse of snack bar-free nature and dramatic rolling sand dunes.

All of this, and you can still get home to orange-blanketed Santa Barbara only a little late for dinner, and abuzz with desire to return soon to Guadalupe and become a latter-day Dunite.

DOUBLE HEADER: Rarely are we tempted by two recommendable jazz shows on the same night in Santa Barbara, but that’s a good sign. Both Dave Brubeck and Chris Walden, playing on Monday at the Lobero and at SOhO, respectively, are beloved, repeat visitors to those venues.

Octogenarian piano legend Brubeck has made it a point to concertize at the Lobero every year, thankfully, and the German-born, Los Angeles-based and -employed Walden-who leads one of the West Coast’s smartest and best big bands-has appeared at SOhO on a regular basis. As is usual, Walden is bringing his very special guest, vocalist Tierney Sutton.


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