Good Tips For Going Outdoors

Have Fun and Stay Out of Trouble

Higher water levels can make the creek crossings more difficult than usual. The rocks are slippery too!
Ray Ford

Yes, you’re ready to head out the door. The dogs jumping up and down, the kids are all decked out and you think you’ve got everything for a great afternoon out on the trails. Water …. check. First aid supplies …. check. Snacks …. yes. An extra shirt. Of course. To have both a fun and safe experience, here are a few tips you might keep in mind once you get there.

Kids, being naturally full of energy and enthusiasm, will find a hike up one of the front country trails an exciting adventure. They will often run ahead, checking out all the neat things the canyons have to offer, often ignoring or missing the potential dangers.

Newts are cute but their skin is poisonous. Please don't touch.
Ray Ford

Kids won’t have had the experience or judgment yet to know how to deal with unstable creek banks, slippery rocks, swift water, steep hillsides or what’s OK or not OK to touch.

When you bring kids with you be REALLY careful and supervise them closely. The more you have with you the more important it is to supervise them. Bring along at least one adult for each two children if you can.

Dogs are always a treat to have with you out on the trail as they seem to have as much fun as the kids. However, when the water is high, you might consider leaving them at home.

Do you need to have them on a leash? The answer is no, but you do need to have them under your control. What this means is they will respond to your commands and obey them. It also means you should keep them within your sight. Other dog owners and trail users will appreciate this a lot.

Be sure to bring plastic bags to use for dealing with your dog’s droppings. Most of the trailheads have doggy bags, but you can’t plan on them being available, so bring your own. Please don’t leave the bags along the trail for pickup when you return. Too many of the bags get left behind and it definitely doesn’t add to the trail experience for the other users.

Though it might not seem like the trails are fragile, they can get damaged quite easily. The biggest culprit is water erosion. You can help minimize erosion by not hiking when it is muddy, staying on the trails, and above all-never cutting any of the switchbacks.

With the exception of the Rattlesnake Canyon trails, all of the front country trails are open to mountain biking. The Tunnel and Romero trails are used quite often. Please be aware they are on the trail, especially weekends.

Don’t. There are too many users, too many dogs and too many unknowns. Bring enough water or other refreshments with you.

There are probably more myths concerning poison oak than just about any other outdoor problem. No you don’t get it from scratching. The mugwort probably won’t work. No, it can’t get in your bloodstream and spread. Yes, you can get it from the branches, even if all the leaves have fallen off, as in the wintertime.

Another thing not to touch. Poison oak leaves turn colorful in the fall.
Ray Ford

Simply put, you get poison oak by coming into contact with the offending bush, whether in leaf or stick form. What causes the irritation is the oil, a sappy, whitish liquid known as the Rhus antigen, which was named after its discoverer. All the plants which cause this reaction (such as poison oak, poison ivy, or sumac) have the same basic oil. The reaction to all of them is known by the same name-Rhus dermatitis.

Contact can be direct, from the plant leaves and vines, or indirect, by coming into contact with the oil at a later time, either from contaminated clothes or perhaps from man’s best friend-your dog.

Surprisingly, neither antihistamine creams nor calamine lotions stop the reaction. All they do is help keep the itching down and help stop the fluid from running once you’ve started scratching. If a few blisters do appear after a trip into the mountains, they can be treated with any brand of over-the-counter cortisone cream and a good antihistamine, such as Benadryl (dephenhydramine). The rash should be gone in a week. If not, consult your doctor.

For more information check on Poison Ivy (and oak) site on-line at

The Western Black-Legged Tick (Ixodes pacificus) is the only tick of the 49 species occurring in California known to transmit Lyme Disease.

Adult ticks are most commonly found from December through June, during the part of the year when humidity is at its highest. The adult female is red-brown with black legs and is about 1/8 inch long. Males are smaller and entirely brownish-black. Both are teardrop shaped.

They do not fly, jump, or drop from trees. Instead, they climb onto the tips of vegetation, typically along animal and hiking trails, and wait for a host to brush against them, a type of behavior that is known as questing.

To Avoid

  • • Tuck pants into boots or socks and your shirt into your pants.
  • • Wear light-colored clothing so ticks can be seen easily.
  • • Apply insect repellant on pants, socks, and shoes.
  • • Avoid trail margins, brush, and grassy areas when in tick country.
  • • Check yourself and your children frequently.
  • • Prompt removal of ticks may prevent transmission of the disease.

To Remove

  • • Use tweezers rather than your fingers.
  • • If you must touch the tick, use tissue to protect your hands.
  • • Grasp the tick’s mouth parts as close to the skin as possible.
  • • Gently pull the tick straight out in a firm and steady manner. Do not twist or jerk the tick. It has harpoon-like barbs and do not screw into the skin.
  • • If the mouth parts break off and remain in your skin, consult your doctor.
  • • Wash your hands and the site of the bite with soap and water.
  • • Apply an antiseptic afterwards.

The Western Pacific Rattlesnake inhabits a variety of habitats ranging in elevation from sea level to 6,000′, which means you can find them anywhere in the County (a comforting thought). Personally I’ve sat near the top of San Rafael Peak behind Lake Cachuma and watched one of them warm up in the morning sun, so I know they’re everywhere. The peak is 6200′ in elevation.

Keeping a lookout where you put your hands and feet can help avoid an unpleasant encounter with a rattlesnake.
Ray Ford

Because they are cold-blooded, rattlesnakes are dependent on the environment for heat rather than relying on their metabolism to provide it. In the Santa Barbara area, where winters aren’t severe, they hibernate singly or in small numbers from late November through early March (this is good news, folks!). This means that you only have to worry about them from mid-March through the start of October.

Soon after awakening in the spring, rattlesnakes mate, giving birth a litter of 6-to-12 live little ones, which are active almost immediately. Because they are inexperienced, they are the ones most often seen in the daytime.

Where will you find the Western Pacific Rattlesnake? Usually on rocky outcrops, rocky ledges, brush-covered slopes, rocky streams, and wherever you find piles of brush or debris. I’m always wary when passing the cone-shaped nest built by the pack rat. I figure there’s a rattlesnake lurking somewhere, waiting patiently for a tasty meal.

Though they are not spotted that often on the front country trails, getting bitten by one is a true medical emergency. The treatment is simple-get the person to emergency as soon as possible. However, that will be difficult to do out on the trail. What you want to do is get the emergency personnel to you and having a cell phone with you is critical.

The Los Padres Search and Rescue Team is a non-profit, all- volunteer organization that mobilizes in locations that normal rescue personnel cannot get into.

You can’t contact the Team directly; it operates under the auspices of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department. Call 911 on your cell phone and describe the nature of your situation. If warranted, they will transfer you to the command officer (known as the Watch Officer) at the Sheriff’s office.

If help is not available, rather than taking immediate action, pause for a few moments to assess the situation. Then develop a plan of action. Evaluate each of the possible alternatives you have available to you. If time permits, take time to talk out the pros and cons for each. Talk over the choices with each member of your group and try to reach a consensus with which everyone feels comfortable.

Continue to evaluate the situation as conditions change.


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