Some of the best places in the world are hard to get to. The list is long, including Mt. Everest, the Amazon, and Machu Picchu. While only the truly dedicated and adventurous reach some of these exotic destinations, we have some extraordinary places much closer at hand.
One of the areas I am thinking of is the Devereux Slough in the Coal Oil Point Reserve. It isn’t the first place you might think of for a back-to-nature experience. Sometimes it looks like a large mud flat with little animal life. But if you see it the way I saw it one day, you’ll find yourself drawn to the area again and again.
After a hard rain, the slough comes alive with colors. There are a variety of shades of green found in the grass, the moss, and the trees. It’s mesmerizing. And it is fun to try to identify the different birds you can see hunting and swimming in the water. I saw two beautiful, large birds swimming together across the slough. They looked majestic and contented as they skimmed along the water. At first I thought they might be swans. But when I checked a chart showing birds of the slough, there were no swans; they were probably snowy egrets. It turns out that 290 species of birds have been spotted there.
The slough is a little difficult to get to. You have to drive or walk along a narrow road that dead-ends at the gate blocking the access to Sands Beach. You enter the little road at the intersection of El Colegio and Storke roads in Isla Vista. However, if you are driving, there is nowhere to park. You can stop at a handful of turnoffs designated as bird-watching areas, but that is your only option.
If you are on foot, the journey is slightly treacherous. You have to walk along the shoulder of the road and keep an eye out for cars heading toward UCSB-owned buildings, a Boys and Girls Club center, and the Devereux facility. It’s easy to imagine that one of the cars, not following the 15 mile an hour speed limit, might hit a bicyclist, runner, or walker.
While this type of excitement might be enticing for some, I would love to be able to walk along this area and listen to the birds without having to keep an ear out for approaching cars. The answer may be as simple as creating narrow footpaths along the slough’s edge that would allow pedestrians to keep off the road. I am sure that there would be a lot of considerations involved, including making sure that any improvements of this nature did not damage the plant or animal life of the slough. Maybe the road itself needs to be upgraded. There is a lot of traffic coming to facilities along this road.
In addition, I think this area, and the rest of Coal Oil Point Reserve, could do with a technology upgrade. The Santa Barbara Zoo and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art have audio tours that can be accessed through your phones. For example, at the museum, you can dial a phone number, put in a specific number assigned to a work of art, and get a curators description.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could click on a program or dial a phone number and do the same at the slough or at Coal Oil Point Reserve? I would love to be able to identify the birds and other wildlife I see in this area. Maybe there could be interpretive placards set up along the paths and the slough providing information. I personally would love to hear the story of the bridge to nowhere, which is located near the mouth of the slough.
Besides being a great place to bird-watch, the slough is home to a variety of plants and fish, including the tidewater goby. I personally am entranced by this two-inch-long fish. Their nests occur in the spring, and the males guard the eggs. Quite an interesting bit of information.
In some ways, I think that beautiful places like the Coal Oil Point Reserve should do a little self-promotion. Some people may have heard of the snowy plovers that nest near Sands Beach, but until you’ve seen the babies up close, you haven’t really experienced the beauty of these small birds. The same goes for the rest of the area’s flora and fauna. A little PR could go a long way toward enhancing everybody’s appreciation of this special place.