Our Annual Blue & Green Guide
In one of our region’s oddest years of weather ever, this year’s cold, wet winter slipped into the June gloom we all know before we even entered May. But sunshine actually broke through for a few hours last week, offering us a glimpse of a hopefully bright summer to come. So it’s with perfect timing — fingers crossed — that we unveil our annual Blue & Green Guide to the great outdoors.
This year’s collection features useful articles about coastal kayaking, fly fishing, wine-country biking, and sunrise hiking, as well as book reviews and, of course, the adventure-for-hire outfitter roundup. The centerpiece is a tale of island exploration and celebration about a trip — just last weekend, in fact — to Santa Rosa Island, one of our majestic neighbors that we see across the channel when the sun does shine.
Read on for a small taste of the outdoors, but go do some of these activities yourself for the full Blue & Green feast.
An Unknown Tomorrow for Santa Rosa Island by Matt Kettmann
If there is a collective consciousness for California’s outdoor-loving population, then the dream we share every night invariably includes lush woodlands of mossy, gnarled oaks, coastal peaks topped with massive pines, and sandstone canyons perfectly sculpted by creative winds. There are also undulating, grassy hills glowing with wildflowers of the yellow, orange, pink, and purple variety, flowing creeks choked with croaking frogs and whistling songbirds, blue skies dotted with birds of prey and etched with wispy clouds, mountainside caves where rare animals quietly lurk, and noticeable traces of where the native peoples once lived.
And this being California, there are certainly beaches in the dream — beaches of all sizes and sorts, from those with steep dunes, wide sandy plains, and deep blue, kelp-filled bays to tiny, hidden coves of turquoise water where surging seas are battled back by crumbling cliffs in the endless oceanic dance. There is, of course, hardly any development in this dreamscape, perhaps just some historic ranch structures, a few shelters for sleeping, picnic benches for eating, and maybe — for comfort’s sake — a nice toilet and shower. Roads aren’t paved here, they’re just rocky pathways of dirt, passable only by hiking boot or four-wheeler. Best of all, people are allowed to roam free, unfettered by private-property signs and not worried about dangerous predators or threatened by backcountry lunatics.
Now wake up, because, amazingly enough in this day and age of sprawl and overdevelopment, this isn’t a dreamscape at all. This is an up-to-date description of the exact landscape that can be found right now on Santa Rosa Island, that hunk of land that calls to us on every clear day from across the Santa Barbara Channel. Sitting just to the west of Santa Cruz Island — its larger and more visited sister — Santa Rosa Island is 86 square miles and about 53,000 acres, making it the second largest island of Channel Islands National Park.
However, unlike Santa Cruz Island — which is only 25 percent open to the public, with the Nature Conservancy in charge of the remaining acreage — Santa Rosa Island boasts a full package of California wilderness, from the Torrey pine grove overlooking Bechers Bay and the village-like campground up Water Canyon, to the blooming headlands of Carrington Point and the jaw-dropping wonders of Lobo Canyon. Even better, visitors to the island are minimal compared to Anacapa and Santa Cruz, because it lies so far from the harbors of Santa Barbara and Ventura. It’s an untouched natural wonderland free from crowds — essentially, the quintessential outdoor experience.
But the dreamy landscape of Santa Rosa Island is on the verge of nightmare due to legislation currently making its way through Congress. Like the island fox that lives there, the island itself is now endangered thanks to a Republican congressman from San Diego County named Duncan Hunter, who’s never even visited the island.
Despite extreme opposition — namely from Rep. Lois Capps, Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, and Channel Islands National Park Superintendent Russell Galipeau — Hunter is pushing to open the island to military veterans as a hunting resort, thereby restricting the times that the public can visit, prompting more infrastructure development, and retreating from the National Park Service’s goal of conservation. It’s an out-of-the-blue attack on an extremely pristine place, but nonetheless, it’s creeping through Congress under the guise of the politically untouchable annual defense-spending bill.
Island in Jeopardy I’ve known of Santa Rosa Island’s natural wonders since I first visited there a couple years ago, having just enough time to hike through the Torrey pine forest and wander the dunes and sea caves along Bechers Bay. Though my time there was short, the memory of total freedom in pristine wilderness remained strong, the island beckoning me back on every clear day. Last weekend, I finally made my return to the island, this time for two nights and three days along with 30 of my closest friends in celebration of my girlfriend’s birthday. (Actually, thanks to the island’s love-inducing energy, she’s now officially my fiancée.)
Just like we shocked the crew of the boat Truth with the bulk of our provisions — our bags and coolers contained everything from kahlua pork, turkey meatballs, mozzarella-topped polenta, garlic rolls, and birthday cupcakes to mango mimosas, cases of beer, rare cheeses, crusty croissants, and more than a case of assorted red wines — the island managed to amaze us each day and night with its exceptional glory. Whether we were kayaking or spear fishing, photographing the lupine and island poppies atop Carrington Point, hiking the side gorges of Lobo Canyon toward dry waterfalls, watching the full moon rise over Water Canyon, or just soaking up rays on the beach, the island never disappointed.
Still, there was a shadow of worry hanging over the trip, thanks to Rep. Hunter’s legislation. From the second we boarded the Truth on Thursday night, the buzz about the island’s uncertain future began. But to understand the island’s possible future, it’s imperative to first understand the past.
Though humans have been inhabiting Santa Rosa Island for at least 10,000 years, the history that matters today begins in 1901, when the Vail and Vickers families began ranching there. That tradition continued for 90 years, even through the 1986 sale of the island to the National Park Service. The initial deal allowed the cattle ranching — and hunting of the introduced Roosevelt elk and mule deer — to continue until 2011, but environmentalists cried foul, and sued to stop the cattle ranching in the early ’90s.
The Vail family settled the lawsuit and agreed to take their cattle off the island; however, as part of the agreement, they were allowed to keep the elk and deer hunts alive as a commercial venture. These days, the hunts are organized by an outfitter called Multiple Use Managers, which offers to the public hunting expeditions costing anywhere from $5,000 to $17,000 depending on what you want to hunt and how long you want to stay. Since the public is restricted to one sliver of the island during the five-month hunting season — and the nonnative elk and deer noticeably damage the native flora and fauna, a fact that’s apparent when hiking in such places as Carrington Point and Lobo Canyon, which are off-limits to the grazers — the settlement mandated that those hunts must end in December 2011. At that point, Multiple Use Managers can remove all of the elk and deer or the National Park Service will exterminate them from helicopters.
Enter Rep. Hunter, a Vietnam veteran and conservative Republican from El Cajon who is the chair of the House’s Armed Services Committee. Last year, after taking a drive along the Pacific Coast Highway with some returning soldiers from Iraq, he was informed about Santa Rosa Island, its ongoing hunting program, and the 2011 end date. When one of the soldiers suggested that hunting and fishing trips there would be a nice way to repay veterans, Hunter swung into gear and put language into last year’s defense-spending bill that would have done away with the 2011 deadline. His announced intent? To make it a seasonal pilgrimage for military veterans — especially injured and paralyzed ones — for the indefinite future.
The idea was defeated last year, but it re-emerged a couple of weeks ago in the 2007 defense bill, with language that would allow the Pentagon to start calling some shots on the island in January 2009 (including the option for “special operations”). This time, Hunter is additionally arguing that keeping the herds intact would be beneficial because many mainland deer and elk are dying from chronic wasting disease. Critics said he was grasping at straws, but last week, it cleared the House of Representatives with the language intact, despite fiery attacks from Rep. Lois Capps.
In one floor speech, Capps explained, “This provision would kick the public off Santa Rosa Island. … There have been no hearings on it, the DoD didn’t ask for it, and the Park Service flat out opposes it. … I can only assume the Republican leadership is afraid to have a debate about the issue. And I don’t blame them. This provision is a travesty and they should be embarrassed.” She ended her May 11 speech by suggesting, “Don’t let [Rep. Hunter] take a drive in your district. He might come up with better uses than letting the public visit them.”
Capps’s office believes they were blindsided twice: once, when Hunter introduced the idea last year without contacting Capps, whose district includes the island; and twice, when, after last year’s defeat, he promised to contact Capps if he was going to reintroduce it. “We never heard from him,” said Capps’s aide earlier this week. Plus, Capps has made it clear that military veterans can already go to the island just as the general public can and said that the Park Service would be more than willing to accommodate them.
Despite Hunter’s sneaky tactics, no one knows whether he has an ulterior motive.His campaign finance reports show a lot of defense industry dough, but that’s nothing new for a pro-military congressman. The only thing conspicuous about Hunter’s record is his involvement with the same lobbyists who were tied to defamed Congressman Randy Cunningham, the San Diego rep who admitted to taking bribes and is now serving eight years in prison. Perhaps Hunter’s tenacity is related to an honest passion for what he feels is a good way to support veterans, no matter the impact on the environment, on endangered species, and on the taxpayers who paid $30 million for the land already.
So what’s next? This week, the Senate is voting on the annual defense bill, but because there is no senator taking up this issue — indeed, no other politician will touch it currently — this language will most likely not be in the Senate bill. Rather, Boxer and Feinstein have added language against Hunter’s proposals. As well, on Tuesday, a high-ranking National Park Service official spoke vehemently against the idea in the Congressional Record as did a Republican senator from Wyoming. That means the next hurdle is the Conference Committee, which combines the House and Senate bills into the finalized defense budget for 2007. Most believe that the likelihood of Hunter’s language sailing into reality is still slim, but the threat persists.
Frankly, it’s a threat that couldn’t come at a worse time. After 15 years without cattle, Santa Rosa Island is just starting to show signs of epic recovery — the wildflowers are booming, the bunch grasses are starting to return, the island fox is showing promise, the island manzanita is flourishing, the falcons are nesting. Of course, this is all happening with the deer and elk herds intact, but a survey of areas off-limits to the grazing animals quickly shows their detrimental effects — there’s only grass on these areas where there would otherwise be native shrubs, trees, and critters hiding beneath them.
In many ways, Santa Rosa Island is already the highlight of the Channel Islands National Park. But give it 10 to 20 years without elk and deer, and I’m willing to bet it’ll be the highlight of the entire national park system.
Fly Fishing at Alisal Ranch
The appetite of Alisal Ranch’s largemouth bass corresponds perfectly with the freshwater fish’s lips. “They’ll eat a baby duck,” explained longtime fisherman Jason Grupp, who’s been running the exclusive Santa Ynez Valley ranch’s fly fishing program for the past five years.
Unfortunately, they don’t make fishing flies that look like ducklings, but they do make them look like dragonflies, frogs (complete with googly eyes), and even mice. And that’s the first thing you learn in one of the three-hour classes taught by Grupp, who is endorsed as a registered guide by Orvis, the leading fly fishing company. Fly fishing, according to Grupp, differs from regular hook-and-line fishing because a fly fisherman is “actively fooling the fish by imitating its natural food” rather than just using fancy lures to trick this fish into a “reaction bite.”
Adequate imitation, of course, requires technique, so after the entomology lesson, Grupp takes his students to the lawn to learn the repetitive motions required for casting a fly rod. This technique takes years to master, but Grupp will get your wrist, shoulder, and forearm just enough in sync so that you’ll be sure to catch some fish when you hop on the bass boat and head to his special spots on the ranch’s private lake.
Of course, catching fish at Alisal Lake is easier than shooting them in a barrel (you don’t have to reload the flies). Grupp expects about 30 to 40 fish per person on every guided trip, and explained that recently one guy caught 73 fish in less than three hours. “I’ve never had anyone get skunked,” said Grupp. “It just doesn’t happen.” Since they only allow and encourage catch-and-release, the fish population is more than steady. “We actually have to take fish out,” Grupp explained.
There’s only one, uh, catch. You’ve gotta be staying at Alisal Ranch to learn from Grupp, so book an overnight stay now, then pay the $155 more for four hours with this guru. Visit alisal.com or call 688-6411 for fly fishing packages. — Matt Kettmann
Double Dolphin’s Coastal Kayaking
Going against the ocean current in a kayak can be as troubling as being up a certain creek in a boat with no paddle. That’s why the Santa Barbara Sailing Center is offering rides up the coast and against the swell on its Double Dolphin catamaran, each morning dropping off kayakers around Hendry’s Beach and then letting them paddle their way “downhill” back to the harbor. And just to make sure your arms don’t get tired, the trip comes with an informative guide who, during moments of needed rest, tells kayakers all about the natural wonders and historic curiosities of the coastal stretch, which includes the Mesa, Santa Barbara Point, Leadbetter Beach, the breakwater, the sandspit, Stearns Wharf, and the harbor.
The trip, which starts every morning around 10 a.m., is a three-mile paddle, and depending on kayakers’ skill levels, can take anywhere from two to three hours. Thanks to the swell and current pushing at your back, the route is one of the easiest on the coast — the only tricky part is getting from the catamaran onto the kayak, and even that’s pretty darn easy.
Along the way, expect to see sea lions, seals, lots of kelp, surfers, powerboaters, sailors, cliffside mansions, palm trees, City College, a hidden lighthouse, and views of Santa Barbara that confirm why it’s known worldwide as “the American Riviera.” Luckier paddlers might even see dolphins and whales, but every trip allows the chance to see the sea lions up close as they frolic and bark from the half-mile buoy just off Stearns Wharf. For the adventurous, it’s worth trying to catch some waves at Leadbetter Beach or the sandspit, just make sure to hold on tight and prepare to get wet.
It’s the perfect paddle for the whole family, offering the chance for either a sweaty workout or a leisurely drift along our beautiful shoreline. Rates start at $40 for adults, and kids 12 and under/college students with valid ID 25 and under are $25. Visit sbsail.com or call 962-2826 to inquire about this kayak trip, the center’s sailing classes (again voted the best on the West Coast!), and the many other options for ocean adventure. — Matt Kettmann
For too long, the end of the day — that glorious hour or so when the hills turn golden and the sun slides slowly and gracefully into the Pacific — has been the favorite time slot for outdoor activity. Whether it’s a beach jog, a quick surf session, a dog walk, or a quiet stroll, sunset seems to be the time of day when our schedules open up and we get to go outside. While relaxation dipped in the pink red glow of a setting sun is indeed a gift regularly celebrated, it is the lesser appreciated sunrise — the fiery gray to purple to blood-orange procession — that continues to be ignored by the masses.
Ironically, with the ocean in our front yard and the Santa Ynez Mountains in our backyard, Santa Barbara is perhaps better primed for a variety of pre-dawn explorations than any other part of California. In a matter of minutes — especially when the morning commuters are still fast asleep — you can slip away into an outdoor adventure that will leave you clear-minded and energized; more prepared for a day of work than you ever would have been had you wrestled with the alarm clock for an extra two hours of fitful sleep.
The options for sunrise soul-nurturing are as endless as they are at sunset, with one major distinction — they are usually completely devoid of other people. A perfect example is the popular and traditionally crowded hike up Montecito Peak. If you have to be at work at 9 a.m. the routine might go a little something like this: alarm at 4:45 a.m.; small, quick breakfast; coffee or tea; out the door by 5. Drive up the twists and turns of Gibraltar Road to East Camino Cielo and turn right when you get there. About 3.5 miles later at around 5:20 a.m., you’ll see the trail head on the right side of the road adjacent to a cement water tank. From there follow the trail as it bends out toward the ocean and the brightening horizon line beyond. As the trail turns to the left, the boulder-strewn dome of Montecito Peak will loom large in front of you — most likely with a chilly fog nipping at its knees — and the east fork of the Cold Springs trail will be below. After turning left up a steep, unmarked — though easily visible — trail to the summit you should, with any luck, arrive at the top of Montecito at about 6 a.m., just in time to see the sun stretching its arms up out of the Pacific, embracing a new day. At this point it’s up to you: Sit and relax, touch your toes, yodel, breathe deep, or run around naked. As long as you start back to your car by 6:45 a.m., you should have no trouble making it home in time for a hot shower — before arriving to work on time, and more jazzed to face the day than 11 grande lattes could ever make you. — Ethan Stewart
Wine Country Biking
While Sideways stimulated droves of winos to cruise the byways of the Santa Ynez Valley, there is a much more satisfying way to the see the back roads of our neighboring wine country, and it’s driven by sweat and pedals. The valley is a cyclist’s heaven where pros and amateur sightseers alike make the pilgrimage to Santa Ynez to cruise its rolling hills, straightaways, and killer climbs through the sprawling ranches and vineyards.
I’ve done the requisite Santa Ynez wine country tour, zooming from tasting room to tasting room, but on a bike there’s a completely different feel to the journey. Instigating the trend is the one-year-old Santa Barbara Wine Country Cycling Tours, owned by Corey Evans and Tim Gorham, which organizes tours and rents bikes from a Santa Ynez shop front on Sagunto Street. While many tours are filled with people new to a saddle, Tim confirms that they’ve guided hardcore riders up Lance Armstrong’s Figeruoa Mountain training grounds.
But you don’t have to be Lance to enjoy a day of wine country biking. I, for instance, took a leisurely half-day ride, which took me past a lavender farm, grazing horses and foals, vineyards old and gnarly next to the newly planted, the best peach grove in the region, and apple orchards. While zipping past the Lincourt Winery, the subtle smell of roses sweetened the ride. While many riders take some time to shop in Solvang or Los Olivos, I punted on purchasing bottles of wine or art, even though the staff will drive shopping bags back to the shop.
We stopped for lunch at the Beckman winery for a gourmet picnic of salad and olives, hummus and hard salami. Some groups pick up a bottle in the tasting room, but I restricted my consumption to a few tastes of the winery’s reds.
After lunch, the morning’s cloudy skies blew away to reveal blue sky. Tim announced, “There, on the horizon. That’s Figueroa Mountain. It’s 4,200 feet, a 6,000-foot elevation gain when you’ve gone up and down.” Taking note of my steady pedaling, Tim declared, “You have potential — Figueroa Mountain’s next.” Maybe next trip.
Visit Santa Barbara Wine Country Cycling Tours in downtown Santa Ynez, call 686-9490, or see winecountrycycling.com. — Felicia M. Tomasko
Surfing’s Greatest Misadventures: Dropping In on the Unexpected Edited by Paul Diamond; Casagrande Press; 282 pages; $15.95.
At first glance, this book looks like yet another thoughtlessly thrown-together attempt to capitalize on surfing’s most recent resurgence in popularity. However, closer inspection reveals a thoughtful and truly entertaining collection of true-life adventure stories by some of surfing’s most famous and accomplished scribes. From surf trips gone bad and big-wave death scares to man-eating sharks and old-school adventures, this book is a fun read regardless of your surfing IQ. While some of the stories will no doubt seem familiar to those who regularly read surf publications, there are many chapters of seldom-told tales — including some by South Coast surfing storytellers like Shawn Alladio, Glen Hening, and former Carpinteria resident Matt George. Highlights of the book include a hilarious and exceptionally well written piece about three weeks of wave-hunting and soul-searching in Peru by Steve Barilotti and an equally laugh-out-loud-funny recap of the University of South Florida’s surf club trip to Costa Rica in 1994. — Ethan Stewart
Mammals of California by Tamara Eder; illustrations by Gary Ross; Lone Pine Publishing; 344 pages; $22.95.
A squirrel is a squirrel and a bat is a bat, you say? Not according to this excellently organized and illustrated field guide from the reliable Lone Pine Publishing company. Containing every mammal you’ve never heard of — and plenty of those critters you know well — this easy-to-use, weatherproof book details such identifying characteristics as habitat, food, young, den, and similar species. There are also illustrations of each animal and print marks as well, not to mention countless photographs of many species, so you won’t confuse that black bear’s print with the cougar’s next time. As for squirrels and bats, you ask? Well, the guide covers 13 different squirrels — not counting the chipmunks — and a whopping 22 bats! Better get this book and start being a bit more observant. — Matt Kettmann
[Adventure for Hire]
So now that we’ve told you about all the fantastic things you can do and see in Santa Barbara’s outdoor wonderland, you may be asking yourself, “Well that all sounds great, but where do I go to get the equipment and training I need to do all that stuff?” Well, looky here, we’ve got a handy list of adventure-providers who’d be happy to help you with anything you need for your next outdoor activity.
A Frame Surf Shop: Surfboard and boogie board rentals on the beach in Carpinteria. Call 684-8803. Adventours Outdoor Excursions: Enhance your company’s cooperation skills with a wilderness adventure. Call 898-9569 or visit adventours.com. American Paragliding: The power to fly — paramotoring and powered paragliding instruction offered. Call 965-3733 or visit americanparagliding.com. Anacapa Dive Center: Catch a charter boat to experience the underwater wonderland off the islands. Scuba lessons also available. Call 963-8917 or visit anacapadivecenter.com. Aquatics: SCUBA lessons, equipment, and more. Call 967-4456. Beach House: Learn how to surf this summer, dude! All types of surfboards, boogie boards, and wetsuits for rent. Call 963-1281. Beach Rentals: In-line skates, bikes, strollers, and other vehicles are available for self-guided tours, at 22 State St. Call 966-2282. Blue Edge Parasailing: Fly like a condor. Call 966-5206. Captain Don’s: Cross the channel in search of whales or just take in a sunset cruise. Call 969-5217. Channel Islands Aviation: Take flights for day hikes, coastal fishing, or camping trips to Santa Rosa Island. Call 987-1301 or visit flycia.com. Circle Bar B Stables: Ride through remote canyons on a guided tour or go solo on one of the stable’s strong horses. Dinner and accommodations are also available. Call 968-1113. Cloud Climbers: To scale mountains the four-wheel way, jeeps with tour guides can be rented at State and Mason streets. Call 965-6654. The Condor Express: This 75-foot vessel is ideal for watching the channel’s numerous whales or for sunset dinner cruises along the coast. Call 882-0088. Cycles for Rent: Mountain bikes, tandems, and cruisers are all available for rent. Call 340-BIKE. Eagle Paragliding: Award-winning paragliding instruction by Rob Sporrer. Call 968-0980, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit eagleparagliding.com. El Capitan Canyon and Ranch: Camp in style and comfort or just go for a sunset trail ride. Call 685-8522. Fly Away Hang Gliding: Learn to conquer the skies with hang gliding instruction. Call 957-9145 or visit flyaboveall.com/flyaway.htm. Hearts Adaptive Riding Program: Healing with horses. Call 730-3635. Island Packers: Travel out of Ventura Harbor for trips to all Channel Islands. Call 642-1393 or visit islandpackers.com. Mountain Air Sports: Rent a tent, backpack, and other assorted camping gear. Then go get lost. Call 962-0049. Paddle Sports: Kayak the coastline or enter the awe-inspiring sea caves of Santa Cruz Island. Call 899-4925. Perfect Laps: Learn to burn rubber from a champion racecar driver. Call 692-2479. Sailing Sunset Kidd: Charter this private vessel for sunset sails, private parties, or weddings. Call 962-8222. Salt Air Kiteboarding: Harness the power of wind and rule the shoreline. Call 884-4633 or visit saltairkiteboarding.com. S.B. Adventure Company: Kayak, bike, climb, surf, and wine taste with the help of these professional extremists. Call 452-1942 or visit sbadventureco.com. S.B. Outrigger Canoe Club: Sign up with these folks for a regular paddle-powered meeting with the tides. Call 681-3100. S.B. Sailing Center: Glide across the waves in the Double Dolphin, rent a sailboat or kayak, or learn to sail. Call 962-2826 or visit sbsail.com. S.B. Sportfishing: Take home some of the sea’s bounty. Call 687-FISH. S.B. Swim Club: Make swimming a daily routine and join the Swim Club. Call 966-9757. Sea Landing: A wide spectrum of aquatic activities is offered, from jet-ski and kayak rentals to fishing charters and Channel Island trips. Call 963-3564. Truth Aquatics: Boats escort divers, hikers, and fishermen to all five Channel Islands. Call 962-1127. VeloPro Cyclery: Mountain bike rentals include a lock, a tire pump, and the ever-important helmet. Call 963-7775. Windhaven Glider Rides: Catch bird’s-eye views soaring above the Santa Ynez Mountains in an ultra-light glider. Call 688-2517.