Santa Barbara to Santa Ynez - coastal crest ride 5/23

Discussion in 'rec.bicycles.rides' started by Todd Bryan, May 27, 2004.

  1. Todd Bryan

    Todd Bryan Guest

    Sunday, 5/23/2004, was a day for a ride. Unfortunately I had no fellow
    riders lined up, but to make up for the lack of companionship en route,
    I arranged to meet friends at a winery in the Santa Ynez valley across
    the coastal mountain range from Santa Barbara. My early morning departure
    would allow an early afternoon wine tasting and comraderie.

    After packing sandwiches and water, I rolled out of my driveway in
    downtown Santa Barbara and pedaled west along the coast for a few miles.
    At this time of morning, about 8:45 or so, there were many other cyclists
    out: some solo, others in twos or threes. Several of us exchanged cheery
    greetings as we all headed to wherever we were heading for the day.
    After a few miles I arrived at my first jumping-off point, the base of
    the old San Marcos Pass road. San Marcos Pass is one of three major
    passes across the Santa Ynez mountains and it carries the 'super two'
    lane highway 154. Bicyclists and others, though, can experience the
    special treat of traversing this pass by an older stagecoach route.
    The older roads are little used and offer magnificent vistas as one
    climbs to and a little above the 2300' pass.

    Both cycle and car traffic dwindled to nothing as I started up the
    lower half of the climb. Gradually the magnificent view of the South
    Coast emerged, and I could see from Goleta to Carpinteria and out to the
    Channel Islands. But despite the clear air near the sea, the pass and
    its surrounding peaks were shrouded in clouds and mist. I looked forward
    to riding in the overcast for a while. Overcast in the mountains always
    reminds me of the Blue Ridge Mountains on the Tennessee/North Carolina
    border, on whose peaks I took many a childhood hike.

    At the halfway point, one can look down onto the coast before crossing
    busy state 154 and continuing on the beautiful Painted Cave Road.

    While the climb steepens, the road becomes smoother, narrower, and
    even more dramatic. As one works over a spur into Maria Ygnacio Canyon
    and up into the small hamlet of Painted Cave, dramatic rock exposures
    and stunning subpeaks all range into view. The wild curves provide an
    ever-changing direction in which to look, and the updrafts in the narrow
    canyons often support circling hawks or at least the ubiquitous buzzards.

    I soon cruised past the Chumash Painted Cave, home of renowned Chumash
    glyphs, past the gnarly hairpin curve, and onward through the village.
    Fog shrouded the homes and ranches and no breeze stirred the windmills
    here. Wanting a drink of water, I quickly hit East Camino Cielo at the
    ridgetop and coasted down to the (still defunct) Cielo Store where the
    faucet provided a nice draught. Scuttlebutt is that the store will
    reopen soon, but today it was locked tight so after my drink I again
    crossed 154 at the peak of San Marcos Pass and took the tiny, twist
    Kinevan Road down to West Camino Cielo, my route for the next 20 or
    so miles.

    The first three miles is mostly a climb out of the pass, and views are
    limited. Although there are many popular picnic, climbing, and shooting
    areas along the road, traffic still was non-existent so I enjoyed a
    peaceful and quiet climb, sometimes inside a cloud and sometimes in the
    sun. Soon enough the gun range hove into view and with reports echoing,
    the pavement rolled out from under my wheels and the dirt rolled in.
    This section of West Camino Cielo is a stunning ridgetop fire road,
    little traveled, with magnificent vistas towards both the coast and the
    Santa Ynez Valley. I stopped at the first dramatic overlook, where an
    Anna's hummingbird took offense at my disruption of her morning meal.
    She expressed her displeasure by buzzing as loudly as possible while
    investigating me from all angles. Soon enough we both realized our mutual
    interest in investigation and not mayhem, and after my photos were done,
    I left her in peace and rolled down into the top of Tecolote Canyon.

    Disappointed that no one was there to share the marvelous views, I babbled
    away to myself about them. After a while I reached a familiar stopping
    place at the top of Winchester Canyon and sat down to enjoy a sandwich.
    Upon getting back up and on the bike, I noticed that I could hear the
    distant sound of a motor. Since dirt bikers are sometimes seen on this
    road, I assumed one would catch up to me soon. They arrive and pass
    so quickly that they leave little dust cloud and they seem a friendly
    bunch, always ready with a friendly wave. But as I listened I realized
    this was a larger motor and thus was probably a car. Cars are rare on
    the road but are sometimes seen. Finally we got to a section with good
    rearward visibility and I saw the machine - a huge ridiculous new red
    'SUV', an Escalade or Tahoe or something. I could hear it plainly
    on the straightaway and its engine was straining, emitting a pained
    bellow something like an old dog howling at fire engines or maybe Benjy
    Compson hollerin' at the golfers. "What the hell is that guy thinking?",
    thought I. I figured he would pass me at some point and I'd take a
    break to let the dust settle. But as I pedaled on, the bellow grew more
    and more muted and finally I realized that my 6 or 7 mile an hour pace
    over the broken rock, sand, and dirt was faster than the SUV was making.
    Soon enough he was back out of earshot, the sun came out completely,
    and the sky turned a brilliant blue.

    Broadcast Peak at about 4100 feet hove into view.

    The road first snakes
    around the north side of the peak but then switches over to the south
    (coastal) side for the remainder of the climb. One can see plainly the
    horse ranches of the valley and the Cachuma Reservoir, water supply to
    most of the South Coast. I saw several yucca plants coming into bloom
    as the climb started. From a distance a blooming yucca looks a lot
    like a person out in the chapparal, so I had some fleeting companionship
    at times.

    But soon I got plenty of companionship. A few minutes into the climb
    I caught up to a group of three SUVs slowly pounding their way up
    the mountain. These guys had antennas and ham license plates, so I
    figured they were headed to Broadcast Peak to work on the repeaters there.
    But there are easier ways to the peak, and the trucks had been retrofitted
    with large tires...

    I passed all three, exchanging greetings, as they bounced, smashed, and
    floundered across the ruts and rocks. Soon enough they were also out
    of earshot behind as the more rural coast around Gaviota came into view.
    Magnificent! This area is one of my favorites in Santa Barbara County -
    truly stunning in beauty, and not heavily visited.

    Past Broadcast Peak with its repeaters and transmitters and long-distance
    microwave links and on to Santa Ynez Peak at 4200 feet, I reached the
    high point of the climb. Curious about the observatory on Santa Ynez Peak
    which I had ridden past many times, I climbed the extra 200 feet up to the
    installation only to find an unmarked compound surrounded by chain link
    and razor wire. An outhouse, weather station and microwave antenna sat
    around the main observatory dome. I saw no signs or markings whatsoever.
    While I had assumed this was an academic or community observatory, it
    certainly didn't seem that inviting. After returning home and delving
    into the matter I discovered the observatory isn't for astronomy but
    rather is an optical tracking station for Vandenberg AFB rocket and
    missile launches. There is a 24" Newtonian inside, and the microwave
    link is probably for real-time video transmission. I guess the chances
    of ever using that scope to gaze at the moons of Jupiter are nil.

    Back on paved road I bombed down the fantastic stretch into Refugio Pass,
    meeting up with Refugio Road near the upper entrance to the Reagan Ranch,
    'Rancho del Cielo'. There was a cyclist couple here but as they were
    apparently having an uncomfortable moment I started on down the unpaved
    north side of Refugio Road into the Santa Ynez Valley. Blackberry bushes
    grew along here, but it is still much too early for fruit and I don't have
    a good idea of what the off California seasons do to blackberries anyway.
    We always pick them in July back home.

    At the bottom of Refugio I started across the many fords and bridges and
    soon I saw the first snake of the day! It was one of my favorites - the
    wonderfully marked California king snake.

    This little guy was out in the
    middle of the road but both he and I had to scramble when a Toyota Land
    Cruiser, rigged with large tires and jerrycans and driven by two guys
    with grim expressions, careened across the bridge. I moved on, rolling
    past the Sunstone and Rideau vineyards and into Santa Ynez, where I got
    a coke and had lunch in the visitor's dugout at Santa Ynez High School.

    From there a few short miles took me past the miniature donkey farms
    and chic hotels of Ballard and finally to the Buttonwood Winery where my
    girlfriend was waiting with fresh homemade cookies. We spent the rest
    of the afternoon enjoying the wine, the cookies, and the stunning day.
    It was a short ride at 53 miles and probably no more than 6000' climbing.
    I look forward to making some loop trips into the valley along this
    route soon.

    Todd Bryan
    Santa Barbara, CA
    bryan at cs dot utk dot edu