Friday, May 17, 2013

Hiking Rancho La Laguna

My last full day in Santa Barbara, and Nori had arranged for us to go on a hike with her hiking club, a wonderful group of friends whom she wanted me to meet.  Steven Sharpe, General Director of Opera Santa Barbara had organized the outing and arranged for us to meet downtown at 6:45 and carpool up to the ranch for the hike.
Looking back down the trail on the Preserve
Rancho La Laguna, nowdays called the Sedgwick ranch for the previous owner, sits in a valley northeast of the little town of Los Olivos, and abuts Michael Jackson's "Neverland" ranch.  The property dates from a land grant from the mid-1800's before California was a state.  However, today it is a research facility for the University of California, Santa Barbara.  Duke Sedgwick willed the property to the university on his death.  Fairly large at 6,000 acres, it is full of deer, bear, coyotes, and mountain lions.  The country driving in was dry and brown, but as we ascended the canyons, pines, junipers, and other trees greened up the scenery.  Living in the sub-Arctic most of my life, I don't relish hot days, and as the thermometer climbed to 97 F., I wondered what I'd gotten myself into.

We met our guide for the day, Kate McCurdy, director of the UCSB Sedgwick Reserve in Santa Ynez. I might not have been the oldest hiker in the group, but most weren't kids, so I thought I'd be in good company.  Steven was full of energy, made introductions, and herded us to the start, a dirt road through dry June grass, the stuff that sticks in you shoes and socks.  We walked single file uphill, dripping sweat and chatting.  Most of the folks were in fine shape and kept the pace brisk. 
Heading uphill
I honed in on Kate to see what kind of research was done there, so I hustled to the front of the line.  Surprise, Kate had been a National Park Service researcher in Glacier National Park, Yosemite, and Santa Monica Mountains.  She talked about her grizzly bear research in Glacier, and I remembered attending a conference where Kate Kendall, presented the results of their research on grizzly DNA.  She pointed out the great fault dividing the rocks and soil types: the Paso Robles alluvium and serpentine rocks from the Franciscan formation.  The vegetation uphill from the fault are composed of native species, because the soil in not as hospitable to the invasive species, so the geology is often studied at the preserve.  Kate and I reminisced about our days in the National Park Service, mutual friends, and the research at the preserve.  But, I felt I was monopolizing her brief time with the group, so I dropped back to sweat with the rest of the gang.
Kate educates the group
I had thought we would be taking a leisurely walk with educational talks, so I brought heavy binoculars for birding, and my SLR camera...and a bottle of water.  The gear hang heavily around my neck, so after taking a few photos of the group I put it in my pack so I could hike at a brisk pace.  

 Nori tops out on the grassy hillside
We had gone a couple of miles through the forest and canyon, finally emerging on a grass-covered ridge overlooking the ranch.  The trail had disappeared, so our feet scuffed through the grass picking up prickers and chaff.  At the top an outcropping of rock gave a great view of the area.  I thought of the coyotes that scouted from here while digesting dinner.  Ravens were the only birds out in this heat.
Nori and I stand on top of the rock overlooking the ranch
Down, down, down the steep slope to the canyon.  At the forks near our cars some of the group who had prior engagements split off, but we followed Kate for a few more miles back up another canyon, over a divide, and through more canyons and forests before returning the the cars.  

The gang had planned a potluck lunch, and I stuffed myself more than usual sampling every dish.  I sat next to Dr. Peter Nickel and his wife Carrie Garner who had invited us to dinner the previous week.  It's a small world: he knew my friend Dr. Debbie Wheeler, an anesthesiologist living here in Ridgway and a ski partner for the past several years.  They had worked together in Denver years before.  

Sitting under the 400-year old oak tree I thought of what this country might have looked like a couple of hundred years before when the Chumash natives lived here and the trees were larger, the vegetation all native, and very few people.  Tomorrow we would drive through L.A. and deposit me at the airport.  It is truly another world out there.

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