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Santa Barbara in Athens

Column by Outdoor Editor John McKinney, aka The Trailmaster, follow on Facebook.

Saint Barbara Athens AcropolisThere she was, in the shadow of the Acropolis: Saint Barbara.  My son Daniel and I just finished touring the Acropolis alongside hordes of tourists, pictured below, and were walking to The Acropolis Museum when we came upon a little shrine to Saint Barbara.

A framed painting of her, tucked into an alcove, adorns the front of a lovely little church, St. Sophia of the Acropolis. In the painting, she stands on a beautiful coastline (which could be a lovely Greek island or even our own Santa Barbara) while holding a chalice and a scroll.

Saint Barbara is given near equal billing to church namesake Saint Sophia, who is also on display along with her three daughters Faith, Hope and Love. The church is supported by the Meropion Foundation, a charity for underprivileged girls and women. No doubt Saint Barbara (so strong in her faith) and Saint Sophia (“Wisdom” in Greek) are inspirational figures.

Acropolis CrowdAthens is a crazy place in the best of times and these are not the best of times in the Greek capital city. Daniel and I were happy to find a quiet sanctuary, Saint Barbara, and a reminder that there’s no place like home.

Editor’s Note:  The 42nd Annual Santa Barbara Greek Festival takes place August 1-2, Saturday and Sunday at Oak Park. Santa Barbara is well known as a beautiful, Mediterranean-style community located on the scenic California coast. It’s less well known, but still significant, as home to a diverse population—including a thriving Greek community. The heart of this Greek community—indeed its very soul—resides within the congregation of Saint Barbara Greek Orthodox Church. Members of the congregation have long shared their beloved Greek culture with all of Santa Barbara at the annual Santa Barbara Greek Festival.

Refugio State Beach Oil Spill

Column by Outdoor Editor John McKinney, aka The Trailmaster, follow on Facebook.

SB-Oil-Spill-oily-beachI often mention Refugio State Beach and El Capitan State Beach in the same sentence, even in the same breath. That’s because a trail connects them and I’ve long been fond of walking from one beach to another and encouraging others to do likewise.

Then came the recent oil spill, more than one hundred thousand gallons of crude gushing out of a ruptured pipe and part of that oil pouring down a culvert into the sea at Refugio State Beach. Now Refugio State Beach and its sister shore, El Capitan State Beach, are linked by tragedy as well as trail.

In the very earliest reporting of the spill, caused by a buried Plains All American Pipeline that ruptured just up-coast from Refugio State Beach, it was labeled the “Gaviota Oil Spill” and the “Santa Barbara Oil Spill” (even the “Second Santa Barbara Oil Spill”). Most media, however, soon settled on “Refugio Oil Spill” with the occasional regional reporter branding it the “Refugio Beach Oil Spill.”

What’s in a name?

A lot, really, if like me, you are strong supporter of our California State Parks.

For we state park advocates, the disaster might be better termed the “Refugio State Beach Oil Spill.” The spill greatly affected this state beach as well as more shore under the stewardship of California State Parks—seven miles of coastline extending from El Capitan State Beach on the east to Arroyo Hondo Creek to the west.

SB-Oil-spill-Refugio-SB-trafficIntent on scouting the spill, I first headed for El Capitan State Beach. It was closed, but I was fortunate that my reputation as a state park champion had preceded me, and the young man at the entry kiosk recognized my name and let me in to take a look.

In terms of oil impacts, there was not much to see. Yet. The shoreline was deserted, cleared of all visitors.

SB-oil-spill-El-Cap-SB-researchersBut I did meet one scientist at work: California State University Channel Islands Professor Sean Anderson and a handful of his students were “monitoring sandy beach sites before they get oiled by the spill.” His team was collecting hermit crabs with the intention of doing before and after comparisons of the effects of the spill on marine life.

As it turns out, Dr. Anderson is an expert on sandy beaches and their considerable environmental—and economic—value to the state of California. I hope, post-spill that we hear—and better understand—the professor’s message.

Not surprisingly, I was turned away at Refugio State Beach. I found a place to park less than two miles away, put on a pair of old sneakers and started walking. Refugio State Beach, a combo of sand and rocky shore with tide pools, was covered in goo. Particularly heartbreaking was the heart of the park: there is, or was, a tropical isle feel of the sleepy lagoon at the mouth of Refugio Creek and the picnic ground under the palms.

Paradise no more, to say the least. The shore and the sea beyond seemed more like a living hell for the creatures that died here and others that passed by here. I wanted to shout a warning to the whales migrating by: “Don’t swim so close to shore! Watch out for the oil slick!”

SB-Oil-Spill-Pelican-closeAnd then there were the pelicans. I spotted one bird, all but immobilized by a covering of oil, and flocks of them flying back and forth overhead, as if in a panic about where, or if, to land.

Later in the afternoon I was pleased to observe that perhaps as many as a hundred pelicans had found temporary refuge on the Gaviota Pier in Gaviota State Park, located a short drive up-coast from Refugio State Beach. Gaviota Pier was closed last year due to storm damage, so the pelicans, and scores of seagulls had sole use of the pier and I was glad that they had found a temporary wildlife sanctuary.

Refugio State Beach and El Capitan State Beach will need a large amount of cleaning-up and major environmental restoration. The Refugio State Beach Oil Spill will affect these shores for many years to come. While much smaller than the infamous 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill, it may prove to have more severe consequences for a coast known for its beauties and biological diversity.

Photo captions: A black tide rolled in on Refugio and El Capitan State Beaches. After the spill, authorities sealed off the shoulders of Highway 101 for miles above and below Refugio State Beach, making it all but impossible for the public to stop and view the damage. CSU Channel Islands students collect hermit crabs at El Capitan State Beach as part of a study to measure oil spill effects. Pelicans are particularly affected by the oil spill on Refugio State Beach.

Santa Barbara: Knapp’s Castle

Column by Outdoor Editor John McKinney, aka The Trailmaster, follow on Facebook.

From East Camino Cielo to Knapp’s Castle is 1.5 miles round trip with 200-foot elevation gain

In 1916, George Owen Knapp’s recurrent bouts of hay fever sent him high into the Santa Ynez Mountains behind Santa Barbara to seek relief. The wealthy, former Chairman of the Board of Union Carbide found relief—and an ideal locale to build the mountain home of his dreams.

“This tract, at the edge of the grand canyon of the Santa Ynez Mountains, is one of the most magnificent, in point of scenic glories, in California,” reported the Santa Barbara Morning Press.

Knapp’s dream home, carved from thick sandstone blocks, took four years to complete. It was a magnificent residence, complete with illuminated waterfalls and a room housing one of Knapp’s other passions—a huge pipe organ.

While Knapp was developing his private retreat, he was also helping to boost public access to the Santa Barbara Forest Reserve, as it was known in those days. Knapp and a couple of his wealthy friends were tireless promoters of roads and trails, in order to make the backcountry accessible to all. As a 1917 editorial in the Santa Barbara Daily News put it: “Under their leadership places in the wild heretofore denied humans because of their utter inaccessibility are being opened up to the hiker and horseback writer.”

Knapp was 60-something when he threw himself into his castle-building and trail-building efforts. He spent most of the rest of his long productive life in his castle in the sky. In 1940, he sold his retreat. A forest fire destroyed the castle just five months after he sold it.

Stone walls, part of the foundation and a couple of chimneys are all that remain of Knapp’s Castle. But the view of the Santa Barbara backcountry is still magnificent, particularly if you arrive at sunset and watch the purple shadows skim over the Santa Ynez and San Rafael Mountains.

The upper part of the trail, formerly Knapp’s long driveway to his retreat, offers an easy walk down to the ruins from Camino Cielo. The current owner has made efforts to stabilize some of the structures and kindly still allows public access.

Hike-SB-Fremont-Knapps-CastleDIRECTIONS: From Highway 101 in Santa Barbara, exit on Highway 154 and proceed 8 miles to East Camino Cielo. Turn right and drive 2.5 miles to a saddle, where you’ll spot a parking area and a locked Forest Service gate. (Click to enlarge map)

Interested in more hikes in Santa Barbara? Check out my guide: HIKE Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara: Rattlesnake Canyon

Column by Outdoor Editor John McKinney, aka The Trailmaster, follow on Facebook.

Rattlesnake Canyon Trail: From Skofield Park to Tin Can Meadow is 3.6 miles round trip with 1,000-foot elevation gain; to Gibraltar Road is 6 miles round trip with 1,500-foot gain

Rattlesnake Canyon Trail is serpentine, but otherwise far more inviting than its name.

The joys of hiking the canyon were first promoted by none other than the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce. In 1902 the chamber built “Chamber of Commerce Trail,” an immediate success with both tourists and locals, though both trail and canyon continued to be called Rattlesnake.

In the 1960s, the city of Santa Barbara purchased the canyon as parkland. A handsome wooden sign at the foot of the canyon proudly proclaims: Rattlesnake Canyon Wilderness.

The canyon was severely burned in the Tea Fire of November 2008, but the chaparral community in particular has recovered quite well from the devastation. Red-berried toyon, manzanita with its white urn-shaped flowers, and purple hummingbird sage cloak the slopes.

In Santa Barbara, follow State Street to Los Olivos Street. Head east and proceed a half mile, passing by the Santa Barbara Mission and joining Mission Canyon Road. Follow this road past its intersection with Foothill Road and make a right on Las Canoas Road, continuing to the trailhead, located near the handsome stone bridge that crosses Rattlesnake Creek. Park alongside Las Canoas Road.

From the Rattlesnake Canyon Wilderness sign, head north and soon rock-hop across the creek. A brief ascent leads to a trail that parallels the east side of the creek.

After a half mile, an unsigned trail veers off to the right. (One of The Trailmaster’s favorite byways, this narrow path leads along and above the east bank of Rattlesnake Creek and reunites with the main trail in about a mile.)

Soon after the junction, the main trail draws near the creek and crosses it. The path then ascends past remnants of a small stand of planted pines and into the open for good vistas of coast and ocean. Continue to a creek crossing and notice (you can’t miss it, really) a large flat rock in the middle of the creek known by locals as “Lunch Rock.”


The trail crosses the creek again, continuing along the west bank to open, grassy Tin Can Meadow, named for a homesteader’s cabin constructed of chaparral framing and kerosene can shingles and sidings. For the first quarter of the 20th century, Tin Can Shack was a canyon landmark, mentioned in guidebooks of that era. A 1925 brushfire destroyed the shack.

The apex of the triangular-shaped meadow is a junction. The trail bearing left leads 0.75 mile and climbs 500 feet to an intersection with Tunnel Trail. To the right, Rattlesnake Canyon Trail climbs 0.75 mile and 500 feet to meet Gibraltar Road. The hiker’s reward is an unobstructed view of the South Coast.

Interested in more hikes in Santa Barbara? Check out my guide: HIKE Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara: Cold Spring Canyon

Column by Outdoor Editor John McKinney, aka The Trailmaster, follow on Facebook.

Cold Spring Trail: From Mountain Drive to Montecito Overlook is 3.4 miles round trip with 900-foot gain; return via Hot Springs Canyon is a 5.5-mile loop; to Montecito Peak is 7.5 miles round trip with 2,500-foot gain; to Camino Cielo is 9 miles round trip with 2,700-foot gain

Cold Spring Canyon’s near-wilderness nature is all the more surprising when considering its location—scarcely a mile as the orange-crowned warbler flies from the villas of the rich and famous, and just two miles from Montecito’s boutiques and bistros.

“Our favorite route to the main ridge was by a way called the Cold Spring Trail,” wrote Stewart Edward in his 1906 classic, The Mountains. “We used to enjoy taking visitors up it, mainly because you come on the top suddenly, without warning. Then we collected remarks. Everybody, even the most stolid, said something.”

Cold Spring Trail begins by the alder-shaded, year-round creek, then rises out of the canyon for fine coastal views. Options abound.

From Highway 101 in Montecito, a few miles south of Santa Barbara, exit on Hot Springs Road and proceed toward the foothills for 2.5 miles to Mountain Drive. Turn left. A mile’s travel on Mountain Drive brings you to the Cold Springs trailhead, which begins just east of the creek.

hike-SB-ColdSprnTHE HIKE
The path rises briefly through oak woodland, then returns to the creek. On your left, 0.25 mile from the trailhead, is a junction with West Fork Trail. (See hike description) East Fork Trail rises up the canyon wall and rejoins the creek 0.5 mile later. Look for a fine swimming hole below you to the right. The trail then switchbacks moderately out of the canyon to Montecito Overlook. Enjoy the view of the Santa Barbara coastline and the Channel Islands.

If you’d like to loop back to the trailhead via Hot Springs Canyon, you have two options. Easiest way is to take the Edison fire road and make a steep one-mile descent into that canyon. A more challenging route is to ascend Cold Springs Trail another 0.25 mile or so and look for an unsigned connector trail on the right. This path leads down to the ruins of the old Hot Springs Hotel (see Hot Springs Canyon description). Once at the bottom of the canyon, you’ll descend a fire road to a vehicle gate, then follow a footpath 0.5 mile around and through a residen¬tial area down to Mountain Drive. A mile’s walk returns you to the Cold Spring trailhead.

From the junction with the Hot Springs connector trail, Cold Spring Trail switchbacks up-canyon and offers fine coastal views. A one-mile climb brings you to two eucalyptus trees (about the only shade en route!) and another 0.75 mile of travel takes you to the unsigned junction with a side trail leading to Montecito Peak (3,214 feet). Enjoy the view!

Cold Spring Trail continues a last mile to Camino Cielo. From the Sky Road, many trails lead into the far reaches of the Santa Barbara backcountry.

Interested in more hikes in Santa Barbara? Check out my guide: HIKE Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara: Cachuma Lake

Column by Outdoor Editor John McKinney, aka The Trailmaster, follow on Facebook.

Sweetwater Trail: From Harvey Cove to Vista Point is 5 miles round trip

Cachuma Lake, besides storing an important part of Santa Barbara’s water supply, is a popular weekend destination for Southland anglers, campers, bird watchers and hikers.

The Trailmaster recommends that after you hit the trail, you board a boat. Cachuma Lake’s naturalist-led cruises explore the lake’s waterfowl and wildlife. Join a tour in winter and you’ll likely sight the migrating bald eagles that take up temporary residence at the lake.

While touring and hiking, you’ll be delighted by the great multitude of birds—the flocks of geese taking flight or the clouds of canvasbacks traveling in long, V-shaped formations. You’re almost certain to see the canvasback, a diving duck with a white back, rust-red head and long black bill. Likewise the bufflehead, one of the smallest diving ducks, a chubby white fellow with a black back that buzzes more like a fly than a bird.

The lake’s longest-legged resident is the great blue heron. Its long neck, regal bearing, great size and its habit of standing motionless for long periods on one leg makes it an easy photo target.

LakeCachumaEastEndCachuma Lake’s trail system is not extensive but does offer a unique perspective on the lake and its many species of waterfowl. Those bird watchers who hit the trail will glimpse numerous perching birds in the park’s oak woodland: acorn woodpeckers, Western bluebirds, goldfinches, juncos and lots of sparrows.

The lake’s Nature Center, headquartered in a 1930s ranch house, has displays about the ecology and history of the Santa Ynez Valley. Exhibits highlight birds, fish, local flora, and the native Chumash who once lived where the lake is today.

The park’s best trail is the Sweetwater, which meanders lakeside through an oak woodland to a vista point for a commanding panorama of Cachuma. Oak Canyon Trail, a nature trail, extends 0.75 mile from the Nature Center to the Sweetwater Trail.

From Highway 101 in Santa Barbara, exit on Highway 154 and drive 20 miles to the lake. Past the entry kiosk, turn left and follow the signs a half mile to Harvey Cove, where you’ll find parking for a dozen cars and signed Sweetwater Trail.

hike-SB-Cachuma-LakeTHE HIKE
The first one hundred yards of trail is a paved wheelchair-access route that leads to an oak-shaded picnic area and the Harvey Cove dock. From here, a dirt path follows the far side of the cove for 0.25 mile before angling left into a handsome oak woodland.

A bit more than a mile’s hike brings you to Sweetwater Cove, a tiny picnic area perched above the lake. The path joins a dirt road then, as it approaches Highway 154, resumes as a foot¬path that yo-yos up and down through oak forest before delivering you to Vista Point.

Enjoy the commanding view of Cachuma Lake, bordered on the south by the Santa Ynez Mountains, the north by the San Rafael range, then return the way you came. (click to enlarge map)

Interested in more hikes in Santa Barbara? Check out my guide: HIKE Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara’s More Mesa Offers Hiking and More

Column by Outdoor Editor John McKinney, aka The Trailmaster, follow on Facebook.

More Mesa offers more: a defacto nature preserve, great bird-watching, a network of walking-hiking trails and access to Santa Barbara’s most isolated beach. I’ve been hiking More Mesa for more than 30 years, and it’s been my great pleasure to share this hike in my guidebooks for nearly that long.

The More Mesa Preservation Coalition held a symposium recently to remind locals and conservationists statewide about the wonders of nature the mesa holds and the perils of development it could face.

220px-White-Tailed_KiteMore Mesa has a diversity of habitats and attracts an abundance of bird life. It’s known for its bird life, including 16 different species of raptors. The white-tailed s kite, marsh hawk and other raptors, are quite active over the mesa in their pursuit of prey. Rare birds include the northern harrier and short-eared owl.

This land has been threatened by development for decades. And it still is, though any development scheme faces vociferous opposition. Prominent Saudi developer Sheikh Khalid S. Al-Shobily purchased More Mesa in 2012, but has not announced any development plans.

The mesa was once part of Thomas More’s Rancho La Goleta, who bought it in 1857 and grazed cattle here. More noticed natural tar seeping from mesa cliffs, gathered it up and sold it to the city of San Francisco, where the asphaltum was used to pave city streets.

A mile-long walk up a residential street, across the bluffs, and down the cliffs on a combo stairs-pathway leads to a clean, mellow and sandy beach. More Mesa is a great walk without going down to the beach. The property is honeycombed with trails.

John-on-More-Mesa-coastal-bluffsI like hiking a 2.5-mile loop around mesa. If you’re new to More Mesa, I suggest taking a counter-clockwise route. Head for the stairs to the beach, then take the path extending up-coast along the oceanside edge of More Mesa. Choose from a narrow footpath at the very edge of the bluffs or a wider one paralleling and enjoy views of the Channel Islanda and of the UCSB campus a few miles to the west

The Trailmaster likes to walk the full length of the bluffs before turning inland near a line of homes and commercial nursery. (You can also follow the bluff trail to intersect other trails on your right that lead north toward the mountains and dip into oak-filled ravines.) Turn back east, along the inland edge of the mesa, continuing past a profusion of trails to close the loop and rejoin the main trail near the trailhead.

Directions to More Mesa: From upper State Street at its junction with Highway 154, continue west along State as it becomes Hollister 1.2 miles to Puente Drive. Turn left (south). Puente Drive bends west, undergoes a name change to Vieja Drive, and passes Mockingbird Lane on your left 0.7 mile from Hollister. Public parking is not permitted along Mockingbird Lane; you must park along Puente Drive/Vieja Drive and walk up the lane past gated residential streets to the gated entrance to More Mesa. (Or exit Highway 101 on Turnpike. Head south to Hollister and turn left. Drive a few blocks to Puente Drive and follow above directions.)
Interested in more hikes in Santa Barbara? Check out my guide: HIKE Santa Barbara

Satwiwa: Hike In the Steps of the Chumash

Column by Outdoor Editor John McKinney, aka The Trailmaster, follow on Facebook.
Satwiwa offers a chance to explore a place where Chumash walked for thousands of years before Europeans arrived on the scene. I hiked this little spread in the western Santa Monica Mountains recently just after reading “TIQSLO’W: The Making of a Modern Day Chief” (Amethyst Moon Publishing) by Mary Louise Contini Gordon.

It’s an “ethnographic biography” of a Native American Chief, better known as Charlie Cooke (1935-2013) and tells the story of an unassuming truck driver who devoted his life to preserving his Chumash heritage and sharing it with others. The author presents a lively and detailed account of Cooke’s activism and successful efforts to create a living museum, Satwiwa, to celebrate Native American Indian culture. Especially intriguing is the story of how Cooke, with limited schooling, acquired a deep knowledge of the history and ways of his people and shared it with others.

I remember taking Cooke’s guided walks at Satwiwa. Cooke showed how the Chumash ate the delectable purple pears from the prickly pear cactus without getting a mouth full of thorns. He explained how acorns were gathered, leached, ground into mush and prepared for cooking.

Rancho-SV-Satwiwa-lodgeHe pointed out the seeds, roots, bulbs, berries and black walnuts that made up the Chumash diet. Birds, deer and squirrels were caught year round. Fish and shellfish from Mugu Lagoon and from the Santa Barbara Channel also provided a major food source.

It was this abundant food supply that helped the Chumash become the largest Indian tribal group in California at the time of Cabrillo’s arrival in 1542. Chumash territory ranged from Topanga Canyon near the east end of the Santa Monica Mountains, all the way up the coast to San Luis Obispo, and out to the Channel Islands.

“A lot of visitors are really surprised to learn of the extent of Chumash settlement,” Cooke told me on a hike through Satwiwa. “And they’re even more surprised to meet a living Chumash.”

A visitor center and guest speakers help moderns learn the habits of birds and animals, the changes the seasons bring, and gain insight into the ceremonies that kept—and still keep—the Chumash bonded to the earth.

The name of this park site, Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa reflects its history as both a longtime (1870s-1970s) horse and cattle ranch and ancestral land of the Chumash. Satwiwa means “The Bluffs” and was the name of a Chumash settlement located at this end of the Santa Monica Mountains.

Rancho-SV-satwiwa-centerThe National Park Service prefers to call Satwiwa a culture center rather than a museum in order to keep the emphasis on living Native Americans. Satwiwa Native American Indian Culture Center is open Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is staffed by a Native American guest host or ranger ready to answer questions about culture, history or the nearby trail system.

The park service decided not to interpret the loop trail through Satwiwa with plant ID plaques and brochures; instead of the usual natural history lessons, it’s hoped that hikers will come away with a more spiritual experience of the land.

From the parking lot, Satwiwa Loop Trail is about 2 miles round trip with 200-foot elevation gain. If you’d like to extend the hike, I recommend hitting the trail to Big Sycamore Waterfall, 5.6 miles round trip or continuing along the From parking area, add 0.5 mile round trip to all hikes.

Directions: From Highway 101 in Newbury Park, exit on Wendy Drive and head south a short mile to Borchard Road. Turn right and travel 0.5 mile to Reino Road. Turn left and proceed 1.2 miles to Lynn Road, turn right and continue another 1.2 miles to the park entrance road (Via Goleta) on the south side of the road opposite the Dos Vienta housing development. The paved park road passes an equestrian parking area on the right and a small day use parking lot on the left before dead-ending at a large parking lot 0.7 miles from Lynn Road.

Photo Captions: Hike in the footsteps of the Chumash at Rancho Sierra Vista / Satwiwa in the Santa Monica Mountains. Satwiwa, the ancestral land of the Chumash, in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Learn about the Chumash and other tribes at the Satwiwa Native American Indian Culture Center.

Hiking Business

Column by Outdoor Editor John McKinney, aka The Trailmaster, (site and store here)

Like many of you, hiking is my passion. Probably unlike you, though, hiking is also my business.

JM-Montecito-BankI thought about the hiking business, most particularly my hiking business when my local bank called up to remind us that The Trailmaster Inc. was the “Business of the Month” for February. Would we please come over to the main branch of Montecito Bank & Trust on State Street in downtown Santa Barbara and set up a display about our business?

So off I went with Cheri, Mrs. Trailmaster, who, quick as you can say “Hike on,” threw a hiking-themed cloth over a table in the lobby, arranged an attractive display of our books, and popped up a poster that features hiking scenes, the Trailmaster logo and a tag line: “Publishing books that celebrate America’s most popular form of outdoor recreation—hiking!”

Books are a major part of The Trailmaster’s hiking business, which also includes public speaking, making videos and leading the occasional tour.

The Trailmaster has been banking with Montecito Bank & Trust for 20 years and it’s the kind of friendly, small town bank we like with friendly tellers and all the latest electronic banking methods. Of course anyone in the hiking business has just got to love the bank’s motto: “Pathways to Prosperity.”

The Trailmaster has definitely walked and written about a lot of pathways, though I’m still looking for the one that leads to Prosperity with a capital “P.” It’s difficult to have a conversation about the hiking business because almost no one believes me that I make a living telling people to “Take a hike!”

“So John, what do you do?”

“I’m a hiker.”

“Seriously, what’s your real job?”

If I had a pound of trail mix for every time I’ve been asked that question, I’d have a ton of the stuff by now.

The fact is, being a hiker is my job—and has been for more than three decades.

They say, “Do what you love and the money will follow.”

Uh, not always, but I still feel blessed to be able to share my passion with countless hikers and would-be hikers. I wouldn’t trade hiking for all the money in the world.

Answering “I’m a hiker” to one of society’s most fundamental questions provokes some interesting responses.

Some questioners suspect they’re being trifled with and stare right through me. Others figure I’m unemployed and my last employer told me to take a hike and I must have taken this edict literally.

I admit I sometimes choose to avoid this line of conversation and answer the what-do-you-do question with the gig of the moment: “I’m writing a book about hiking in California’s State Parks.” Or “I’m working with the County Fire Department to make a series of hiker safety videos.”

“I’m a hiker” is my most frequent response though, and the most honest one.

I am a hiker. By temperament. By orientation. By choice.

Hiking is my business.

And a whole lot more.

The Many Blessings of Saint Barbara

Column by Outdoor Editor John McKinney, aka The Trailmaster, (site and store here)

Saint-Barbara-iconSt. Barbara’s Day, December 4, is as good a day as any to give thanks for the many blessings of Saint Barbara and for the wonderful city on the California coast named for the martyred saint. I’ve been truly blessed to call Santa Barbara home for more than 30 years.

I moved here after grad school in 1981 and wrote my first hiking book. Not surprisingly, the cover picture of “Day Hiker’s Guide to Southern California” showed a trail on Figueroa Mountain in the Santa Barbara backcountry with two hikers—John McKinney (not yet The Trailmaster) and my cute friend Callie.

I’ve hiked all over the country since then, but there’s not place like home—especially if your home is in Santa Barbara. My home mountains, the Santa Ynez Mountains beckon with wonderful canyon trails and I try to take at least one or two of them a week at the very least. My home shores offer some wonderful beach walks, bluff-top rambles and coastal hikes.

It’s been a great pleasure walking about and writing about Santa Barbara coast and mountains, and taking hikes with friends and family. I particularly treasure the times my children, Sophia and Daniel, explored the local footpaths with their dad.

But I digress and let’s return to how Santa Barbara got its name. It seems when explorer Sebastian Vizcaino’s crewmen found their tiny ship tossed about by a nasty storm on the eve of Saint Barbara’s Day in 1602, they prayed for her to intervene and save them from a cruel death at sea. When the day dawned, and the ship found safe harbor, the grateful men named this coastal refuge for the saint.

Saint Barbara, whose father beheaded her after she embraced Christianity in defiance of his beliefs, symbolizes courage, faith and virtue to Christians all over the world. Mission Santa Barbara was consecrated on its present site on December 4, 1786, coinciding with the feast day of the martyred Saint Barbara. She’s particularly popular to this day worldwide with artillery divisions of the military and those who work with explosives from the Greek Army to the British Royal Artillery to the U.S. Marine Corps.

My church, Saint Barbara Greek Orthodox Church, located in the Santa Barbara foothills on San Antonio Road, holds a special service and celebration on the saint’s name day. After the service and the luncheon I like to continue the celebration with a little hike.

Thank you Saint Barbara, for the protection against thunder and lightning you’ve offered me when I’ve been caught by storms on trails far from home, and for watching over the city I call home.