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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.

Hike the Santa Ynez Valley

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

Hike the Santa Ynez Valley Wine Country and enjoy a couple of short trails that lead from tasting room to tasting room. Located near the little town of Los Olivos, the “Foxen Canyon Wine Trail” offers a tour from winery to winery along Foxen Canyon Road. The tour is for motorists (and some cyclists) but I’m happy to report there’s also a hiking trail to take in Foxen Canyon.

Unwind, uncork, and take a hike in the Santa Barbara wine country.
Unwind, uncork, and take a hike in the Santa Barbara wine country.

Perched atop a commanding mesa overlooking Zaca Canyon, the Santa Ynez Valley and the wilderness beyond, Firestone Vineyard is the oldest (established in 1972) estate winery in Santa Barbara County. The large (by valley standards) winery produces acclaimed Merlots, Chardonnays and Rieslings. And it boasts the first and only hiking trail, too,

During the 1990s, winery founder Brooks Firestone represented the county in the State Assembly for a few terms, before returning to expand the family business. From the earliest days of wine touring in the Santa Ynez Valley, Firestone Vineyard has been a major player and must-stop.

Hikers were pleased when Firestone constructed “Brooks’ Trail” around the vineyard. The pleasant pathway connects Firestone Vineyard with the former Curtis Winery tasting room, recently taken over by Andrew Murray Vineyards.

Andrew Murray wines are much admired, particularly for fine Rhône varieties, and it’s probably a safe bet that The Trailmaster is the one and only person who associates Andrew Murray wines with hiking. Let me explain:

Mountain and (Santa Ynez) Valley vistas are highlights of Brooks’ Trail.

A decade ago, when I was leading hiking tours of Santa Barbara for an upscale walking vacation company, Andrew Murray Vineyards was quite hospitable to our hiking groups. Andrew’s Mom (Fran Murray) was active with a wonderful group, the Santa Ynez Valley Women Hikers, and she and Andrew gave us permission to walk their property and then arranged a post-hike wine tasting. A couple times, Andrew himself did the pour and proudly explained where he wanted to go with the family business. For some of the hikers on my tour, it was the highlight of the week!

So here’s a toast to the Murrays, winemakers and hikers.

If you have a designated driver (always a good idea if you’re on a tasting tour), you can make this an even easier 1.2 mile one-way hike (mostly downhill) from Firestone to Curtis.

Plan your hike for a time when Firestone Vineyard’s tasting room is open, usually 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. daily. The main gain is open a little before and after these hours.

For a little more wine country hiking, pay a visit to Zaca Mesa Winery, which occupies a scenic plateau overlooking Foxen Canyon. The winery offers tastings and two short trails, which look a bit neglected these days. Windmill Trail (0.25 mile) climbs to a picnic area then up to a little overlook. Z Trail (0.25 mile) also climbs to an overlook (a popular promontory for exchanging wedding vows). The path winds among the region’s two kinds of oaks—coastal live and valley—helpfully identified by signs en route.

It’s uphill back to Firestone Winery but it’s an easy ascent, even after a bit of wine-tasting.
It’s uphill back to Firestone Winery but it’s an easy ascent, even after a bit of wine-tasting.

If you’re fantasizing about hiking across the valley from winery to winery and stopping at each tasting room along the trail, you’re going to be disappointed. Sauntering through vineyards in the valley is just not possible or encouraged like it is in Provence and Tuscany. We hikers are grateful to Firestone and Andrew Murray for this small sampling of Santa Ynez Valley wine-country trails, but the valley is so beautiful and enticing, we’re left thirsting for more.

The signed path begins by the picnic area, located just below the Firestone tasting room. Valley vistas are superb from the start of the trail. The trail descends to the vineyard, skirts rows and rows of grapes, and soon crosses the vineyard’s paved entry road.

Brooks Trail climbs a bit, then contours along oak-dotted slopes. Enjoy grand views of Foxen Canyon and the greater wine country. The sights and sounds of cars traveling Foxen Canyon and the rise and dip of active oil rigs amidst the rows of grape are also part of the valley scene. The path descends to Andrew Murray Winery and Visitor Center, where there are grassy picnic grounds under the shade of ancient oaks.

Directions: From Highway 101, some 45 miles north of Santa Barbara, exit on State Highway 154 (San Marcos Pass Rd.) and head east 2.5 miles to Foxen Canyon Road. Turn left and follow the winding road 4.4 miles to a junction with Zaca Station Road. Firestone Vineyard is located 0.7 mile south on Zaca Station Road. Curtis Winery is just west on the continuation of Foxen Canyon Road.

The most direct route to Firestone Vineyard is to exit Highway 101 on Zaca Station Road and proceed 2.5 miles northeast.

San Rafael Wilderness, America’s First

By John McKinney, Outdoor Editor. Follow the Trailmaster on Facebook.

The Wilderness Act celebrated its 50th anniversary on September 3, 2014, and my first thoughts are with the first Wilderness set aside by this amazing piece of legislation: the San Rafael Wilderness.

Interpretive sign near Manzana Creek describes the 25th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act of 1964. Time to celebrate the 50th anniversary with a new sign!
Interpretive sign near Manzana Creek describes the 25th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act of 1964. Time to celebrate the 50th anniversary with a new sign!

The San Rafael Wilderness also happens to be the one closest to my home. It’s about 16 miles as the condor flies from downtown Santa Barbara to the southern boundary of the San Rafael and about 25 miles to NIRA Campground, a popular trailhead for hikes into the wilderness. The Wilderness Act first protected some 9 million acres of America’s wild lands as official Wilderness. Many more wondrous wild lands have been added to the national wilderness system, and today about 110 million acres of mountains, desert, forest and seashore are part of the nation’s natural heritage.

The 197,380-acre wilderness includes two parallel mountain ranges, the San Rafael Mountains and Sierra Madre Mountains and two major waterways, the Sisquoc River and Manzana Creek, which eventually merge and flow into the ocean near Santa Maria.

Hit the trail into the San Rafael Wilderness (one of America’s first designated wilderness areas), located in Los Padres National Forest about 25 miles as the condor flies from Santa Barbara, California.
Hit the trail into the San Rafael Wilderness (one of America’s first designated wilderness areas), located in Los Padres National Forest about 25 miles as the condor flies from Santa Barbara, California.

The hiking along Manazana Creek is pretty mellow—a good day hike or fine family weekend backpack adventure. For something more challenging, hike along Hurricane Deck, a rugged 15-mile long sandstone ridge that divides the drainages of Manzana Creek and the Siquoc River.

“San Rafael is rocky, rugged, wooded and lonely,” President Lyndon B. Johnson remarked when he signed the San Rafael Wilderness bill on March 21, 1968. “I believe it will enrich the spirit of America.”

Certainly Santa Barbarans—at least those who’ve explored the Los Padres National Forest backcountry—have been enriched by our nearby wilderness.

Fortunate is he or she who has camped along the Manzana River, hiked the awesome and austere Hurricane Deck and sighted a condor soaring high over the oak-dotted potreros and chaparral.

It is altogether fitting that we give thanks for wilderness, refuges for Nature primeval and places that uplift the human spirit.

Coast Walks in Santa Barbara

Coast-Walks-SB-coverSanta Barbara View’s outdoor editor John McKinney, aka the Trailmaster, has released a new book in time for the holidays titled, COAST WALKS: Santa Barbara; Best Beach Walks and Coastal Hikes.

“These are my home shores and I’m delighted to share my favorite beach walks, bluff-top rambles and coastal hikes,” says John in his blog about the new book. “COAST WALKS: Santa Barbara is a collection of time-tested classic walks long enjoyed by my family, friends and fellow Santa Barbarans, as well as newer adventures worthy of your time and attention.

Santa Barbara County offers miles of pleasant sand beach with the ocean and islands on one side and the mountains on the other. Many of the county’s beaches are lined by narrow coastal terraces that have the effect of protecting them from the hustle and bustle of modern life. Continue reading…

National Lands: Twelve Kinds of Public Land You Can Hike (Except when the U.S.Government Shuts Down)

By John McKinney, Outdoor Editor. Follow the Trailmaster on Facebook.

Everyone knows of the nation’s crown jewels—America’s national parks. And it’s the national parks and the disappointment of people from across the nation and around the world who can’t visit them because of the government shut-down that’s made the news.

Few of us–hikers or not–realize that America boasts a dozen more national lands, some under the stewardship of the National Park Service and others under the jurisdiction of other federal land use agencies. Here’s a quick reference guide for the hiker.

National Conservation Area: Similar to National Monument status; applies solely to BLM lands. Granted only by Congress. Individual site determines allowable recreational activities.

National Forest or Grassland Land managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and may allow a wide variety of activities including logging, mining, and oil and gas drilling, as well as trail activities, hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, and OHV use.

Juan Bautista De Anza Historic Trail helps visitors follow in the footsteps of California’s early explorers and settlers.
Juan Bautista De Anza Historic Trail helps visitors follow in the footsteps of California’s early explorers and settlers.

National Historic Trail (NHT) Federally designated extended trails, which closely follow original routes of nationally significant travel (explorers, emigrants, traders, military, etc.). NHTs do not have to be continuous, can be less than 100 miles in length, and can include land and water segments. The Iditarod, the Lewis and Clark, the Mormon Pioneer, and the Oregon trails were the first to be designated as NHTs in 1978.

National Monument Federal areas of unique ecological, geological, historic, prehistoric, cultural, or scientific interest. Traditionally used for historic structures or landmarks on government land; more recently used to grant national park-like status to tracts of western land. Designated by Congress or the president. Individual site determines allowable recreational activities.

National Park Managed by the National Park Service primarily to protect resources and recreation opportunities. Some allow grazing, but do not allow hunting, mining, or other extractive uses. Continue reading…

Happy Birthday to the National Park Service: Celebrating its Past, Contemplating its Future

By John McKinney, Outdoor Editor. Follow the Trailmaster on Facebook.

Happy Birthday to the National Park Service, which is its 97th birthday today, and is beginning to ramp-up for a really big, all-year celebration when it turns 100 in 2016.

Channel Islands National Park encompasses five remarkable islands

There is much to celebrate about the National Park Service and the natural and cultural treasures in its charge. To help my fellow hikers celebrate, appreciate and just plain enjoy our national parks, I’ve launched the “National Park Hike of the Week.” Each week, from now through 2016, The Trailmaster will post a description of a favorite hike in a national park.

While we’re celebrating our parks by taking a hike or exploring them in other ways, it’s important we do a bit of contemplating them as well. I have strong feelings about the future of our national parks and the way we view them—gained from three decades of hiking about, and writing about dozens of them, from Death Valley to Acadia, and from Yosemite to Everglades.

I can affirm that our national parks as a whole need many and major infrastructure repairs and upgrades. National parks need roadwork, bridgework, ecological restoration and improved visitor facilities. The backlog of deferred maintenance is both obvious and appalling and speaks of decades of under-funding.

Continue reading…

Big Trees, Blessed Moments in California State Parks

By John McKinney, Outdoor Editor. Follow the Trailmaster on Facebook.

On the last stop of our 20-park tour, on the last mile of our last hike of the trip, deep in the dark forest of Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, my son Daniel spots it and plucks it.

“A four-leaf clover,” he announces in a surprisingly quiet voice. There is something about the cathedral nature of a redwood grove that causes us—even boisterous teens—to speak in hushed tones. “It’s my lucky day.”

Indeed, the four-leaf clover has just got to be the world’s most recognized good luck symbol.

Daniel, a boy lucky enough to find a four-leaf redwood sorrel and to visit more than 200 California State Parks.

“Daniel, you are lucky,” I affirm. “How did you manage to spot a four-leaf one in the middle of all this?”

“After you’ve been hiking around the giant redwoods a lot and looking up, up, up, after a while you start looking down at the ground and you notice things.”

Like a four-leaf sorrel.

Daniel is not the least bit disheartened and, in fact, is delighted to learn that his four-leaf clover is actually a rare four-leaf redwood sorrel, a California perennial that usually has three shamrock-shaped leaves. Redwood sorrel grows in thick mats of green carpet right up to the bases of the towering trees and definitely adds to the magic of the redwood forest.

Daniel wonders at the odds of finding one. I tell him I seem to remember from one of those St. Patrick’s Day news reports that a mutation of the shamrock (a three-leaf clover), happens in about 1 in 10,000 shamrocks. I’d guess the odds are about the same for redwood sorrel: perhaps 1 in 10,000 sorrels is a 4-leaf one, too.

A rare four-leaf redwood sorrel; more typically is has three shamrock-shaped leaves.

We briefly kick around the science of this, whether the rare fourth leaflet is caused by a possible recessive gene appearing at low frequency, but our discussion soon stalls because it’s been way too many years since high school Biology for me to remember much and because for Daniel this academic discussion is a downer, a reminder that summer is almost over and he’ll soon be back in the classroom.

“Time to make a wish,” I say, bringing us back from botany to the magic of the moment.

Continue reading…

On the Trail to Good Health in Santa Barbara

He loves nature and the great outdoors, likes to camp and…smokes like a fiend.

Or did.

Eric Larson quit smoking after 39 years and is back on the trail to good health.

What a pleasure–and surprise–to recently run into my longtime friend Eric Larson hiking in the Santa Barbara foothills. I DIDN’T ask, “What are YOU doing here?” But Eric must have known I was wondering how he hiked nearly three miles up San Roque Trail to a scenic vista point, because shortly after we greeted each other, he explained his new passion for hiking.

I got a nasty, lingering cold and cough in February,” he began. “I took that as an opportunity to stop smoking.”

“Just like that?” I asked.

“Just like that. I’d smoked for 39 years. First couple days were hard, but now I’m OK.”

I was shocked. We all know how hard it is to quit smoking. Especially after 39 years!

“Eric, that is awesome!”

Eric told me more of his story as we descended from Inspiration Point and hiked along San Roque Creek. It seems Eric, a book designer, did like to get out of the office and take a hike, and more than occasionally, during those many years when he was smoking. It was a challenge getting back to the trailhead to get a smoke; once in while he even succumbed to the urge and climbed up into some rocks to smoke a cigarette, understandably nervous about the potential fire danger in the highly flammable Southern California backcountry.

Now he literally and figuratively breathes easier on the trail. And the sage and fennel that perfumes the air along Santa Barbara’s front country trails in spring smells mighty good.

“You on any meds, anything to counter the urge to smoke?” I ask.

“Just this.” Eric drops a piece of candy in my hand and pops one in his mouth. “Hikers like them too.”

He laughs when I pucker up.

“Salty licorice?” I question, resisting the urge to spit it out.

“Salmiak, very popular in Finland and northern Europe,” Eric explains. “Ammonium chloride gives the licorice an astringent salty taste.”

An acquired taste to be sure. Maybe there are more hikers than I imagined trying to give up smoking and they find salmiak the perfect trail trail treat.

Never mind that, it’s great to see my friend smiling, arms swinging, lungs filling with fresh air.

“Eric, congratulations,” I say when we get back to the trailhead. “Not many people can quit smoking after 39 years and take off hiking.”

“One day at a time,” he says. “One hike at a time.”

John McKinney’s new books include HIKE Santa Barbara and HIKE for Health & Fitness, available at Chaucer’s and online from The Trailmaster Store, CLICK HERE.