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April 2011

The Old Pueblo Trail - Montecito

San Ysidro Trail 2

Clouds and fog jockey with the blue sky above us, and obscure the tips of  the Santa Ynez Mountains. 

We drive through Montecito and turn on to Park Lane.   At the end of the residential street, we find the San Ysidro Trail, and walk to the trailhead, in the company of other small groups of people who are beginning their hike. Kids yell and shout to each other, and run past us; their dogs join in the chase.   We step aside until they, and their parents, have all gone ahead.  The trail is quiet again, and all ours.  

At this period,  traveling through Alta California was over trails,  some of which were broad and well worn, but few of which attained to the dignity of roads - even after the introduction of the cumbersome ox carts....

Old Pueblo Trail 3

The trail is shaded, and lush with shrubs and vines.   We capture glimpses of sprawling homes, hidden among the shadows.  The path winds above the edge of the little creek.   Water tumbles below us, coursing over and around large boulders, an exuberant flume that rushes into swirls and eddys.  It pools in places, still and deep. Sycamores dip their lanky branches into the dark water.

Extending,  however, along the coast from Mission to Mission was one well-traveled highway known as the Camino Real, or Royal Highway,  which connected at San Diego with the system of Mission highways of Baja California known as the Gulfo Camino Sierra Camino, and Pacifico Camino.   All of these highways were constructed by the padres as a means of communication between the Missions, and over them a mounted mail carrier bore the dispatches from the City of Mexico.

Old Pueblo Trail 2

We ease off the main San Ysidro Trail to the narrower path marked, Old Pueblo Trail.  The trail is edged with a crazy, twisted fence.  The path bisects the backside of private gardens here, and tumbles with truckloads of blooming nastursiums. 

 The rough little trail is also embellished with the wild forms of Pride of Madera, large protea bushes, breath of heaven, jasmine vines, and other flora, interspursed among the native landscape. 

It's added a dash of caprice to the natural beauty, these purposeful touches - incongruous, certainly intentional. Beautiful.  We peek through the hedges and fences, hoping for glimpses of the garden.  We spy a huge aviary, full of chattering birds, that is bigger, by far, than either of our own apartments.

The Camino Real was the road over which Junipero Serra regularly traveled when he visited the Missions which he had established in Alta California, and in later years, it became the principal highway along the coast. It would be impossible,  now, to locate with absolute accuracy the course followed by the Camino Real throughout all its length.  In fact, for short stretches, the route traveled must have varied slightly with the seasons.

Old Pueblo Trail Hummingbird Sage

Soon, though, we hike above the lower gardens, until we are surrounded only by what nature has grown.  We skirt the base of the foothills at an elevation that allows for glimpses of the Montecito Valley, the Santa Barbara Mesa - we can even see a little passel of sailboats from here.   They look to us no bigger than grains of rice as they glide around, atop the slick bluegreen sea.

It was not concerned with government section lines nor neighbors' fences, but followed the course most convenient to travel from Mission to Mission.  In the immediate vicinity of Santa Barbara, it is not probable that it followed the beach westward from the eastern limits of the city, as in those day there would have been much difficulty during many months of the year in reaching either Mission or presidio from that direction...

View from Old Pueblo Trail

The trail is narrow, hard-packed earth.  It is embedded with small stones and the old, earthen imprints of horseshoes.  I had tried to find out more information before our walk today, but I could find nothing definitive about the age and origin of the trail.  I did find the except, included here, in a book written by Walter Hawley in 1920.  It is entitled The History of Santa Barbara, California.  

The plat which accompanies the patent of the Pueblo of Santa Barbara from the United States in 1860, represents Mission creek emptying into the estero which was then part of the lagoon. During heavy rains, the creek forced its way to the ocean and was difficult to cross, but after the heavy rains were over, the drifting beach sands barred the passage of the creek to the ocean, and the waters filled the estero...

Old Pueblo Trail 6

Walking this trail brought to mind his description of the original Camino Real. And,  whether or not this is the actual path he described, it bears the flavor of the original, certainly.  I imagine them here, the Chumash, the Spanish, Mexicans, and the early Europeans of this area, traveling from one pueblo, one village to the other, one mission to the next.

They would have wound slowly at the base of the foothills, beneath clouds and fog as we are now.  They hiked along the front country in hot autumn afternoons, and later made passage in cold winter winds.  

Along their journey, they would have stopped at a high point in the trail, like we are doing, to admire the curve of coastline, the distant rise of the islands, the ancient backbone of mountain behind us.

 Later in the year, when the creek ceased to flow in its lower stretches, the flowing springs of the De la Guerra Gardens fed the lake. Further eastward, the old racetrack recently bought by the city [Bird Refuge Lagoon - cb] was under water during winter,  and the overflow from it, as well as the waters from Sycamore Canyon, forced channels across the beach where the yielding sands would make crossing dangerous.

Old Pueblo Trail 5 

There are only a few other hikers out on the Old Pueblo Trail today.  But I can almost see those earlier hikers, travelers, soldiers, and families who walked here with horses and mules and dogs.

The camino was a supply line, a mail route, a social network.  They would have passed low, springtime waves of clover and thick patches of opuntia cactus, as we are today.  

The most direct route from Montecito to the Mission would have been to the north of the old racetrack and skirting the foothills, and during part of the year, it would have been the only practical route.  

~ Walter Agustus Hawley, The Early Days of Santa Barbara, California, 1920

I imagine them, those old-timers, picking the sweet red cactus fruit in the full summer sun.  I see them travel beneath the live oaks, spreading large and dark, even then.   This front-country trail is more than a path above the city - it's a direct route to the past.

Opuntia Patch 2


Downtown San Luis Obispo

SLO 10

The sun is almost overhead and the doves have scattered again.   We seek one of the shaded springs of which San Luis Obispo County has so many,  and eat our luncheon,  washing it down with cold spring water with such zest as only a crisp morning in the California hills can give.

After luncheon, we explore a bit and come across the ruins of an old adobe hacienda,  reminder of days of romance gone these fifty years.   From the hilltops ...we look out over a vast expanse of country,  a beautiful country hemmed in to the east by one range,  and to the west by another of the picturesque Coast Mountains.Intervening,  lie rounded hills and fertile valleys.   

Oaks are everywhere,  great spreading oaks,  where half a herd may seek shelter from a too friendlv sun.  There is plenty of color in the scene:  the rich brown of the upland,  the deep green of the thick-leafed oaks,  the brighter green of orchard and pasture,  and here and there,  some housetop peeps out from amid the trees.   This is not a bare,  desolate land  - every acre is rich in something.   Any season of the year in California gives to the lover of nature the freedom of out of doors, and today after luncheon,  some of our party indulge in a siesta,  spreading themselves comfortably in the shade while the others gathered, with wonderful views to examine....

~ Sunset, Vol 5, Southern Pacific Company, 1900

 

SLO 4

The little city of San Luis Obispo is situated in the midst of unique and beautiful countryside.  There is a decidedly NorCal flavor here - a refreshing contrast to the SoCal feel of Santa Barbara.

Situated along the coastline and extending well inland, San Luis Obispo County borders Santa Barbara County to the south, and Monterey County to the north.  

The Pacific waters along the coast have fostered a tight-knit commercial fishing community, and sport fishing is a favorite pastime, too.   Halibut, abalone, crab, lobster, shark, prawns,  red snapper,  cabezon and other varieties of seafood are available in season.  Lopez and Nacimiento, large inland lakes, offer freshwater fishing opportunities.  It's a great environment for the outdoorsman -fishing, hunting, hiking, surfing, horseback riding, off-roading, and other outdoor sports can be enjoyed almost any day of the year.

San Luis Obispo is also home to a deeply embedded ranching culture that began with the Spanish vaqueros who arrived here not long after Padre Serra.  This is where cattle is king, and you are sure to see more cowboys here than in the state of Texas.  If you want to experience a celebration the cowboy way, plan to visit the annual MidState Fair.  There are pro-rodeo events, livestock shows and sales, cowboy art, authentic local barbeque,and you'll meet lots of folks who actually wear spurs and chaps to work.

The  California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, is another important influence in this area.   "For 18 years in a row, Cal Poly has been rated the best public-master's university in the West by U.S. News & World Report, in its 2010 America 's Best Colleges guidebook."  Wow.  Cal Poly educates future superstars in the agricultural, architectural, business, and environmental fields who will soon  lead and change our world for the better.  Their influence in the county is everywhere, and they impart a decidedly collegiate flavor throughout.

So, you see - the San Luis Obispo community is a diverse and interesting one.

Recently, K&A invited me to go along  to spend the afternoon in San Luis Obispo.  We rolled up Highway 101, admiring  the hillsides covered with lush green waves of wild grasses and tall drifts of yellow mustard blooms.  The road also skirts the coastline much of the way; my mind drifted above the indigo water that reflected the bright vault of sky.  White puffs of downy clouds punctuated the scene aloft.  It was the perfect day to explore the town of San Luis Obispo.

SLO Mission

The community grew up around  Mission San Luis Obispo, the fifth of 21 missions built by the Spanish during their colonization of California in the late 1700s.  The San Luis Obispo Creek, dappled with the shade of sycamores other riparian lovin' trees, runs alongside the mission property, right through the middle of the downtown area.   There is a little recreational area along the creekbed.

The city is known as SLO, by those who love her.  

SLO Creek

The historic district of Downtown San Luis Obispo is a colorful, lively place full of stores, bars, restaurants, galleries and coffee shops.  The city streets that make up the downtown district, Higuera, Monterey, Marsh, Palm, Garden, Morro and the others, are surrounded by charming neighborhods where many of the Victorian, carpenter gothic, craftsman, and California cottages are beautifully maintained.  Many of them have old, flourishing gardens that were planted about 100 years ago.   Much of  the downtown area is canopied by large old trees that cast a deep, cooling shade over streets and sidewalks. 

Linnea's

SLO has dozens of restaurants downtown, serving everything from sandwiches, seafood, barbeque, and bakery goods, to Italian, Chinese, Thai and Mexican cuisine. Pubs and breweries are popular here, and are sprinkled throughout the area.  Linnaea's Cafe , a long-time favorite of locals, has a sunny little garden hidden from the street, the perfect place to meet for an afternoon latte, or enjoy a pastry and cup of tea on a warm summer evening.

Ah Louis SLO

 The residents of San Luis Obispo have preserved many of the architectural treasures from the earliest days of the city's history.   The Ah Louis building, once a general merchandise store, provided goods to the Chinese residents of SLO.  It is still located in what was once the heart of Chinatown in San Luis Obispo.

The Chinese came to this area originally as laborers on the Southern Pacific railroad project.   They built tracks along ocean cliffs, and bore immense tunnels through the coastal mountains for trains.   Other buildings in this part of town pay homage to the early Asian residents who helped to shape the future of California. 

In addition to the Chinese, in the 1800s SLO became home to many Swiss, Italian, Mexican, and Portuguese immigrants.  Descendants of those earlier residents still call this area home; their roots are deeply entwined in the ranching, fishing, and farming communities that are so important here.

SLO Chinatown Mural

The residents of San Luis Obispo favor a decidedly green, environmentally thoughtful attitude.  Everyone, from traditionally conservative Wrangler-wearing ranchers to patcholi-scented neo-hips agree - they want San Luis to retain its healthy, abundant natural environment.

EcoSlo, a local non-profit agency, oversees special projects like docent-led nature hikes, adopt-a-park and adopt-a-trail programs, beach clean up events, as well as educational opportunities and symposia.  Their aim is to encourage residents and businesses to maintain SLO as a sustainable, healthy, and vibrant place to live and work.

And for those who favor an alternative to traditional society that is maybe just a bit farther off from center field, the annual SLO Holistic Living Expo and UFO Festival has something to offer them, as well.  This event will introduce you to local psychics, shamen,  and UFOlogists.   In attendance will also be a number of holistic healers who offer  an eclectic selection of healing arts.  Many of them have offices in the downtown area, and offer massage, chiropractic, reiki, aura cleansing, acupuncture, and wu shu tai chi, and a variety of other practices.

SLO 6

 I made a new discovery on our most recent trip to downtown SLO.  I found The Growing Grounds Nursery.  Tucked away on a little strip of real estate between two tall buildings, the Growing Grounds has created a luxurious environment, where green and blooming things thrive.  I learned that the nursery and gift shop is sponsored by the Transitions - Mental Health Association of San Luis Obispo.  

The actual commercial nursery, Growing Grounds Farm , is located just outside of town.  It was started to assist those suffering with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or other major mental illnesses, and to help thembenefit from horticultural therapy.   The results of their hard work are on display - and are for sale - at this beautiful, colorful downtown shop.

SLO 7

You will find chubby succulents, flowering bedding plants and a great selection of vegetable starts, as well as houseplants in the downtown shop.  They have unusual gift items, cards, and souvenirs, as well as patio decor, pots and planters.  It's a must-see shop on your next trip to SLO town. (Located at 956 Chorro St / www.t-mha.org)

SLO 8

Then, as our afternoon lengthened, K & A led me toward their favorite store in town, their local game-lovin', comic-book-obsessin'  mecca: Captain Nemo Comics.

Captain Nemo SLO

Next door to Captain Nemo is Cheap Thrills, an old school record store that offers thousands of LPs, CDs, DVDs, and video games.  Nemo's and Cheap Thrills are local traditions, bringing the best of music, movies, comics and gaming to SLO since 1971.  I used to frequent the place when I was in high school, and brother, you can't get more old school than that.

Cheap Thrills SLO

San Luis Obispo is a great little city whose vibrant personality results from a blend of youthful energy mixed with deep ties to history and tradition.  It's a great place to live, and a most excellent vacation destination, as well. 

SLO 12If you haven't been SLOd recently, maybe the best way to see the town is to visit the Thursday night San Luis Obispo Farmers' Market.   Growers from the San Joaquin Valley come each week to bring their freshest seasonal favorites, and local farmers offer fruit, vegetables, flowers, grown right here.   You'll also be able to purchase fresh seafood, beef, lamb, eggs, and some of that great, summertime Cal Poly corn.  There are lots of street food vendors, as well as live music, kids' activities, and theatrics - whether planned or spontaneous.  The whole community comes out to spend one evening a week together, to revel in their great good fortune to live in this strong and beautiful community known as  SLO. 

SLO 11

To learn more about visiting San Luis Obispo, visit the San Luis Obispo website.