Day 1: SETTLING FOR TRICKLES
It was about 7:35am when Julie and I left home. This was supposed to be a little Valentine’s Day getaway so we left Tahia home with grandma. We gave her sweet kisses while she was still sleepy, and then we were off.
Even though Julie and I felt that this was a needed getaway, I knew that this year was turning out to be yet another drought year despite the promising December. But following a dry January and a storm that really hit Northern California but pretty much scraped Southern California last weekend, I was resigned to doing the Seven Falls excursion not expecting waterfalls but hoping there would be some pools. Perhaps even that was wishful thinking though as I saw there were no trip reports since 2011, which was basically the last year that we had decent rainfall.
Anyways, the drive along the 101 was pretty smooth and uneventful (except for one guy who had almost run into us probably not checking his blind spot). In any case, we were spending most of the drive chatting about what the big trip of this year would be, and we were eyeing Spain and Morocco.
We were also noting just how far some of the local waterfalling excursions that we had done in the past really were. Paradise Falls was a familiar haunt, but we had done that one too many times. But Rose Valley Falls was quite a ways away as the Hwy 33 turnoff was well past the strawberry fields west of Camarillo. Indeed, we really went out of our way to check out that waterfall back then. But it had been years since we had last done that one, and we certainly weren’t going to do it on a dry year like this.
As we followed the coast due north on the 101, it didn’t take long before we entered the morning fog (it had been clear blue skies up to this point). Julie had to take a potty break, but one thing we noticed once we were within the Santa Barbara city limits, there didn’t seem to be those chain fast food restaurants by the road.
So eventually, we got off Mission St, which was on the way to Seven Falls, and we ultimately stumbled upon the Old Mission of Santa Barbara. It looked busy and there were cars parked all over the premises. So at 9:25am, we decided to make a stop here not realizing that we had stumbled onto one of the historic sights of Santa Barbara let alone Southern California.
While Julie was busy doing her business, I took the opportunity to take photos of the impressive Mission’s facade. The cars parked in front of it were hideous, but at least the fog was burning off and the sun was starting to bring out the orangish shades against the white exterior. The mountains in the background were also impressive backdrops.
Julie and I wondered if we should just tour this mission since we were already here, but a sign said that the tour of the cathedral was closed due to a mass that was in session. So we ultimately decided not to do it on this go around, but perhaps we might be able to check it out later while we were in SB.
At 9:45am, we were back in the car, then we continued driving on the curvy Mission St. We would eventually turn off at Tunnel Rd, and that was where we started to see a bunch of cars parked alongside the road behind the white lines. Indeed, parking was tight, and it was reminiscent of the parking situation at Sturtevant Falls. Except in this instance, there were residences all along this road. I’m sure the residents weren’t too keen to have strangers look for parking besides their properties.
Julie and I eventually managed to find parking at 10am. It was still quite a ways downhill from the end of the road (where there was a turnaround point right in front of the gate and water tank), but it could’ve been worse as it very easily could’ve been an even longer walk on Tunnel Rd just to get started.
As we were making our way uphill past the other parked cars and towards the end of Tunnel Rd, we couldn’t help but notice that we were the only folks decked out in hiking gear. Everyone else was in spandex or athletic gear (or shirtless in the case of some dudes). In any case, the hiking gear to shield us from the already hot sun beating down on us as we were hiking the mostly sun-exposed “trail.” Actually, the trail was more like a road that they don’t allow vehicles on anymore.
Throughout the beginning part of the walk, we could look out towards the ocean, which was reminiscent of some of the Malibu hikes, except in this case, the ocean seemed to be a bit further away. Eventually, we’d reach a point where the pavement ended near some signs. Quite a few folks were continuing straight ahead, but one lady told us that the falls was on the trail to our right.
So we actually followed that trail until we saw another pair of ladies heading back on that path (going in the opposite direction as us) at 10:40am. Julie had the presence of mind to ask them where Seven Falls was, and they said this trail led to some ridge, but not the falls.
She went on to say that we were supposed to follow the main trail then veer left where the trail forked, and then eventually the trail would descend towards Mission Creek. That creek was where the stream scramble would begin. She also went on to question whether there’d be any water in the creek, despite the rain from last weekend.
Anyways, we did as the lady said and followed the main trail, which ultimately led up to Inspiration Point. Apparently, most of the people we saw on the trail were headed up to Inspiration Point. I guess we were one of the few who were intending to go to the waterfalls, and that was probably as good an indicator as any about how dry the falls was gonna be.
Five minutes later, we kept left after another uphill stretch where the wider trail veered right, but we saw many other people keep left. At this point, the trail got narrower as it passed beneath a lot of trees with black bark, which was undoubtedly an indication that fire had swept through this place.
Ultimately, the path led us towards a gorge where we knew Mission Creek had to have been responsible for it. And about five minutes after the fork (about 10:50am now), we descended down to Mission Creek, which not surprisingly was not flowing. There was a pool here, however. So that gave me some hope that just maybe there might still be pools further upstream.
Julie was having doubts about stream scrambling, but given how dry the conditions were, I’m sure the stream scramble was now much easier than it would’ve been had we had to climb the waterfalls themselves. It was one of those catch-22s where the scrambling was easier, but with the endless summer, there would be no water. I’m sure if there was water, it would be more worthwhile to do this hike, but then it’d be harder to keep going.
In any case, after another 15 minutes of stream scrambling, passing by bare rock after bare rock (we really had to use our imaginations to see just how the water would’ve behaved that there been water, waterslides, and pools here), we then reached a multi-tiered section that appeared to be the so-called “Second Pool” of Seven Falls. Julie wanted this to be the turnaround point, but I had a feeling that there was still more to explore.
She felt that the effort wasn’t worth it given how dry things were, but I figured that since we were already here, we mind as well see how far up we can go before it was time to turn back.
So onwards we went, until another 15 minutes later, we spotted a pool fronting a couple of trickles staining the sandstone rock in two tiers. I guess this was as good as it was gonna get concerning the presence of the falls. That we had to settle for trickles like this was kind of pathetic, but at least we made it here and got something out of it instead of it being a complete waste of time.
Part of me wondered if there were still more sections of trickles and pools further upstream, but I think Julie had had enough of this excursion. She was looking forward to having lunch and touring Downtown Santa Barbara, which of all the years we had been to SB, we had never really explored that part of town.
And so we had ourselves a tangerine besides this trickle and pool, then we headed back downstream. As we were headed back, we saw a trio of young folks (probably college age) climbing up in the other direction. I guess they were the only other folks we had seen on this stream scramble. It looked like the guy leading the couple knew this area as he was sarcastically telling them, “Well, this is the Second Pool…” referring to the bone dry section with some potholes.
Julie and I hastily made our way back towards Tunnel Rd, where our car was parked, but we were enjoying the views of the ocean on the way back. It was such a beautiful day, but it was too bad that we were still in a multi-year drought. At least the Spanish-style homes perched on the hills nearby this trail gave us some idea of what going to Spain might very well be like. And as we were talking about where we should go this year, it really seemed like Spain (and Morocco) was the front runner (as much as I wanted to do Vietnam).
Given the drought, we were paying closer attention to the black-barked trees that we had seen near our trail. We looked at how close these trees were to the expensive homes around here, and we couldn’t help but wonder how scary it must’ve been to see such fires get close. I’m sure it would’ve been like the Malibu situation, where homes were built in very fire-prone areas, and I couldn’t help but wonder if these expensive homes backing Santa Barbara were in the same situation.
At 12:10pm, we were back at the gate, and now it was time to walk back down the residential road to get to our parked car. It wouldn’t be until another 10 minutes later when we finally managed to get back to the car. But we were quite relieved to see that our car was now under shade whereas it wasn’t when we initially got lucky finding parking here.
There were still folks going in the other direction, which kind of underscored just how popular the Inspiration Point hike was. I’d imagine it would be much busier had the Seven Falls been flowing, and I shuddered at the thought of finding parking under such chaotic conditions.
Anyways, we got back in the car and made our way back down the hill looking for downtown Santa Barbara. We’d ultimately find parking at about 12:55pm, and we definitely didn’t recall any of the happening State Street happenings on any of our previous visits to SB. So indeed, this stroll would be a first for us. But first things first, we still had to get some lunch.
As we were walking towards the southern end of downtown Santa Barbara, we ultimately stumbled upon this deep dish pizza place called Patxi’s. We learned that the pizza would be about a 45-minute wait, but we weren’t in much of a hurry. So we just chilled out and enjoyed each others’ company.
But when the deep dish pizza eventually came out, we were quite blown away by the quality of the pizza (it was some kind of spice panchetta that wasn’t even on the menu). We basically got it since the waitress recommended it. But we had to say that this was easily the best deep dish pizza we’d had (we’d tried Tony’s in Whittier before). Julie even went so far to say that it might even be better than Gino’s in Chicago.
Anyways, we left the restaurant fully stuffed, but we then went to some place called the Backyard Bowl, which was a dessert place that had a bunch of healthy superfoods in it. It seemed like Santa Barbara was full of these healthy-type places that only well-off people could afford, but we gave it a go, and we enjoyed it.
After that, we then slowly meandered about State Street, which was quite the happening place on this Sunday afternoon. We saw this ice cream place called McConnell’s which had a line, but given how stuffed we were, we wondered if we should do that place after dinner or even tomorrow before going home.
As we were making our stroll, we couldn’t help but notice how much the city of Santa Barbara did a really good job of making sure the place retained its Spanish charm. Even the chain places were forced to blend in instead of sticking out. And this Spanish theme that was persistent throughout our visit sure made it a slam dunk for us to just proceed forward with plans to do Spain (and Morocco) as the big trip for this year.
By 3:20pm, we finally made it back to our car. Then, we had to drive about 10 miles south to get to our accommodation in Carpinteria. Seeing that there was traffic in both directions, we knew that we would have to allocate a little more time for the drive back to downtown Santa Barbara for our 5:45pm dinner.
Eventually at 3:45pm, we checked into the Holiday Inn Express in Carpinteria, as we decided on this place to use some rewards points. That way, we would save about $200 on accommodation. We would get cleaned up and get dressed for our dinner, and by 5pm, we were back on the road.
There was a lot of traffic in downtown Santa Barbara, but since we had allocated quite a bit of time, we weren’t in too much of a hurry. Eventually at 5:35pm, we parked in Lot 7, which it was recommended that we should park to get to our restaurant. It turned out that we would be dining at Petit Valentin, which had a fixed price four-course dinner so there wouldn’t be much selection on this go around. But at least it was reasonably-priced at $25.50 per person.
We ultimately left that place pretty satisfied, but we didn’t have much room left McConnell’s. So we headed back to Carpinteria where we would spent the remainder of the evening celebrating our alone time together and getting rested for tomorrow…