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URBAN HIKE

Decade-old Detour
updated: Jul 23, 2011, 9:30 AM

by Stacey Wright & Peter Hartmann

This hike is one we decided to do "1-way", which required us to park one car near the 5-points intersection on the Eastside, and the other at the corner of Westmont Road and Westmont Road. Yep, that's right - we parked at the intersection of two roads with exactly the same name…definitely an Urban Hike first.

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We took this hike on a beautiful early Saturday morning, and walked all or part of the following streets, which lie within the boundary of the City of Santa Barbara: Westmont, Coyote (to Banana) and Sycamore Canyon. Along the way we discovered a sweet little memorial park, a housing development that suffered in the Tea Fire, serene & natural settings, a memorial horse/dog trough designed by George Washington Smith's number one assistant Lutah Maria Riggs, and best of all, we finally got to see what's happening behind the ROAD CLOSED sign that controls the Decade Detour.

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Up Westmont Road, sitting right at the border of Santa Barbara and Montecito is, among other things, Westmont College. Since the college is in the County, we won't tell you much more than the basics about this private, liberal arts Christian college: It was founded in 1937, and has an enrollment of approximately 1,300 students, 1,200 of whom live on a campus that encompasses 115 acres. The students come from 37 states and 12 different countries and study a wide range of liberal arts subjects, one of them being Astronomy - which brings us to the "show" portion of our "show and tell" about Westmont. From the city road above Westmont, we could look down upon the campus and see a few buildings, as well as an observatory, which houses a very impressive Keck telescope. We spied the observatory, which makes us feel…well very observant.

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But we digress…the road from which we spied the telescope is part of Las Barrancas, a housing development for Westmont faculty, staff and their families. This area has been devastated by three separate fires during these hikers' lifetimes; they are the Coyote Fire (1964); the Sycamore Fire (1977) and most recently, the Tea Fire (2008) which destroyed 14 of the 44 homes in the neighborhood. Luckily, there were no houses built in this particular development until the 1990's, but the earlier fires destroyed many nearby homes and disrupted the lives of so many… On the day of our hike many in this neighborhood were busy spreading wood chips on what appeared to be newly planted drought tolerant landscaping around their newly constructed homes. A memorial plaque commemorating the Dedication of the neighborhood in September 1996 - honoring Sharol Seimens, Silvio de Loreto, Larry Crandall, Gerd Jordano and David & Bette Eldred, and thanking the community for its support in making the housing project possible sits on a boulder near the side of Westmont Road.

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We noticed that most of the newly constructed homes have no eaves, and we guessed that's because if another fire tears through the neighborhood it would be easier to defend the more fire-resistant homes. We also noticed the birds appear to enjoy the view out to sea as much as we did!

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The children of this neighborhood enjoy a charming little memorial park and playground, complete with frogs and a multi-story play house…the view from inside the playhouse is spectacular…we would have stuck around and enjoyed the solitude of the park a bit longer, but we came empty-handed, and we had a hike to take. The next time we visit this neighborhood we're bringing our picnic basket and a blanket and we'll be hanging out a while longer at Smelley Park, which was dedicated in memory of Alyssa Smelly, the daughter of a Westmont coach, who passed on in 2006 at the age of 15.

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In order to cover every last inch of the City Limits of Santa Barbara, your intrepid hikers walked down the entrance road to Westmont College, which is just off Westmont Road. When we got to the gate, we knew that we had come to what would be the first of our City/County boundary lines on this little hike…On the other side of this locked gate is Montecito…

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As we looked around near the gate, it didn't look a bit like we were in the "City" but indeed we were. We noticed a lot of natural-looking vegetation all around …

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We backtracked up the entrance road and began our very scenic descent from the upper elevation of Westmont Roads to Sycamore Canyon. Sycamore Canyon is one of those roads that run through both the City and the County. In our quest to cover all City territory, once we arrived at the bottom of Westmont Road, we made a left and headed toward Montecito. It was not far up that part of Sycamore Canyon that we came to the end of the line, so to speak. It was marked by a very mundane survey marker, but since it marked the second of our three boundary lines on this hike, we felt obliged to capture it with a photo.

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Backtracking on Sycamore Canyon, we headed west until we came to Coyote Road. At the corner of Sycamore Canyon and Coyote, we saw a boulder catcher that looks like its trapped a few hum-dingers over the years…it's not everyday that you get to see something this cool on a "city walk". And then there is a warning sign to all who enter…

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Talking a right at Coyote Road, we knew that most of Coyote Road lies within the County limits, so we didn't worry or complain too much about the incline we had to make heading up Coyote Road to Banana Road. It was there that we came to our third and final boundary marker of the day…plus a sign that we just plain liked.

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At the City/County line we turned ourselves around and headed right back down Coyote Road to Sycamore Canyon and into town. Once at Sycamore Canyon, we hung a left and knew that the remainder of our morning hike would be a straight shot down the hill, ending at our car on the lower Eastside. The sights were simply beautiful…

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Before we arrived at the road closure and detour signs, we passed a gate that looked like a door. We thought it was pretty unique.

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Approaching the intersection of Sycamore Canyon and Stanwood Drive, we came upon the familiar and frustrating signage that has told travelers they need to go around. For just about a decade, Sycamore Canyon Road, once an extremely efficient way into and out of town, has been closed to through traffic. The closures have been due to a series of landslides in the area, the last of which occurred in January 2006.

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Also at that intersection is a lovely little memorial to Jack. Dedicated in 1926, "Jack's Trough" officially known as Courtney Fountain, was a tribute by Mrs. Geoffrey Stuart Courtney to her beloved horse. The fountain was designed by Lutah Maria Riggs, an assistant to George Washington Smith (and who along with G.W. Smith happens to be a favorite architect of the Urban Hikers). The fountain was designated as a City Landmark in 1983, and although it's in a state that's less than perfect, it's still wonderful to come upon. Perhaps there's someone out in Edhatland who could see about restoring it to a functional wayside fountain for horses and dogs...And if only a rare animal comes by to refresh itself, who care? It's still a magnificent little memorial.

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As we passed into the area of town that so many have avoided for so many years, we weren't sure what to expect. What we found was a big sign for the Sycamore Ranchito Landslide Repair Project, which indicates, among other things, that the work permits are issued by the County. We were fascinated this, and realized that while the road is in the City, the hillside is in the County. Talk about splitting hairs!

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And then we came upon a scene that ‘splained it all. There is A LOT of work going on in that project. There was a lot of equipment, a lot of dirt, a lot of concrete, a lot of rebar, and as it appears, a lot still to be done.

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We have subsequently learned that there have been years and years of contentious law suits and legal wranglings associated with the landslides in this area, and with the current project in particular. An almost $80 million settlement with Caltrans has helped finance the project, but from what we've discovered, almost nobody seems to be happy with what has been billed as the largest settlement in the history of SB County... We can only hope for those involved that by the time the road re-opens to traffic, all the bickering will come to an end.

At the opposite end of the construction site, the road and neighborhood return to a rural, rustic atmosphere, making this trek a unique pleasure. The last of the interesting sights we came across before arriving at 5-points were, an old fashioned ranch sign and a very active beehive in the trunk of an ancient tree - sadly the bees are hard to see in the photo. We didn't want to approach the hive too closely, and weren't equipped with a more powerful lens, but from where we stood we could see a bunch of very busy bees.

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Plus, a couple of power poles that were impressive in their size, and a little hovel that looked like perhaps someone had made a little home sweet home.

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Arriving at the intersection we all know as "5-points", we were quite satisfied with our adventure. Given that we had embarked on a 1-way hike, we needed to drive back up to Westmont Roads to retrieve one of the cars - but the inconvenience of having to do so was minimal in light of the interesting and varied things we saw, heard and experienced on our delightful Saturday hike.

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As always we encourage you to go out on foot and explore our great community, to discover new and wonderful things and above all to keep your eyes, ears and minds open in your travels.

Comments in order of when they were received | (reverse order)

 MACPUZL agree helpful negative off topic

2011-07-23 01:08 PM

The Westmont Observatory really is better at night - specifically on the third Friday of each month, when it's open free to the public for observing, weather permitting. Watch the Edhat Events calendar.

 

 COMMENT 195782 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-07-23 02:45 PM

Cool playhouse. Thanks for showing us a behind the scenes on Sycamore Cyn. I always wondered what was going on down there, but never got around to checking it out myself.

 

 COMMENT 195882 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-07-24 07:51 AM

I used to live in a hovel alongside that landslide. Glad I don't any more. Way too much rent for substandard living conditions

 

 SB FAN agree helpful negative off topic

2011-07-24 08:29 AM

As always I thoroughly enjoyed the Urban Hikers description and pictures of their trek through town. Thanks!

 

 COMMENT 195904P agree helpful negative off topic

2011-07-24 08:49 AM

Fabulous. Thanks so much!

 

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