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The Longest Mile
updated: Sep 17, 2011, 10:00 AM

By the Urban Hikers, Stacey Wright and Peter Hartmann

This week, one of us really didn't feel like hiking what we expected to be a ho- hum area of town. It was a foggy weekend morning and lounging in a warm bed seemed infinitely more appealing than hiking along Las Positas Road, but the OTHER urban hiker was insistent that we carry on in our quest to walk all 256 miles of public streets within the city Santa Barbara. And so, with a very bad attitude, the recalcitrant urban hiker agreed to get up and go. This is the hike we took.

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We parked on Flora Vista, across from Monroe School, and set out - heading toward Las Positas in the fog. Believing there would be precious few sights of interest along this hike, we began taking photos of anything that might be even remotely interesting. The foggy street and the moss in this tree were some of the "interesting" things we saw.

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The crabby urban hiker was still grousing about having to get out of bed for a foggy, boring hike. But when we hiked past a few California Poppies along the side of the road, it started to become obvious that this morning hike wasn't going to be all that bad. Here are a few of the lovely little flowers we saw during the course of our hike.

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At the corner of Cliff Drive and Las Positas, we saw a woman hawking her cut flowers. They were a lovely burst of color on that otherwise almost colorless morning.

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It seems to us that the intersection of Cliff Drive and Las Positas has been in a state of flux for a very long time. We can recall the days when the old turn lane made for very efficient travel from Cliff Drive onto Las Positas. There was no stoplight, no construction zone, and no confusion at all - just an intersection that functioned fairly well. Now, the intersection is a hodgepodge of "improvements". It's not just a City street, but also a State Highway.

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Los Positas is the Spanish for "little springs" or "little watering holes", and was aptly named in the 1800's. Because there was an abundance of fresh water in and around the Los Positas area (including the Mesa) in the late 1800‘s and into the mid-20th century, the region was prime agricultural land. The landscape consisted of farms large and small yielding a variety of crops. Beans were the main commercial crop grown on the Mesa in the early days, but there were also farmers raising a variety of other crops including corn, squash, barley and flax. Animals were also commercially raised in the area of our hike; usually pigs and goats. The largest farm in this area during the 1880‘s was located north of Cliff Drive between Las Positas and Flora Vista, at the present-day site of McKinley School. It was a 264-acre farm belonging to T. W. Moore.

In researching Las Positas, we found a few aerial photos showing the progression and development of the area of our hike. The most recent of these photos was taken in 1986; the earlier ones date from 1967 and1954; and earliest photo was taken in 1929.

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Turning onto Las Positas, we came across our first "posita" of the day, much to the delight of the irritable urban hiker. The little spring was so inspirational and so unexpected that the previously ill-tempered one suddenly became cheerful and inquisitive...and frankly, the virtuous one became a little smug. But alas, the urban hikers both became enthusiastically engaged in hiking what we came to embrace as a rich and varied neighborhood in our town. The magnificent trees, the hidden footpaths and even the rats' nests were exquisite.

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And since no description of Las Positas would be complete without mention of Elings Park and the tennis courts, we'll show them to you and tell you just a bit about these dandy public places. Elings Park is said to be the "largest privately funded park in America". Prior to 1965, it was the City Dump, and thereafter it became a park, due to the dedication and hard work of a number of localvisionaries. Originally a 97-acre park with few amenities, thanks to the incredible generosity of the Elings family and many others, today the park is a whopping 230 acres and has sports fields, a Veteran's memorial, public art, hiking, biking and horseback riding trails, picnic areas, playgrounds and remarkable party venues. Recently, Elings Park assumed responsibility for the management and maintenance of the tennis courts which have been part of Las Positas Park since 1972.

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As our hike continued, we ventured into a couple of the neighborhoods to cover territory and mark the streets off our map. We encountered some steep inclines, beautifully landscaped yards, creative gardening techniques, monochromatic motor vehicles, a significant amount of rust, and the city/county boundary.

Send this picture as a postcard

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Further down Las Positas we came to another "posita" that actually looked more like a swamp. We were pretty impressed and fascinated by this "little spring"...its color was remarkable, and the fact that we have obviously passed it hundreds of times without knowing it's there is also pretty cool. We took a second picture to show just how close to the road this lovely little pond sits.

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A ways down Las Positas we came to another little footpath leading off the road and walked up it to see what hidden treasure we might discover. We found two things of interest - one was the remains of an abandoned bridge that appears to have been on the main highway at some point in the past. Unfortunately, near the lovely old bridge there was a copious amount of trash consisting primarily of alcohol bottles and cans, abandoned household goods and garbage. It appeared that this location has served as a homeless encampment, but we saw no evidence that it's currently being used for that purpose. All that trash was really disheartening.

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A little more curiosity and adventure took us around the corner, and what we found was nothing short of surreal. It looked to be an old BMX or motocross track...someone or some group sure put a lot of work into creating this little playground, and we wondered if it's still in use today. Obviously at one point there used to be spectators at the track.

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Emerging from "the bush" we were delighted to see that the sun had broken through the fog. We never get tired of looking up at the mountains, and although the photo doesn't do justice to the scene and sunshine we enjoyed, we'll include it to round out our hike.

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And lastly, please indulge us in a little bit of editorializing. We have hiked a number of our city streets, and while many are "user friendly", others are not. Unfortunately, Las Positas is not a "user friendly" route. On the morning of our hike, we encountered a number of people on foot or bicycling, and it did not look safe or enjoyable. In several spots along our trek, we felt vulnerable and unsafe, and wondered why the road hasn't been upgraded to accommodate sidewalks or other safety features. Sure, there is a bike path, but with a speed limit of 55 miles an hour, it doesn't seem like it's the type of bike path a family or novice rider would feel comfortable using. Even veteran cyclists are probably not all that comfortable sharing the road with cars driving as fast as many do on the freeways. We realize that this part of Las Positas is primarily a thoroughfare connecting one area of town to another, but is it really necessary to post a speed limit of 55 miles per hour along this route? It seems to us that if our City Council really wants to see more pedestrians and fewer cars on the roads, they should make a few SIMPLE changes and make this beautiful route more pedestrian safe. Maybe they could put future bulb-outs on hold and instead improve this stretch of our city's roadway.

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As always, we encourage you to go out and explore our city, meet your neighbors, keep your eyes, ears and minds open to all that you encounter, and above all, expect the unexpected.

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

 COMMENT 215026 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-09-17 10:24 AM

Walking along las positas in the fog takes a special kind of urban hiker. The kind that can leap sideways when 2 tons of steel comes out of the fog at over 50 mph. Lol.

You guys are brave.


 COMMENT 215029 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-09-17 10:33 AM

This stretch of the city is challenging. I don't blame the "crabby" hiker. It's done though and happier trails!


 COMMENT 215030 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-09-17 10:34 AM

Those guys are gonna be bummed you posted their dirt jumps. But you should have taken the trail north of the jumps, you might have found the hobo camp where most of that trash probably originates. I wonder if anyone in the houses above knows people live on that hillside?


 COMMENT 215057 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-09-17 12:42 PM

Excellent piece, I grew up in the area and played on those bike jumps way back when, along with a few other little hidden tracks. They have been around in some form of repair and disrepair for as long as I remember (early 80's) and it's cool to see kids still using them. There is a hobo camp right there that does get real messy though.

Also, there is still a little freshwater spring near the Las Positas Veronica Springs intersection that few know about, which is where Veronica Springs gets it's name.


 COMMENT 215096P agree helpful negative off topic

2011-09-17 04:39 PM

Bike path through the canyon- OFF the main street- and a round about at Cliff and Las Positas. Seems like a no-brainer...

Thank you for the GREAT historic photos!! As always, your articles are well done and appreciated!


 COMMENT 215110 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-09-17 06:02 PM

Thank you urban hikers for another riveting segment.This is not a hike I plan on taking but am happy to know what is "around the bend". I love this town and I love the Urban Hikers!


 COMMENT 215157 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-09-18 08:10 AM

I lived in the Stonecreek Condos for about six years. About three years ago, early on a weekend morning, some scumbag still high on heroin from the night before nodded off while driving his Ford E350 van and mowed down a woman in her 60's who was training for a breast cancer walk. She was conscious at the scene but mangled pretty badly and died on the operating table at Cottage. This is a dangerous place to walk or bike.


 COMMENT 215165 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-09-18 08:34 AM

I think you mean Monroe school, not McKinley. (McKinley is the school across the street from City College.)


 MIELEMAI agree helpful negative off topic

2011-09-18 08:47 AM

Does anyone remember the abandoned football field that was alongside Las Positas before it became the Stonecreek condos? Does anyone know if it was tied to Las Positas Park?


 COMMENT 215189 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-09-18 09:40 AM

I used to live off of Flora Vista in the early 60s, and my brothers and I played in the old dump before it was a park. We found lots of interesting things! One of our neighbors had a go-cart, and he and the bros would tear around on the streets west of Flora Vista, before any of the homes were built. We moved from there in '65. Thanks for the trip to the past.


 COMMENT 215194 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-09-18 10:08 AM

I second the motion presented by poster 096P = This would be a great place for an off-road bike PATH through the canyon. It could connect Modoc Road, which is a popular bike route, with Hendry's Beach, a popular destination. Many people, myself included, would probably be a lot more tempted to bike to Hendry's rather than drive if such a bike path existed. The inherent danger, noise and pollution of biking along Las Positas is a definite deterrent to biking to the beach. Bike lanes (on the side of roads) are as dangerous as crosswalks.


 COMMENT 215217 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-09-18 11:48 AM

Walk or hike Las Positas? Are you nuts? I'm leery of going down that road by bicycle, never mind on foot. Thanks for the pedestrian perspective all the same... you guys are hard-core.


 COMMENT 215250 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-09-18 01:22 PM

The "bike path through the canyon" idea is great, and deserving of serious consideration. I fully support it. SB already has an abundance of 25 MPH speed limits on streets that would support 30-35 MPH limits. Las Positas has had a higher speed limit for well over 40 years in my recollection. I think we should leave well enough alone there. The traffic light at Portesuello Rd. was the only needed change I've observed since the 1960's.


 COMMENT 215297 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-09-18 04:00 PM

The football field was for YFL, Youth Football League. I doubt that it was abandoned, I believe that the property got bought to build the condos. We used to ride our horses past it on the way to Hendry's Beach.


 COMMENT 215344 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-09-18 07:12 PM

WOW!! What a flashback! I still live in Westwood hills above Monroe school (Where my 8 year old daughter attended Mrs Hepps class) That was back in 1975 When you could ride a dirt bike from Flora Vista over to the City Dump then go up to the Bell Tower on Campanil Hill. We then could go to the abandoned Wilcox Nursery and ride around the Banana trees and All the abanboned fruit trees and the famous "tree house" that over looked Hendrys Beach ". I have hiked the area below Portesuello and have seen that weird bridge that is an old reminder that there was an old road in the past that was not a State Highway! All these Urban Hikers Submissions should be combined into a book on the history of Santa Barbara much like Walter Thomkins " Neigborhoods of Santa Barbara" that were available at all the Real estate Companies back in the seventies and eighties!


 COMMENT 237975 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-12-04 07:49 AM

i'm on board with the slower speed on that stretch.

also really would appreciate a safe separate from the road run/bike path that has visibly (rather than surrounded by tall brush) so it is safe for lone female joggers.


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