Winter Solstice Stroll at Ellwood Mesa

Winter Solstice Stroll at Ellwood Mesa title=
Santa Cruz Island visible off the shore of Ellwood Mesa.
Reads 6928

By Pat Fish

Winter Solstice and perfect bright climate (can't call it weather) beckoned to us to explore the shoreline and eucalyptus forests just North of UCSB.

We started out at the Ellwood School parking lot on the mountain side of Hollister Avenue, rode across the Mesa out to the cliff edge, proceeded South to check out the slough, then meandered back through eucalyptus groves and grass fields.

Five-ish miles in two-ish hours, just enough to stretch out the equines' legs and get us out in nature.

A section of the Ellwood Mesa has been set aside as a preserve for the Monarch Butterflies. Tragically, today we saw NONE. Here are photographs taken there in 2011:


We used to see branches so covered with the orange magnificence that you couldn't see the green leaves they clung to.

And with a certain irony, the news headlines today read:

But in the year 2020, when everything that could go wrong seems to be, this is just another insult to injury. And there being nothing we can do about it, we went for a ride and enjoyed the day.
The path out to the Mesa skirts the edge of the eucalyptus trees that have been badly damaged by the droughts of the last few years.

With no effort made to water them the trees are on the verge of collapse, and with them will go the habitat the Monarchs relied on.

Once on the Mesa, the view of the Islands and the sea. The oil platform still dots the channel, and several more run up the coast, despite it being a marine sanctuary.

Once upon a time we used to be able to go down the cliffs to the beach and ride, but the Snowy Plover preservation plan has quashed that. One member of our group grew up boarding her horse nearby and riding wild through these trails, down onto the beach, being a thoroughly wild thing. As we walked the civilized paths she regaled us with tales of naked escapades and drunken near-death exploits.

Nature abides, and how wonderful to be out from behind a computer and seeing landscape stretching away in space.

This is the wicked little sign that forbids equines and dogs from going on the beach. In an age where people want to rat out their neighbor for not wearing a mask, we dare not trespass. 

And these are the oil tanks that offshore oil used to be pumped in to.
But after several spills, they were abandoned and this area became part of a "wetland restoration" project to "mitigate" the careless use of the land.

When I was last here 4 years ago this was a native plant propagation lab, filled with plants that were being transplanted out into this landscape. Now it seems abandoned.

This used to be a lush golf course, filled with men in absurd bright plaid outfits and little golf carts whizzing around.

This is my photograph of this same area in 2011. It was actually quite lovely.

NOW it is a deserted waste of trampled dirt.

Airplanes constantly growling above add to the post-apocalyptic feel.

Equines forget nothing. Does Tobe remember this as lush grass and disturbing golf carts?


Signs forbid entry and call it a restoration, but it looks like a defeat.

We are forbidden entry, but I say it all looks like it could use a delivery of manure compost to mulch these dried up bushes.

Then we followed the road out to look at the slough.

I may be sounding uniquely cynical in this commentary, but I found the sight of masks on so many people dreadfully sad.         Here they are, out in the fresh air, walking or bicycling alone, wearing a mask as if they believed the magic Virus could drift on a breeze and kill them.

And then, there it was, the slough. Almost dried up. A tiny trickle of water ran in a stream down the center. For comparison, here is a photo I took from near this viewpoint in 2011:

Few egrets hunting today, in what I had always seen as a rich ecosystem teeming with life.

I felt like a ghost in my own life.

But we all know you can't go home again, so it was onward with today's trail ride, time to turn back toward the starting point.

Which involved navigating not one but two metal span bridges that made more noise with every hoof step than any equine would like to hear.

Somehow this plover monument that bears a passing resemblance to male human anatomy felt like a big f-you to anyone who wanted to run amok on the beach with their horse or dog, or have a lush golf course at the seaside. Of course our native with childhood memories was doubly aghast, as she wondered where buildings like the old golf course club house had gone.

Just dried caked mud now.

And crackerbox housing smashed densely together where once milkweed grew.

This is this field in 2011  

Ah, sweet Goleta, the formerly Good Land.

But before we left it was opportune to take some portraits of my trail companions, with Santa Cruz island as the backdrop.

Noe on Marcos


Maggie on Woodie

                                            Jamie on Mosca

                                           Deborah on Carbon

and I'm a bit of a blur on Tobe Mule so I will close with this photo of us down on the beach in 2016

and here we are
making memories every day.
As the world spins in a pandemic, 
and nothing can be taken for granted,
least of all the measure of our days.
Login to add Comments


Show Comments
a-1609013427 Dec 26, 2020 12:10 PM
Winter Solstice Stroll at Ellwood Mesa

I guess you haven't figured out, although they have, that the virus actually can "drift on a breeze and kill them".

Eas Dec 26, 2020 01:13 PM
Winter Solstice Stroll at Ellwood Mesa

I so appreciate Pat's pictures and commentary where we can hear and touch one another as people across the walls we've allowed to separate us. Our hospitals are too full of people without enough room, equipment, and
staff to care for them, mostly because of those who don't believe in masks, and all of us who don't understand that with so many lies, and so much hate and carelessness, even a well fitting mask worn at all times is not enough to protect without N100 and N95 masks and greater care than most creatures of habit know how to muster. To plant and care for trees, bring back the Monarchs, and nurture beauty, we are going to have to find ways to bring down these walls....

Ahchooo Dec 26, 2020 01:51 PM
Winter Solstice Stroll at Ellwood Mesa

I enjoyed the photos. As for masks, some people simply put them on when they leave the house, and aren’t bothered by them any more than they might be by shoes, a necktie, or a bra, which irritate some people but others take in stride.

helena Dec 26, 2020 02:33 PM
Winter Solstice Stroll at Ellwood Mesa

I find the sight of masks on so many people a sign of hope for the future, and am very grateful for the fact that they are doing what they can to protect me, my loved ones, my health care workers, and my community.

dukemunson Dec 26, 2020 05:44 PM
Winter Solstice Stroll at Ellwood Mesa

Wearing a Mask on an open air somewhat desolate hike (for most people) is quite silly. Yes Wear it in crowds and in indoors at stores/shopping (and if you are 80+ and/or immunocompromised) but seriously... silly comments on this post.

EMI Photo Dec 26, 2020 06:54 PM
Winter Solstice Stroll at Ellwood Mesa

Duke, I agree with you but the photo she made that comment on is not desolate, it is a relatively narrow road with lots of hikers and bikers passing each other in both directions. It's an appropriate place to wear a mask.

dukemunson Dec 26, 2020 07:04 PM
Winter Solstice Stroll at Ellwood Mesa

That road is much wider than 6’ and the horses and the walker are the only people on it. Wearing a mask on that road is silly. I’ve hiked and run it hundreds of times. Silly time/place to wear a mask...

dukemunson Dec 26, 2020 07:08 PM
Winter Solstice Stroll at Ellwood Mesa

The funny/sad thing is you actually think you are right...people on hikes in nature HAVE to wear masks!! Crazy crazy!!!

Ahchooo Dec 26, 2020 08:00 PM
Winter Solstice Stroll at Ellwood Mesa

Duke, you act as though wearing a mask when not strictly necessary is some crime against nature, akin to shackles and chains. Lots of us aren’t freaked out by masks and err on the side of safety, or even convenience. It’s no big deal! Why is it so important to you that other people not wear masks except when you deem it essential?

dukemunson Dec 26, 2020 08:18 PM
Winter Solstice Stroll at Ellwood Mesa

Shackles and chains? In the context of this post (and it’s comments) the sentiments were outrage that the writer was disappointed to see people in nature on a hike in masks. You can do what you want... but like the writer it’s sad (and against science logic and health) to wear a mask in nature on your own...

dukemunson Dec 26, 2020 08:21 PM
Winter Solstice Stroll at Ellwood Mesa

And you are right... it’s not a big deal! But it’s akin to wearing a helmet everywhere you go. We all agree and understand that helmets are great and save lives... but you don’t need them when you step off the motorcycle/bike! Take the mask on and take a deep breathe in nature. Suicides and overdoses are up exponentially this year... A bit of of nature and some nice deep unencumbered breaths might just help...

Ahchooo Dec 26, 2020 08:48 PM
Winter Solstice Stroll at Ellwood Mesa

Had the writer said “it was great to be out in the fresh air away from others, where masks weren’t needed,” we probably wouldn’t have commented. But Pat Fish, and you, make a point of judging mask wearers who are minding their own business and surely no threat to you. Talk about sad.

dukemunson Dec 27, 2020 08:11 AM
Winter Solstice Stroll at Ellwood Mesa

On a nature hike it’s silly to wear a mask... take it off and breathe!!! We live in a place where you can easily get out and distance... leave the mask in the pocket and enjoy all that we have to offer.

YELLOWFIN Dec 26, 2020 02:42 PM
Winter Solstice Stroll at Ellwood Mesa

I am glad to see people wearing masks. As an immunocompromised person, I find it comforting. In response to some comments about "the slough is dry where it used to be wet". No rain, no slough. It's dry because, no water coming down the mountain. In response to the comments about "appears to be abandoned". It's the end of the year, no water, plants are dormant. People are actively working on this area, you just don't see them now because it's "winter". In response to the "desolate area that used to be a thriving golf course", same comment. It's winter, everything has gone to seed. Just wait a month or two and the plants and guardians will be back. I appreciate all that they have done to return the area to a more native state from the artificial climate of the golf course. Thank you for not going down to the beach!

EastBeach Dec 26, 2020 03:25 PM
Winter Solstice Stroll at Ellwood Mesa

The North Campus Open Space has been impacted by the drought just as the Monarchs and eucalyptus grove have. In fact, NCOS has more or less never known anything but drought since it's inception. Last year when we had the fortune of rain, the open space showed glimpses of what it can be with regular rainfall - the wetlands partially filled with water and there were all sorts of waterfowl and other wildlife. I've been out there for decades and it was a cool sight to see.

EastBeach Dec 26, 2020 03:41 PM
Winter Solstice Stroll at Ellwood Mesa

Forgot to say ... the adjective "lush" was used three times to describe the old water-sucking "Swamp Meadows" golf course. Let's not forget there was a price to pay for that. But I do miss watching golfers on the dusty driving range trying to hit the guy in that caged cart as he drove around retrieving balls :)

Summertime Dec 26, 2020 04:12 PM
Winter Solstice Stroll at Ellwood Mesa

I was so enjoying your commentary and your pictures until you had to make a negative comment about people wearing masks - even in the fresh air - even outdoors. It's so important to wear a mask anytime you are outside your house. I stopped reading at that point....

AQUAHOLIC Dec 26, 2020 04:29 PM
Winter Solstice Stroll at Ellwood Mesa

One might easily imagine Pat was punking us with her sour, dystopian 'commentary' about some of our communities great open spaces. Feels like I've been visiting an entirely different place the past several decades. These are some of my favorite places to recreate. Once the North Campus Open Space gets some precipitation and has a chance to become established, it will be a haven for birds and wildlife (it already is). Perhaps some Monarchs will return too. A large swath of land returned to it's native state is a huge improvement over a Golf Course. Yes, the entire area is dry, where is it not dry in SoCal? Rain is in the forecast in the coming days... That's something to be happy about.

a-1609042211 Dec 26, 2020 08:10 PM
Winter Solstice Stroll at Ellwood Mesa

How many of us have met her? This seems not too out of line with what little I've experienced.

The monarchs will probably never come back though.

a-1609030956 Dec 26, 2020 05:02 PM
Winter Solstice Stroll at Ellwood Mesa

One of the great things about nature, is that it changes and adapts. I’m all for the new UCSB preserve instead of the old soggy golf course. Give it some time, and it will be beautiful. The birds already love it. More important than its beauty is that it will allow the wildlife some respite from human activity (and zooming golf carts).

Lucky 777 Dec 27, 2020 01:03 AM
Winter Solstice Stroll at Ellwood Mesa

Not to worry EdHatters, in future blogs I will return to my goal of making you all wish you were so fortunate as to own a mule and go adventuring in the front country. This day the landscape seemed ravaged and it made me sad, so I was a bit snarky. And If I believe, with DUKEMUNSON, that people out in nature ought to be getting the full benefit of oxygen, well, to each their own. I always wear a helmet when I ride, I use seatbelts, we make the choices for personal safety that each of us considers appropriate.

Bird Dec 27, 2020 08:07 AM
Winter Solstice Stroll at Ellwood Mesa

Thanks! I enjoy the photos - and also appreciate the commentary, although I may not agree with all the observations. It was very surprising to read the start-off one, that in the future there should be just photos, photographers EMI and AQuaholic! I love seeing what I have not before seen and reading observations I may not have thought of or agree with!

Hurrah for Edhat for encouraging (by allowing) differing points of view ... and why I subscribe and do not to the once-independent Independent or the News-Press or pay to belong to the “progressive” LWV-SB. It's getting rare to be able to hear or even read differing local voices.

Ant lion Dec 27, 2020 11:22 AM
Winter Solstice Stroll at Ellwood Mesa

Wearing a mask outside makes no sense whatsoever in most circumstances, but I often see people driving alone in their cars with masks on also. It is sad, and the vitriolic comments about those who don't wear a mask outside remind me that prohibition wasn't so long ago and was enforced by the same kind of small-minded busybodies.

a-1609106315 Dec 27, 2020 01:58 PM
Winter Solstice Stroll at Ellwood Mesa

Small-minded is not being able to figure out why someone might have a good reason to wear a mask while driving alone. They may have just come from some venue where a mask was necessary, and removing it before getting home and disinfecting it and hand washing just represents a chance to get infected. They may be transiting from one venue to another where masks are needed at both. Really, you mask-averse people are just showing how selfish, immature, and careless you are.

Basicinfo805 Dec 27, 2020 03:28 PM
Winter Solstice Stroll at Ellwood Mesa

Well, everyone's got an opinion. And that's probably good. I don't agree with most of what the author had to say. But the pics were cool. Did you guys pick up your mule poop? I'm sorry I couldn't resist. The concept of the land being desolate and so dry? well, cmon - should we water the heck out of it so it looks like the golf course? I don't think so. We live in a dry area. Just because it looked greener a couple years back when you rode doesn't mean wree spiralling downward! Seasons, cycles, right? The eucalyptus are of course non native, so hey...their time has probably expired. And let's not even get started on masks. I agree with a lot of the commenters, I wouldn't be wearing one outside on an open trail but why would we criticize others who do? I wouldn't.

Please Login or Register to comment on this.