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Outdoors

Dan McCaslin: Take a Hike-Bike on Forbush Trail via Blue Canyon

Grueling 6-mile day hike is a terrific workout that offers an immersion into relative silence

A blue boulder in its namesake Blue Canyon past Forbush Flat Camp.
A blue boulder in its namesake Blue Canyon past Forbush Flat Camp. (Dan McCaslin / Noozhawk photo)

If you’re feeling bold despite being rather old, you lunge at the chance for a grueling six-mile day hike in beautiful Blue Canyon past Forbush Flat Camp and back up to East Camino Cielo (for biking return).

From the prominent concrete water tower there, you can retrieve the bike you stashed earlier in the day, and then ride five miles east along scenic East Camino Cielo down to the dirt road continuation called the Romero-Camuesa Road to your parked vehicle. (See 4.1.1. for driving directions.)

This demanding day hike begins exactly like the wandering described in my last column, the Upper Santa Ynez River trek via Blue and Cottam Camps.

You originally park your car in the same place on the Romero-Camuesa Road, but on this trip you and your colleague hide your old bikes en route near the water tower close to Montecito Peak.

Plenty of hikers park there, and on a Sunday in early February, we saw eight cars at the tower.

Two special advantages come with this second Wanderung in Blue Canyon. It’s a terrific workout and mostly uphill, which means this walking is absolutely enhancing your creativity (see below).

And the entire mini-epic, including driving to and from Skofield Park in Santa Barbara, can take just 6½ hours.

Blue Canyon Camp with table and ice can stoves. Click to view larger
Blue Canyon Camp with table and ice can stoves. (Dan McCaslin / Noozhawk photo)

Thus, it’s intense, enhances solitude and discussion, invigorates your creative spirits, and you can get back into your Santa Barbara urban routine without losing an entire day to this crucial “play.”

Setting out from the car on the steep “Romero-Camuesa Trail,” which is signed, we descend abruptly into scenic Blue Canyon, hike past Blue Canyon Camp, and reach lovely 1,600-foot Cottam Camp in 2.2 easy miles.

There was indeed flowing water at Cottam — last column I reported it completely dry — and the essential iron sign indicates the Forbush Trail begins here at Cottam, yet it’s in error when it has the number “1½ ” for the distance to Forbush Camp (elevation 2,400 feet).

Conant’s map calls this ascent .9 mile. I  understand the iron sign’s exaggeration: When you climb up west out of Cottam Camp toward  Forbush Camp and the Mono Trail, the challenge includes gaining 800 feet in less than a mile.

Cottam iron sign with Forbush shown as “1½” and red pliers at the top. Click to view larger
Cottam iron sign with Forbush shown as “1½” and red pliers at the top. (Dan McCaslin / Noozhawk photo)

I’ve often written about most of the reasons for making these strenuous day hikes — the scenic beauty, the near-solitude, the silence, the stimulus of nonurban nature, the sheer physical workout.

Another striking reason to head outdoors and undertake longer walks, and why I recommend day hikes like this one, is the verified impact the outdoor world and walking in nature have on individual creativity.

As we struggle with the negative stresses of our declining Anthropocene Age, walking away from conurbia and the immersion into relative silence inspires divergent thinking, one of the key components of creativity.

Even long walks in the city can unleash creativity: We know Charles Dickens walked 12-20 miles a day through London’s back streets pondering plot and detail.

View up the Forbush Trail from Cottam Camp (looking west across the potrero). Click to view larger
View up the Forbush Trail from Cottam Camp (looking west across the potrero). (Dan McCaslin / Noozhawk photo)

Philosopher Immanuel Kant had to have his daily walk in Koenigsberg; Johann Wolfgang von Goethe constantly walked about in Weimar; George Catlin was tireless in his Western America hikes that inspired his art (we have several of his paintings at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art).

There’s little doubt that constant physical movement plays some role in finding creative inspiration.

In his Geography of Genius, Eric Weiner cites research from the Journal of Experimental Psychology based on a measurement of what causes divergent thinking in the brain: Results of the Guilford Alternative Uses Test emphatically supported the proposition that “Creativity levels were ‘consistently and significantly higher’ for the walkers versus the sitters.”

We only need look at the genius bubbling up in Classical Athens to note how ALL of them were constantly walking about. The Classical Greeks did everything out-of-doors. Except for their 1 percent, Greek homes were not luxurious, and in most cases were little more than dormitories where citizen-inhabitants spent little time.

Forbush Camp with table and firepit. Click to view larger
Forbush Camp with table and firepit. (Dan McCaslin / Noozhawk photo)

When reading the easier dialogues of Plato, we note how Socrates is constantly hiking to and fro, from Kleon’s house over to Adeimantus’s and back again, jabbering all the while.

Plato’s later Academy, with its grove of olive trees sacred to Athena, was actually as much an outdoor gymnasium and walking area as it was a philosophic center.

The idea was combining physical walking with conversation, thus inspiring the MIND. First you empty the mind (kenosis), then begin discourse while still hiking.

It’s good to do this Blue Canyon — Forbush hike with the idea of first stimulating the physical body and inspiring the mind; and then having deep discussions that allow new ideas to erupt.

Iron sign to Mono and also (right = east) back down to Blue Canyon. Click to view larger
Iron sign to Mono and also (right = east) back down to Blue Canyon. (Dan McCaslin / Noozhawk photo)

Since the hike takes more than four hours, there’s also ample time to set aside for silent contemplation and walking along several hundred yards distant from your hiking partner.

The trek from Cottam up to Forbush Camp is really challenging as noted, and when you’re there, you find two wooden tables, a fire ring, a huge redwood tree, and flowing Gidney Creek (be sure to filter water from here).

I also noted a Mediterranean olive tree there, a remnant of original settler Fred Washington Forbush’s orchard, established in 1910, which also included apple trees and grape viticulture.

Looking north from quaint U.S. Forest Service Forbush Camp, one sees the boulder-infested hillside, and there’s another small iron sign indicating the way back to Blue Canyon or a gnarly hike along the Mono Trail to the Mono Jungle.

After a snack break at the Forbush Camp table, my colleague and I made the final 1.7 mile uphill trek to the water tower and our stashed bicycles.

Pacific madrone trees near Forbush Camp. Click to view larger
Pacific madrone trees near Forbush Camp. (Dan McCaslin / Noozhawk photo)

This is a really challenging push unless you begin very early in the day. Note, you’ve already covered four miles, so this final ascending portion feels relentless. A lovely stand of golden Pacific madrone trees (Arbutus menziesii) bedecks the early part of this steep trail.

As your exhalations become audible and your thighs ache, plenty of enticing thoughts float in the stimulated mind. This walking and pondering and talking combination absolutely generates more divergent thinking!

At the top, after catching our breath at the water tower, we pulled our old bikes out of the brush and biked a leisurely 4½ miles along the aptly named Camino Cielo down to our parked vehicle, and drove home in creative silence.

4-1-1 Blue Canyon to Cottam Camp to Forbush Camp to Montecito Peak

Distance: 5.8 miles hiking and almost 5 miles easy biking; suitable for bike-experienced children 10 and up.

Driving directions: From Santa Barbara, drive to Gibraltar Road near Skofield Park, drive slowly to the top and turn right on East Camino Cielo (east) and continue until you strike the dirt road section (officially this becomes the Romero-Camuesa Road here); drive on slowly another mile to the small iron “Romero Camuesa” iron sign opposite the stand of madrone trees. Park here, and head down the rocky trail Romero-Camuesa Trail leading into Blue Canyon, Cottam, and Forbush Camps. If you bring two cars, no biking is necessary.

Map: Bryan Conant’s Matilija and Dick Smith Wilderness Trail Map Guide

— Dan McCaslin is the author of Stone Anchors in Antiquity, and has written extensively about the local backcountry. He welcomes reader ideas for future Noozhawk columns, and can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here to read additional columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

Rocky hillside above Forbush Camp (looking north). Click to view larger
Rocky hillside above Forbush Camp (looking north). (Dan McCaslin / Noozhawk photo)

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