Cabin fever, crazed restlessness or even the trendy “seasonal affective disorder” — by any measure, hikers and outdoor-wingnuts have been largely kept inside during this magical rainfall, as well as generally during the almost-ended COVID-19 pandemic.
Los Padres National Forest officials’ recent draconian decision to shut down access to the entire 1.9 million-acre federal forest utterly intensifies the urban restlessness and urgency to roam out into our national hinterlands (4.1.1. order 261.50(a)).
Desperate to get outside on a recent Sunday, wild Pete and I drove the 24.2 freeway miles to Refugio State Beach and parked outside to avoid paying entrance fees (we did not enter or utilize any of the park resources). Trudging along the crumbly remnants of an old bicycle path, we entertained stunning vistas out to sea, although the mist at 8 a.m. shrouded the Channel Islands. We’ve made this trek recently, in early December, but remained up on the bluff-top; therefore, we altered the return path this time.
I knew the low tide was 0.6 feet at 11:15 a.m., so we planned this effort as a narrow “loop” trip with the full three-mile return spent hoofing it on the slanted sands and cobbly-stoned headlands. We ambled along southward facing the sea, and as time passed, both Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa islands slowly materialized into dim silhouettes, and much later we could just make out the low twin humps of San Miguel. The only other people were two men surf fishing, with little chairs and handy ice chests.
Exhilaration rose when we looked down into the restless sea to detect a nutrient-rich brown plume of runoff water spreading out past the kelp beds. Numerous seals swam about and hunted close to the shore, quite visible from the ancient bike path where we stood, even without binoculars.
Pursuant to my addled theories concerning the extreme needs of postmodern humans to linger timelessly over charming landscapes and seascapes, to slow down and inhale salty sea smells, I sauntered and savored hearing the shorebirds’ exultant cries (4.1.1. Han).
El Capitan State Beach is officially closed (along with all of the Los Padres forest), so we approached it from the beachside littoral and appreciated how beautiful this headland is when empty of visitors. Many state workers were on site repairing erosion and mudslide problems.
We made the return portion most of the way on the sand, “down low” walking the beach with the sea-cliffs towering on the right. Sometimes you could catch a glimpse of Highway 101 or the railroad tracks.
The hiking became somewhat tiresome for a bit as we scrambled in order to round the various rocky headlands. I had brought my twin hiking poles and needed them at a couple of the promontories that extended far into the sea. Clambering around one of them I got wet boots, and the stones were slippery. (I can now tell you that a 0.6-foot low is not quite sufficient for safe hiking. It’s best stay on the top bike path unless you are ready to get wet or even swim. It’s not for small children.)
Forest closure order 261.50(a) — “Hiking, camping and backpacking are prohibited within the Los Padres National Forest. This Order is effective from January 13, 2023, through March 14, 2023. Going into or being upon any area of the following National Forest System administrative units will result in a violation.”
— Dan McCaslin is the author of Stone Anchors in Antiquity and has written extensively about the local backcountry. His latest book, Autobiography in the Anthropocene, is available at Lulu.com. He serves as an archaeological site steward for the U.S. Forest Service in Los Padres National Forest. He welcomes reader ideas for future Noozhawk columns, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.