March Madness, the Masters and Deltopia have all come and gone. Coachella is coming up, but it will pass too. With fleeting forms of entertainment coming and going, it’s assuring to know that we have access to one source that isn’t going anywhere: the Santa Ynez Mountains. Home to dozens of hiking trails, several waterfalls, prime bouldering spots and even a few hot springs, the mountains host a variety of pursuits, and they have proved the test of time.
While the mountains will age into the next millennia, we will not; so, we better make it count while we’re here. You only live once, right? Well, to quote an old vaudeville performer, Mae West, “You may only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” Our college careers are also finite, so it’s important to do it right and get the most out of our surroundings while we can. That’s why I encourage you to take advantage of this week’s adventure: the Playgrounds.
This isn’t any merry-go-round, kiddy kind of playground. This is a naturally formed rock jungle gym, perfect for hikers and climbers alike. It is a quick one-mile hike to the Playgrounds, and the rest of the exploration can last as long or as short as you want. There are two main options: one can either take the three- to four-mile hike around it or go bouldering through the crevices and sandstone formations. If neither sounds appealing, the short hike to the Playgrounds rewards the trailblazer handsomely with an astounding view overlooking Santa Barbara. You can even scope out Storke Tower on a clear day.
The Playgrounds are out on Camino Cielo Road, which is just a short trip up the 154. When you reach the parking area, the trailhead is only a few feet up the road. It is officially unmaintained, but it is still in good condition. After a short distance on the trail, there is a large dirt area with several ways to go. Venture right. You’ll pass through a gully and an area naturally tunneled by vegetation. While there are a few inconsequential turnoffs, this path is a relatively straight shot to the Playgrounds. Upon arrival, a large rock wall stops your path. At this point, you can go around it, through it or over it. Emerging on the other side of this cluster unfolds a panorama of the Playgrounds and Goleta a few thousand feet below.
From here on out, the exploring is up to you. If you choose the bouldering route, I recommend searching for the Narrows, a long crack running through a rock to a dark cave. As you could guess, it’s a narrow crack that requires some squeezing and climbing. I can’t, and won’t, give you the directions to this, as it deserves to be sought after and found. Don’t bother looking online either, as any decent outdoors website will refrain from posting specifications. It’s not incredibly difficult to find, but it will take some investigating and persistence. The unique climbing and sense of satisfaction make it well worth it.
The Santa Ynez Mountains are a bountiful source of entertainment, and they’re open for business 365 days a year. Since most of us will move on after graduation and leave the mountains behind, it’s important to reap the benefits of them now. Whether you’re a freshman with three glorious years ahead of you or a senior on the cusp of commencement, you’ve only got one shot at college, so make it count. You only experience childhood once, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t still play on the Playgrounds.
Daily Nexus columnist Harrison Gibson was once trapped in the Narrows for 128 hours. Get at me, Aron Ralston.
Trailhead directions: Take the 101-S to the 154. At the fourth turnout, after seven miles on the 154, take a left onto Kinevan Road. This turns into West Camino Cielo Road. Pass the hairpin turn, the long row of mailboxes on the left and the Windermere sign. Park at the oak tree and telephone pole on the left side of the road, opposite of a driveway with a sign that says “Tanbark Oak.” The trailhead is on the south side of the road, a few feet from the parking area.