East Camino Cielo


East Camino Cielo

or ... how Kirby defied gravity

or ... more strictly ... how Kirby and S.B. Checker Cabs defied gravity

-- click on thumbnails for larger image --

The Santa Ynez Mountains loom over Santa Barbara
The Cielo Store ... was closed The ride started at the Fire Station adjacent to the San Marcos Pass

Santa Barbara sits on California's Pacific Coast before a backdrop of the golden coloured ridge of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

The ridge rises to nearly 4,000' barely a few miles from downtown Santa Barbara.

Google Earth view of the ridge near San Marcos Pass

A dramatic road runs along the crest of the ridge ... fittingly called Camino Cielo ... the Road to the Sky.

Winding along the chaparral covered slopes A straight piece of road!

From Santa Barbara Highway 154 crosses the Santa Ynez Range via the San Marcos pass.

A ranch on the northern slopes

Highway 154 is one of California's main north-south routes and for much of the ten kilometre climb from Santa Barbara to the 2,126' Pass it lacks shoulders.

The first of many hairpin bends

Rather than risk life & limb ... and use a not insignificant number of calories ... I decided to seek the assistance of S. B. Checker Cabs to take me up to the Pass.

One or two patches on this climb

I was dropped off at the San Marcos Fire Station which is adjacent to the Cielo Store.

Must remember to slow down on this corner

I don't seem to have much luck in the States with stores in out-of-the-way places ... so naturally it was shut.

Camino Cielo climbs gently away from the Pass carving its way along the chaparral lined slopes.

View north to the San Rafael Range Turn off to Painted Cave Road

Gradually the trees become less dense and views open up to the San Rafael Range to the north.

The highest peak in the range is the 6,828' Big Pine Mountain.

The road begins to twist and turn as it follows the line of the ridge ... and after two kilometres the turn-off to Painted Cave Road is reached.

The road is rough ... but is it closed? Google Earth: Junction with Painted Cave Road

Just down this road are caves containing paintings made by the native Chumash indians ... they are thought to be about one thousand years old.

Chumash drawings

Several other caves containing Chumash paintings have been discovered but their locations have been kept secret to avoid damage from vandals ... the Painted Cave is protected with an iron grill.

Road loops near Painted Cave Road Road loops near Painted Cave Road
Road loops near Painted Cave Road Road loops near Painted Cave Road
Is that a straight piece of road ahead? Turn off to Knapp's Castle

After the turn-off the road enters an amazing series of turns ... which are thoroughly confusing.

Fortunately after taking the final turn you can look back and work out where you have been.

View northward over the Santa Ynez Valley Climbing away from the curves near Painted Cave Road

The road continues to climb and after a further kilometre reaches the turn-off for Knapp's Castle.

George Knapp was an industrialist who built a house on a spur overlooking the Santa Ynez Valley.

View to the north The Channel Islands on a rather hazy horizon to the south

Unfortunately his dream house was burnt down in the 1940s and the ruins are now a popular destination for hikers and mountain bikers.

The road continues to climb ... swapping from one side of the ridge to the other.

Climbing between the bushes The road surface deteriorates somewhat Flowers, boulders and a rather hazy Santa Barbara
Watch out for the holes in the road Should we be going downhill? View north through a saddle
No problem for me View from the chaparral covered flanks of the Santa Ynez Range down to Santa Barbara

To the south you look out over Santa Barbara ... with the airport, the harbour and the Channel Islands beyond clearly visible through the haze.

On the other side of the ridge to the north lies the Santa Ynez River ... which is dammed further east to form Gibraltar Reservoir.

... seems to be ignored This sign ...

Camino Cielo then drops to a saddle where Arroyo Burro Road turns off leftward and descends to the Santa Ynez River and the Reservoir.

Unfortunately the area around the saddle seems to have become a dumping ground and a race track for off-road bikes.

Camino Cielo carved into the hillside Camino Cielo carved into the hillside
Camino Cielo carved into the hillside Camino Cielo carved into the hillside
Is this the top in sight? More climbing

From the saddle at around 3,000' the road continues to climb.

It passes a series of concrete water tanks which seem to be placed to help fight fires.

The scenery becomes markedly more rocky with large honey-coloured boulders of Matilija Sandstone littering the hill-sides.

Hills ... and holes in the road Gibraltar Reservoir on the Santa Ynez River Lichen on a honey-coloured boulder
More honey coloured boulders ... and more climbing Boulders and the view down over Santa Barbara to the Pacific Flowers still thrive in the rocky soil
A lot of effort must have gone into constructing this road Still climbing

The climbing continues until finally the top of La Cumbre Peak is reached.

The Peak is 3,995' above the Pacific below and supports a number of radio and communications masts and aerials.

Google Earth view of the same scene from above ... with Angostura Pass at the bottom left Camino Cielo on the flanks of the ridge

From this point ... after a suitable rest ... you have almost 4,000' of descent to look forward to.

Camino Cielo first descends some 500' to the Angostura Pass.

Route profile
The turn off for Gibraltar Road The final uphill section

After the Pass there is a modest sting-in-the-tail as the route climbs slightly along the southern slopes of the ridge.

Santa Barbara 7 miles ... and it's all downhill Loops in Gibraltar Road

After regaining the ridge you arrive at the junction with Gibraltar Road.

Camino Cielo continues eastward ... but I turned right to enjoy the descent back into Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara Harbour ... and lots of sailboats Road carved through the Matilija Sandstone

Gibraltar Road descends at an average slope of seven percent for some twelve kilometres.

The first part of the descent follows Rattlesnake Canyon before escaping to follow a less steep path.

It twists and turns in every direction ... each curve opening up new views over Santa Barbara.

Is that the same road down there? Road carved into the hillside

I took my time descending ... it seemed a waste of hard won ... and not so hard won ... altitude to rush down ... taking 40 minutes to descend some 3,000'.

Loops on Gibraltar Road
Back in Santa Barbara

All that was left to do was to navigate Santa Barbara's grid of streets to find a café ... and then to find my way back to the Visitor's Centre on the sea front.

I locked my bike, took off my gloves, helmet, neckerchief, sunglasses, picked up my wallet, removed my bike computer, and then visited the public toilet. Coming out I reversed the process.

Whilst I was doing this a cool Santa Barbara cyclist scooted straight into the large disabled toilet and completed the same process in less than a minute.

Oh well ... maybe he hadn't just ridden along Il Camino Cielo.


Kirby James