Fog filled Santa Ynez Valley at day-break


Foxen, Alisos, Drum and Ballard Canyons

-- click on thumbnails for larger image --

Fog in the Santa Ynez Valley viewed from the San Marcos Pass on Highway 154
Fog on the edge of Lake Cachuma Fog on the edge of Lake Cachuma

I'd previously experienced high temperatures whilst cycling in the Santa Ynez Valley ... so this time I was determined to make an early start to avoid the heat later in the day.

Fog filled Santa Ynez Valley

From Santa Barbara I drove up Highway 154 towards the San Marcos Pass. On cresting the Pass ... where I expected to see Lake Cachuma ... was a sea of fog.

Panino Cafe in Los Olivos Side Street Cafe in Los Olivos

As the sun rose and began to heat the ground ... the edge of the fog bank was being stirred by gentle air currents.

I dropped down to the small town of Los Olivos and prepared for my ride.

Abandoned windmill Crossing Highway 154

Given the fog it seemed likely that the problem would not be keeping cool ... but keeping warm enough.

All the cafés in Los Olivos were closed at this ungodly hour as I set off to carefully cross the fogbound Highway 154.

Empty school bus A foggy Highway 154
Plenty of vineyards round here Foxen Canyon Road

Safely across the Highway I joined Foxen Canyon Road and found a sign which indicated that I was joining the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail.

All the vineyards were in the same direction ... the one I was headed in.

Foxen Canyon Road Milepost

The Santa Ynez Valley is world famous for its quality wines ... many of which come from Foxen Canyon.

The Valley and its vineyards formed the backdrop for the 2004 film Sideways and many visitors are drawn to key locations featured in the film.

The Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition helpfully publishes a couple of cycle routes which link a number of these locations.

Old wagon Foxen Canyon Road disappearing into the fog

The road climbs gently up the canyon ... passing the gates of a number of very smart horse ranches and vineyards.

House nameplate plus horse Horses live here Rows of vines disappearing into the mist
White wooden fences and rolling pasture White wooden fences and rolling pasture
Misty hillsides overlooking Foxen Canyon Road Interlocking fingers of pasture

Between the entrances and fields of vines rolling meadows stretched off into the mist.

Koehler Vineyard Firestone Vineyard
Santa Ynez Valley Mountain Bike Classic Junction with Zaca Station Road
Signs to the vineyards Mist gradually lifting ... revealing the hills around

The road passed more vineyards ... and I noticed that the Firestone Vineyard had hosted the Santa Ynez Valley Mountain Bike Classic over the previous few days.

The vineyard signs now became more confusing ... there were vineyards in every direction ... and it made it hard to remember which ones I had passed and which ones were to come.

Curtis Vinery Koehler Vinery
Koehler Vinery Fes Parker Winery and Vineyard
Flowers and vines Flowers and Winery
What's over the next rise? Windmill in Foxen Canyon Road

By now the fog was lifting and the surrounding hills could now be seen through the remaining wisps of mist.

After the Zaca Mesa Vinery the road begins to drop down ... eventually reaching the Sisquoc River in the Santa Maria Valley.

Zaca Mesa Vineyard

Zaca mesa means place of tranquillity in Spanish ... it was certainly quiet when I was there.

Foxen Canyon view

After descending a short distance ... and successfully negotiating a 90-degree bend ... I reached the Foxen Adobe site.

Benjamin Foxen Adobe Site - 1837 Foxen Creek Ranch

Benjamin Foxen was an English merchant ship captain who settled in this valley in 1837. A small plaque indicates the location of his original adobe home.

Hillsides clear of mist and fog

A little further on in the shade of a tree beside the creek is a monument to both John C. Freemont and Benjamin Foxen.

The Freemont-Foxen Memorial

In 1846 ... with Foxen's help ... Colonel Freemont led his troops through what is now Foxen Canyon and over the San Marcos Pass to help free Santa Barbara and California from Spanish control.

Abandoned farm equipment

I continued to descend as far as the small Foxen Winery ... another location featured in Sideways.

Opposite the winery was an imposing white clapperboard farm building surrounded by roses ... part of Rancho Tinaquaic.

Foxen Vinery Rancho Tinaquaic Hills stretching into the distance

One of the owners of the Foxen Winery is the great-great grandson of Benjamin Foxen. The winery's trademark features an anchor in reference to his ancestor's seafaring heritage.

Patterns in the pasture Patterns in the pasture
A pack of cyclists A pack of cyclists A pack of cyclists

I turned around to climb back up the canyon to the turn off for Alisos Canyon. On the way a paceline of five cyclists passed headed in the opposite direction.

Alisos Canyon Road Neatly arranged line of trees
Zebras Wall and roses

Part way along Alisos Canyon I passed a field of zebras ...

... maybe they were descended from the ones which Randolf Hearst kept at his Castle near Morro Bay.

The open Alisos Canyon
More vineyards in Alisos Canyon
Signs in Alisos Canyon Flying Z Ranch
Yet more vineyards in Alisos Canyon
Horses at play Horses at play
Alisos Canyon Equine Centre Highway 101 ... with quiet vineyard road alongside

The peaceful canyon is filled with more vineyards and a selection of horse ranches.

Welcome to Los Alamos Palm tree lined road

All too soon I had dropped down to Highway 101 ... from where it was some 4 kilometres to Los Alamos.

Los Alamos Valley Senior Center

There was a quiet estate road running through the vineyard adjacent to the busy the highway ... but as I wasn't sure that I could leave it at the far end ... I had to brave the main road.

Lunch stop in Los Alamos

In the town I stopped at a sandwich bar for lunch ... and met the five cyclists that I'd seen in Foxen Canyon Road.

They were all based in the Santa Ynez Valley. One was a good friend of Ian Hibell the English adventure cyclist who had cycled the length of the Americas in the 1970s. Ian is currently in his 80s and engaged on a cycle trip across China ... which makes my trip around California look pretty tame.

Los Alamos: Antique Store Los Alamos: Post Office
Los Alamos: General Store 131 years old Los Alamos: Fire Station
Door in Los Alamos Door in Los Alamos Door in Los Alamos
Petrol pumps Petrol pumps

After lunch I explored the town ... which is mainly given over to antique stores.

The town was bypassed by the new Highway 101 in the 1960s and now seems to be recovering from a period of decline.

In the main street there is a gem of a building ... the Union Hotel.

Union Hotel Union Hotel

The hotel was constructed in the 1880s ... and is a mixture of Victoriana and Old West influences.

Union Hotel Union Hotel
The start of Drum Canyon Road Ploughed fields along side Drum Canyon Road

As well as performing its obvious function ... the hotel has been used as a film backdrop.

A number of well known musicians ... Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson and Jon Bon Jovi ... have recorded music videos in the hotel.

Watch out for mountain lions Los Alamos Country Park

I turned away from Los Alamos and headed south into Drum Canyon.

The road passes the Los Alamos County Park and climbs into and over the Purisma Hills .. to then descend into the Santa Rita Valley.

Nodding donkeys Climbing Drum Canyon

The climb begins slowly at first ... and passes a set of slowly nodding donkeys extracting the last of the oil from the strata below.

The road then kicks up and negotiates a series of zigzags to climb some 250 metres up the flank of Redrock Mountain.

Rocky roadside Rocky roadside Rocky roadside
A cyclist climbing up the far side of Drum Canyon 180-degree bend View south from the top of Drum Canyon Road
Windmill Sweeping curves Another cyclist 'enjoying' the climb
Watch out for tractors The valley widens as you descend

After cresting the ridge the road drops round a series of elaborate S-bends ... and then follows Santa Rosa Creek through a series of lazy sweeping bends.

I met a mountain biker climbing in the opposite direction who ... after unplugging his iPod ... informed me that he was from NY City and had been taking part in the Firestone races. He was now 'loosening' his legs after his exertions of the previous few days.

Watch out for falling rocks Drum Canyon Road Straight downhill stretch
Southern end of Drum Canyon Road Highway 246
Watch out for lorries turning left Williams Ranch

As the valley broadened the road flattened out and I arrived at the junction with Highway 246.

Ballard Canyon Road

Fortunately this road has a wide shoulder ... and I was soon in the busy town of Buellton. After the all the climbing it was clearly time for a coffee break ...

... curiously the coffee shop was alongside a bike shop ... no wonder the Santa Ynez Valley is popular with cyclists.

Rounding up cattle Rancho San Ysidro Yellow fields
Ballard Canyon
Ballard Canyon Road Looks like the wine delivery is going to be late

Suitably refreshed, I turned away from the main road and rode along Ballard Canyon Road which would take me back over the Purisma Hills to Los Olivos.

Vineyards Windmill

The road passes some seriously expensive-looking ranches ... before climbing past more vineyards ... to the top of the hills.

On reaching the summit spectacular views open up down to Los Olivos below and to the San Rafael mountains to the north.

View across Los Olivos to the San Rafael mountains to the north
Looping descent

After stopping for some time to study the views ... I rode down into Los Olivos.

Side Street Cafe ... still closed

I hadn't realised that there was such a dramatic looping descent so close to the town.


Compared to the fog muted colours and the empty sidewalks earlier in the day ... Los Olivos was transformed by the bright sunshine.

Before exploring what was on offer ... I headed straight to one of the cafés ...

Panino café Clock with no 1 Clock tower
Vixen Consilience Los Olivos Tasting Room


Kirby James