(Red Rock-Gibraltar-almost Forbush Flat-then back)
Apparently I'm not doing too well with keeping up-to-date on this blog. I ran this trail the day after the Romero Canyon, but clearly it's been a while since I posted-- and I have multiple other runs to write about!
Anyway, this was one of the best runs I've done in a while and it made me very, very excited for the Red Rock 40 in November. I feel very afraid to say this in writing, but the beginning part of this trail, at least, *might* be easier than the original beginning of 9 Trails out of the Jesusita trailhead. Yes, it's 5 miles longer and I have been told that the climb up the canyon, once you get past Forbush Flat, is brutal. So I have that to look forward to.
I wanted to try out this end of the course, because I am not familiar with the trails out of Red Rock at all. I've heard about them for years, but never actually explored them. As I discovered this Sunday, most people hike the first 2 miles of the trail, but never get past Gibraltar Reservoir-- which is too bad, because it is stunning.
I started with the plan of doing two 8-10 mile loops. I thought I would use my car as an aid station rather than trying to go 16-20 on one hydration bladder.
Starting out, I had a little trouble following the trail-- it winds back and forth over the somewhat dry creek bed (although a couple of beautiful swimming holes were still available!), and I found myself getting a little confused. However, this section of the trail is really quite flat, and for someone who was expecting the Jesusita trail (which has no flat at all!), this was a welcome change. I wonder how much water will be in the creek by November...
After that, the trail heads toward the Gibraltar Dam, which is probably about 3-4 miles out from the trailhead. The day was not too hot yet, and I felt quite uninterested in turning back to my car again-- new trails beckoned over the horizon!-- so I made the decision to keep going onward rather than turning back.
Just after the Gibraltar Dam, I found the ranger station, and I stopped to make sure I was on the right track to head toward Forbush Flat. The rangers said yes, I was definitely on the right trail, but did I know that was a good 4-5 miles from where we were? I said yes, and continued on up the trail, apparently to the confusion of the rangers, who could not understand why anyone would head out on her own to such remote territory, I suppose.
I am so glad I did, though! This was some of the most glorious, amazing running I have done in a while. I saw not one single other person from when I left the ranger station to when I came back to the Red Rock trail, about 3 miles from the trailhead. This is shocking because the trailhead is only about 40 minutes from Santa Barbara proper-- it's true that there is no water out there, and you'd have to be either on a mountain bike or a pretty strong runner (or backpacking), but my point is that it's not a remote trailhead. If I ever moved back to Santa Barbara, I would definitely spend lots of time in this area, because it's challenging, gorgeous terrain.
Gibraltar Reservoir, as can be seen in the first picture, is a wealth of photo opportunities-- the trail follows the side of the reservoir until it gets to the old mine (which you can also see in the first picture). Then the trail heads into the much more remote Santa Barbara back country-- and the water disappears almost immediately. Yucca plants and chaparral cover the hillside; the air smells immediately of Santa Barbara nights. This sounds strange, but especially in the summer, when the wind blows over the top of the ridge, it brings a certain scent to Santa Barbara, and all I can ever say about it is that it smells like home. One day I will figure out what plant it IS that is so typically Santa Barbara, but for now, this is all I can tell you.
I decided to turn around before getting to Forbush Flat, because I was running a little low on water and I didn't want to do anything risky while running alone. (Considering this recent story, I think conservative behavior while running alone is a good thing...) However, this run has me looking forward to Red Rock 40 immensely. I know it's going to be a TOUGH day, and I'm not looking forward to the straight up-and-down of the Romero Canyon section (and probably the post-Forbush Flat section as well), but this run is going to be one of the more unique that I have done, I think. Congrats in advance to Luis Escobar, the RD, for not throwing the towel in on it once the Jesusita Fire happened, and for expanding the possibility of Santa Barbara trail running.
If you find yourself down Santa Barbara-ways, I highly recommend checking out the trails on the other side of the mountains. There are some glorious trails for the experiencing, if you can handle remote, self-supported running.