Camino Cielo

Posted by Ken Campbell April 30, 2011 0 Comment 1501 views

It’s been blowing all week, and with gusts on the water forecast to hit 50 knots yesterday afternoon, I decided that I’d go for a drive.
West Camino Cielo, the Highway in the Sky, is a rugged track that follows the crest of the mountains behind Santa Barbara and points west. I drove out to Refugio, stopping at a few places along the way just to make sure that there really wasn’t any surf on the go (there wasn’t), and then turned up Refugio Canyon Road toward the higher country.

The road winds through orchards and ranchos at first, a few stream crossings here and there that will be dry soon, a few houses snuggled behind oak and palms, just out of sight. Then the way begins to narrow and climb for real, up through the scrub and wildflowers, until topping out at about 3000 feet, where Camino Cielo joins in.
I haven’t driven this road for at least 25 years, maybe longer. It goes from Refugio Canyon Road all the way to San Marcos Pass, about 20 miles east, a mixture of paved and unpaved surfaces that can be downright impassable at times for most vehicles. I’m pushing the edge of what my little car is capable of, or I will be, if I can get through. One mile at a time.
I stop often. There’s nobody else up here and the views leave me gobsmacked. I can see 50 miles to the north, past Lake Cachuma and the Santa Ynez Valley, on up toward Los Olivos and Sisquoc. On the southern side of the divide, Santa Barbara shimmers in the golden light, and the beaches of my childhood occupy the near distance: Refugio, El Capitan, Driftwood, Sands, Haskell’s, Coal Oil Point. The channel is speckled with whitecaps as far as I can see, validating my decision to desert the salt water for the day.
I am almost to the towers and antennae of TV Hill when the pavement ends for good. I cut my speed – not that I am traveling very fast anyway – and follow the smoothest route I can pick out as I continue. I am just starting to believe I’m going to make it, that the car is more than up to the task, when I get to a gate that bars further progress. “Road Closed.” I had been wondering if that was going to happen and although I had hoped I would be able to complete the route, I am not too put out.
How could I be? I am passing through heaven, after all. I take a photo or two, then turn around and begin the drive out.

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