Exploring the East Camino Cielo Road, California

On Thursday, Dad and I were out exploring on our own around Santa Barbara, and it turned out to be very different than we had intended when I found a road along the very top of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

We were on the road just after 9:00 am, and in half an hour were halfway up Painted Caves Road, which had intrigued me when we went past it on the way to wine country. As it turned out, the caves were inaccessible to Dad so I kept driving up the steep, narrow, winding road. We were both amazed that there are lots of homes up there – it’s a very difficult place to service.
Painted Caves Road, California
At the top of Painted Caves Road, there were 2 options – go back to the highway on a wider, straighter road and continue on to our original destination, or go further up on a narrow, obviously much less-used road that was signed as “Closed 9 Miles Ahead”. My regular readers won’t have to wonder which one I would choose 🙂
East Camino Cielo Road, California
We soon came to the first of several side roads – the type of roads that I always want to explore!
East Camino Cielo Road, California
That road is apparently a well-used bike trail. I didn’t know that mountain bikers use bells to warn people that they’re coming – great idea.
East Camino Cielo Road, California
Looking north across the Santa Ynez River…
East Camino Cielo Road, California
…and south over the homes along upper Painted Caves Road to the Santa Barbara airport and the open ocean.
East Camino Cielo Road, California
Some of the vegetation we were seeing along the road was really unique. Edit: this is Manzanita, the common name for the 106 species of the genus Arctostaphylos.
East Camino Cielo Road, California
Along the top of the ridge were several airport navigation installations.
East Camino Cielo Road, California
Looking down at the airport from near the summit of La Cumbre Peak, which at 3,985 feet is the highest of the Santa Ynez Mountains. This is a short walk from the East Camino Cielo Road along a gated road. I actually never saw a sign stating that the road is the East Camino Cielo Road, I found that information in my sister’s copy of Day Hikes Around Santa Barbara that evening.
East Camino Cielo Road, California
This long-abandoned fire watch tower is right at the summit of La Cumbre Peak.
La Cumbre Peak, East Camino Cielo Road, California
I could spend a lot of time on that ridge just shooting plants and rocks.
Along East Camino Cielo Road, California
Gibraltar Road drops down to the Gibraltor Dam. This is where the main road was supposed to be closed, but it wasn’t. One of the “closed” signs refers to fire suppression debris on the road, but the last fire seems to have been in 1990 🙂
Gibraltar Road at East Camino Cielo Road, California
To the right, Gibraltar Road goes 7 miles into Santa Barbara – we continued to the left on what that sign says is National Forest Road 5N12.
East Camino Cielo Road, California
Two of the 3 cyclists we saw along the road.
Cyclists on East Camino Cielo Road, California
Gibraltar Dam and Reservoir. The dam is a constant radius, concrete arch dam which was originally built between 1914 and 1920 and was enlarged in 1949. It supplies about 1/3 of the City of Santa Barbara’s water through 3.7-mile-long Mission Tunnel.
Gibraltar Dam and Reservoir, California
Here’s a panorama that shows how narrow the Santa Ynez Mountain ridge is, and how very different the scenery is on the two sides of it. Five images were stitched together to create this image. Click on it to open a much larger version in a new window.
East Camino Cielo Road, California
At 11:00 we reached the end of the pavement. I went another 1/4 mile or so and then turned around, as Dad was getting quite bored by the drive.
East Camino Cielo Road, California
Looking south along the coast from the end of pavement. There were at least 2 old roads winding along the slopes below calling to me 🙂
East Camino Cielo Road, California
The next two shots show the sort of scenery seen through the windshield as we drove slowly (15-25 mph) north back to our starting point.
East Camino Cielo Road, California
East Camino Cielo Road, California
Back at the “Road Closed” sign a couple of minutes before noon, I took the short road back to Highway 154. This photo was shot along that 2-mile-long road, with the Cold Springs Arch Bridge and Cachuma Lake in the distance.
East Camino Cielo Road, California

Looking for something for Dad, I suggested that we go to the Chumash Casino at Santa Ynez. Lunch was excellent, and Dad very quickly lost $10 in a slot machine before we started back to the house.

As we crossed over the Cold Springs Arch Bridge, I decided to have a better look at it, and at the Old Stagecoach Road, which is seen in this photo.
Old Stagecoach Road, California
The Cold Springs Arch Bridge is even more impressive from below. Opened in 1963, it is the 5th-longest “supported deck” span arch bridge in the world – 1,214 feet (370 meters) long and 420 feet (128 meters) high.
Cold Springs Arch Bridge, California
I don’t like to end a post on a negative note, but there are several memorials along the road below the bridge that I need to also tell you about. Not until I did a bit of research while writing this post did I discover that a total of 56 people have now committed suicide by jumping from the bridge. Even the very controversial, very expensive fencing along the bridge hasn’t stopped some people.
Cold Springs Arch Bridge, California

For our final full day in California, we’d be having a better look around Santa Barbara – in particular, I wanted to see the historic Mission.


Comments

Exploring the East Camino Cielo Road, California — 3 Comments

  1. Thanks! As expected, Cathy is now quite excited by road trips, and by the California coast, so the next trip could be as early as January 🙂 Yes, I’m pretty sure that we’d manage to deal with your winter “cold” somehow!