Saturday, January 21, 2017

Sealed With a Pen - What Blubber, the Hearst Castle & Wine Have in Common


I see you! (Photo: Visit San Simeon)
Just days before President Obama left office he invoked the Antiquities Act of 1906, and no, it has nothing to do with antiques. What President Obama did was to expand the California Coastal National Monument, a move that provides added protections for the elephant seal colony at Piedras Blancas located just north of San Simeon and the Hearst Castle. The California Coastal National Monument, originally established by President Clinton in 2000, protects and preserves “objects or sites of historic or scientific interest” along California’s Central Coast. More than 17,000 elephant seals migrate thousands of miles to come to this secluded sandy beach twice per year, and now they are fully protected. Bless their fat little hearts.

Boys being boys.
Located four miles north of the Hearst Castle, 12 miles north of Cambria the elephant seal rookery is visible by “Elephant Seal Viewing Area” signs. If that doesn’t work you’ll see a lot of people looking over a low wood fence pointing indiscriminately. No one is certain why the seals keep showing up here, but they do.  In the winter months the seals come here to breed, in the summer months, they molt. Winter is the best time to view the males, females and newborn pups. They might seem lazy at first, strewn across the sand like so much chubby road kill. But they can be forgiven. They can dive up to 3,000 feet and swim at three miles an hour and, let’s not forget, they carry all that blubber with them. They started appearing in these low sand protected beaches in the early 1990s and haven’t left yet. The males will spar for territorial rights, the females who appear to just want to be left alone. And they are loud, making a horrible sound like a bad Chewbacca impression. The seals are around all year, though not in the quantities like summer and winter. The docents are there all year too, people in blue coats emblazoned with “Friends of the Elephant Seal” on their jackets. Ask them anything. The information is free, the show is free and you might spend more time here than you ever expected.

The Big Sur Coastline
“We’re very grateful to President Obama to include one of San Simeon’s most precious resources as part of the California Coastal National Monument,” said Michael Hanchett, president of the San Simeon Chamber of Commerce. “This elephant seal rookery has become a globally loved place. Three-quarters of a million visitors come to see them each year, which helps support and preserve local businesses and jobs.” Obviously Hearst Castle is nearby, the charming town of Cambria, the Piedras Blancas Light Station, whose tower and support building are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Just north you begin the staggeringly beautiful Big Sur Coastline. There are wineries dotted south in Cambria, Cayucos, Morro Bay, and a plethora of them on Highway 46 West, which, runs from Cambria to Paso Robles. Time to hit the road, my friends!
Chillin' (Photo: Solterra Strategies)

Monday, November 28, 2016

Dying To Get In - The Santa Barbara Cemetary


The Santa Barbara Cemetery (901 Channel Dr., 805/969-3231) is one cool spot. Sure, the resting place of the dead isn’t on your typical itinerary when you visit someplace (though admittedly I routinely visit cemeteries all over the world), but it’s definitely worth stopping by when you’re in town. The cemetery is unmistakably quiet and holds the best piece of land, high on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean with pristine views to the mountains and Channel Islands as the Pacific fans out before you.




Advertising in the local paper from the 1940s
As cemeteries go this is flat out beautiful and though the dead may not be impressed with the views, all of us living folks certainly will be. Many notables from Santa Barbara history are buried here (JP Sterns of Sterns Wharf; Lewis Burton-the 1st mayor of Santa Barbara in 1850; and Pearl Chase who basically single-handedly made Santa Barbara the tourist paradise it is today,) as are actors Ronald Coleman (films: The Lost Horizon, The Prisoner of Zenda, and he once owned the San Ysidro Ranch), and Fess Parker (TV’s Daniel Boone and local vintner), and even a few tragic souls from the legendary Jonestown massacre in Guyana from 1978; otherwise you’ve probably never heard of most of these folks.
In fact author David Petry writes, “One couple, Alice and Charles Sedgewick Minot of Boston, is buried in the cemetery although neither of them ever visited Santa Barbara while alive. Alice Minot requested in her will that she be buried on a beautiful site overlooking an ocean.  Her husband, after sending his attorneys on an extensive search, selected the Santa Barbara Cemetery.” The land goes back to 1867 as a burial place and was originally a 5-acre parcel on what was then the outskirts of town. Today it sits between the Four Seasons Biltmore and the Santa Barbara Zoo. There’s even a 200-page book on the complete history of the cemetery, “The Best Last Place,” written by the aforementioned David Petry, and quote from his book. Such is the dedication of Santa Barbara natives and their love of local history…and burials, I guess. A short walk across the thin grass amid palm tress, sunshine, ocean breezes and headstones will give you a new perspective on life – if not, go wine tasting.




Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Hot Chick – California Condor Makes Flight in Monterey


 
Betty the Condor, 2 months old-NPS Photo by G. Emmons
An endangered female California condor chick took flight from a nest in early October 2016 in Pinnacles National Park in Monterey County, for the first time in more than 100 years. Earth-shattering news? Not to most people. Important beyond our scope of understanding? Oh hell yes. The “historic flight,” as the Pinnacles NationalPark people put it, was under the supervision of her parents, both of whom were released into the wild through a partnership between the National Park Service and Ventana Wildlife Society. The chick, a hot little number in that prehistoric beauty vibe, is unceremoniously known merely as Condor #828. Let’s call her Betty.

Pinnacles
Volunteers and staff have been observing the nest, found in a remote location in the park, since Betty’s parents started incubating the egg in February. The five-and-a-half month old chick piqued the attention of park biologists when she left the nest one month earlier than expected. “Condors nesting in the wild and surviving on their own is what it’s all about and this is yet another milestone towards that goal,” says Kelly Sorenson, executive director of the Ventana Wildlife Society, which first initiated condor releases in central California back in 1997. The federal government and conservation groups have dedicated considerable resources to the restoration of the condor population that was brought to the brink of extinction in the 1980’s.

Condor #340 (dad) in the nest with Betty-NPS Photo by G. Emmons
“The young condor’s flight from the nest gives us a strong sense of hope,” said Karen Beppler-Dorn, superintendent of Pinnacles National Park. “However, our hope is tempered by the challenges that still exist for her and all wild condors.” What “challenges” might there be? Lead poisoning continues to hinder recovery of these magnificent birds and they can become ill and die when they inadvertently ingest fragments of lead ammunition in carcasses they feed upon that are left over from hunting or ranching operations. “Condors and other scavenging wildlife, such as eagles, benefit from carcass remains left behind, if non-lead ammunition is used. Hunters and ranchers have a long-standing tradition of wildlife conservation,” said Beppler-Dorn. “Shooters who have switched to non-lead ammunition have made an invaluable contribution to the health of all scavenging wildlife.” Of course loss of habitat due to human expansion is always an issue as is pollution, be that water, air and even noise pollution.

With continuing threats to condor’s survival and recovery, volunteers contribute immeasurably towards the protection of wildlife in the park, particularly the condors. Female condor #236 (Betty’s mom) was first released from Big Sur and male condor #340 (Betty’s dad) was released from Pinnacles. Now that Betty, has left the nest, she will remain close to her parents as she learns where to go to forage for food and how to interact with over 85 other condors in central California. These may seem like small victories, but every instance where we as humans give respect to the natural world only makes our physical world, and yes our spiritual world, that much better.


Monday, July 11, 2016

Helena Avenue Bakery – Good Bread in the Best Place


“How can a nation be great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?" - Julia Child

Bread is important.
Pastry is supremely important.
And a good bakery is the cornerstone of civilization.
At least to me.
So when I heard a new bakery was opening in Santa Barbara, I was delighted. For a city the size of mine, we are woefully short of enough bakeries. Yes, we have a few very good ones, but more is always better, and location is everything.


Housed in an industrial warehouse building and retrofitted to be hip and trendy the  Helena Avenue Bakery is the latest addition to an ongoing stunning change to the Funk Zone, a former unsightly industrial area two blocks from the beach. There are multiple tasting rooms, Figueroa Mountain Brewery, a distillery, art galleries and multiple places for food, like Mexican street food at Money’s, to food trucks to Seven Bar & Kitchen, Lucky Penny and The Lark - these last two owned and operated by Sherry Villanueva, who started the bakery. “Having a bakery was a logical progression for us,” Sherry Villanueva told me when I stopped in. “It’s exciting to see the growth in high quality businesses opening up in the Funk Zone. The need for a wholesome bakery that appeals to people of all ages became quite clear to us as the neighborhood continues to unfold.”

And the Funk Zone is unfolding rapidly and smartly. “We are trying to build a sense of neighborhood,” Sherry says. “It's not about making a quick buck, It's about building the long-term relationships.” Helena Avenue Bakery serves as a wholesale bakery providing custom-baked goods for Lucky Penny, The Lark, Les Marchands and other coffee shops and restaurants throughout Santa Barbara. What’s cool is that now it’s open for retail, via a shared door of the Santa Barbara Wine Collective. And Helena Avenue Bakery has a two pronged approach: bakery and picnic lunches. The bakery offers various quiche selections with a deftly crispy crust; baguettes; walnut batards; ciabatta bread not to mention egg croissants with arugula pesto and prosciutto; apricot-thyme croissants; and cookies including their rich peanut butter.

But there is also The Picnic Counter offering prepared foods for take-away like house pickled veggies; couscous salad with cherry tomatoes, cucumber and feta cheese; Brussels sprouts Caesar salad; focaccia with roasted corn, pasilla peppers, queso fresco and cilantro; and fried chicken sandwich on ciabatta.








These foods are ideal for dining on-site, or heading the scant two blocks to the beach or picnics around the Santa Barbara area. Open 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily, bread is now king in the Funk Zone! So check it out, eat up and enjoy some of the best of Santa Barbara.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Baby You Can Drive My Car: West Coast Kustoms


I’m not really a car guy. Sure, old cars are cool and I’ve detoured to see the Bonnie and Clyde death car and visited auto museums in Vegas, Los Angeles and Texas just because you have to appreciate the workmanship and often sheer beauty that the American automobile represents, let alone the rest of the world’s great automakers. But when I heard the original Batmobile will be at the 35th West Coast KustomsCrusin’ Nationals in Santa Maria (May 27-29) well, you need to know about this.
 

800 auto entries are expected with cars from as far away as New Jersey and Texas as well as an entry owned by James Hetfield of the band Metallica. The event is open to American-made autos that were manufactured prior to 1961 so you get classic, historic and downright American originals.


As a tribute to George Barris, who died in November of 2015 and the creator of the original Batmobile, the actual Batmobile will be brought to the event by his family. Designed exclusively for the 1966 "Batman" TV show starring Adam West and Burt Ward, this sleek was styled and engineered with many different special effects innovations by Barris Kustom Industries. Originally it started off as a $250,000 1955 Ford Lincoln Futura concept car originally built in Italy. Barris bought the car directly from Ford for a buck, and started working on it. With a deadline of three weeks before the cameras were ready to roll, this Lincoln was transformed into one of the world’s most famous cars and it had its TV debut on January 12th 1966. Sure I watched the show as a kid but in 2015 when in Hollywood I went to original Bat Cave where the car was filmed zooming in and out of the cave, located on the path up to the Hollywood sign.
At the real Bat Cave in Hollywood

Besides the Batmobile and other cool customized cars there are live bands, food booths, a ton of vendors and presentations of auto-customizing. All in all, I’d say it will be a smooth ride.