It was too good to pass up — a chance to visit one of the last unspoiled parcels of land in Santa Barbara County — the Sedgwick Reserve.
The reserve, at the northeast end of the Santa Ynez Valley, offers monthly docent-led hikes for a nominal donation.
The stunning, nearly 6,000-acre reserve, established in 1996, is owned by the Regents of the University of California and is managed by UCSB.
The reserve is reached via Roblar and Brinkerhoff avenues on a narrow, winding (though paved) road, which soon turns into gravel. (A sign warns, “Yield to oncoming traffic.”)
A handful of buildings appeared in a valley nestled between rolling hills and higher peaks rising to the San Rafael Range.
At a sign-in in front of the new Tipton Meeting House, 50 people gathered to choose from one of three three-hour hikes — easy (11⁄2 miles), moderate (3 miles) and strenuous (5 miles). Some 20 people picked the strenuous hike; most chose the moderate; our easy hike drew the smallest group.
Led by knowledgeable Sedgwick volunteers Dennis Beebe and Nick Di Croce, both of Solvang, the tour started at the aging white wood sculptor’s studio of Francis (Duke) Sedgwick, who bequeathed much the property to the UC for research. The rest was acquired through the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County and various donors.
“Research is the purpose of the reserve,” said Beebe, calling it “a special place.”
Next we passed a rambling ranch house built in 1948, one of the first buildings constructed on the property, which has gone through numerous owners and was long used for cattle ranching.
Ascending a mesa, we saw the striking new Byrne Observatory, a white hilltop landmark with a new 32-inch telescope used for scanning the galaxies in the clear valley air.
We passed valley oaks and blue oaks draped with lace lichen and mistletoe. There were clumps of native bunch grass. Numerous research projects were evident.
Volunteer Susan Lentz of Goleta, the group’s sweep (watches for dawdlers), made an exciting find — a female phainopepla high in a blue oak.
Di Croce spotted the first wildflower of the hike — a tiny, lavender California aster.
We passed chaparral, fragrant with sage, an acorn tree, a 100-year-old barn, friendly burros.
“Tours are always different,” said Lentz. “My prize was the phainopepla.”
“I feel like a Girl Scout,” said hiker Val Maxey of Solvang with a laugh.
Tours are held the second Saturday of every month through spring. Reservations are required. Call 686-1941 for information.