Gloomy autumnal weather settled on the coast yesterday, making it the perfect time to rise above the clouds of Santa Barbara County and explore the back country. Our first stop was Painted Cave State Park, right off San Marcos Pass on Highway 154.
It’s times like these when I feel compelled to praise my little car, “Sally”; she can climb mountain passes, zip past other cars on the highway and get great gas mileage. Since our furthest destination of the day was sixty-six miles away and Matthew and I are college students on a budget, the mileage rate is something I feel very thankful for.
“Sally” wound up a narrow, curvy road where we pulled off to the side near a sign marking the location of the cave. The paintings were made by the Chumash Native Americans and date back from the 1600’s or earlier but the meaning has supposedly been lost, according to the State Parks website. The Chumash have lived in Santa Barbara County for 13,000 years. The Spanish missionaries arrived in the 18th century and the United States acquired the area in 1848, meaning these paintings were created shortly before the land and its people experienced a major shift. A grate has been placed at the mouth of the cave to protect the paintings from vandalism.
After appreciating the paintings, Matthew and I continued along San Marcos Pass until we reached Lake Cachuma, where we went for a nice hike through the oak trees along the edge of the water.
A little further up the highway, we explored the small town of Solvang, which is described by the Solvang Chamber of Commerce as “…an authentic Danish settlement, founded in 1911 by Danish educators, where the heritage, faces, and customs of the Old World live on.”
Since Solvang also happens to be in the heart of wine country, our first objective was to find a place for wine tasting before exploring some of the “150 independent shops and art galleries.” Since there were a couple of locations for wine tasting on every small block, we peeked into a few before deciding on “Royal Oaks Winery”, where we enjoyed a “semi-sweet” tasting flight.
Slightly tipsy and saturated with sunshine (I had forgotten my sunscreen for the day. Matthew jokes that he doesn’t need sunscreen because he has learned to photosynthesize), we strolled the streets and peeked into shops.
I mused aloud in a whisper, “I wonder if the shop owners are used to tipsy tourists wandering through their stores. They are probably glad that lowered inhibitions drive up sales.” (But those working for the owners might not find it as amusing.) It was hard to tell what to make of a place that seemed almost, but not quite, drowning in tourism; there were some interesting finds but it seemed like we would have to dig for them like treasures in a thrift store.
One such treasure was a shop called “The Book Loft”, which featured a modest second story floor with vaulted ceilings where one could easily curl up comfortably with a book. Nothing makes me happier than finding a cool new bookstore. Whenever I go to a new place, my first question is, “Where are the bookstores? Better yet, where are the libraries?” In the movie “City of Angels”, one of the characters says that angels love to hang out in libraries; I’m not a spiritual or religious person, but I can understand why the screenwriter would imagine so.