A Summer Walk on More Mesa (2018)

Since things have changed quite a bit since our last report, it was time for a Summer Walk on More Mesa. Taking the same route as reported in our previous Update we noted two very heartwarming and special sights.


Baby Kites
Baby Kites

First, the White-tailed Kites that historically nest on the east side of More Mesa have fledged two youngsters this year! This is extremely good news since drought years have produced a very small number of youngsters … for More Mesa and indeed the whole Goleta Valley. You can find all manner of interesting information on the importance of More Mesa’s kites on pages 29-33 of our More Mesa Handbook.

Lorquins Admiral
Lorquin’s Admiral – one of 17 species on More Mesa.

With summer comes butterflies when More Mesa hosts up to 17 different species of these beautiful creatures. In addition to the Buckeyes reported in our last issue summer brings the lovely, and large, Anise Swallowtails that lay their eggs on our ubiquitous fennel. For a detailed discussion of the Swallowtail and its appearance on More Mesa see our late summer issue for 2017.

If you have taken the walk above, and parked on Puente Drive you will have noticed how many cars have been there … almost every day this summer. The extreme heat has brought hundreds of visitors to More Mesa and the beach below.  Which brings us to the story below …

A Legend From the Past

The intense hot spell we have been experiencing lately, with its record breaking temperatures, seemed to echo a story I had come across while researching for an article on More Mesa’s asphalt mine in a previous issue. According to our colorful, always interesting, and “go-to” reference Goleta, the Good Land (by Walker A. Tompkins), a scorching one-day heat wave occurred in the Goleta Valley on June 17, 1859. Further, it was the first and only simoon ever recorded in North America. Never having heard the word “simoon”, I looked it up. What’s a simoon anyway? It’s a strong, dry, dust-laden local wind that is caused by intensive ground heating under a cloudless sky. The word simoon is Arabic and describes winds that occur in the Sahara, Israel, Jordan, Syria, and the deserts of Arabian Peninsula.

thermometerSo what did happen in June 1859? According to Tompkins, it was about 80 F by noon on that fateful day… a little high for our lovely Goleta Valley … known for its moderate temperatures. Then, about 1 PM according to Tompkins, a ‘blast of superheated air’ came from the direction of Santa Ynez Peak and hit the Goleta Valley, alarming the residents and sending them scurrying for cover inside thick-walled buildings. Tompkins wrote that by 2 PM the temperature had reached an incredible 133 F, with the northwest wind bringing ‘great clouds of impalpable dust’. People reportedly took refuge in several places including behind the 3-foot-thick walls of the Daniel Hill adobe. Calves, rabbits, and cattle died on their feet according to a “government report”, and fruit fell from trees to the ground, scorched on the windward side. Birds fell dead from the sky and others flew into wells in search of cooler air and drowned. About 5 PM the searing, hot wind died down, the report said, the thermometer ‘cooled off’ to 122 F.

Supposedly the temperature in the Goleta Valley hit 133 F, and went into the record books as the highest temperature for all of the U.S. … remaining a record for 54 years, when it was barely surpassed by a 134 F reading in Death Valley.

I thought this was a thrilling story and all More Mesa supporters would love it!

But …
However, while finishing up my research on the word “simoon” I ran across an article by Bill Norrington that was posted on the UCSB Geography Department website.  My hopes for relating this exciting (and “hot”) story about La Rancho Goleta … the ranch that included More Mesa … were trampled, if not dashed!
Unhappily, the story appears to exist only in the Tompkins book, with no scientific evidence whatsoever for the event appearing in, or being corroborated by, any other record, “government” or otherwise. Norrington goes on to chronicle Thompkins’ life as a writer of western novels (fiction), a reporter, a radio personality, and a staff writer for the Santa Barbara Newspress.
In addition, when Professor Joel Michaelsen of the Geography Department was asked about the event he commented: “I have never found any outside source to validate Tompkins’ story, and I am highly skeptical of its veracity. I don’t doubt that strong hot, dry down-slope winds could kick up lots of dust and produce very high temperatures – but in the 110 F- 115 F range at most. The 133 F just isn’t physically reasonable, as it would require the creation of an extremely hot air mass somewhere to the northeast. Our recent weather was a very good strong example of the sort of conditions that would produce such a heat wave, and our temperatures topped out at least 20 degrees below Tompkins’ figure. Stronger winds could have increased the heating a bit, but not nearly that much.”
If you add Professor Michaelsen’s  factual and scientific skepticism to the fact that Thompkins was a known spinner of tales … the 133 F probably !never happened.  Science triumphs!
We are deeply indebted to Bill Norrington and the Geography Department at UCSB for allowing us to share their fascinating story with you.

Stay Cool and Enjoy More Mesa!