The Most Wonderful Treasure….


As the end of the Lockdown approaches, I have been musing about how to “wrap up” our Treasure Hunts. How does one describe the entirety of the treasures of More Mesa … those few that I wrote about, and the hundreds of others that exist in this magical and remarkable place. Indeed, the most wonderful treasure on the whole South Coast is More Mesa itself!
What were our Treasure Hunts about? Over the past months, we discovered many of the individual treasures of More Mesa. We did this in fun looks at its trees, plants, birds, Insects, arachnids, reptiles, animals and even some man-made stuff. We reported on treasures that are native to our area, and even some that were imported here for various reasons and have since become difficult-to-control nightmares.

c28b4297-ff21-4723-afda-e230ef49b0f4All of these treasures make their homes in one or more of the habitats of More Mesa. So … what’s the big deal? The big deal is that 80% of More Mesa has been identified as Environmentally Sensitive Habitat or ESH. ESH is the designation for a special place where plant and animal life, or their habitats, are rare or extremely valuable because of their special role in an ecosystem; one which could be easily disturbed or degraded … by us!
Now comes a really big AHA … More Mesa is extraordinary in that it contains five different, distinct and unique habitat types … more than any other open space on the South Coast! It begins with a distinct vegetation community created by differences in topography, soil types, sun exposure and moisture. Then each plant community, in its turn, determines the types of wildlife that will be present. Thus, three important factors, physical features, vegetation and wildlife, create a unique habitat. With that background in mind, we can explore where all the treasures we talked about for the past 15 months make their homes within their special habitats.

Trees Crave Lots of Water: We talked about four species of trees; Willows, Cottonwoods, Sycamores and Oaks. All these trees need water, and we typically find the first three somewhere very near water. Their habitat, Riparian Woodlands can be found on More Mesa near Atascadero Creek and its adjacent flood plains as well as canyons and ravines.


3295d2a0-b199-4a56-9ad2-7e82507aaffeOaks need water as well, but are well adapted by having an extremely long tap root that eventually finds water … somewhere. Oaks have their own special habitat which is called, appropriately enough, Oak Woodland. For me, having been a climber in my youth, this beautiful habitat is hauntingly reminiscent of the forests in the foothills of the Sierras.

More Mesa’s Plants Live in all Habitats: Our plant Treasure Hunts had us looking for plants that live in soil, wet soil and water as well. We searched for Miner’s Lettuce, Elderberries, Datura and various water plants. We even devoted a whole issue to dreaded invasive plants; species brought to the Goleta Valley as cash crops, good feed for cattle or just by accident!

The Miner’s Lettuce we looked at in Spring likes the shade of an Oak Woodland, while Elderberry prefers a little water in its life and does well in Riparian Woodlands. Datura seemed to thrive in almost all habitats.
Vernal Pool 2002

fcc93dad-0353-470d-a740-48b995fc7537Our issue on water plants looked at plants that populate Wetlands … like Atascadero Creek and its adjacent marshes, canyon and ravine bottoms, meadows and open water pools.

However, the most remarkable Wetland we have on More Mesa is a Vernal Pool on the southeast corner. These very special and fast disappearing wetlands, are seasonal pools that fill with winter rainwater, and then dry out gradually thru the Spring and early Summer. Vernal Pools support a variety of rare water plants. Our own Vernal Pool was studied extensively the last time it filled, in Spring of 2019, and was subsequently identified as the most prolific Vernal Pool in all of the Goleta Valley. To learn more about Vernal Pools, and why the ones that remain are so very important, read about these unusual wetlands on our website.

b0847a7f-993a-4fc9-8d2f-47817725ff3fThe Coast Has a Special Habitat All its Own: As one strolls along the coast at the southern edge of More Mesa, you are likely to discover Deerweed, an extremely interesting plant we talked about when we wrote about bees. Remember how bees can see in the ultraviolet? This coastal path is also likely to give the visitor a good look at a Western Fence Lizard and perhaps a lone, impressive, and completely harmless, large Gopher Snake. A look skyward over the ocean might also include a Western Gull hunting for a sea food dinner.

The coastal walk, includes all of the fourth habitat on More Mesa, Coastal Bluff Scrub, a habitat that, when we are fortunate enough to get enough rain, offers us a spectacular late winter show. The star of this show is the California Brittle Bush, with its cast of hundreds of thousands of yellow blossoms decorating the top of the cliff and many feet below as well.

Mostly It’s Grass: The last habitat on More Mesa is also the largest … Grasslands … a habitat that can be found throughout level mesa areas and on some canyon slopes.

In the mid 1800s, when More Mesa was occupied by grazing cattle, grass was really important. And while More Mesa is no longer home to even a single cow, grasslands continue to play a critical ecosystem role. First, Grasslands are home to myriad species of small birds who eat seeds. And of vital importance, seeds and grasses provide food for small mammal populations … think Voles, Mice, Gophers, Rabbits and Squirrels. And you might remember the progression we talked about in earlier issues, wherein grass seeds provide food for small mammals and then small mammals serve as food for sensitive raptors as well as larger mammals. In other words, Grasslands are the cafeteria for almost all birds and many mammals.However, while small birds also make their homes in the Grasslands, raptors only use it as a cafeteria and generally live in other habitats … habitats with trees.


For example, and of major importance, in seasons with adequate rainfall, More Mesa can become home for up to 4 nesting pairs of our famous signature bird, the White-tailed Kite. Remarkably, in this year of extremely low rainfall, we have two adult pairs that are, even as I write this, feeding 6 hungry offspring!

We also looked at other birds in our Treasure Hunts, among them Great Blue Herons, Owls and Roadrunners. All of these, as well as the Kites, find food in the Grasslands of More Mesa, with the Roadrunner living there as well. Even the Peregrine Falcon, preferring birds for breakfast and dinner finds sustenance from the smaller birds that make their homes in the grasslands of More Mesa.
What about those larger mammals? We often have sightings of Bobcats, medium sized cats that feed on smaller mammals found on More Mesa. And, on another remarkable front, two Mountain Lions were spotted on the northwest part of More Mesa this year!

Big and tiny … our Treasure Hunts also looked at the Butterflies and Spiders found all over More Mesa’s Grasslands. And finally, the “man made stuff”, was a look at an important chapter in our country’s history and a fun departure from our usual hunts.

More Mesa is Part of a Bigger Picture: Habitats aside, it is important to remember that the canyons and ravines of More Mesa are linked to Atascadero Creek and larger regional ecosystems; systems providing wildlife migration corridors that reach all the way from the foothills to the shore.

Walking on More Mesa is a voyage back more than two centuries. Saving it preserves an important look at what was, all that we have lost and what we still can save. It is the last great place in Santa Barbara.


It has been an honor and a privilege to explore the treasures of More Mesa with you during this difficult and tumultuous time. Thank you for letting me come into your homes to share the wonder of this beautiful, magical piece of our history.
Look for more traditional news updates about More Mesa in the upcoming months and, most of all, thank you for reading the Treasure Hunts and thank you for caring about More Mesa … Valerie

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!

Finally Spring! April-May 2018

A Spring Walk on More Mesa

If you are wondering why it has been so long between updates, it’s because we’ve been waiting patiently for spring. It finally happened a couple of weeks ago and the treasures that we usually see on More Mesa in February and March are here now … at least most of them are. The reasons for this extremely late spring are many and varied. Principally, it was colder, drier and it rained at the “wrong” time. Specifically, 8% colder, only 50% of normal rainfall and, unhappily, most of that rainfall occurred in March, rather than earlier in the year. Now that the scientist in me has been satisfied as to the reason for this really late spring, I decided to celebrate by taking a walk of the kind we talked about in our last post. Most of the signs of spring described were found on the main eastern north-south trail … marked in blue on the map below.


high grasses

Starting at the gate off Mockingbird Lane, I ambled toward the coast noting fairly high grasses that were not quite the bright green of wetter years. Most of these grasses are introduced non-natives like Harding Grass… brought to More Mesa for grazing cattle in the first half of the 20th century. We do also have many native grasses like Purple Needle Grass, but those are more difficult to find.


There were several Buckeyes flitting near the ground. The caterpillars of these small but beautiful brownish butterflies … with large eye-spots … feed on the ubiquitous plantain found on the eastern north-south trail to the coast.


White tailed kites can also be easily observed in their
historical perching and nesting sites from this path as well. Recent reports of nest building are welcome news, as the drought had drastically reduced the number of kites in the entire Goleta Valley until last year.

As expected, our avian winter visitors (Northern Harriers, Short-eared Owls and Burrowing Owls) have departed for their mating and nesting habitats. There were, however some beautiful Common Egrets hunting in the wetter areas of our grasslands.


Further south, the largest of our three Black Cottonwood groves, with two 70-90 foot trees and many, many smaller trees, is showing lovely new growth. Unfortunately since sufficient rains did not materialize, our only vernal pool, at the southeastern corner of More Mesa is virtually indistinguishable from its surroundings. We hope for a wetter year next year.


A stop at the top of the stairway to the beach was a respite and provided some wonderful views of sea birds including pelicans and gulls. Not this time, but there have been times, when I have seen gray whales and dolphins from this same vantage. As the day was quite clear, the four Channel Islands off our coast were plainly visible.

I headed west to look at the coastal habitat in full bloom at, and over, the edge of the cliffs. Prominent was the California Bush Sunflower blooming in profusion over large portions of the cliff. Limited groupings of Lupine, Fiddle-neck, Blue-eyed Grass, Deerweed and a few Poppies can be found in various spots around More Mesa, especially in the sandier soils of the west end. However, except for these, it has not been a year for a wealth of wildflowers. This was probably due to the lateness of rains and the inability of the wildflowers to compete successfully with the grasses. A similar effect happened last year but was not as pronounced as this year.


I returned home … invigorated, and once again, feeling truly blessed that More Mesa is in all our lives.

Thanks so much for caring about this most special of places!

Valerie Olson

President, MMPC

September 2011

Stories of More Mesa
Last month we shared one of our “Stories of More Mesa”; stories that tell the world what More Mesa means to the people who cherish it.  This month we present a second story, a different story, but the same theme. (If you, too, have a story you would like to share, please contact us here.)

In my “other life” when I held a job, raised three kids and lived in the hustle and bustle of L.A., I hurried off to the mountains, the desert, or an peaceful seaside community every chance I could.  I drove one way for 5-20 hours, threw out a sleeping bag, slept, hiked, climbed, ran rivers and reveled in the wilderness … trees, free flowing rivers, wild flowers, wild animals and magnificent birds.  There were few structures, no traffic, few people and the whole outdoors to admire, appreciate and soak in. Now that I am twice as old as I was then, I still need the wilderness I sought in that other life.  But, my body is not as willing to jump into cars and drive 20 hours, sleep on the ground, climb, hike or run rivers.  But it’s more than happy to walk on More Mesa.  And although there are places where houses can be seen, there are also many places where you see only the mountains and the ocean.  And there are trees and wild flowers and wild animals.  There are magnificent oaks, incredible raptors, snakes, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, skunks and bobcats. I can feel the rhythm of the seasons, the wind, the sun, and experience the quiet.  In short, it feels just like a wilderness … a wilderness in my backyard.


August 2011

Stories of More Mesa
Over the past year or so, we have been collecting stories from folks who regularly use More Mesa.  These stories describe what More Mesa means to those who cherish it.  This month we share one of our most favorite ones with you. (If you, too, have a story you would like to share, please contact us here.)

As anyone who knows me can probably tell, I have fallen in love with More Mesa.  I walk there when I am happy, when I am sad, when I want to be inspired – whenever.  And every time I walk there, I see something new that I never saw before.   It is truly an amazing place!

eveningbaby kite