The Wet Coast

By Reeve Woolpert

One way to see terrain is as a water collector or watershed — let your eyes flow over the landscape like raindrops.

Photo Courtesy of Reeve Woolpert ©Reeve Woolpert

The principal contours of the Gaviota Coast mark the many pathways taken by precipitation as it heads back to the sea to its origin as evaporated seawater. The abrupt climb out of the ocean of the Santa Ynez Mountains’ western end, which here is up to its waist in the Pacific, sends rain fallen on uplands downhill, across narrow, tilted marine terraces, promptly home. During wetter years, storms saturate lowland areas as well, flooding roads and gullies. Rain water courses into the streams of deep, coastal arroyos, discharges to the beach, and seeps from bluff faces, taking soil, driftwood and relics with it to the ocean.

Below Point Conception, unconstrained clouds and wind from distant, oceanic beginnings sweep off the Pacific on a down-channel, crosswise path across a series of short, discreet, coastal watersheds lined up side by side like a comb’s parallel, slender teeth. For nearly thirty miles, storms scrape this exposed, south facing, repeatedly cut flank of the mountains. But just north of angled Conception on the Gaviota Coast’s windward, west face at Jalama, the weather directly enters the wide mouth of a rambling consolidation of watercourses that have merged into the largest coastal watershed between the Santa Ynez and Ventura Rivers. Along the Gaviota Coast, these sunken, damp habitats provide highly productive strips of ecologically critical habitat for wildlife and, when flooded, nutrients for sea life.

The first American settler known to have visited Point Conception commented in 1850 on two aspects of the Gaviota Coast important to him. He declared, “The beef has a finer flavor and more delicacy than any we have met with on the coast…The water is disagreeable to the taste.”

Reeve –

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