California Adventure – Day 3: Behind The Mountains

I still tend to think of the area around my home town in California as different ecosystems, in ascending layers. There’s The Beach. The Neighborhood. The Foothills.  The Mountains. And finally, Behind The Mountains.



The people who live in each of these layers are as different as the ecosystems that define each one. There are the Surfer Beach people; the Middle Class Neighborhood people; the Rich Reclusive Foothills people;  the Crazy Hermit Mountain people; and the mysterious people who lived Behind the Mountains.


When I was young, occasionally, our family would travel Behind the Mountains, passing roads and landmarks with names like “Old Stagecoach Road,” “Mission Canyon,” and “Hidden Valley” which gave me the impression that the people who lived there must look like they had stepped off of an Eagles or Doobie Brothers record album cover.




I just assumed they all rode horses as their main transportation, they all wore flannel shirts, and they all hung out in taverns hockthooing tabacky into brass spittoons.


I was a Neighborhood kid, and the whole idea of the mythical Behind the Mountains people was very romantic to me…


…Until, my dad decided to uproot us and drag us kicking and screaming 40 miles away from the familiar friendly Neighborhood we’d grown up in, to the harsh, uncivilized, outback Behind The Mountains.


Never mind the fact that we moved into a sprawling ranch style home, with a pool, that sat on 3/4 of an acre and backed up to horse pastures and miles of unobstructed rolling hills.  All I knew was that I was ripped away from the only friends I’d ever known, and forced to attend a school where they castrated bulls in a pen right next to the running track.  We lived there for a year and a half and hardly a day passed when I didn’t beg to move back “home.”


Now all of this is just backstory to set up my mindset before what turned out to be an amazing day Behind the Mountains.


First, according to Downtown Dad, we HAD to visit the Sanford Winery.  One, because he works for a place called 



whose logo looks suspiciously like the winery’s logo … down to the font!


and two, well, it’s a winery for Pete’s sake!  There must be some kind of healthful connection… don’t you think?




And I totally had to get a picture of the “poppies” said in my best Margaret-Hamilton-Wicked-Witch-of-the-West voice.



And the artsy look down the rows of grapevines.



The coastal fog creeping over the ridge… reminding me again that we were in the mysterious realm Behind The Mountains… and that we should beware… after all, you never know what you might see.



So, we tasted some wine, then moved on, driving through some lovely countryside dotted with white fenced horse pastures, and fields of neatly growing crops, from grapes, to walnuts, to marigolds.  There were lovely Spanish style ranch houses that popped up just around nearly every bend. 


At one point Downtown Dad looked over and asked me, “You lived here and saw this every day?  Tell me again, why did you hate it here so much?”  The best answer I could come up with was that a gilded cage is still a cage, and, at the time, I was an angst filled teenager, bound and determined to play the prisoner part to the hilt. 


The fact was that I had actually made some really close friends in the short time I’d lived there, and, had I lived there just a little bit longer, I might not have had to wait 30 years to meet one of them…


But wait, here’s another one of those amazing stories…


A few years back, when I was spending a lot of time cultivating the list of blogs I read daily, I discovered one written by a small town mom.  I liked her easy writing style, the great pictures she posted that were vaguely familiar, and her references to the small town she lived in which I guessed was somewhere in the Southern California area.  We commented back and forth, as bloggers do, and then, I took a haitus from blogging.  When I took it up again, under a different name, she was one of the few that followed me. Eventually we became Facebook friends, and I noticed her age was close to mine.  Then I noticed that she’d gone to the same bull-castrating high school I had! At the same time!



And here we are, enjoying a bite to eat at a lovely outdoor cafe.  It was just amazing to me that for two people who had never laid eyes on each other before, we could meet up and chat away like we’d been neighbors for years!  I wish I could have met some of the other characters she lives with… at least Homer!  But we’ll have to save that for another time. 


We said our farewells, and moved on down the road toward the place that most exemplifies the Behind The Mountains mystique for me…




Cold Spring Tavern.  Its a little off the beaten track, just under the towering “Suicide Bridge,” next to one of the many cold springs on the property – this collection of rustic log cabins really is like travelling back in time.   DD and I shared one of their famous Tri Tip sandwiches and enjoyed a couple of frosty beers while we sat on a log, in the pleasant company of bikers long past their youth, a few locals, and group of young girls celebrating an engagement. The owner himself greeted us and even took our picture!  



We listened to some live music and wandered around the grounds.  I’d come here for a friend’s birthday party when we were 13 or so, and it was one of those experiences that became an icon in my memory.  I worried that it might have become commercialized or overly touristy, but I’m happy to say that in nearly 40 years, it hadn’t changed a bit!



We finally tore ourselves away, and headed back toward Lompoc, where we were staying.  We still had one more amazing connection to make. 


When we lived in Sioux City, Downtown Dad got acquainted with the Young Dubliners, an Irish rock band that used to play at a local bar we frequented called Buffalo Alice.  He liked them so much that he used to book them for many of the downtown events he put on, so he knows these guys pretty well.  In planning our trip, DD happened to see that The Young Dubliners, or The Dubs as he calls them, were playing in a town just 10 or so miles from where we were staying.  


We showed up and found a place to hang out in the very crowded bar until the band went on stage.  They played their first set, and then Keith, the lead singer, wringing wet with sweat, took a break and went over to the bar to get a beer.  DD stole up behind him and said, “d’ya know a place called Buffalo Alice?”  Keith whipped around, sweat flying, and yelled in his Irish accent “Sioux City!  What the fook are you two doin’ here?”  After DD told him, Keith looked at us, hugged us, and said, “Us fookin’ here, and you two fookin’ here… that’s fookin’ amazing!” Then he finished his beer and got back on stage.



When it comes to being in the right place at the right time on this vacation, I’d have to agree with Keith, it’s fookin’ amazing!

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