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Spelunk-a-dunk: The Gaviota Wind Caves will make you feel like a kid again 

Dust gives way to soft dirt as my shoe sinks a few inches into the steep trail. I push and bend forward, willing my next step and hoping I don't dislodge too much earth onto my friend below me.

click to enlarge OCEAN FOR DAYS Highway 101 and the Pacific Ocean make for a pretty sweet sight from the wind caves above Gaviota State Park. - PHOTO BY CAMILLIA LANHAM
  • Photo By Camillia Lanham
  • OCEAN FOR DAYS Highway 101 and the Pacific Ocean make for a pretty sweet sight from the wind caves above Gaviota State Park.

Up above us is chaparral and rock. Our goal is to get to the top of the formation. It's not an especially long trek, but it's a steep climb in places: a little more than 2 miles round trip with 600 feet of elevation gain.

The Gaviota Wind Caves are visible from Highway 101, if you know what you're looking for. Bleached sandstone sticks out of the greenery, punched with divots, holes, and bubbles, some tiny, some gigantic. The hike starts just north of the entrance to the Gaviota State Park camping area. You take a right up the hill rather than heading by the ranger kiosk to the water. Paved and relatively flat for the first half-mile or so, you walk toward the freeway before turning left and heading up the dirt path.

click to enlarge CONTEMPLATE The most adult moment of the whole hike is a few seconds of reflection out this portal to the Pacific Coast. - PHOTO BY LEANNA GARBI
  • Photo By Leanna Garbi
  • CONTEMPLATE The most adult moment of the whole hike is a few seconds of reflection out this portal to the Pacific Coast.

I can see exactly where I want to go as I'm climbing. Skirting around the side of the rocks, I check to see who inhabits the crawl space I'd like to sit in. No one! Ducking down into the coolness between stone, I crouch forward and peek out a cubbyhole that's a smidge taller than 2 feet. I start laughing. I feel like a little kid. This is a very awesome place.

Tracing the Pacific Ocean past Refugio Beach and following Highway 101 back, my eyes rest for a minute on the railroad bridge above the state beach below.

It's a sweet view, one that I swap with my friend before we head around to the bottom of the formation to see what we can clamber into. There is one cave I'm hoping to give another go. The last time I came up here, my knee was in questionable shape and the dismount that I foresaw coming on the way back out of the cave gave me a moment of adult foresight.

click to enlarge HOLEY ROCK This is one cave of several to explore if you clamber up to the Gaviota Wind Caves near Gaviota State Park in Santa Barbara County. - PHOTO BY CAMILLIA LANHAM
  • Photo By Camillia Lanham
  • HOLEY ROCK This is one cave of several to explore if you clamber up to the Gaviota Wind Caves near Gaviota State Park in Santa Barbara County.

But not today! My friend and I are eager to see what we can climb, and we giddily force our way up about 25 feet worth of handholds and footholds into a much larger space than what you can see from the ground below. The way back down—uhh, there's definitely a dismount—involves gravity, faith, and dropping onto a slope of loose rocks and dirt from about 7 feet up. I have all of those traits today, thanks to my competitive urge not to look like a big-ass chicken.

With some trepidation, we both make the dismount and start to head back down the hill. Earlier in the day, we thought we might try to check out the Gaviota Hot Springs on the way back. It's right off Highway 101 on the other side of the tunnel, but our stomachs are starting to growl, so food is the new item on our list of things to do.

click to enlarge YUM! Smoked turkey, arugula, basil mayo, and deliciously seasoned olive oil make up this sandwich from Industrial Eats in Buellton, and I'm still dreaming about it four days later. - PHOTO BY CAMILLIA LANHAM
  • Photo By Camillia Lanham
  • YUM! Smoked turkey, arugula, basil mayo, and deliciously seasoned olive oil make up this sandwich from Industrial Eats in Buellton, and I'm still dreaming about it four days later.

And Industrial Eats in Buellton is where I'd like to satiate my hunger. The line is out the door when we get there, but the food we see people eating lures us to wait. As we enter, a drool-inducing Caesar salad is exiting. One of the employees is constructing a sandwich with a gigantic pile of arugula on one half and an equally enormous mass of house-smoked turkey on the other. Next up is a BLT, with an inch-thick slice of heirloom tomato, soft red-leaf lettuce, and a generous portion of bacon.

We are sold. And it is good. Δ

Editor Camillia Lanham is ready to eat more food in Buellton at clanham@newtimesslo.com.


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