As you coast down Alisal Road and cross the Santa Ynez River you enter an enchanted canyon. The road twists its way through a beautiful oak-covered narrows whose foliage is streaked with a pale green moss through most of the winter. Nojoqui Falls is located in one of Santa Barbara’s prettiest county parks. It is a short walk up the lush, narrow canyon to the falls, a 150-foot drop over a travertine apron filled with clusters of maidenhair fern.
Unless it is a Sunday, I usually park in the Mision Santa Inés parking lot, which usually has lots of room. But there are plenty of side streets in Solvang you can park along as well.
Turn left at the first traffic light in downtown Solvang. This Alisal Road. You will be following it for the entire ride. Alisal Road leads through town past a number of tempting pastry shops, which hopefully you will resist, at least until the end of the ride, when you will have earned one of two of these delightful treats.
After a slight descent down and across the Santa Ynez River, the road leads 6.5 miles through a delightful open canyon past Alisal Ranch, where you can have a wonderful continental breakfast on Sunday mornings, and up a narrow oak-filled canyon that rises 400 feet.
One of my favorite things about the ride, most noticeable in the wetter months, is the Spanish moss, which seems to drape the branches of the mighty oaks like a filmy cloak. It is actually not a moss at all, but a lichen. Locally it is called “treebeard”—which is the nickname of a friend of mine, Marc Kummel. If you know Marc, you know why the name is so appropriate.
A lichen is a combination of two plants joined together to help increase their chances for survival. Each of the two, alga and fungus, is able to obtain something from the other that it lacks. Fungi, such as mushrooms and molds, aren’t able to photosynthesize and therefore cannot produce food. Algae, on the other hand, need fungi as a source of minerals to create a source of food.
Because neither of these plants can exist alone, reproduction is a difficult thing for them. Rather than doing this separately, the lichen reproduces when pieces of the Treebeard break off and attach themselves to nearby branches.
There are many legends regarding this moss. In one of them a brutal-looking Spanish soldier bought a beautiful Indian maiden for a yard of braid and a bar of soap. The mere sight of the Spaniard so frightened the girl that she ran away from him. The soldier chased right behind her, until at last he climbed up after her to the top of a tree. The maiden dove into the water and escaped, but his beard got hopelessly entangled in the tree’s branches. There he died, but we can still see his “graybeard” on trees throughout the country—as the Spanish moss on the limbs.
The climb up out of the canyon is the toughest part of the ride, but it is a beautiful section, with the tall oaks and their beards of moss lining the road’s edge, and it won’t be nearly as difficult as you might think. If you have young children with you, it won’t be too long of a push if they can’t make it all the way to the top.
Once you reach the crest, the countryside begins to open up once again and the ride down to Nojoqui Falls County Park is an easy coast. You’ll hardly pedal at all. It is a little more than a mile to the park. Be sure to bring a lock along so you can take the walk up to the falls without worry. There is a perfect stone bench at the base of the falls where you can sit and meditate for a bit before heading back the way you’ve come.