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It’s been one month shy of two years since I posted a book review on this blog (not for want of California coastal books, of which there are many terrific titles released), because I was otherwise occupied and neglected this site.  After reading Chris Chapman’s Stories of Arroyo Hondo, the end has arrived for this book review drought and I’ll post some favorite reads from the past two years, but first, Chris Chapman’s art and history book of a little canyon on the Gaviota Coast.

As we know Arroyo Hondo today, it is a nature preserve managed by the Land Trust of Santa Barbara, located about 30 minutes north of Santa Barbara or about 10 miles south of the Gaviota Pass on U.S. Highway 101/California State Highway 1.  Visitor access for hiking its short trails is limited to two weekends each month and the preserve rents for events of up to 100 people.  Five streams form as the headwaters and converge and flow as Arroyo Hondo Creek under the highway and Southern Pacific’s trestle to the Pacific Ocean.  You can jog down the stairs to the beach and walk the 6 miles of sandy beach from Arroyo Hondo to Gaviota at low tide.storiesofarroyohondo

Stories of Arroyo Hondo begins as Tucumu (later, Tuxmu), a Chumash village recorded by Cabrillo during his contact with the Santa Barbara channel in late October through early November of 1542.  Chris Chapman writes, “Radiocarbon dates from artifacts such as pestles and projectile points indicate initial occupation of 3,000 B.C.”  In the 225 years from Cabrillo’s contact, Tuxmu was a vacant site by the time the Portola Expedition journeyed this coast.

Arroyo Hondo was a section of José Francisco Ortega’s ranch, a grazing permit named Nuestra Señora del Refugio.  Ortega enjoyed only three short years at La Nuestra.  “He became obese and eventually could not mount his horse without help.”  The Ortega family continued life on the rancho and one son petitioned for legal title from the Spanish, and then Mexican governments, but the family did not receive official title until 1866.  Bit by bit the Ortega family sold portions of the rancho.  “Arroyo Hondo was the last of the Refugio lands to remain in Ortega hands.”  Stories of Arroyo Hondo displays black and white photos of the Ortega descendants, their adobe houses, a grist mill, and a schoolhouse.

“In 1908 W.W. Hollister’s daughter Jennie Hollister Chamberlain Hale purchased the 782 acre Arroyo Hondo ranch” from E. Cordero, to whom the rancho was sold previously in 1889.  “The Ortega family continued to live at Arroyo Hondo,” through both Cordero and Hollister-Chamberlain-Hale ownership.

Transportation developments are covered in both text and black and white photos starting with stagecoach travel, then the effects of the railroad and herding of cattle by the Hollisters, and the automobile.  “Vicente lamented that the cool ocean breeze could no longer drift up the canyon,” once the Arroyo Hondo Creek culvert and highway closed the canyon at the coast.

Chris Chapman and her husband John Iwerks painted Arroyo Hondo while they ranch-sat for the Hollisters.  Watercolor landscapes and pastel coastscapes by Chris and oil roadscapes and beach scenes by her husband generously fill many pages of Stories of Arroyo Hondo as a colorful and “lasting gift.”

Stories of Arroyo Honda would make a nice holiday gift!  Purchase at:

Book Loft in Solvang
or in Santa Barbara at Chaucer’s Books, and the Presidio gift shop (Trust for Historic Preservation)
or Montecito, at Tecolote Books
and of course at Arroyo Hondo Preserve in the Ortega adobe.

Retail is $19.95 plus tax.  Shipping is possible if you cannot visit the above locations.

Note: I do not personally know the author, nor do I receive any benefit from book sales.  I think people should know about these California coast books and I’m happy to write about them.


Twelve years ago Paul (Pike) Seeger joined Seger & Strauss. He’s handled a bunch of high-profile pro bono cases and was twice elected President of the National Bar Association.  Pike taught Constitutional Law and Trial Practice at both USC and UCLA law.  He’s filed some big-time lawsuits, made national headlines during the seventies as a litigator, and won class-action consumer and environmental cases on behalf of the California Environmental and Consumer Protection Agency (CEPAC).

Then Pike got the call from his old Stanford law school buddy and ex-coworker, now the United States’ Attorney General, that the President has short-listed Pike as a Supreme Court nominee.

After hanging up that call, with a directive to Pike to ensure there are no skeletons in his closet before the nomination goes public, Pike’s phone rings again.  This caller advises Pike to “decline the nomination.  You must consider the content of file CR-44-139, Southern District of California.”

U.S. v. Anonymous.

Gaviota, A Novel takes us on adventures from Gaviota to one hundred miles south, within the basement archives of the City of Los Angeles’ District Court’s old federal courthouse.  From the file of U.S. v. Anonymous, Pike’s legal secretary, Gladys, translates the old court reporter’s shorthand from Swedish to English.

Erik O’Dowd provides us juicy cityscapes, “A misting rain covered Los Angeles under a low cushion of clouds.  The air was alive with the city’s wet light, slickening its structures.  I hunkered against the mist, walked along mirrored streets to the near-empty parking garage beneath my building.  I was alone in a city of millions.  I drove west, carried along a glistening artery, even more alone in the dark-lit compartment of my car.”

And sweet coastscapes, “The wide porch, where Mom spent most daylight hours, faced sunward, south- and westward toward the Pacific.  Beneath it spread the orchard – lemons and walnuts; and below it a tier of oak-lined fields, through which meandered arroyos carrying rain from the Santa Ynez Mountains to the ocean.  The creeks had formed sloughs and cut gaps in the shale cliffs that marked the westward course of the Gaviota coast.”

That’s it.  No more teasers.  Gaviota is a novel and a mystery, a thriller, but basically, a super good read.  Keywords are:  WWII, concrete, road contracts, Camp Pendleton, Oceanside, Gaviota, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties, steelhead fishing in the Santa Ynez mountains, family, success, loss, and righting wrongs.

You will be the jury of Gaviota and can only make a decision based on the facts found.

Buy Gaviota, A Novel.

Erik O’Dowd’s website.

More about Gaviota coast.


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Days until manuscript completion

Final DraftNovember 30th, 2013
Dot i's and cross t's.