There's a web site where you can find a neighborhood's "walkability" score. Ours is not very high, what with the hill's limited egress, and no sidewalks between the four developments on it and the town of New Cumberland two miles away. Richmond's Fan was and is great, except for the parked cars obscuring your view across intersections (you'd better be even faster than you are observant), and the roaming muggers. Back when we were students and had nothing but bicycles and stereos, we thought we were safer, but despite the police and media hiding it there was violent crime. The professionals and yuppies now there are a much more tempting target for the enterprising criminal.
We've given up on going to Baltimore's Inner Harbor (except for a rare jaunt to the Whole Foods store), because the joy of walking waterside for hours is soured by the constant importuning of the panhandlers. And don't even think of trying to enjoy the newly resurgent downtown across the river here -- the street crime has exploded, along with the annoyance of hundreds of Harleys drowning out any conversation. Gettysburg is another old favorite that may join the reject list since it has been afflicted with motorcycle mobs for years now.
But, like Petula Clark, I know a place...
It's not like anyplace else, and it's my favorite walk: Vieja Drive in Santa Barbara County, right next to Ron and Claire's home (and I would never have found it other than for their hospitality). I discovered it in pieces. Checking the map to find different routes for my long morning walk to Java Station, I thought returning up Nogal Drive, turning right on Vieja, and then connecting with Puente, a few blocks from Ron and Claire's, looked good. I saved the section of Vieja to the left for a future side trip, thinking it was private due to the house numbers posted on a sign at the intersection. You could tell from the shoulder, pounded to dust and imprinted with hundreds of horseshoe "U"s that this was used as a bridle trail. Every other trip, I encounter a local or two on a beautiful horse and say my second "hello" of the day (the first goes to the fine staff at the Station). The equestrian tone of this secluded enclave has continued since the building of a racecourse for trotters by the original rancher, Thomas Hope (not Bob). He bought the hundreds of acres (originally a grant from Mexico to a former Spanish soldier) in 1861, and wisely raised sheep, making a fortune off the wool during the Civil War. His Italianate mansion is still at the corner of Nogal and Vieja, restored a while ago.
For a short distance the street is normal (for a millionaire suburb, at least): paved, with mailboxes and house numbers. Some are up the hill to the left, behind wide, heavy gates, and out of view. A couple on the right sit on the narrow ledge before the hill takes another steep run down to a few really hidden ranches. At one, with a beautifully landscaped front yard, I keep checking the ancient VW bus, covered with Mexican "turista" stickers, to see if the license is current. Long may you groove!
Then the paved part ends abruptly at a low iron-pipe gate, one of many that close off these private streets of the Hope Ranch area, once a producer of livestock, walnuts, lemons and lima beans, now home to 2,200 lucky people. There are low horse step-overs at either end. Now it's become a trail rather than a street, wide and flat, covered with shredded eucalyptus bark. One section of the huge trees is so dense it smells likes Vicks VapORub. Many have been cut down over the years I've been down this way; I don't know if they are short-lived or if they just bothered somebody. The raw stumps almost glow red; about half have vigorous shoots coming back up (I cheer them on).
Wondering why it's so broad, I found out that the Southern Pacific Railroad ran its Ventura Division extension this way beginning in 1887. In 1901 they moved the route, and other than this broad section, there is no evidence of its existence. So that was the genesis of Vieja, and now contented horses and people have replaced the snorting steam engines. I think as I pass by, any one of the four visible homes on the right ledge would make a fine residence for us, should Fate lose her mind and place us there. A Honda among the Mercedes set, and cats instead of horses. Oh my.
I stop and look at two things each time, paying my respects. The first is the giant agave which sits beside one of those climbing driveways, looking both vigorous and imperturbable. Further, on the right, are ridiculously large bougainvillea shrubs in red, pink and white. They usually grow next to house foundations in irrigated bliss; how do they survive the rainless summer up here? Their papery flowers look, each, like Japanese lanterns.
After going down another section with nothing man-made in view, the next-to-last house appears. It has been steadily remodeled in the years I've passed by, and now sports a wood fence across the front, sternly enforcing the privacy. A nice path bordered with rocks winds around the left side, but the orange tree is gone. This and the missing eucalyptus trees are the only changes. And since the Ranch will remain unincorporated and the streets and water system private, I have a good feeling that most everything will remain as it is, and it doesn't need any improvement.
After crossing (closed, private) Via Cayente, the mysterious part of Vieja appears. For a while I turned here and regained civilization at Puente Drive, but I poked my head in once and figured out that Vieja does continue, but as a path, up to Via Huerto, where its long journey finally ends. This dusty path must be trod with care; many piles of horse manure demand your attention. This past summer the fences on both sides, gloriously decrepit, were replaced. The horses on the left and the goats, horses, ducks and chickens on the right-side farmette are harder to see, but when you peek between the boards, they are all watching you. The ducks run away.
Vieja narrows to a few feet as it emerges between two driveways, disappearing. The "Private" sign at its end may keep other wanderers out; I've only seen horseshoe and a few foot prints, and once a mountain bike tread.
On maps this happy trail looks like a regular road, but you won't even find it from one end, and at the other can only drive a way before you must back up and go back the way you came.
That's the best walk I've ever found.