My Santa Barbara: Unseen Santa Barbara

Posted on Mar 15 by Leslie Dinaberg

Photograph by Patricia Houghton Clarke

By Leslie Dinaberg

Photograph by Patricia Houghton Clarke.

Photograph by Patricia Houghton Clarke.

At first glance, it is unclear if you’re viewing an impressionist painting or simply a captivating reflection, which is exactly what drew Patricia Houghton Clarke to take this intriguing photograph.

Clarke was wandering along a path at Arroyo Hondo Preserve, on her way to the birthday party of Phil McKenna, a longtime friend and one of the founders of Naples Coalition and Gaviota Coast Conservancy. The reflections caught her eye as she was standing in the middle of the creek, recalling a conversation about the preservation efforts with J.J. Hollister, whose family once owned the 782-acre Arroyo Hondo—sometimes called “Jewel of the Gaviota Coast”—and later sold it to Land Trust for Santa Barbara County, which now runs the preserve.

“That was the first time I went to Arroyo Hondo, to see the homestead they have there, and J.J. (who passed away in January 2016) talked a lot about the preservation of the creek and the steelhead and what they’ve done on that…I’m sure that was part of my fascination with that creek,” says Clarke. “Then, obviously, the image was just right there. It was like a Monet painting.”

She continues, “The photograph is untouched, not Photoshopped at all…I didn’t take it with a great camera or anything—it was just one of those things, a little point-and-shoot I had with me to take pictures of Phil’s birthday. Just a moment in time.”

Incidentally, McKenna is the only person with a print of this image, part of Clarke’s “Unseen Santa Barbara” series.

One of the things I love about the photo,” she says, “is that you really can’t tell what it is unless you look into that lower right hand corner and see a little stone in the water, so there’s a little giveaway of what it is.
For more info about Arroyo Hondo Preserve and the steelhead trout preservation efforts, visit For more information about Patricia Houghton Clarke and her work, visit

This story was originally published in the Spring 2016 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.


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