Posted by: James Wapotich | September 13, 2016

Navigating Wilderness

Wilderness Navigation backpacking nature connection trails skills class workshop Santa barbara los padres national forest Mike Kresky Lanny Kaufer Edible Medicinal Plants animal tracking


Wilderness Navigation backpacking nature connection trails skills class workshop Santa barbara los padres national forest Mike Kresky Lanny Kaufer Edible Medicinal Plants animal tracking


Navigating Wilderness
Saturdays, Oct. 22-Nov. 12

Learn from local experts how to read the landscape and trails, and become more familiar with the native plants and animals of our area through this immersive class.

The Santa Barbara and Ojai backcountry offers more than 500,000 acres of designated wilderness and hundreds of miles of trails to explore, and yet often the biggest obstacle to venturing out on the land or going deeper into nature is simply having the skills and confidence to get started.

Through this immersive four Saturday workshop, you will learn how to read the landscape and trails; become more familiar with the edible and medical plants of our region; learn about the animals of our area and how to recognize their tracks; and build skills and awareness that allow you to feel more at home in the woods.

Each class takes place outside, on one of our local trails, and provides a mix of hands on instruction, immersive exercises, and council sharing circles that allows for learning on many levels.

Reading the Landscape
October 22nd, 9AM-2PM

Learn how to orient yourself to the local landscape, read the topography, and create your own mental maps. Discover how to navigate the backcountry without the use of a compass or GPS; and learn to remove the word lost from your vocabulary.

Edible and Medicinal Plants
October 29th, 9AM-2PM

Venturing out onto the land is even more rewarding when we take time to develop a meaningful connection with nature.

Join local plant expert Lanny Kaufer as we learn about the edible and medical plants in our area. Many of these plants were first used by the Chumash and have a rich ethnobotanical history.

Plants are great teachers of how to adapt to a particular place and move with the seasons. Learn how to recognize a number of our native plants; where to find them; and their different uses.

Animal Tracks and Tracking
November 5th, 9AM-2PM

Our backcountry is home to a rich variety of animals that often goes unseen by us. Join local tracker and naturalist Mike Kresky as we learn about these animals and their relationship to the land. Learn how to recognize some of the common tracks of our local mammals, birds, and even reptiles.

Tuning into the wildlife around us can deepen our awareness of place and through our senses connect us to the aliveness of the natural world.

November 12th, 9AM-2PM

Many of our local trails are overgrown, particularly those off the beaten path.

Learn how to read the trails, practice route-finding, and develop your own sense of “body radar” to help you navigate in the wilderness. We will work with how to create a trail narrative and interpret the landscape, and begin to see nature as an ally and how to hone and trust your senses.


James Wapotich is a Volunteer Wilderness Ranger with the Forest Service and the author of the Santa Barbara News-Press hiking column, Trail Quest. He leads guided hikes and has hiked many of the trails in our local backcountry.

Lanny Kaufer regularly leads Herb Walks and Nature Hikes in Ojai and Santa Barbara and is celebrating his 40th year of teaching people about edible and medicinal plants. He has studied with William LeSassier and has led herb walks with the late Chumash plant expert Juanita Centeno and Dr. Jim Adams of the USC School of Pharmacy.

Mike Kresky is an accomplished naturalist and wildlife tracker. He co-authored the field guide Animal Tracks and Scat of California and has completed the intensive Kamana Naturalist Training Program. He leads workshops on tracking and has explored much of the local backcountry.

All four Saturday classes take place on our local trails.

To sign up or for more information, please contact:
James (805) 729-4250

Workshop is $175 per person, or bring a friend and both $150 each.
Must be able to comfortably hike 2-3 miles

Posted by: James Wapotich | September 13, 2016

Hiking Santa Barbara’s Historic Backcountry Trails

Hiking Santa Barbara’s Historic Backcountry Trails backpacking los padres national forest wilderness homesteads mining cattle chumash routes


Hiking Santa Barbara’s Historic Backcountry Trails

Free Slideshow Presentation with Q&A

Wednesday, October 12th, 7:00PM
Karpeles Manuscript Library
21 W. Anapamu St., Santa Barbara, CA

The original trails through our backcountry were along routes used by the Chumash. When settlers began homesteading in the backcountry new trails were added. And during the early part of the 1900s, and the 1930s, the Forest Service built additional trails.

This talk will highlight three historic trails in our backcountry. Routes that can still be explored today. The Mono-Alamar Trail, which was used during the Chumash Revolt of 1824. The Sisquoc River Trail, which was built by the early homesteaders. And the Alexander Trail, which was a cattle trail into the backcountry between what is now Rancho Oso and Santa Cruz Camp.

Join local author James Wapotich as he shares images and stories from his hikes along these historic trails. James has hiked many of the trails in our local backcountry. He is a Volunteer Wilderness Ranger with the Forest Service, and is the author of the Santa Barbara News-Press hiking column, Trail Quest.

For more information call (805) 729-4250 or email

I’ve also been invited to participate in a panel discussion at Antioch University, Wednesday, Oct. 19th, from 4:30-5:45pm, at their Community Hall, 602 Anacapa St., Santa Barbara, CA.

The Benefits of Nature Connection on Mental Health

For millennia, humans have connected with nature as a means of sustenance, healing, and rejuvenation. In our modern times however, we have become increasingly disconnected from the natural world. Recent research has shown that nature connection can have far-reaching impacts on our mental health and overall well-being.

Join us as we hear from a panel of experts who will share stories and anecdotes from their clinical experience, indigenous Chumash wisdom, and time on the land that have helped people find healing, self-awareness, and clarity through connecting with nature.

For those who regularly enjoy the outdoors, or those looking to bring more balance to their lives by trying something new, this discussion is sure to expand your understanding of the benefits of spending time in nature. Bring your questions, your curiosity, and your loved ones to this enriching discussion on integrating nature connection into your personal mental health practices.

Panelists include:

    • Linda Buzzell Saltzman, MFT and Eco-therapist
    • Art Cisneros, Elder in the Chumash Community
    • Jennifer Ferraez, LCSW and Homeless Outreach Clinician
    • Doyle Hollister, MFT and Life-long Wilderness Wanderer
    • Alexis Slutzky, MFT and Wilderness Guide
    • Dan Spach, MFTI and Nature Connection Mentor
    • James Wapotich, Wilderness Guide, Author, and Artist

For more info call Sierra (805) 708-4058 or email or go to of Nature Connection on Mental Health Antioch University Linda Buzzell Saltzman Art Cisneros Jennifer Ferraez Doyle Hollister Alexis Slutzky Dan Spach

Posted by: James Wapotich | August 30, 2016

Dream Weaving

Dream Weaving Workshop Lucid Dreaming santa barbara incubation


Dreaming is one of the great frontiers and each of us by virtue of our dreams has access to it. Our dreams intersect directly with our lives and bring with them teaching and insights.

In many ways the dreamtime is like a hidden river flowing through our lives, and when we gather in groups and focus our intentions and interests around dreaming more of the dreamtime becomes revealed. 

Dream Weaving is the art of tracking what’s unfolding in our dreams and in our lives and working with how these two worlds overlap and can collaborate with one another in moving our lives forward.

Through this class we will explore techniques and awareness to enhance and heighten our dreaming abilities; engage in some fun activities and different approaches around dreaming; and create a dream sharing council.

Dream Weaving

Integrating the Power of Dreams into our Waking Lives

8-week class, September 26th – November 14th
Mondays, 6:30-9:30pm

La Casa de Maria
800 El Bosque Rd., Santa Barbara, CA

Our dreams carry us freely between the known and unknown, between the familiar limitations of our conscious minds and infinite possibilities. Discover how your dreams can connect you to a richer, more dynamic waking life and powerful future.

Through this class you will:

    • Cultivate and heighten your natural dreaming abilities
    • Interpret dream messages
    • Create a “Dream Council”
    • Tap into dreams for healing & creativity
    • Explore Lucid Dreaming


Maya Shaw Gale, MA, Transformational Life Coach, Expressive Arts Therapist, Poet/Writer and Mindfulness Retreat Leader (805) 857-1789

James Wapotich, Naturalist, Writer, Visual Artist, and creator of Revelation Dreamwork and Wilderness Dreamquest workshops (805) 729-4250

Workshop is $325 per person for 8-week session, or $285 with early registration by September 12th. Limit 15 students.

To sign up or for more information please call or email us.

Posted by: James Wapotich | August 29, 2016

Trail Quest: Montaña de Oro, Part 2

Located along the coast just south of Morro Bay, Montaña de Oro is one of California’s largest state parks. The park also just happens to be only two hours from Santa Barbara, making it a great destination for hiking and camping.

The 8,000-acre park features over 65 miles of trails and has 47 car camping sites and four walk-in, or environmental sites, to choose from. For reservations, pricing and availability go to There are no day use fees to visit the park.

The main campground is located above Islay Creek, just past the Visitor Center, which is located in the restored Spooner Ranch House. In addition to the trails south of the ranch house, two hikes north of the ranch house that allow you to explore the park’s scenery include a loop hike to Hazard Peak and a hike along the Morro Bay sandspit.

Islay Creek Montaña de oro

Islay Creek

The Hazard Peak Loop, about nine miles, incorporates Islay Creek Road and Dune Trail and offers views of Spooner’s Cove and Morro Bay. The hike along the beach to the end of the Morro Bay sandspit is about 10 miles roundtrip and can include a side trip to explore Shark Inlet and the back bay.

To reach the park from Santa Barbara, take Highway 101 north towards San Luis Obispo and exit at Los Osos Valley Road. Follow Los Osos Valley Road west and continue through the town of Los Osos. As the road turns southward it becomes Pecho Valley Road and continues to the park.

A good starting point to orient yourself to the park is Spooner Ranch House, which is just across from Spooner’s Cove, along Pecho Valley Road. A brochure with a map of the trails can be found at the ranch house, as well as online at Parking can be found at the ranch house and the cove, as well as at the different trailheads along Pecho Valley Road.

Island Creek Canyon hike Montaña de oro

Islay Creek Canyon

The restored ranch house, complete with furnishings, provides a glimpse of what life might’ve been like living there at the turn of the last century.

The ranch house was built in 1892, by Alden B. Spooner II, as a three-room cabin for his family and over the next 20 years was expanded to ten rooms.

The family raised cattle, sheep and hogs. Behind the ranch house, Spooner built a water-powered creamery and further up on Islay Creek, built a dam to channel water to the water-wheel. Spooner also built a barn and other ranch buildings, as well as a loading chute from the bluff down to the cove.

Spooner originally leased the land surrounding Islay Creek in 1892, and later purchased it in 1902.

In 1942, the Spooner family sold the land to Oliver C. Field, who ten years later sold it to Irene McAllister. In 1965, the land was purchased by the State of California and became Montaña de Oro State Park.

Hazard peak trail hike Montaña de Oro

Scenery from Hazard Peak Trail

Spooner’s neighbor to the north was Alexander S. Hazard, who planted the forest of eucalyptus trees one sees from the road on the drive into the park. Hazard planted the trees in the early 1900s hoping to cash in on California’s growing demand for lumber, however the wood from eucalyptus proved unsuitable for construction. Hazard Peak and a number of other features in the park are named after him.

A loop hike to Hazard Peak can be crafted using Islay Creek Road and Dune Trail. The trailhead and pullout for Islay Creek Road is along Pecho Valley Road, just north of Spooner’s Cove.

From the trailhead, continue inland along Islay Creek Road. The unpaved access road follows the canyon upstream and leads through a mix of chaparral including California sagebrush and coyote bush. Along the creek one can see arroyo willow, black cottonwood and dogwood.

After the first mile, Islay Creek Road meets Reservoir Flats Trail, which traces the south side of the canyon and connects back to the campground. At about the 2.75-mile mark, the road arrives at the beginning of Barranca Trail. From here, it’s about a mile up to the ridgeline the separate the drainages of Islay and Hazard Creeks. Just past Barranca Trail, along the road, is a dilapidated old barn and the beginning of East Boundary Trail, which also leads up to the ridgeline.

Barranca Trail is the shorter route to the top and joins East Boundary Trail on the ridgeline. From the ridgeline, continue north along East Boundary Trail to where it meets Hazard Peak Trail. From here, East Boundary Trail continues down into Hazard Canyon.

Hazard Reef Canyon Trail Montaña de oro

The beach near Hazard Reef

To reach Hazard Peak, continue westward along Hazard Peak Trail. About a mile and a half later, the trail arrives at the 1,076 foot high peak, where one can find a picnic table and two benches and take in the views that stretch north towards Morro Bay.

As the trail continues past the peak, it offers views down towards the ranch house and Spooner’s Cove. Roughly two miles from the peak, the trial arrives at the intersection with Hiedra Trail. From here, Hazard Peak Trail continues another mile down to Pecho Valley Road, arriving just north of Islay Creek Road.

Hiedra Trail leads a half-mile down towards the road and meets Dune Trail at the Hazard Canyon Parking area. From here, one can follow Dune Trail north to Hazard Reef Trail, which follows the last part of Hazard Canyon down to the ocean. At the beach one can see the transition from open beach to the north and the more sculpted bluffs that dominate the coast to the south.

To complete the Hazard Peak Loop, from the end of Hiedra Trail, follow Dune Trial south, back towards Spooner’s Cove, about a mile. If staying at the campground a short trail directly across the road from Dune Trail, crosses Islay Creek and arrives at the road to the campground, just behind Spooner Ranch House.

Shark Inlet Morro Bay sandspit Morro Rock A-Line Trail hike Montaña de oro

Shark Inlet, Morro Bay sandspit, and Morro Rock are seen from A-Line Trail

For the hike to the end of Morro Bay sandspit, the shortest route is to start from the end of Sandspit Road, which is along Pecho Valley Road on the drive in towards Spooner Ranch House. Parking at the trailhead closes at sunset, so plan accordingly.

From parking area, follow A-Line Trail north towards Shark Inlet and the back bay. The trail leads behind the dunes and about a half-mile later intersects with Army Road and Back Bay Trail. Back Bay Trail continues behind the dunes towards Shark Inlet and lets one explore part of the back bay.

Army Road provides access over the dunes to the beach. From here, it’s about four miles to end of the sandspit along the beach. The sandspit separates the Pacific Ocean from Morro Bay and the estuaries of Los Osos and Chorro Creeks. From March to September much of the dunes are closed to protect the nesting snowy plover. Near the breakwater at the northern end of the sandspit are two more access trails across the dunes that also let you visit the bay.

Morro Rock Morro Bay Sandspit hike Montaña de Oro

Morro Rock is seen near the end of Morro Bay sandspit

Throughout the hike the views to the north are dominated by Morro Rock.

The area surrounding the bay was first settled by the Chumash more than 9,000 years ago. The first European visitors to the area were part of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s expedition along the coast in 1542. However, it was Father Juan Crespi, who is credited with giving the rock its current name. Part of Gaspar de Portalá’s overland expedition from San Diego to Monterey in 1769, Crespi described the feature as a “round morro”, or crown-shaped hill.

The rock was formed over 25 million years ago and is part of a field of volcanoes that stretched from Morro Rock to Islay Hill in San Luis Obispo. Nature has weathered away the softer material from these volcanoes leaving just the igneous rock cores, or plugs. The most prominent of these morros are known as the Nine Sisters of which five are open to the public for hiking.

Originally surrounded by water, Morro Rock became connected to the mainland during the 1930s, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers filled in the north channel and built a causeway out to the rock. In 1968, the rock was designated a California Historical Landmark. Morro Rock can be reached from the town of Morro Bay at the end of Coleman Drive.

Regardless of how far you hike you’ll get to visit a unique part of California’s coast.

This article originally appeared in Section A of the August 1st, 2016 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press

Great horned owl hazard canyon Montaña de Oro

Great Horned Owl

During the Hazard Peak loop hike I spent some time following around *an* owl from tree to tree in Hazard Canyon trying to get some photos. However, it wasn’t until I got home and looked at my photos that I realized there’d been at least two owls I was following amongst the eucalyptus, an adult and one or more juveniles.

Juvenile Great Horned Owl Hazard Canyon Montaña de oro

Juvenile Great Horned Owl

Juvenile Great Horned Owl Hazard Canyon Montaña de Oro


Posted by: James Wapotich | August 29, 2016

Trail Quest: Montaña de Oro

Located just two hours north of Santa Barbara, Montaña de Oro State Park offers a variety of trails to explore. The park is along the coast, south of Morro Bay, and features year round camping with surprisingly no day use fees, making it a great destination for a weekend get away.

The 8,000-acre park has over 65 miles of trails, more than can be visited in a single day. Fortunately, there are 47 car camping sites at the campground plus another four environmental, or walk-in, sites. For reservations, pricing and availability go to Camping is also available at nearby Morro Bay State Park.

Of the different hikes within in the park, Bluff Trail, Coon Creek Trail, and Valencia Peak are three hikes that provide a good sampling of the park’s scenery. Bluff Trail follows the coastline and is about four miles roundtrip. Coon Creek Trail, which follows a rich riparian corridor, is around five miles round trip. And the hike to Valencia Peak, which offers some of the best views of the park, is also roughly five miles roundtrip. A loop hike combining all three of these hikes is about 11 miles.

Bluff Trail Montaña de Oro beach cove hike

Scenery along Bluff Trail

Valencia peak bluff trail hike Montaña de oro

Valencia Peak is seen from Bluff Trail

To reach the park from Santa Barbara, take Highway 101 north towards San Luis Obispo and exit at Los Osos Valley Road. Follow Los Osos Valley Road west and continue through the town of Los Osos. As the road turns southward it becomes Pecho Valley Road and continues to the park.

A good starting point to orient yourself to the park is Spooner Ranch House, which is just across from Spooner’s Cove, along Pecho Valley Road. A brochure with a map of the trails can be found at the ranch house, as well as online at Parking can be found at the ranch house and at the cove, as well as on the bluff overlooking the cove. Past the ranch house, Pecho Valley Road continues another mile and a half, passing a number of trailheads and pullouts, before arriving at the end of the road and the Coon Creek Trailhead parking area.

In 1892, Alden B. Spooner II began leasing a portion of the land around Islay Creek that would become Montaña de Oro. He established a dairy farm and raised hogs and in 1902, purchased the land he had been leasing. By 1917, he owned more than 9,000 acres along the coast and had built a ranch house, creamery, several barns, and even a dam across the creek creating a small reservoir.

Corallina Cove Bluff Trail Montaña de oro

Corallina Cove

Spooner passed away in 1926, and in 1942, the Spooner family sold the land to Oliver C. Field. 10 years later Field sold it to Irene McAllister, who placed the land in a corporation called Rancho Montaña de Oro. Three years later the corporation went into bankruptcy. In 1965, the State of California purchased the land for use as a state park, keeping McAllister’s name for the land, which translates as mountain of gold, a reference to the golden wildflowers that grow there in the spring.

Bluff Trail starts just past the ranch house on the bluff overlooking Spooner’s Cove, across from the Valencia Peak trailhead, and follows the coastline south. Unlike much of the coastline in Santa Barbara, the coast here runs north-south. The trail leads through a mix of low brush and grasses including California sagebrush, coyote bush, golden yarrow, dudleya, and poison oak. Although not worry, the trail ADA accessible trail is wide enough to keep you clear of the poison oak.

The trail offers views across Spooner’s Cove, and as it continues along the coast offers views of the dramatically sculptured coastline. Over the millennia the sea has eroded the underlying Monterey shale, creating pocket beaches and outcroppings of rock. At about the half-mile mark, the trail arrives at Corallina Cove; here, stairs provide access down to a small beach. Continuing along Bluff Trail, a half-mile further is Quarry Cove and another coastal access point.

Point Buchon Montaña de Oro

Scenery near Pt. Buchon

At about the 1.5-mile mark the trail arrives at the end of the State Park property, overlooking Coon Creek Beach. Here, the trail turns inland and continues a half-mile towards Pecho Valley Road and Coon Creek parking area. For additional hiking one can explore Coon Creek Trail or to see more of the coast visit Point Buchon.

Point Buchon is part of the land owned by Pacific Gas and Electric, further south on the property is Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. The hike along Point Buchon Trail to end of the trail and back is about 6.5 miles roundtrip. A short loop hike just to the point and back is one mile.

To visit the point, starting from the Coon Creek parking area, continue on foot south along Pecho Valley Road through the locked access gate. The road arrives at a check-in station, where you need to sign in and back out for the hike. From here, Point Buchon Trail continues along the south side of Coon Creek Canyon. The trail provides access down to Coon Creek Beach, and then continues along the coast to Point Buchon. Just past the point the trail branches for the shorter loop back to the check-in station. Point Buchon Trail is open Thursday through Monday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Coon Creek Beach Point Buchon Trail Montaña de oro

Coon Creek Beach is seen from Point Buchon Trail

For the hike along Coon Creek Trail, which can also be used to create a loop hike to Valencia Peak, make your way to the Coon Creek parking area. From the parking area the trail continues over to Coon Creek, passing through coastal sage scrub. Here, one finds coyote bush, California sagebrush, black sage, monkey flower, poison oak, and the occasional toyon and coffee berry.

The trail then arrives at the creek, which is flowing intermittently. Along the creek is a mix of riparian plants including arroyo willow, blackberry, mugwort and horsetail. Also along the trail are plants not commonly found in Santa Barbara County, such as dogwood, thimbleberry, and bane berry.

Coon Creek Trail hike montaña de oro

Scenery along Coon Creek Trail

Oats Peak Trail Montaña de oro

Scenery along Oats Peak Trail

Coon Creek Trail follows the creek upstream, and at about the 2.25-mile mark from the trailhead arrives at Oats Peak Trail. From here, Coon Creek Trail continues another quarter of a mile and ends at a small stand of cypress trees.

For the Valencia Peak loop, continue on Oats Peak Trail. Oats Peak Trail continues up a side canyon passing through oak woodland, before transitioning into chaparral as it continues up towards Oats Peak and the ridgeline separating the Coon Creek and Islay Creek drainages.

At the top, about a mile from Coon Creek Trail, the trail meets Alan Peak Trail. Alan Peak Trail leads 2.5 miles east to Alan Peak (1,649’) passing through a stand of Bishop pines along the way. The trail starts out in generally good condition, but becomes more overgrown the further one goes, with the final segment being brushy and choked with poison oak.

Alan Peak Trail Montaña de Oro hik Coon Creek Valencia Peak Oats

A view towards Alan Peak from the trail

Morro Bay Valencia Peak Montaña de oro

Morro Bay is seen from Valencia Peak

To reach Valencia Peak, from the trail juncture with Alan Peak Trail, turn left and continue on Oats Peak Trail. The trail soon arrives at Oats Peak (1,373’). Past the peak, the trail follows the ridgeline west and about a mile later arrives at the turnoff to Valencia Peak. From here the trail follows an old road cut that meets up with Valencia Peak Trail and leads to the top of the peak.

From Valencia Peak (1.347’) one is treated to great views out across the coast, as well as north towards Morro Bay. From here, Valencia Peak Trail leads west, down from the peak, where it intersects Oats Peak Trail and Badger Trail. From this intersection, Oats Peak Trail winds its way down toward the campground behind the ranch house. Valencia Peak Trail leads down to Pecho Valley Road, just across from the beginning of Bluff Trail to complete the 11-mile loop. And Badger Trail connects over to Rattlesnake Flats Trail, which can be used to reach Pecho Valley Road a half-mile north of Coon Creek parking area for a shorter loop to the peak from the Coon Creek Trailhead of about 9.5 miles.

Regardless of how far you hike you’ll get to see some of the unique scenery along our California coast.

This article originally appeared in section A of the July 25th, 2016 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

Bluff Trail hike montaña de oro

Scenery along Bluff Trail

Posted by: James Wapotich | August 29, 2016

Trail Quest: San Emigdio Mesa Spring Trail

Located in northern Ventura County, Mount Pinos is the tallest mountain is our local area. At 8,831 feet in elevation, it is also the tallest mountain in Los Padres National Forest. The mountain is connected to Sawmill Mountain, Grouse Mountain, and Cerro Noroeste forming a single unit overlooking Cuddy Valley, to the north, and San Emigdio Mesa and Lockwood Valley, to the south.

San Emigdio Mesa is a large alluvial fan along the southwestern slope of Cerro Noroeste. The area is predominantly covered in pinyon pine and juniper woodland and can be visited as part of a day hike or backpacking trip.

The mesa is part of the Chumash Wilderness, which was established in 1992. The 38,150-acre wilderness area includes the mountains between Mount Pinos and Cerro Noroeste and extends south towards Lockwood Valley, and southwest through San Emigdio Mesa towards the Cuyama Badlands.

San Emigdio Mesa Spring Trail hike backpacking chumash wilderness los padres national forest

Scenery along Mesa Spring Trail

San Emigdio Mesa Spring Trail, or simply Mesa Spring Trail, leads from the top of the mountains down to Mesa Spring Camp and across the mesa. The trail sees far fewer visitors than nearby Tumamait or North Fork Lockwood Trails, and with reliable found at the spring, provides a great opportunity to explore this part of the Chumash Wilderness.

From the Cerro Noroeste Road trailhead, the hike to Mesa Spring Camp is about eight miles round trip. If starting from Sheep Camp, as part of a backpacking trip, it’s about 11 miles round trip.

To get to the Cerro Noroeste trailhead from Santa Barbara, take Highway 101, south to Ventura. From Ventura, take State Route 126 east to Interstate 5 and continue north on Interstate 5 to Frazier Mountain Park Road, just past Gorman. Continue west on Frazier Mountain Park Road, through Frazier Park, to Cuddy Valley Road. Follow Cuddy Valley Road west to Mil Potrero Highway, and continue west along Mil Potrero Highway, past Pine Mountain Club, to Cerro Noroeste Road. Turn left onto Cerro Noroeste Road and follow it to the top of Cerro Noroeste, also known as Mount Abel.

Map North Fork Lockwood Trail Mount Pinos Sheep Camp Lily Chumash Wilderness Los Padres National Forest

Map courtesy

As the road winds its way to the top of Cerro Noroeste it offers some exceptional views to the southwest out across San Emigdio Mesa and the Cuyama Badlands. The road then arrives at the beginning of Tumamait Trail, parking is found along the road. Past the trailhead the road ends at Campo Alto Campground, which has 12 campsites, each with a picnic table and fire ring. The sites are available on a first come, first served basis. The drive from Santa Barbara is about two and a half hours.

From Cerro Noroeste Road, it’s a half-mile descent along Tumamait Trail down to Puerto del Suelo and the beginning of Mesa Spring Trail. Past the intersection, Tumamait Trail continues along the top of the mountains to Mount Pinos.

If coming from Sheep Camp, continue along North Fork Lockwood Trail to the top of the mountains, and then follow Tumamait Trail west 1.5 miles to Mesa Spring Trail.

Puerto del Suelo is the low point along the mountain ridge between Grouse Mountain and Cerro Noroeste. A sign used to mark the trail juncture, but it’s now buried under a large fallen tree.

San Emigdio Mesa Spring Trail hike Chumash Wilderness Los Padres National Forest

San Emigdio Mesa is seen from Mesa Spring Trail

From Tumamait Trail, Mesa Spring Trail descends down the south side of the mountain and leads through predominantly Jeffrey pines. The trail soon joins a dry wash and follows it downstream. The trail is overgrown in places, but is generally followable.

As the trail continues to drop down in elevation, the plants become more diverse. Here, one starts sees flannel bush and canyon live oak mixed in with the pines. The trail then peels away from the wash as it transitions into predominantly pinyon pine, with some juniper and manzanita.

Pinyon pine, also spelled piñon, can be found throughout the southwestern United States and northern Baja California and is the only single-leaf pine in our area. The tree on average can live to be more than 350 years old. The oldest living specimen, recorded in Nevada, is over 900 years old. The tree’s nuts, or seeds, are used by chipmunks, ground squirrels, wood rats, mice, deer, black bears, and various jays. Many of these animals also cache the seeds similar to acorns, which helps to disperse them.

San Emigdio Mesa Meadow trail chumash wilderness los padres national forest

San Emigdio Mesa Meadow

Pinyon pines were also used by the Chumash as a food source. In late summer, they would travel from the coast to sites in the interior where the tree grows to gather seeds. In the early morning, before the pine pitch became too sticky, the Chumash would climb the trees to collect and knock cones to the ground. Later in the day they’d use longer sticks to continue knocking down cones. Cones were then heated in a fire to reduce the pitch and open up the cones, which were then worked to free the seeds. In a good year, a single tree can produce as much as 11 pounds of seeds.

The tree also had other uses for the Chumash. Wood from pinyon pine was used to make bows and the pitch from the trees was collected and mixed with asphaltum to produce yop, which was used to bind and seal the boards of their wooden plank canoes, or tomols.

As the trail continues through the pinyon pines, it crosses several side washes, which are also part of the Apache Canyon drainage, before following a ridge between two washes. Here, the views extend out across the mesa. The trail then crosses several more side washes and eventually arrives at the remnants of an old wooden trail sign, lying on the ground. The sign with its somewhat inaccurate mileage is still a good indicator that you’re on the right path.

Lawrence’s goldfinch San Emigdio Mesa Spring Trail Chumash Wilderness Los Padres national forest

Lawrence’s goldfinches getting water at Mesa Spring

The trail continues a little further and arrives at the first campsite, which features a grated stove. Just past the camp, is Mesa Spring.

The spring is a welcome sight in an otherwise dry landscape and has a steady trickle of water flowing into a large wooden barrel. The spring also serves as a bird magnet and you can often hear the cries of scrub jays even before you can see the site from the trail. At the spring, if you’re willing to sit quietly and watch the action, some of the birds that can be seen there, in addition to scrub jay, are Steller’s jay, northern flicker, raven, Cassin’s finch, and Lawrence’s goldfinch.

Steller's Jay San Emigdio Mesa Spring Trail Chumash Wilderness Los Padres national forest

An inquisitive Steller’s jay at Mesa Spring

Past the spring, the trail continues a short way down to the main camp, which features a picnic table and grated stove. Here, the old jeep road that led from Apache Canyon to the camp and spring becomes more evident. The jeep road was decommissioned when the area became part of the Chumash Wilderness.

Continuing past the camp, the trail leads through more pinyon pine and juniper woodland. Where the trail appears to branch, stay to the right. About a mile from the spring, the trail arrives at the edge of an impressively large meadow. Here, Mesa Spring Trail continues to the right and traces the northern edge of the meadow and connects over to Toad Springs Trail. However, an easier route is to just continue straight along the jeep road until it reaches the far end of the meadow where it also meets Toad Springs Trail.

Toad Springs Trail bisects the western portion of the Chumash Wilderness. The route was designated in 1976, as a motorcycle trail and connects Apache and Quatal Canyons. A landslide along the trail in the 1990s closed the trail to OHV traffic, but it is still otherwise hikeable. Both Quatal and Apache Canyons are part of what’s know as the Cuyama Badlands and can make for interesting side trips.

Quatal Canyon Cuyama Badlands Los Padres national forest

Quatal Canyon

Quatal Canyon Road is an unpaved road that connects Cerro Noroeste Road with State Route 33. The canyon, with its unique geology, is sometimes described as a smaller version of Bryce Canyon.

Apache Canyon Road, also unpaved, starts from State Route 33 and ends at Nettle Springs, near the beginning of Toad Springs Trail. Both roads are more easily traveled with a high-clearance vehicle.

Regardless of how far you hike you’ll get to see a unique part of Los Padres National Forest.

This article originally appeared in section A of the July 18th, 2016 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

Tarantula Hawks on narrow leaf milkweed Quatal Canyon Cuyama Badlands Los Padres national forest

Tarantula Hawks on narrow leaf milkweed, Quatal Canyon

Posted by: James Wapotich | August 29, 2016

Trail Quest: North Fork Lockwood Trail

With an elevation around 8,300 feet, Sheep Camp has the distinction of being the highest camp in Los Padres National Forest. The camp is located in the Chumash Wilderness, in the mountains near Mount Pinos. At 8,831 feet, Mount Pinos is the tallest mountain in Los Padres National Forest. Sheep Camp can be reached as part of a day hike or backpacking trip.

A hike to the camp along North Fork Lockwood Trail from Lockwood Valley is around 12 miles round trip and because of the altitude and elevation gain can also be a great conditioning hike for treks in the Sierras.

There are two ways to reach the trailhead from Santa Barbara. The first is to make your way to Ojai. From Ojai, continue north on State Route 33. The road climbs over Pine Mountain Summit before descending down towards the Cuyama Valley, where it meets Lockwood Valley Road. Turn right onto Lockwood Valley Road and continue east towards Boy Scout Camp Road. Turn left onto Boy Scout Camp Road and follow it to the end.

North Fork Lockwood Canyon Trail hike backpacking Chumash Wilderness Los padres national forest

North Fork Lockwood Canyon

The second route, is to take Highway 101, south, to Ventura, and then take State Route 126, east, to reach Interstate 5. Continue north on Interstate 5, past Gorman, and exit onto Frazier Mountain Park Road. Continue west on Frazier Mountain Park Road to Lockwood Valley Road; and from Lockwood Valley Road, turn right onto Boy Scout Camp Road.

The drive to the trailhead along either route is roughly two hours. Parking is found along the road outside the entrance to Three Falls Boy Scout Camp, which of course explains why the road is called what it is.

Three Falls Boy Scout Camp was established in 1933, and hosts programs year round. The camp takes its name from the three waterfalls that can be found in the nearby mountains, including one that can be easily reached from North Fork Lockwood Trail.

From the camp entrance, follow the road through the camp to the signed beginning of the trail. Please respect private property. The trail then continues along an unpaved access road that follows North Fork Lockwood Creek, which is dry this time of year. The road leads through a mix of pinyon pine and sage.

Map North Fork Lockwood Trail Mount Pinos Sheep Camp Lily Chumash Wilderness Los Padres National Forest

Map courtesy

At about the 2-mile mark, the road arrives at the beginning of the single-track trail that leads up the south side of Sawmill Mountain. Just past the beginning of the trail, the road ends. However, by continuing up the creek a short way one can reach the base of North Fork Lockwood Falls, currently little more than a trickle.

From the road, the trail climbs away from the creek, offering views back down the canyon. Here, the trail enters Chumash Wilderness. The trail then rejoins the creek, above the falls, and continues upstream towards Lily Meadows.

The trail through the canyon leads through a mix of canyon live oak and pine, with willow lining the creek. Amongst these plants is a surprising standout, flannel bush. With its bold yellow flowers in bloom, the large shrub ablaze with color, appears almost out of place. Flannel bush takes its name from the fuzzy, flannel-like hairs on its leaves, which can cause irritation to skin and eyes if touched. The plant is found throughout the southwestern United States and can grow from 5 to 20 feet in height.

Flannel Bush Fremontodendron californicum chumash wilderness north fork lockwood trail los padres national forest

Flannel Bush

At about the 3-mile mark, the canyon opens up and the trail arrives at Lily Meadows Camp, sometimes spelled Lilly Meadows. Although there are plants in the lily family found in the Chumash Wilderness, it’s more likely the camp was named for the western blue flag irises found below the camp, which are sometimes referred to as lilies.

Western blue flag iris, also known as Rocky Mountain iris, can be found throughout the western United States and Canada. The plant prefers moist areas and blooms in late spring, and although fading here, still has some flowers. The distinctive flower has three white sepals with lilac-colored veins turning golden yellow as they move towards the center.

Lily Camp is shaded by Jeffrey pines and features a stone fire ring and picnic table. Currently, there is no water flowing in the creek below camp, however, by continuing back downstream along the trail to where the canyon narrows one can find a tiny trickle of water in the creek.

Lily Meadows Camp North Fork Lockwood Trail Chumash Wilderness backpacking hike Los Padres National Forest

Scenery near Lily Meadows

From Lily Camp, the trail levels out some, passing through mostly pines as it continues along North Fork Lockwood Creek. Here, as with elsewhere on the trail, one can’t go more than a quarter-mile without hearing the raucous cries of stellar jays to keep you company.

About 1.75 miles from Lily Camp, the trail leaves the creek and begins the toughest part of the hike as it climbs roughly 1.25 miles along the ridge separating the Lockwood Creek drainage from that of Apache Canyon. Here, the views extend out across the upper Cuyama Valley.

Because of the altitude, some care should be taken when hiking to allow for the higher elevation. From the beginning of the single-track trail, already at roughly 6,000 feet above sea level, the trail gains around 600 feet to Lily Camp, and from there, another 1,700 feet to reach Sheep Camp.

At about the 6-mile mark, the trail arrives at Sheep Camp. The camp has four sites, amongst the pines, each with a stone fire ring and grated stove. The first is near an overlook that provides some great views out across the valley toward Pine Mountain. The second is near the spring, and the other two are past the spring along trail.

Sheep Camp Chumash Wilderness North Fork Lockwood Trail Los Padres National Forest Tumamait

Scenery near Sheep camp

The site was originally used as a base camp by ranchers from the San Joaquin Valley in the early 1900s during their sheep drives. The camp has a reliable spring which provides a steady trickle of water.

Surrounding the spring are more irises, as well as crimson, or western, columbine. The plant with its red and yellow flowers blooms from April to August and prefers places that are moist. The plant can be found throughout western North America. Other flowers still in bloom along the trail include, paintbrush, lupine, and mariposa lily.

Past Sheep Camp, North Fork Lockwood Trail continue towards the top of the mountains, less than a quarter-mile, where it meets Tumamait Trail. To the west, Tumamait Trail continues towards Cerro Noroeste Road, and to the east continues towards Mount Pinos. The trail runs along the top of the mountains and was named for Chumash elder Vincent Tumamait, who passed away in 1992. Tumamait helped to revive and preserve Chumash culture through presentations in schools and public lectures, by sharing stories and dances, and teaching about the Chumash.

Western blue flag Western blue flag iris Rocky Mountain Missouri Sheep camp chumash wilderness los padres national forest

Western blue flag iris

Sheep Camp can also be reached from either the Cerro Noroeste or Mount Pinos trailheads for shorter roundtrip hikes of four miles or eight miles respectively. The Mount Pinos Trailhead is reached from Cuddy Valley Road, which starts from the intersection of Lockwood Valley Road and Frazier Mountain Park Road. From Cuddy Valley Road one can reach Cerro Noroeste Road, by turning onto Mil Potrero Highway just as Cuddy Valley Road turns towards Mount Pinos. Mil Potrero Highway intersects Cerro Noroeste Road just as it turns towards Cerro Noroeste.

From Sheep Camp, one can also extend their backpacking trip, by continuing another 5.5 miles over to Mesa Spring Camp. The camp is reached by continuing west along Tumamait Trail to Puerto del Suelo and following Mesa Springs Trail down to the camp which also has reliable water.

Regardless of how far you hike you’ll get to explore a unique part of the southern Los Padres National Forest.

This article originally appeared in section A of the July 11th, 2016 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

Crimson Red Western Columbine Aquilegia formosa chumash wilderness sheep camp los padres national forest wild flower

Crimson Columbine

Posted by: James Wapotich | August 29, 2016

Trail Quest: Upper Santa Ynez Camp

In the mountains behind Carpinteria, upstream from Jameson Lake, are the humble beginnings of the Santa Ynez River. The 92-mile long river stretches west from these headwaters, through the Santa Ynez Valley towards Lompoc, and arrives at the Pacific Ocean near Surf Beach.

Upper Santa Ynez Camp is located along the upper reaches of the river and can make for an interesting destination while visiting the headwaters. During the spring, when there is reliable water at the camp, it can also be visited as part of a backpacking trip.

The camp can be reached from the Matilija Trailhead, past Ojai, as well as from Romero-Camuesa Road along the upper Santa Ynez River. The camp, which is along Juncal Road, is roughly midway between these two trailheads. However, the hike from the Matilija Trailhead is more shaded and is the shorter route for reaching the camp and the headwaters of the river.

Monte Arido Road Murietta Pond Santa Ynez Mountains hike trail los padres national forest

The Santa Ynez Mountains are seen from Monte Arido Road

From the Matilija Trailhead it’s about 11.5 miles round trip to the camp, plus another 2-mile roundtrip side hike to visit the headwaters. A shuttle trip can also be made by arranging for a ride or having a car at each of the trailheads and hiking from one to other. The distance between the two trailheads is roughly 12.5 miles. The route also makes for a great mountain bike ride through the backcountry.

To get to the Matilija Trailhead from Santa Barbara, make your way to Ojai. From Ojai continue north on State Route 33 to Matilija Canyon Road. Turn left onto Matilija Canyon Road. The road follows Matilija Creek upstream and arrives at a locked gate. Parking is found in the pullouts near gate.

From the trailhead, continue along the road as it leads past several ranches and up Matilija Canyon. Please respect private property.

Roughly three-quarters of a mile from the trailhead, the unpaved road arrives at the beginning of North Fork Matilija Trial, which leads into Upper North Fork Matilija Canyon and Matilija Wilderness. Just past this juncture, along the road, is the beginning of Murietta Trail, which leads up Murietta Canyon. Juncal Road continues another half-mile up Matilija Canyon, before then turning and heading up Murietta Canyon as well.

map upper santa ynez camp murietta trail jameson lake reservoir hike juncal road los padres national forest

Map courtesy

From the road, Murietta Trail starts off through a mix of chaparral. Here, one can see ceanothus, chamise, and black sage, as well as some toyon, manzanita, and holly-leaf cherry. As the trail nears the creek it starts to become more shaded with sycamore, cottonwood, and even some California black walnut. Where the trail first nears the creek there is still some water flowing, but by the time the trail arrives at the first crossing, the creek is dry.

At about the 1.75-mile mark, the trail arrives at Murietta Camp. The camp is on a small flat under several coast live oaks and has three campsites, each with an adjustable metal grill. Currently there is no water at the camp.

Murietta Camp is named for Joaquin Murietta, the famous outlaw, who is said to have used the canyon as one of his hideouts.

Murietta Canyon Juncal Road divid Santa Ynez Mountains Los Padres National forest hike

Murietta Canyon is seen from Juncal Road

Past the camp, the trail continues upstream and connects with Juncal Road. From here, follow the road as it makes its way up Murietta Canyon.

At about the 4.5-mile mark, the road arrives at Murietta Spring. The spring, with its reliable trickle of water, is a welcome sight along the road and is surrounded by lush green ferns and shaded with alder trees.

About a half-mile past the spring, the road arrives at the top of the canyon and Murietta Divide where it meets Monte Arido Road.

To reach the headwaters of the Santa Ynez River, turn right and continue another mile along Monte Arido Road. The road follows the ridge separating the Ventura and Santa Ynez River watersheds and offers views out across the canyon towards the Santa Ynez Mountains and, to the east, towards Topatopa Bluff.

Murietta Pond hike trail Monte Arido Road divide Santa Ynez River source los padres national forest

Murietta Pond

Eventually, Murietta Pond comes into view as the road rounds a corner. From the road there is a short, somewhat overgrown side road that leads down to the pond and its earthen dam. The pond, nestled here at the very headwaters of the Santa Ynez River, is something of an oasis. Surrounded by chaparral, the pond provides enough moisture for willow, mule fat, and cottonwood to grow. In the soft mud at the edges of the pond one can find the tracks of deer and fox.

To reach Upper Santa Ynez Camp, return to Murietta Divide and continue west along Juncal Road. The road descends down a side canyon and is mostly unshaded. About a mile from Murietta Divide, the road arrives at the Santa Ynez River, appearing here as little more than a creek. At the crossing one can find alder, maple, and cottonwood, and a refreshingly cold pool of water, an oasis of a different kind. Currently, there is still a trickle of water in the creek, but it is drying up.

Just past the creek crossing, on the right, is Upper Santa Ynez Camp. The camp is nestled under a couple of coast live oaks and features a picnic table, fire ring, and the remains of a pedestal grill.

Jameson lake reservoir juncal road upper santa ynez river trail hike los padres national forest

Jameson Lake is seen from Juncal Road

The site was likely used by the Chumash traveling between the village of Mat’ilha, or Matilija as the Spanish referred to it, along the Ventura River and the village of Shnaxalyiwi, or Najalayegua, along the Santa Ynez River.

To reach Shnaxalyiwi from Mat’ilha, the Chumash would’ve traveled upstream along the Ventura River to Matilija Canyon, and from there continued up Murietta Canyon to Murietta Divide. There, they would’ve entered the Santa Ynez River drainage and made their way down to the river, and then followed it downstream to Shnaxalyiwi.

The site later served as a hunting camp that was along the trail used by settlers to travel behind the mountains from the Upper Santa Ynez River to Ojai. The old trail was effectively replaced with the construction of Juncal Road during the 1930s.

Past Upper Santa Ynez Camp, Juncal Road continues down through the canyon, eventually crossing the river, before climbing out of the canyon. Here, the road continues above the river, offering views downstream towards Jameson Lake.

The road then joins the ridge separating Alder Creek from the Santa Ynez River. At about the 3.25-mile mark from Upper Santa Ynez Camp, the road arrives at the turnoff for Alder Creek and the beginning of Franklin Trail.

Alder Creek weir dam pool swimhole Franklin Trail hike los padres national forest

Alder Creek

Alder Creek is another oasis along the route and well worth the quarter-mile detour along the side road that leads down to the creek. Here, the creek has clear, flowing water year-round. Just upstream, is a small diversion dam across the creek that carries water via a flume to Jameson Lake. At the base of the dam is an enchanting pool to cool off in.

From the turnoff to Alder Creek, Juncal Road continues along the ridge overlooking Jameson Lake and Juncal Dam. The dam was built in 1930, and is one of three dams along the Santa Ynez River. The road then drops back down to the river and follows it to Romero-Camuesa Road. Here, a locked Forest Service marks the other trailhead.

To start the hike from this side or to arrange a shuttle trip, from Santa Barbara make your way towards Gibraltar Road. Follow Gibraltar Road to the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains and turn right onto East Camino Cielo Road. East Camino Cielo continues east along the top of the mountains, before becoming unpaved and descending down the backside of the mountains. The road then arrives at the Santa Ynez River. Just past this first crossing is the beginning of Juncal Road and the trailhead.

This article originally appeared in section A of the July 4th, 2016 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

Jameson lake reservoir hike trail juncal santa ynez river los padres national forest

Jameson Lake

I had originally thought of calling this article Trail Quest: Murietta Pond, but it sounded too obscure so I changed it to Upper Santa Ynez Camp. I had seen the feature on Bryan Conant’s map of the Dick Smith Wilderness over the years and had always been a little intrigued by it. In fact, when I made the hike to Divide Peak in 2014 (Trail Quest: Divide Peak), I was tempted to hike over there and check it out, but didn’t feel like I had enough time. But what really got me sold on the destination was Valerie Norton’s post on Old Man Mountain, which included a great shot of the pond. In fact, I wish I’d gone there in the spring, because the photos I took just didn’t come out as good.

At any rate, my idea was to write two articles back to back. The first one would lead to Murietta Pond and talk about Upper Santa Ynez Camp as a way of describing the upper reaches of the Santa Ynez River drainage and the second would be about Surf Beach, which is near the mouth of the Santa Ynez River. Clever? Just one problem.

Although, I knew part of the beach at Surf would be closed due to the Snowy Plover, I was imagining something more along the lines of Sands Beach at Coal Oil Point Reserve where just the dunes are closed but you can still walk the length of the beach. So on a Saturday, I hiked from the Matilija Trailhead to Murietta Pond, with a side trip over to Upper Santa Ynez Camp. On Sunday, I went to Surf Beach and to my surprise discovered that what the closure meant there was that the beach was cordoned off a short way in both directions from the entrance, leaving me with nothing to hike or write about.

And so I had to content myself with just the one article. I also had originally planned on just coming in from the Matilija side, but while I was out there it occurred to me that now that I’d changed the name to Upper Santa Ynez Camp, which is more or less midway between the Matilija Trailhead and Romero-Camuesa Road, that I was almost obligated to hike it from both sides. And so I went back the next weekend and hiked it from that side. So, yeah if I’d planned it all out better I could’ve done it as a shuttle hike instead of two 14-mile day hikes in 90 degree weather.

Another thread that emerged that encouraged me to hike to Upper Santa Ynez Camp from both sides was the awareness that this was likely the route the Chumash took traveling between Mat’ilha (Matilija) and Shnaxalyiwi (Najalayegua). And so referencing that seemed just as interesting as talking about the headwaters of the Santa Ynez River.

Western tailed blue acmon blue butterfly narrow leaf milkweed landing los padres national forest jameson reservoir juncal road murietta upper santa ynez camp river

Western tailed and acmon blue butterflies on narrow-leaf milkweed

Posted by: James Wapotich | August 29, 2016

Trail Quest: The Trails of Jose Moraga, Part 2

Jose Moraga was a miner and prospector who filed a number of claims in the Santa Barbara backcountry. In 1860, he was the first to locate quicksilver in Santa Barbara County and see its potential for mining. His Los Prietos Mine was located along the Santa Ynez River just north of where Gibraltar Dam is now. The mine was extensively worked from 1874 to 1877, before the price of quicksilver fell.

In 1894, Moraga filed nine claims along an outcropping of Sierra Blanca limestone found in Indian Canyon and established a mine near Indian Narrows, in what is now the Dick Smith Wilderness. The Moragas had a cabin in nearby Loma Pelona and would’ve likely reached the cabin from Santa Barbara via Mono-Alamar Trail and then continued over to Indian Creek to reach the mine.

The quicksilver mines along the Santa Ynez River were accessed by a wagon road that was reached from the stage coach road that led over San Marcos Pass. However, during the winter, when high waters made the river impassable, the mines had to be accessed by pack trail. The one likely used led up Mission Canyon to the top of Santa Ynez Mountains and then down Arroyo Burro Trail to the river.

Jose Moraga Limestone Lithograph Mine Mono-Alamar Trail Los Padres national forest

Scenery along Mono-Alamar Trail

During the 1870s, a new trail was built over the mountains from Montecito to improve access to the mines. The route followed West Fork Cold Spring Creek and led past what is now known as Tangerine Falls to the top of the mountains and then continued east over to Cold Spring Saddle, before continuing down to the river. From there a route likely existed along Mono Creek to what is now Mono Campground.

In the early 1900s, the newly formed Forest Reserve built a new trail through Cold Spring Canyon that supplanted the original trail. The route followed what is now East Fork Cold Spring Trail to Cold Spring Saddle where it joined the original trail.

The other main trail over the mountains was Romero Trail. That route, as it does today, leads over the Santa Ynez Mountains near Romero Saddle and continues down into Blue Canyon. From there one could follow the trail through Blue Canyon and reach the Santa Ynez River and continue to Mono Creek.

Moraga could’ve used either of these routes to reach Mono Creek and Mono-Alamar Trail. From there, he would’ve continued up Mono Canyon towards Loma Pelona to reach the cabin. From the cabin, he would’ve climbed out of the Mono drainage over towards Pens Camp, along Indian Creek, and then down to the mine.

The route can still be followed today as part of a backpacking trip. From the Mono-Alamar Trailhead, the hike to the mine site is about 28 miles round trip.


A view towards Mono Creek from Loma Pelona

To get to the trailhead from Santa Barbara, find your way to Gibraltar Road in the foothills behind Santa Barbara. Gibraltar Road leads to the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains where it meets East Camino Cielo Road. Turn right on to East Camino Cielo. The road continues along the top of the mountains to Romero Saddle. At Romero Saddle, the road becomes unpaved and continues down the backside of the mountains to the Santa Ynez River. From there, it continues past Middle Santa Ynez and P-Bar Flat Campgrounds and eventually arrives at Mono Campground.

From Mono Campground, the road continues another half-mile and arrives at a locked Forest Service gate and the Indian-Mono Trailhead. Parking is found in the pullout by the gate. An adventure pass is not required to park at the trailhead.

From the trailhead, Mono-Alamar Trail follows Mono Creek upstream. The trail is in generally good shape thanks to several trail projects over the past couple of years.

Mono-Alamar Trail is one of the oldest trails in the Santa Barbara backcountry and follows the route used by the Chumash, and later the Spanish and early settlers to travel from the coast to the Central Valley.

At about the 3.5-mile mark, the trail joins a Forest Service road and continues upstream towards Olgilvy Ranch. Just before the ranch, the trail leaves the road and crosses the creek, bypassing the ranch. The trail then returns to the creek and continues towards the beginning of Loma Pelona Canyon, where the trail leaves Mono Creek.

Upper Mono Camp is about 8.5 miles from the trailhead, and is located along Mono Creek just past Loma Pelona Canyon. The informal site is little more than a stone fire ring and small flat spot for a tent. The camp does not have year round water, but water can sometimes be found upstream.

From Mono Creek, Mono-Alamar Trail makes its way up Loma Pelona Canyon. About 1.75 miles from Mono Creek, the trail transitions from chaparral into an open grassy potrero dotted with valley oaks and arrives at Alamar Hill Trail. To the right, Alamar Hill Trail climbs east out of the canyon and continues over towards Alamar Creek. To the left, Alamar Hill Trail continues up Loma Pelona Canyon, passing through more chaparral, before then opening up onto a long continuous potrero.

The trail through the potrero is completely overgrown with tall grasses. Volunteers have recently installed flags on PVC poles to mark the route.

In 1890, James Ord homesteaded near the western end of Loma Pelona where he built an adobe. The land was later sold to the Canet Cattle Company of Ventura.

The Moraga cabin was also located at the western end of Loma Pelona and constructed of adobe.

Indian Narrows

Indian Narrows

At the upper end of Loma Pelona Canyon, Alamar Hill Trail climbs out of the canyon and arrives at Loma Pelona-Don Victor Fire Road. From the road, the trail enters Dick Smith Wilderness and continues another 1.25 miles through mostly chaparral down to Indian Creek, where it meets Indian Poplar Trail and arrives at Pens Camp.

Pens Camp takes is name from the barb-wire stock pens that were located there and said to have been used by both Moraga and Ord, and later Canet Cattle Company. The camp has a stone fire ring, grated stove and ice can stove. The site does not have year round water, but water can sometimes be found upstream.

From Pens, it’s another mile downstream to Indian Narrows. There is no trail and so the best route is to follow the creek.

The narrows are a distinctive feature on the landscape. Here, the creek cuts through an extensive outcropping of grayish-white Sierra Blanca limestone, which stretches from East Fork Santa Cruz Creek, across Indian Creek, and up to the top of the south side of Indian Canyon. In fact, the summit overlooking the canyon used to be called Sierra Blanca Mountain and is the type locality where Sierra Blanca limestone was first identified.

The limestone was formed over 55 million years ago during the Eocene Epoch. It is a sedimentary rock composed of calciferous algae, foraminifera and other organic material that settled on the ocean floor and later hardened into limestone.

Moraga limestone lithograph mine hiking backpacking Indian Creek Dick Smith Wilderness Los Padres national forest

Wheelbarrow and other relics are seen at Moraga limestone mine

One of the principal uses of high-grade limestone is for lithography. At the time of Moraga’s claim there were only a handful of commercial sources for lithographic limestone in the United States and so a find of high-grade limestone would’ve been just as valuable as any precious metal.

The mine is located on the south side of the canyon, up from the creek. At the site is a tunnel about 4 feet wide, 6 feet tall, and 37 feet long cut into the limestone. Moraga had samples of the limestone taken to Los Angeles where it was tested and unfortunately found to contain flecks of silica, or quartz, rendering it unusable for lithography and so the mine was abandoned.

Today, at the site one can still find the wheelbarrow, which was hauled over the mountains, and other relics associated with the mine.

Not much else is recorded about the Moraga family. However, Jose Moraga’s grandson, Oliver Moraga was the original owner of Dean-O’s Pizzarama on the Mesa. The pizzeria was opened in 1960, by Dean Metcalf and “Ollie” Moraga, their names forming the restaurant’s name. Metcalf later moved to Louisiana where he opened another Dean-O’s in Lafayette. In 2004, the Moraga family sold the business to Lou Torres. Six years later it was closed.

This article originally appeared in section A of the June 27th, 2016 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

horny horned toad lizard mono creek alamar trail dick smith wilderness santa barbara backcountry los padres national forest


Posted by: James Wapotich | July 23, 2016

Trail Quest: The Trails of Jose Moraga, Part 1

Along the Santa Ynez River, near Gibraltar Reservoir, one can find the remains of several quicksilver mines that are part of Santa Barbara’s mining history.

Jose Moraga was the first to locate quicksilver in Santa Barbara County and see its potential for mining. In 1860, he discovered a large exposed outcropping of serpentine rock along the Santa Ynez River, just north of where Gibraltar Dam is now. The outcropping is part of a narrow three-mile long belt that stretches through the canyon.

The orange to rust-colored rock contains cinnabar or mercury sulfide. When the rocks are crushed and heated, it causes the mercury to separate from the sulphur and evaporate, which can then be cooled and condensed.

Gibraltar Reservoir los prietos quicksilver mercury mine Santa Ynez River hike trail Jose Moraga Los Padres national forest

Gibraltar Reservoir frames a view of the tailings from Los Prietos Mine

While mercury, or quicksilver, has many uses and properties, of particular interest to miners and prospectors at that time was its interaction with gold and silver. Quicksilver was widely used in hydraulic mining. When added to the flowing water-gravel mixture it would fuse to and dissolve gold or silver creating an amalgam that would then sink in the sluice boxes, making it easy to recover.

When this amalgam was heated, the quicksilver could be expelled and the gold or silver collected.

Because of the promise of great wealth gold and silver mining offered and the role quicksilver played in its extraction, quicksilver became just as valuable a commodity and prospectors began to search for it with equal fervor.

Following his discovery, Moraga filed several claims along the Santa Ynez River and others followed suit. Moraga’s claim became known as Los Prietos Mine.

Furnace foundation los prietos quicksilver mercury mine Santa Ynez River hike trail Jose Moraga Los Padres national forest

The foundation of Los Prietos Mine’s furnace site is seen along Gibraltar Trail

The mine, however, was not extensively worked until 1874, when the price of quicksilver rose and activity at the mine increased dramatically. In 1875, a 4,000 pound boiler was brought over the mountains by wagon and a furnace was constructed downstream from the mine with roughly 140,000 bricks made at the site.

The ore from the mine was not that rich, containing on average only 0.25 percent cinnabar, with occasional pockets containing as much as 13 percent cinnabar. And so a considerable amount of ore needed to be processed. The large furnace at Los Prietos could hold 70 tons of rock, with three tons added and removed at a time. As many as 400 men were involved in the operation. However, by 1877, mining operations ceased as the price of quicksilver fell and litigation over the title of the mines continued.

The mines were part of the Los Prietos and Najalayegua land grant. J. S. Cassell of San Francisco had leased the grant, including mineral rights, but there was much contention over the actual boundaries of the grant. Eventually, the various groups worked out their differences. Later two companies were formed around the different claims. Cassell and others organized Santa Ynez Mining Company, which included the now more famous Sunbird Quicksilver Mine, located on the south side of the river. And Los Prietos Mining Company was organized around the claims staked by Moraga and his associates; the company later absorbed Santa Ynez Mining Company.

Between the decline in quicksilver prices; the relative remoteness of the sites; and the discovery of more quicksilver mines in Northern California, the Los Prietos and Santa Ynez Mines fell into disuse and ruin. It wasn’t until War World I when the price of quicksilver rose that new operations began. The mines were worked from 1916-1918; on and off during the 1930s; and likely during World War II.

In Jose Moraga’s day, the principal route to the mines followed the stage coach road from Santa Barbara over San Marcos Pass. Where the road met the Santa Ynez River a road had been constructed that continued 10 miles upstream towards the mining operation. During the winter, when the river ran high, the mines were accessible only by pack trail over the mountains. The pack trail that was likely followed lead through Mission Canyon to the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains and then down along Arroyo Burro Trail to the river.

While little remains of the original Los Prietos Mine, the site can be visited as part of an off-trail hike along the Santa Ynez River. Starting from Red Rock Trailhead it’s about a mile along Gibraltar Trail and then another 1.5 miles along the now overgrown road that led to the mine.

los prietos quicksilver mercury mine Santa Ynez River hike trail Jose Moraga Los Padres national forest

The Santa Ynez River is seen from the old road leading up to Los Prietos Mine

To get to the trailhead from Santa Barbara, take State 154, over San Marcos Pass, to Paradise Road. Turn right on to Paradise Road. The road ends at the Red Rock Trailhead parking area. An adventure pass is required to park in this part of the National Forest.

From the trailhead, Gibraltar Trail follows the Santa Ynez River upstream. For the first half-mile along both sides of the canyon one can see tan-colored Monterey shale on the hillsides. The trail then crosses the river and the prominent spire of Red Rock comes into view. Here, the rock type transitions from younger Monterey shale into older serpentine rock, passing through grayish blue-green serpentine and then orange to rust-colored serpentine rock.

As the trail continues upstream, the north side of the canyon stretching up to Camuesa Peak is composed of olive-green Espada formation rock.

Past the Red Rock swimming hole, the trail crosses the river a second time, and continues along the south side of the canyon a short way before arriving at the site where the furnace was located. Here, one can still find bricks from the furnace and part of the foundation running parallel to the canyon. It’s also from this site, looking east that one can see the low saddle, near where the mine itself was located.

At the eastern end of the brick foundation is a very small side wash. Here, one can find a steep and rarely used social trail that leads up to a cement-lined cistern. Just past that, still standing, is a brick chimney.

To reach the mine, continue past the furnace site upstream along Gibraltar Trail to where both the trail and river turn dramatically. Just across the river is the beginning of the old road cut that continues up the side canyon. The overgrown road follows a series of switchbacks up to the saddle. The road is washed out in several places and does require at times pushing through, ducking under and weaving around brush, but enough evidence of the road remains to make the route itself generally discernible.

los prietos quicksilver mercury mine Santa Ynez River hike trail Jose Moraga Los Padres national forest

Exposed outcropping of cinnabar bearing rock at the mine site

As the trail nears the saddle, it arrives at a side road on the right that leads past the rusted remains of an old refrigerator. The road leads up to the mine site, however it quickly becomes overgrown and washed out and requires pushing through brush and poison oak.

At the saddle, a second road cut appears on the right, that also leads up to the mine site and is in similar condition. At the mine site one can find exposed outcroppings of serpentine rock where the mine once was. Little remains at the site.

Continuing a short ways past the saddle, down the backside, the main road arrives at a large heap of pink and salmon-colored tailings from the mine. Here, the view opens up and extends out across Gibraltar Reservoir and with keen eyes one can spot the remains of the Sunbird Quicksilver Mine on the other side.

From here, the road continues another half-mile down towards an earthen dam near the mouth of a side canyon. The dam across the creek forms a catch basin to prevent silt from entering the reservoir. The road is just as overgrown and washed out in places as it is along the hike up to the saddle.

Regardless of how far you go you’ll have a chance to see part of Santa Barbara’s quicksilver mining history.

This article originally appeared in section A of the June 20th, 2016 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.


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