Posted by: James Wapotich | May 28, 2010

The 3 Rivers of Potrero Seco

Hiked to Potrero Seco a while back [Jan. 3]. What inspired me to visit this somewhat remote location was that in studying my various maps of the Los Padres National Forest, I noticed that all the waters from these mountains flow into one of four main rivers, the Santa Maria River, the Santa Ynez River, the Ventura River and the Santa Clara River. And that the “boundaries” of these four drainage basins all meet up within 5 miles of each other. Wanting to pick a single point on the map, I told myself that perhaps millions of years ago, when the ocean was lower, that the Ventura River was once a tributary of the Santa Clara. In fact the ridgeline that defines the northern “boundary” of the Matilija (Ventura River) drainage is actually visible from the unnamed mount where the other three meet up.

Anyway, having completed that rationalization, I decided to hike there. I had read that Potrero Seco Road (gated) is a jeep road for 4X4 vehicles only and was therefore imagining something even worse than the road to the Agua Caliente Hot Springs. However, much to my surprise the road is in excellent shape. In fact I’m inspired to come back and explore it further on mountain bike.

The trailhead to Potrero Seco is about 40 minutes past Ojai along Highway 33, and is just across the road from the turnoff to the Pine Mountain Recreation Area, both of which are just before where 33 crests over into the Cuyama Valley.

Hiking in along the road, it was interesting knowing that down one side was the Sespe watershed (which joins the Santa Clara River) and down the other was the Deal watershed (which joins the Cuyama River and ultimately the Santa Maria River). Equally captivating was seeing Mt. Pinos off in the distance. I had read that to the Chumash Mt. Pinos was considered a sacred place and hiking here along the “roof” of the Sierra Madres I could begin to imagine why, as it was taller still than the mountains I was on.

For the past several years, I’ve been in the habit of immediately looking at a topo map after I’ve hiked somewhere, theorizing that I was conditioning my mind to be able to see the land from the contour lines. I must say this time it paid off, hiking in I immediately recognized the hillock that represented where the 3 rivers meet. From the top of that non-descript spot one is able to look down into 3 of the 4 drainage basins and feel not only the remoteness of the place itself, but also imagine the vastness of this land long before the Spanish arrived.

Los Padres National Forest Potrero Seco Hike

Where the Rivers "Meet"

Near the base of this hill is Potrero Seco Camp, which translates appropriately as “dry pasture”. The camp itself (actually two camps) is a little uninspiring as it’s only a stone’s throw from several private residences. On the way in I was greeted by two dogs giving me the friend or foe bark. Both sites have two sets of tables and fire rings each.

Los Padres National Forest Potrero Seco Hike

Potrero Seco Camp

The Potrero Seco trail itself heads up past the camp (north) and follows the ridge and a fenceline until it cuts down into the valley, heading towards Don Victor and points beyond. The trail, from what I saw, was is in pretty good shape and fairly easy to read given that it partly cuts through grassland and then through the Zaca burn area and looks like it’s mostly used by coyote and deer. While Potrero Seco Road continues south, changes its name to Monte Arido Road and eventually takes you to Murietta Divide, which is sort of the backyard fence between the Matilija and the Upper Santa Ynez River.

If you have a trail report I’d love to hear it.

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