Posted by: James Wapotich | August 29, 2011

Trail Quest: La Purisima Mission

If you’re looking for an opportunity to step back in time then a visit to La Purisima Mission may be the answer. The Mission with its furnished and restored buildings, gardens and livestock represents California’s most fully restored Mission. Surrounded by 1,860 acres of rolling hills, La Purisima Mission is now part of the California State Parks system and includes over 25 miles of trails that criss cross the park. A day hike through the park along the main trail is about 5 miles.

La Purisima Mission Lompoc Hike

La Purisima Mission

Founded in 1787 by Father Fermin de Lausen as Mision la Purisima de Maria Santisima or Mission of the Immaculate Conception of Most Holy Mary, the Mission was the 11th of the 21 Franciscan missions established by the Spanish as part of an ongoing effort to colonize and maintain a presence in what was then Alta California. The Mission was originally located where the City of Lompoc is now. However in 1812 a major earthquake followed by torrential winter rains destroyed most of the buildings and the mission was rebuilt 4 miles further north at its present site.

To get to the park take State Route 246 from either Lompoc or Buellton and turn onto Purisima Road if coming from Buellton and Mission Gate Road if coming from Lompoc. The two roads meet at the park entrance. The park is open from 9AM-5PM and there is a $6 entrance fee. A map of the park and the trails is available for $1 at the entrance.

From the parking area you’ll see the Visitor Center on your right, which includes a small museum. To visit the Mission grounds cross the footbridge opposite the Visitor Center, which places you at the lower end of the Mission buildings where you can tour the site and then continue on to the hike. Docent led tours are offered each day at 1PM and can add a lot of depth to experiencing the history of the Mission. And there are plenty of interpretive signs and furnishings to make for an easy self-guided tour as well. Throughout the year the park also offers various events and craft demonstrations with costumed docents recreating the daily life of the early 1800s at the Mission.

La Purisima Mission

There are a surprising number of buildings to visit each with its own story and the Mission in all its detail provides a comprehensive view of what life must’ve been like during the height of the Mission period. And for some the Mission can be a challenging place to visit. I often found myself getting caught up thinking about the novelty of establishing a colony in the new world with all the challenges that must’ve gone with that on the one hand and the decline and loss suffered by the Chumash Indians on the other hand. And while there are no easy answers the Mission gardens offers a hopeful vision of people working together, there one finds both native and European plants growing together that were cultivated by the Mission population and used in their daily lives as food and medicine.

The Mission at one time was a very active center with a population close to 1,000 and was a model of self-sufficiency with its farming and ranching operations, trading its surplus for goods and other resources. And then ironically it too was swept up by history. In 1834 the Mexican government sold the missions to private owners and the La Purisima site became a ranch and the Mission was eventually left to the elements. In 1934 the Catholic Church and Union Oil Company donated the land and the mission ruins to the State of California. The Mission was then rebuilt on the original foundation by the Civilian Conservation Corp and has been part of the State Parks since.

La Purisima Mission Lompoc Hike

La Lavanderia

From the Mission buildings one can start the hike through the park along the access road that follows the historic El Camino Real which connected all 21 of the Missions, La Purisima being located between the Santa Inez and San Luis Obispo Missions. The trail continues and curves around the fields that were once part of the Mission. At about the 1.5 mile mark the trail meets the Las Zanjas trail which is also an access road and represents the return route for the hike. From here one can continue north along the Sendero De Solis Trail for another mile towards the water towers at back of the park where the trail ends. The water towers make for a good return point and the hill they’re on offers some nice views of the valley. Throughout the park there a various trails that meander through the park that one can use to craft there own hike through the rolling La Purisima Hills. Most of the trails are sandy and lead through a mix of chaparral and oak and are home to a healthy population of wildlife, on this trip alone I saw a bobcat, deer and rabbit.

La Purisima Mission Lompoc Hike Mule Deer

Mule Deer

From the water towers return back along the road taking the Las Zanjas trail back to the parking lot. The Las Zanjas trail which means “the ditches” follows the aqueduct that was used by the Mission and includes a visit to the cistern where the water from the nearby spring was used to irrigate the Mission’s crops.

La Purisima Mission Lompoc Hike

View along the Las Zanjas Trail

Other interesting trails worth visiting time permitting are Los Patos and Vista Del Cruz. The Los Patos trail starts from the Las Zanjas trail at the spring and follows the small valley where the spring originates and leads through a mix of plants communities.

The Vista Del La Cruz trail starts right behind the Visitor’s Center and leads up to the cross on the hill overlooking the Mission and makes for a short hike, about a half mile round trip. From this vantage one can see an overview of the park as well as the surrounding valley.

Regardless of how far you hike you will get to experience some of the rich history of our local area.

This article originally appeared in section A of the Sunday, August 28th, 2011 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.


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