Posted by: James Wapotich | June 2, 2012

Trail Quest: Sulphur Springs Trail

There are several ways to hike to Manzana Schoolhouse within the Los Padres National Forest, the most popular is to start near Nira Campground and hike the trail along Manzana Creek downstream to Manzana Schoolhouse. Another, less used route is to start at Cedros Saddle and hike the Sulphur Springs Trail down to Manzana Creek. Of the two, the route along the Manzana Trail is the easier even though it crosses the creek numerous times.

The Sulphur Springs Trail is not for beginner hikers, the trail is overgrown and is easy to lose in places. The trail does however cross a dirt access road several times and so one option is to hike the trail down to where it first meets the road and then continue along the road, the road however is longer. The hike from the trail head to Manzana Schoolhouse and back along the trail is about 10 miles round trip and will take all day given the conditions.

The appeal of the Sulphur Springs Trail is that it lets one shave some miles off of the hike to Manzana Schoolhouse, which is normally 17 miles roundtrip from the trailhead near Nira Campground, making a day hike more possible or a longer multi-day backpacking trip through the area a little shorter, but not necessarily any easier.

Hurricane Deck Sulphur Springs Trail Los Padres National Forest Manzana Creek

Bald Mountain and Hurricane Deck are seen from the Sulphur Springs Trail

To get to the Sulphur Springs Trailhead from Los Olivos take Figueroa Mountain Road to the Zaca Catway Road. The Catway Road is about a mile past the Figueroa Mountain Ranger Station and just past the trailhead for the La Jolla Trail. The road is also before the turnoffs for Figueroa Mountain and Figueroa Campground so if you arrive at either one you’ll know you’ve gone too far.

The Catway Road is a dirt road, rutted and steep in places and is not recommended for low clearance vehicles. The road is also closed during bad weather, so it’s best to check with the Forest Service regarding current conditions. [In August 2015 I drove this road after not having driven it for three years. Conditions through the one long steep section have worsened such that I would now recommend 4-wheel drive.]

What the Catway Road does provide however is some exceptional views looking out towards Hurricane Deck and the Sierra Madre Mountains. From Figueroa Mountain Road, turn left onto the Catway Road. After about 4 miles the Catway Road branches with the road to the left, also known as the Zaca Ridge Road, heading towards Zaca Peak and the Catway Road continuing to the right towards Cedros Saddle and the trailhead.

Sister Butterfly Sulphur Springs Trail Los Padres National Forest Manzana Creek

Sister Butterfly seen along the trail

About a mile and half past this intersection the Catway Road arrives at Cedros Saddle. The trailhead is not well marked and in fact the only sign you’ll see is for the Cedros Saddle Trail which heads south down the opposite side of the ridge towards Zaca Spring. Rest assured however that the Sulphur Springs Trail starts here and continues north down towards Manzana Creek. Parking is found along the side of the road.

The first section of the trail is overgrown, but fairly easy to follow and offers some great views of the surrounding area including towards the confluence of Manzana Creek and the Sisquoc River. The trail leads through regrowth from the 2007 Zaca Fire.

At the about the .75 mile mark the trail crosses the dirt road, the trail is well mark at the crossing, but does become more overgrown and easier to lose as it continues. From here the trail essentially follows Sulphur Creek, crossing the dirt road two more times before it joins the road at about the 2.5 mile mark and then follows the road for the last quarter mile before arriving at the Manzana Trail.

Castel Rock Manzana Creek Los Padres National Forest

Castle Rock is seen from the Manzana Trail

From this juncture it’s roughly another half mile to Dabney Cabin along the Manzana Trail downstream towards Manzana Schoolhouse. Dabney Cabin was built by Charles William Dabney in 1914 and was used as a fishing retreat. From Dabney Cabin it’s another 2 miles to Manzana Schoolhouse.

Manzana Schoolhouse also makes a good backpacking destination, there one will find a campground with 6 shaded sites, each with a fire ring and table, as well as the eponymous schoolhouse.

The schoolhouse was built in 1894 and sits on a bluff overlooking the confluence of Manzana Creek and the Sisquoc River. In the late 1800s there were as many as 200 people living along the Upper Sisquoc River and adjoining creeks. These homesteaders had petitioned the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors to build a school earlier that year and on July 9th, 1894 the first class was held. Classes were held during the summer months when the river was low so that the children crossing the river could reach the school.

Stellar's Jay Manzana Creek Los Padres National Forest

Stellar’s Jay is seen along Manzana Creek

The schoolhouse also served as a social center for the community. The one-room school at its peak had about 25 students. The school’s first teacher Cora McCroskey taught there for 4 years before marrying a forest ranger and moving to Orcutt. In all the school saw seven different teachers over its 8 year span.

There were a number of factors that led to the homesteaders leaving the area, one of which was the weather. As anyone who’s lived in Santa Barbara can attest to, the amount of rainfall we get can vary significantly from year to year and that the pattern of rainfall is unpredictable. In 1898 and 1899 the area saw very little rain and with cattle production and farming the main livelihoods of the settlers many we forced to sell their claims and move elsewhere.

In 1902, with an enrollment of one student, the school was officially closed and the books and supplies were moved to the Zaca School. The building was later used by two fur trappers from Lompoc in the 1920s.

Manzana Schoolhouse Los Padres National Forest

Manzana Schoolhouse

In 1965 much needed repairs were made to building under the direction of the Santa Maria Historical Society, participating in the project were two former students of the school. A year later the Santa Barbara County Landmark Advisory Committee designated Manzana Schoolhouse as a Historic Landmark. In 1988 a full fledged restoration project was undertaken by Los Padres Interpretative Associate and the U.S. Forest Service to preserve the structure for future generations to enjoy.

This article originally appeared in section A of the June 2nd, 2012 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.

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