Posted by: James Wapotich | January 5, 2013

Trail Quest: Mono-Alamar Trail

Mono-Alamar Trail follows a route through the Santa Barbara backcountry that was once used by the Chumash to travel between villages. The trail also follows the route Chumash Indians took when they fled Santa Barbara during the Chumash Revolt of 1824; much of the route can still be followed today.

In February 1824 the treatment of the Chumash Indians by the missionaries reached a boiling point and a revolt broke out at Mission Santa Ynez, which was put down by the soldiers from the Presidio. The next day the revolt spread to Mission Santa Barbara, where a group of Indians gathered supplies and eventually fled across the Santa Barbara Backcountry to the San Joaquin Valley, near where Buena Vista Lake is now located. 4 months later they were brought back by a group of soldiers who were accompanied by two padres from the mission.

The route the Chumash took started from the Santa Barbara Mission and continued up Mission Creek to a nearby village, and then over the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains and down the backside to the Santa Ynez River, where they stayed at Los Prietos. There they were joined by Chumash Indians from Mission Santa Ynez and Mission La Purisima. The group then continued upstream along the Santa Ynez River to the confluence with Mono Creek, past where Gibraltar Reservoir is now located.

From the confluence of the Santa Ynez River and Mono Creek, they continued upstream along Mono Creek, past where Mono Campground and Mono Debris Dam are now located. Their route eventually left Mono Creek, continued around Alamar Hill and down to Alamar Creek.

From there the Chumash continued upstream along Alamar Creek to the gap at Puerto Suelo, near Madulce Peak. And then out through Santa Barbara Canyon towards Cuyama and over to the San Joaquin Valley.

Mono-Alamar trail follows this route for about 9 miles starting from trailhead along the Romero-Camuesa Road, and continues past Ogilvy Ranch to Upper Mono Camp, where the trail then leaves Mono Creek. Mono-Alamar Trail can be explored as part of a day hike, an over night backpacking trip to Upper Mono, or as part of a through hike following the historic route used by the Chumash and the soldiers.

To get to the trailhead from Santa Barbara find your way to Gibraltar Road in the Foothills of Santa Barbra. Take Gibraltar Road to the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains and turn right onto East Camino Cielo Road. The drive along East Camino Cielo offers spectacular views out across the coast towards the Channel Islands and inland across the Santa Barbara Backcountry.

At Romero Saddle, East Camino Cielo becomes a dirt road and continues down the backside of the Santa Ynez Mountains and becomes Romero-Camuesa Road, although there is no sign. Before you go you will want to check and make sure that the road is open. The Forest Service typically closes the road during inclement weather. Current conditions and road closures for Los Padres National Forest can be found on the Forest Service website,, or by calling the Forest Headquarters, (805) 968-6640.

There are several gates along the Romero-Camuesa road between Romero Saddle and the Mono-Alamar Trailhead that can be closed. The first is the gate at Divide Peak OHV Road, the second is just past the turn off for Agua Caliente Hot Springs, near Pendola Guard Station. Both of these gates affect access to the trailhead as well as the Hot Springs.

Past Middle Santa Ynez Campground along the Romero-Camuesa Road there is another gate, which can be closed even when the first two are open. And then one more gate between P-Bar Flat and Mono Campground. Past Mono Campground the road branches with the road to the right continuing towards Little Caliente Hot Springs and the road the left arriving at the trailhead.

The Mono-Alamar Trailhead is essentially at the far end of Romero-Camuesa Road, about an hour and 45 minutes from Santa Barbara. The road actually continues all the way over to Upper Oso, however it is permanently locked at this last gate. An adventure pass is required to park or camp in this part of the National Forest.

From the trailhead, continue along the road and keep an eye out for the official beginning of Mono-Alamar Trail on your right, you’ll know if you missed it as the road crosses Mono Creek, while the trail follows the righthand side of the creek for the first quarter mile or so before later crossing the creek.

Mono-Alamar Trail is somewhat over grown for the first mile, but then starts to improve. At about the 3-mile mark the trail arrives at what looks like a ranch gate. Here the trail branches, with the trail to the left leading up to Pie Canyon Jeep Trail, while Mono-Alamar Trail continues along Mono Creek. The two routes meet back up three-quarters of a mile later. From here Mono-Alamar trail continues upstream along the dirt road another three-quarters of a mile to the main gate for Ogilvy Ranch, where the trail crosses the creek, leading away from the ranch. The trail continues along the hillside above the creek and offers some nice views of the valley where the ranch is located.

Although Ogilvy Ranch is private property and not open to the public, it does have some unusual history associated with it. Located near the site of the Chumash village of Siguaya, which was also what the Chumash called Mono Creek, the ranch takes it name from Arthur E. Ogilvy, one of its earlier owners. The ranch was later purchased in the 1960s by Jim Andros and his friend Al Heimlich. Ten years later they sold it to Norm Paulsen, who was the founder of the Brotherhood of the Sun, which later became better known as the Sunburst Community.

In 1970, Sunburst established their first communal farm at Flores Flats, along Gibraltar Road, and in 1971 began farming at Ogilvy Ranch which they renamed Lemuria. In 1978 the group also acquired Tajiguas Ranch, along the coast near Gaviota. The group at one time was quite successful and owned a number of local businesses, and at the time was the largest shipper of organic produce in the country. However by the late 1970s many members of the community became disillusioned with group and left, while others sued for a share of the communes holdings.

In the early 1980s Mr. Paulsen contacted Mr. Andros and asked if he wanted to buy the ranch back, which he did, owning it briefly before then selling to James F. Bruckner. The ranch has remained in the Bruckner family since.

Past the ranch the trail rejoins Mono Creek and continues upstream. From here the trail becomes more overgrown and crosses the creek numerous times, often requiring one to re-find the trail.

At about the 9-mile mark, Mono-Alamar trail leaves Mono Creek and continues up a side canyon where it meets Alamar Hill Trail. Just past where the trail leaves Mono Creek, there is a small campsite along the creek on the left hand side under an oak tree that is sometimes referred to as Upper Mono Camp. This site is fairly primitive, with only a fire ring, but does make for a suitable place to camp, although the creek does not necessarily flow year round.

This article originally appeared in section A of the January 5th, 2013 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

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