Posted by: James Wapotich | January 18, 2013

Trail Quest: Santa Barbara Canyon

As a result of the treatment of the Chumash Indians under the Mission system, the Chumash revolted in February 1824, and Indians from several Missions fled across the Santa Barbara backcountry to the San Joaquin Valley where they stayed with the Yokut Indians living there.

In June 1824 an expedition was sent to bring the Chumash back. A group of 54 armed soldiers along with two padres from the Mission left from Ventura, then known as San Buenaventura. That same day another 50 armed soldiers left from Mission San Miguel, near Paso Robles. The two forces met at San Emigdio – a Mission Rancho in the vicinity of Mount Piños.

The next day the soldiers continued north and arrived at the tulares, near present day Buena Vista Lake. At the time the southern San Joaquin Valley had a large freshwater marsh with several large lakes.

The padres, carrying with them a pardon from the Governor of California, met with the Chumash Indians and an agreement was reached to return to the Mission. The soldiers from Mission San Miguel returned along their original route, while the remaining expedition returned along the same route the Chumash had taken when they left coast.

From diary of Captain Portilla, who led the expedition, we know that the group traveled south from the San Joaquin Valley to the Cuyama Valley and continued up Santa Barbara Canyon. Their route led over the pass at Puerto Suelo, and along Alamar Creek, where they stayed at the village of Casitec, near Dutch Oven Camp. The group continued down Alamar Canyon, and over Alamar Hill to Mono Creek, where they stayed at the village of Siguaya, near Ogilvy Ranch. From there they continued downstream along Mono Creek, to the confluence with the Santa Ynez River, camped along the Santa Ynez River; and then crossed over the Santa Ynez Mountains by way of Arroyo Burro Trail and returned to Mission Santa Barbara.

Much of this same route can still be followed today. The trail through Santa Barbara Canyon can be visited as part of a day hike, over night backpack trip or as part of longer trek through the Santa Barbara backcountry. And although the trailhead is roughly 2.5 hours from Santa Barbara, it can still make for an interesting place to explore. From the trailhead it is about 7 miles along Santa Barbara Canyon Trail to Madulce Camp. Madulce Camp is also near where the historic Madulce Guard Station was once located.

To get to the trailhead from Santa Barbara, find you way to Ojai and take State Route 33 north towards Taft. Near Pine Mountain, State Route 33 descends into the Cuyama Valley and continues north passing through the small town of Ventucopa. Past Ventucopa look for the San Luis Obispo County line, as it also marks the beginning of Foothill Road, which crosses Cuyama River. Turn left on to Foothill Road, and just past the crossing look for Santa Barbara Canyon Road on your left. The river is generally passable but if not an alternate route is available by traveling through the town of Cuyama.

From Foothill Road, Santa Barbara Canyon Road continues south and connects over to Santa Barbara Canyon. The road travels through ranch country and becomes a dirt road as it passes to the right of Santa Barbara Canyon Ranch.

About 3 miles later the road branches. The road to the left, Dry Canyon Road, leads ultimately to Cuyama Peak and what’s left of Cuyama Lookout. And the road to the right continues up Santa Barbara Canyon to the trailhead at Willow Flat. The trailhead is not well marked, nothing more than a large pullout with a lone juniper tree. However the road itself continues another .75 miles, turning west away from Santa Barbara Canyon before arriving at a locked Forest Service gate, which is how you’ll know if you missed the trailhead.

From the parking area, cross the road south to pick up the trail. Santa Barbara Canyon Trail continues up Santa Barbara Canyon, following the broad canyon for the first several miles until the canyon slowly starts to narrow. It’s here that one begins to see cedar and pine mixed in with the riparian plants along the creek.

At about the 5.5-mile mark the trail leaves the creek and begins its climb up what’s affectionately called Heartbreak Hill, so named for its steepness. Here the trail can become somewhat more overgrown.

Eventually the trail crests Heartbreak Hill and joins a ridge that frames the small valley along Pine Creek where Madulce Camp is located. The trail continues east along the ridge and then descends towards the valley, where the cabin was once located.

Here the trail branches, with the trail to left continuing towards Don Victor Valley and Puerto Suelo Trail, and the trail to the right continuing past the cabin site and Madulce Camp towards Alamar Saddle.

The first cabin at Madulce was a log cabin that had been built by a settler in the 1880s. In the late 1890s the Forest Service repaired the cabin and began using it as a ranger station, as the site was situated near the intersection of several major routes through the backcountry. Including the historic Alamar-Puerta Suela Trail that was used by the Chumash, and later the Spanish and settlers, to travel from the coast to the interior.

In 1929 the original log cabin was beyond repair and new cabin was built with materials carried in by pack mule. The 18 foot by 27 foot cabin, referred to as Madulce Guard Station, was used by the Forest Service up until around 1940.

During the 1930s the Buckhorn Road was constructed, which now runs from Upper Oso to Santa Barbara Canyon. With the completion of the road, the pattern of land management within the forest shifted as the automobile reduced the need for horse and pack travel in some areas. A new Guard Station was built along the road at Alamar Saddle, and the cabin at Madulce feel into disuse.

A similar fate befell the ranger station at Mono Adobe, also along Alamar-Puerta Suela Trail. With the construction of Pendola Guard Station along the completed Romero-Camuesa Road, the station at Mono Adobe was no longer needed.

In 1979, Madulce Guard Station was added to list of sites in the National Register of Historic Places, and has the distinction of being the only structure within the Los Padres National Forest that is on the list. In the early 1980s there were several volunteer projects that helped restore the cabin.

In 1999 the cabin was tragically burned down by a transient who frequented the backcountry. And so what remains now is what’s left of the original stove and other remnants scattered about the site. Nearby one can find what’s left of the tool shed that was constructed in the 1930s. However it too is damaged, likely burned during the 2007 Zaca Fire.

Madulce Camp is just west of the cabin site along Madulce Trail. The trail crosses Pine Creek, passing through a patch of western bracken fern before arriving at the campsite which is situated in a grove of pines and cedars along Pine Creek. The camp has a fire ring and several ice can stoves.

The Madulce site is still used on occasion as a base camp for trail work projects, but for those who remember, it’s just not quite the same without the cabin.

This article originally appeared in section the January 18th, 2013 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: