Posted by: James Wapotich | June 15, 2013

Trail Quest: Kerry Canyon Trail

Condor Trail is a through hike route that traverses Los Padres National Forest utilizing existing trails and roads. As the trail travels through the San Rafael Wilderness it follows Sisquoc River Trail from Alamar Saddle along the course of the Sisquoc River until the river passes out of the forest near Horse Gulch Canyon. Here, Condor Trail turns north and continues up Horse Gulch Canyon eventually leaving the canyon and crossing several other canyons that are part of La Brea Creek drainage before arriving at Roque Camp.

From Roque Camp, Condor Trail follows Roque Canyon Trail to Kerry Canyon Trail where it leaves the San Rafael Wilderness. Kerry Canyon Trail prior to the 2009 La Brea Fire was open to motorcycles, although it is no wider then a regular single track trail. The trail connects over to Indians Trail and Brookshire Campground in Pine Canyon.

The route from Roque Camp to Brookshire Campground offers a chance to see the contrast between the burn damage and regrowth of the La Brea Fire in Roque and Kerry Canyons and full growth chaparral and riparian plants in Pine Canyon. A visit to the White Elephant Mine can also be made from this route.

Los Padres National Forest White Elephant Mine Santa Barbara backcountry hike trail Lazy Camp North Fork La Brea Creek Kerry Canyon

Remnants of the White Elephant Mine

Roque Camp is named for a Basque who herded sheep in the area during the late 1800s and often stayed at the site.

Roque Canyon Trail continues downstream from Roque Camp. Similar to the trails one finds between Horse Gulch Canyon and Roque Canyon, Roque Canyon Trail was already overgrown and hard to follow before the La Brea Fire, and now between the fire damage and regrowth can be a somewhat challenging hike. The best route is often to follow the fairly well used bear trails along the creek that at times likely follow the old trail. Bears tend to make use of our trails and because they’re out there regularly, continue to use them even as they become overgrown.

About 1.75 miles below Roque Camp, Roque Canyon Trail climbs over the ridge separating Roque Creek and Flores Creek, to the north; and from there continues downstream along Flores Creek to where the two creeks meet and form North Fork La Brea Creek. However, there is little left of the trail over the ridge and so one option is continue downstream along Roque Creek to the confluence as there’s really no trail along either route. The trail over the ridge was likely built to support horses and pack animals as Roque Canyon does become narrower further downstream.

Along Flores Creek, as well as North Fork La Brea Creek, one can find a fairly well established cattle trail which makes for easier hiking. As with bear trails, cattle trails can often make for useful routes, however, neither animal feels compelled to follow a single route.

Roque Canyon Trail continues downstream along North Fork La Brea Creek and at about 5.5 miles from Roque Camp arrives at the confluence with Kerry Creek and Kerry Canyon Trail. Here, Condor Trail turns right and follows Kerry Canyon Trail upstream along Kerry Creek towards Kerry Camp and Pine Canyon Road. However, a more appealing camp, Lazy Camp, can be found one mile downstream along Kerry Canyon Trail.

At one time Lazy Camp was at the end of a wagon road and hunters who weren’t interested in continuing further by foot or horseback stayed here. The camp has two sites each with a picnic table and metal fire ring. There is currently water at Lazy Camp.

Lazy Camp was also used by the Jessee family when they operated the nearby White Elephant Mine in the late 1920s. The claim was filed in 1906, but the most extensive mining took place from 1929-1930 when about 4,000 tons of barite were extracted and shipped to the California Talc Company. The material was transported by road from the mine to the town of Sisquoc where it was then transported by rail. Colson Canyon Road, which is still in use today, was built by the mining company, along with La Brea Canyon Road, to access the mine.

The hike to the mine from Lazy Camp is about 5 miles roundtrip. From Lazy Camp continue downstream a short way and look for the first small canyon on your left. The old road bed starts up this drainage, but quickly leaves the creek as it makes it way to the ridge overlooking Lazy Camp. The road follows the ridge appearing more or less like an overgrown trail. The hike there is mostly uphill but does offer some great views of the surrounding area. Nearing the first site one will start to see relics from the mine. Past the first mining area the road continues towards the main site which has what looks like a tractor engine and nearby a collapsed shed. One of the interesting things about the mine is that it is on the top of the ridge.

From Lazy Camp, Kerry Canyon Trail continues upstream towards Pine Flat and Pine Canyon Road. The trail is designated for motorcycle usage, but is currently closed to motorcycles as the area continues to recover from the La Brea Fire.

Kerry Canyon Trail from Lazy Camp to the juncture with Roque Canyon Trail is in good shape, but as it continues up Kerry Canyon it becomes more challenging. The trail is at times is overgrown or washed out and other times the best route is again cattle trails. It is hard to imagine how one would ride a motorcycle along the trail.

At about 2.5 miles from Roque Canyon Trail, Kerry Canyon Trail arrives at Kerry Camp. The site has two ice can stoves and two grated stoves, more or less right along side the trail.

About two miles past Kerry Camp the trail arrives at Pine Canyon Road. Turn right and follow the road a short way to Pine Canyon Flat where Kerry Canyon Trail then descends down into Pine Canyon and continues towards Brookshire Campground.

Both Pine Canyon Road and Brookshire Campground can be reached from Sierra Madre Road. To access these sites, from Santa Maria take State Route 166 west toward New Cuyama. The turn off for Sierra Madre Road is about halfway between the two towns. Sierra Madre Road is an unpaved road that runs along the top of the Sierra Madre Mountains. From State Route 166 it’s about 10 miles to Pine Canyon Road. And another 3.5 miles along Pine Canyon Road to Pine Flat. A high clearance vehicle is recommended. From Pine Flat it’s another 10 miles to Brookshire Campground with the road becoming more difficult in places.

From Pine Flat, Kerry Canyon Trail descends down into Pine Canyon. The trail is in generally good shape. Unlike Kerry Canyon, Pine Canyon was not burned in the La Brea Fire and the contrast is immediately noticeable.

About two miles from Pine Flat, Kerry Canyon Trial arrives at the turn off for Plowshare Spring. From here the trail continues down Pine Canyon towards Brookshire Campground and a half-mile later arrives at an old campsite with a cement foundation stove and broken down picnic table. As the trail continues downstream it changes names and become Indians Trail. Currently water is flowing intermittently in Kerry Canyon, however there is almost no water to be found along the trail through Pine Canyon.

At about 5.5 miles from Pine Flat the trail arrives at Brookshire Campground. The campground has two sites each with a picnic table and fire ring. There is water currently in the creek at the campground.

From here Condor Trail continues down the road from Brookshire Campground about a half-mile and joins Willow Spring Trail and follows it over to State Route 166.

This article originally appeared in section A of the June 15th, 2013 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.

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