Posted by: James Wapotich | December 6, 2013

Trail Quest: The Trails of Leo Flores, Part 1

If you’ve spent any time looking at a map of Los Padres National Forest you may have noticed there are two places shown as Flores Flat, one along Gibraltar Road and another along Santa Cruz Creek in the San Rafael Wilderness. You may have even wondered if there’s a connection between the two sites. Turns out there is.

Around 1850, Anastacio Flores moved to Santa Barbara from Sinaloa, Mexico and married Gumesinda Cruz; together they had several children including José Flores. In 1855, Mr. Flores was remarried, and with his second wife Josefa Guevara had five children including Carlos Flores.

In 1869, Mr. Flores purchased a large ranch in Sycamore Canyon, between what is now Parma Park and Westmont College, where he raised his family. Following in his footsteps, two of his sons also acquired land in the area. In 1896, Carlos Flores homesteaded along Santa Cruz Creek, where he established his claim with the construction of a cabin and cultivation of crops on the land. The area is still known as Flores Flat and is located along Santa Cruz Trail in the Santa Barbara backcountry. In 1901, José’s half-brother, Carlos Flores patented 160 acres of land in Rattlesnake Canyon, along what is now known as Gibraltar Road; the site is also called Flores Flat.

In 1876, José Flores married Presentacion Valencia; together they had eight children including Leopold Flores, who was born in 1887.

With the passing of Anastacio and Gumesinda Flores in the late 1890s, José Flores inherited the ranch at Sycamore Canyon and lived there with his family. The Flores were known for the fiestas and community events they hosted on their property. In addition to his ranching operations, José Flores worked for the Forest Service building many of our local trails and roads.

Leo Flore Santa Cruz Creek Alexander Trail rancho oso lower upper trail santa barbara hike Los Padres national Forest

A section of the trail from Lower Oso to Upper Oso, a similar route would’ve been taken by Leo Flores running cattle from Rancho Oso to the Alexander Homestead on Santa Cruz Creek

Leo Flores lived at the family ranch in Sycamore Canyon, and 1914 was offered a job at the E. W. Alexander Ranch, along the Santa Ynez River, where Rancho Oso is now located.

During the course of his life, Leo Flores, who helped his father build trails and roads for the Forest Service, hiked or rode a number of trails still in use today. In traveling from the family’s ranch in Sycamore Canyon to the Flores Flat in the Santa Ynez Mountains, he would’ve likely taken La Cumbre Trail from Mountain Drive to Flores Flat; the trail was later replaced with Gibraltar Road in the 1930s. La Cumbre Trail continued from Flores Flat to the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains, and over to La Cumbre Peak. From there, another trail continued west along the top of the mountains and connected with Arroyo Burro Trail.

Arroyo Burro Trail from the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains leads down to the Santa Ynez River near the E. W. Alexander Ranch, and so it’s likely Mr. Flores traveled along that trail as well.

Mr. Flores lived at the E. W. Alexander Ranch with his wife Solada Ruiz for 36 years before retiring. They lived in the old Ruiz Adobe that became known as the Flores Adobe, which is still standing today. Mr. Flores began as a vaquero at the ranch and worked his way up to ranch foreman, and it’s said that he enjoyed teaching others the art of horsemanship and cattle ranching.

E. W. Alexander was a prominent community member who established the first Ford dealership in Santa Barbara. At his 310-acre ranch, Mr. Alexander hosted such celebrities as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.

The ranch also ran cattle along Santa Cruz Creek, where Mr. Alexander had a cabin. In his role as a vaquero and ranch foreman, Mr. Flores traveled between the ranch and the cabin in the backcountry along what was called Alexander Trail, remnants of which can still be found today.

From the ranch, Mr. Flores would have traveled downstream along the Santa Ynez River to the beginning Oso Creek and continued up Oso Canyon, past where Lower Oso and Upper Oso are now located. Alexander Trail then left the creek, continuing up a side drainage and joining a ridge line before making its way over the mountains and down to Santa Cruz Creek. From there it continued upstream along Santa Cruz Creek to the cabin site. Past the cabin, further upstream at Flores Flat, was the homestead of Mr. Flores’ uncle, Carlos Flores.

Lower Oso Campground Los Padres National Forest Rancho Upper Santa Cruz trail hike Barbara map

Map courtesy

Today you can hike part of this route by starting at Lower Oso Day Use Area and following the unnamed trail that connects to Upper Oso Campground, and from there continuing along the Buckhorn-Camuesa Road to Santa Cruz Trail.

To get to Lower Oso Day Use Area from Santa Barbara, take State Route 154, over San Marcos Pass, and turn right onto Paradise Road. Continue along Paradise Road, past Los Prietos Ranger Station to Lower Oso. An adventure pass is required to park and camp within this part of the National Forest.

The trail is rideable, however there is no horse trailer parking available at Lower Oso; trailer space can be found at Upper Oso. Guests of Rancho Oso can rent horses, and from the ranch access a rich network of trails, including a connector trail that leads over to Lower Oso. A map of the nearby trails, as well as information about camping, guided horse rides and other activities at Rancho Oso can be found on their website at

From Lower Oso, look for the beginning of the trail on the north side of Paradise Road, just east of Oso Creek and Camuesa Road. The trail follows the creek, paralleling Camuesa Road. The trail passes through the burn area from the 2013 White Fire. The fire, which started at White Rock Campground, burned close to 2,000 acres including most of lower Oso Canyon.

Shortly after leaving Lower Oso, the trail crosses Camuesa Road and continues through the broad open canyon, staying to the west of the road all the way to Upper Oso. Prior to the fire the trail passed through what was mostly grassland dotted with coast live oak. And while the views are still framed by the surrounding hillsides, it will likely take the return of the grasses in the spring for the area to become more picturesque.

At about the one-mile mark the trail arrives at Upper Oso Campground, where one can also find parking. The campground was built in 1929 and wasn’t there during the first half of Mr. Flores career.

Upper Oso Alexander Trail Santa Cruz Santa Barbara hike Los Padres national forest

Part of what is now an older section of Santa Cruz Trail is seen just above Upper Oso

From Upper Oso, Alexander Trail continued upstream along Oso Creek. Today one would take Buckhorn-Camuesa Road, which rides above the creek. However, if you look closely from the road, or even climb down into the creek you can find remnants of Alexander Trail. The trail is overgrown, but is still hike-able.

Roughly a half mile past Upper Oso, Alexander Trail left Oso Creek and continued up an unnamed drainage on the north side of the creek. Here too one can still find a remnant of the trail. The overgrown trail continues less than a mile before disappearing completely.

Today, to reach Santa Cruz Creek, the cabin site and Flores Flat one would take Santa Cruz Trail. From Upper Oso one would follow Buckhorn-Camuesa Road for the first mile, to the beginning of Santa Cruz Trail. The trail was likely built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corp along with a number of other trails in our area.

Santa Cruz Trail continues along Oso Creek to Nineteen Oaks, and from there leaves Oso Creek and climbs to Alexander Saddle, near Little Pine Mountain, before continuing down to Santa Cruz Creek. The trail continues to Santa Cruz Camp and the site of the Alexander cabin. From Santa Cruz Camp, Santa Cruz Trail continues north towards Flores Flat and ultimately to the top of the San Rafael Mountains.

This article originally appeared in section A of the December 6th, 2013 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.

Black-tailed deer mule


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