Posted by: James Wapotich | January 25, 2016

Trail Quest: Buckhorn Canyon

It’s been a while since Dinsmore Camp appeared on any Forest Service map. The camp was removed at some point during the 1970s or ‘80s, but one can still find remnants of the site. The camp was named after Thomas Dinsmore, an early Forest Service Ranger, who used the site as a hunting camp.

The remote site is tucked away in Buckhorn Canyon, about 6.5 miles from the nearest trailhead, and because of its history can make for an interesting destination. Nearby trail camps make it possible to include a visit to the site as part of a backpacking trip.

To get to the trailhead, find your way to Gibraltar Road in the foothills behind Santa Barbara. Take Gibraltar Road to the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains and turn right onto East Camino Cielo Road. East Camino Cielo Road follows the top of the mountains to Romero Saddle. Here, the road becomes unpaved and begins its descent down the backside of the mountains, and although there is no sign, the road officially becomes Romero-Camuesa Road. The road eventually arrives at Mono Campground, roughly an hour-and-half drive from Santa Barbara. There are several forest service gates along the road that are closed when there is significant rain in the forecast and so it’s best to check with the Forest Service regarding current conditions.

Buckhorn Canyon Indian Creek Canyon Trail Dinsmore Los Padres National Forest hike backpacking

Buckhorn Canyon is seen from Indian Canyon Trail

From Mono Campground, Romero-Camuesa Road continues about a half-mile to the Indian-Mono Trailhead. Here, the road arrives at a permanently locked Forest Service gate. Parking is found at the trailhead.

From the trailhead, continue along Romero-Camuesa Road for the first mile. The road crosses Mono Creek and then Indian Creek several times before arriving at the beginning of Indian Canyon Trail. From here, the trail continues up Indian Canyon. The trail is mostly level and in generally good condition and leads through a mix of chaparral and riparian plants.

At about the 4.5-mile mark from the trailhead, Indian Canyon Trail arrives at the intersection with Pie Canyon Jeep Road. From here it’s another half-mile to the confluence of Buckhorn and Indian Creeks.

At the confluence, Indian Canyon Trail leaves Indian Creek and follows Buckhorn Creek for the next half-mile to Lower Buckhorn Camp. The trail through this section follows an old road cut that served as a continuation of the route provided by Pie Canyon Jeep Road.

Map Indian Canyon Trail Meadow Camp Lower Buckhorn Trail Dinsmore Dick Smith Wilderness Los Padres national forest

Map courtesy Maps.com

Lower Buckhorn Camp, like many camps in the backcountry, got its start as a hunting camp. The camp is located along Buckhorn Creek under several coast live oaks. The camp features a fire ring, grated stove, and a collapsed picnic table.

Just past the turnoff off to Lower Buckhorn Camp, Indian Canyon Trail arrives at the beginning of Buckhorn Trail. From here, Indian Canyon Trail climbs over the small rise separating the two creeks and drops down to Meadow Camp and returns to Indian Creek. Meadow Camp is about a half-mile from Lower Buckhorn Camp and features a picnic table, fire ring, and ice can stove. Neither camp has reliable water year-round and so the best time to visit the area is during the spring.

From Indian Canyon Trail, Buckhorn Trail continues up Buckhorn Canyon. The trail follows the creek upstream and is in generally good shape up to the Dinsmore site thanks to a volunteer project last year organized by Los Padres Forest Association that removed the downed trees and cleared some of the brush.

About a mile from Lower Buckhorn Camp, the trail arrives at the confluence of Buckhorn and Middle Buckhorn Creeks, and it’s here that Dinsmore Camp was located. The site is in a small clearing with nothing more than two ice can stoves nearby, letting one know that they’re in the right area. Continuing in the direction of Middle Fork Buckhorn Creek, one can find old bottles and rusted cans and other trash from the hunting camp; and past that, the remains of the old outhouse and horse corral.

Dinsmore Camp Thomas hike trail Buckhorn Canyon ice can stove Los Padres National Forest

A pair of ice can stoves mark the area where Dinsmore Camp was located

The camp is named for Thomas Dinsmore, who was born in 1870, in Montecito. His grandfather, Colonel Bradbury True Dinsmore, had moved the family from Maine to California in 1861. Following the financial crisis in 1857 that ruined the family’s lumber business, Colonel Dinsmore became part of a venture to drive livestock out to Northern California, where he decided to settle after first returning to Maine to gather his extended family.

In 1868, because the damp climate of Northern California was affecting his son’s health, he moved the family to Montecito. There he purchased 130 acres of land, including most of what is now San Ysidro Ranch, and began farming. Colonel Dinsmore is credited with planting Montecito’s first orange grove.

Thomas Dinsmore grew up working on the family farm, and in 1890, married Julia Agnes Tubbs; together they had two children, Augustus and Hazel.

In 1905, Dinsmore, who was already making regular trips into the backcountry to hunt and camp, joined the newly-formed Forest Service and became an assistant ranger.

The following year, to help his wife’s health, which was being affected by the cold and damp of our seasonal fog, Dinsmore took an assignment at Madulce Cabin. The site was a two-day ride into the backcountry and during the summer he would take his wife and kids to stay there with him.

In 1908, Dinsmore oversaw the construction of Mono Adobe, to replace the one-room cabin that had been built there two years earlier to serve as the ranger station. The larger structure was required to house Dinsmore and his family, and was also closer to town, by a day, than Madulce Cabin. The adobe site is about a half-mile south of Mono Campground and about seven miles from where Dinsmore Camp was located.

In 1913, Dinsmore retired from the Forest Service and returned to farming and, in 1924, was elected to the County Board of Supervisors where he served until 1942. He passed away the following year.

Dinsmore’s son, Gus, who also worked for the forest service for a period of time, later led the effort in 1966 to restore Mono Adobe. The forest service hadn’t used the site since 1933, after the more accessible Pendola Station was built.

Past the site of Dinsmore Camp, Buckhorn Trail continues along Buckhorn Creek. The trail passes a spring alongside the trail and then starts to become more brambly and overgrown. The trail crosses the creek numerous times as it continues up the canyon and eventually arrives at the site of Upper Buckhorn Camp. The site occupies a small area clear of brush along the trail and the only indication that one has found the site is a lone ice can stove and some barbed wire. The camp was likely removed around the same time as Dinsmore Camp.

Buckhorn Canyon trail hike backpacking Los Padres National Forest

Madulce Peak is seen in the distance from Buckhorn Trail

From here, the trail continues upstream, following the canyon as it begins to narrow and wind its way up the watershed. Here, the damage and regrowth from the 2007 Zaca Fire is still evident. The trail then turns up a side wash, partially obscured and covered with deadfall, before arriving at the beginning of the switchbacks that climb out of the canyon.

From here, the route is easier to follow but requires pushing through ceanothus most of the way as the trail makes its way towards Buckhorn Road. As the trail nears the top, it offers views out across the canyon and towards Madulce Peak and West Big Pine Mountain.

At about the 10-mile mark from the Indian-Mono Trailhead, Buckhorn Trail arrives at Buckhorn Road. For those incorporating the trail into a longer backpacking trip, from here, it’s about nine miles along the road down to Upper Oso and about 2.5 miles over to Happy Hollow and Little Pine Mountain.

This article originally appeared in section A of the January 25th, 2016 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press

Indian Meadow Camp trail hike backpacking Santa Barbara Los Padres National Forest

Indian Meadow

Hiked Indian and Buckhorn Canyons over the Christmas break with my sister from Colorado. Backpacked in the first day to Meadow Camp and base camped there. Only one decent pool of standing water from the recent rains in the creek below Meadow Camp, rich with sulphur and tannin, mm-mm. On the second day, day hiked the length of Buckhorn Trail.

Good water along Buckhorn Trail starting before the first crossing and all the way to the site of Upper Buckhorn Camp. The trail itself is in good shape up to Dinsmore Camp, from there it starts to become overgrown. The worst section however is where the trail eventually leaves the creek and starts its climb to the Buckhorn Road. This transition before the first switchback is cluttered and obscured by deadfall. The switchbacks are another matter and require pushing through ceanothus almost all the way to the top. [The trail has since been worked as part of an LPFA Trail Project – and then of course got burned in the 2016 Rey Fire]

The third day, day hiked to Maiden Falls. Flowing water in Indian Canyon from the site of Peg Leg Camp to a little ways past “Brain Rock”. No water at Indian Camp and only a trickle of water in the falls. I would post photos of the falls, but it’s too depressing seeing them so dry.

Brain Rock Indian Canyon hike trail backpacking Santa Barbara Los Padres National Forest Dick Smith Wilderness

“Brain Rock”

Indian Creek Meadow Camp hiking backpacking Santa Barbara Dick Smith Wilderness Los Padres National Forest

A dry Indian Creek near Meadow Camp

During our last night at Meadow Camp a fox visited while we were sleeping and took one of my shoes for a ride, along with two of our trekking poles. It’s the sort of thing foxes like to do.

When we got back to the car we had another fox encounter of a different kind. I had left a half-eaten breakfast burrito in the car from the drive in, and when we started our hike my sister had commented “aren’t you worried about bears breaking into your car?” “No,” I replied, “our bears aren’t into that sort of thing.” Apparently, however, our foxes are, as there were fox tracks all over the hood and roof of my car. It was particularly interested in the damaged weather stripping on my driver side door as a means to getting to its quarry. The fox was unsuccessful, but from the scratches on my door you could tell it liked what it was smelling.

fox tracks

Fox tracks

Scrub jay

Scrub Jay along Indian Creek


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