There had been a spring up there at one time. Condor Point Spring seeped up through cracks in the sandstone, flowed weakly across the mossy slab of bedrock and into a long, broad concavity. The steady trickle puddled in the low spot forming a pool about a foot deep before washing almost imperceptibly over the edge of the outcrop and disappearing into a pile of boulders.
When the Spanish arrived in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the constant circling of condors over the hill caught their eye and they began to refer to the location as “la colina de los buitres” or “the hill of the vultures.” Encircled by the safety of steep chaparral covered slopes that deterred predators, the spring was a near perfect watering hole. A soaring bird could easily approach or depart from the bare rock flat by way of maritime winds sweeping off the Pacific Ocean or lofting thermals rising from the slopes of the sun-blasted Santa Ynez Mountains.
How long the seep had filled the pool atop the hill was unknown, but it vanished suddenly one day. On Saturday, November 4, 1927, an earthquake estimated to be 7.1 in magnitude rocked Santa Barbara County. The following day the Santa Barbara Morning Press reported that the massive temblor caused several dry wells in Lompoc to “flow anew.” One gushed so profusely that it flooded out a nearby school.
Not long after the earthquake, observant Barbarenos noticed fewer and fewer condors circling around what had become known as Condor Point in the American era. It was soon discovered that the quake had shook shut the small seep. The pool had gone dry. Though the spring ceased flowing and the birds disappeared entirely, the place name bestowed by the Spaniards had long ago passed to the Americans and the shoulder of the ridge continues to be called Condor Point today.
At least that’s the story I imagined as I tromped through the brush inhaling the invigorating herbal pungence of oily greasewood and sage on a warm winter afternoon. When I got to the crest of Condor Point it was but one more stony ridgeline bristling in chaparral. Of course, I knew that. I wasn’t really expecting to find some fantastical spring. With a name like Condor Point, though, I couldn’t help but dream.
Some placenames lend themselves to the imagination. Sitting on the point overlooking the Gaviota Coast and the glistening Pacific, several turkey vultures circled overhead stoking further daydreams and hinting at what la colina de los buitres was once like in the time of the condor.