Smithy’s Pool

The Santa Ynez River was once hailed as “the most productive of all the little steelhead rivers of the south” in California. (Native Steelhead of Yore)

Sitting in the public library some twenty years ago or more I stumbled upon vague directions and an alluring black and white photo in one of Dick Smith’s old books from the 1960s. This would be the same Mr Smith for which the Dick Smith Wilderness was named.

The photo showed a man and a “youngster,” as he was apt to call them in his various writings, standing aside a relatively large and deep looking pool of water surrounded by thick grass. A dog appeared to be swimming.

I had been recreating in this specific area since I was a small boy and the black pool sitting on the slopes high above the creek, as I recognized it in the photo from knowing the area, was astonishing at first sight.

I wondered how a water feature in this semi-arid region could possibly be located in what seemed such an unlikely spot on the side of a dry mountain. And, of course, I knew immediately I had to venture out for a looksee myself sometime; into the notebook an entry went.

But interest in other places distracted me and life’s priorities kept me busy and it was about a decade before I followed up and found my way out there for the first time. What I found was a dry depression but no pool.

The Los Padres National Forest may seem fairly small when looking on a map, but a fella could spend a life time out there beating himself to a pulp, dragging his hind end all over the woods and still not see all there is to see.

Who knows what’s out there? More than you may think.

A few years back, a guy that took Stillman and I to a Chumash Indian pictograph site in the Sespe Wilderness found a Chumash basket in a dry cave, which is now displayed in the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

The map, as much as I appreciate all that it offers and the work put in to create it, doesn’t show you much. This is yet another place not labeled on the map.

How many other places or things do you think there are out there waiting for you to discover for yourself?

And don’t forget the intangible discoveries you may stumble across when out in the forest away from it all, you know what I’m saying?

I gotta gotta take a trip, gotta take a trip out of this place
I gotta gotta get away, get away from the human race
I don’t know what I’ll see, don’t even know what I’ll find
I don’t know what to pack, never been to a trip at the mind

Trip at the brain, trip at the brain, trip at the brain

Do you know what I’m saying?

Mike Muir

Smith described the pool back in the 1960s as being spring-fed and a home to turtles swimming about. What?!, I thought as I first read his book. It was all too alluring for me to ignore.

I don’t believe the spring works much anymore if there was indeed ever a spring. Back when I stumbled across the photo in Smith’s book I imagine the pool would have remained filled most years, as the 1990’s were an exceptionally wet decade.

These days the pool only fills intermittently on rainier years like the season at hand now, when we’ve thus far enjoyed over 100% of normal precipitation county-wide after years of drought.

A seasonal brook runs down the mountain near the pool. A few oaks, coast live and blue, stand adjacent the pool on the grassy slope. The place looks a bit more scraggly and sparse than usual as it recovers from a forest fire. At the moment scores of chocolate lilies are in full bloom all over the area. At least one and possibly two Chumash habitation sites are located not far from the pool.

On the day of my last visit it was a supremely peaceful place with nobody else around, behind locked gates and the fast flowing and frigid Santa Ynez River, which forced howls of pain from my person as I waded across on icy bare feet.

Once the river crossing is cleared and the gates open, the bowl of the canyon will once more resonate with the racket of “machine mad motorcyclists,” as Ed Abbey wrote.

On this day, there wasn’t another soul around but for the wild.

Yeah, Jack likes mud puddles. So what?

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3 Responses to Smithy’s Pool

  1. Jim Ansley says:

    Jack, beautiful story. I’d like to get you down to our place in Chatsworth. A hundred stories, Santa Susana Pass, movie history, Stoney Point. We live on the old Iverson Movie Ranch. (A friend writes a blog on it). Rare pencil documents from the early days, photos, etc, Still plenty of wilderness to tramp in.

    jim ansley

  2. Jim Bar says:

    I actually have the book you’re referring to and it came from a library in Lancaster! I haven’t been up there yet this year but I’m willing to bet that it’s got some water in it right now, I’ll have to go and check at some point soon. Glad I stumbled upon your site it’s awesome, love the RKL stuff too.

    • Jack Elliott says:

      Ha! Hey Bar. Good to hear from you. One of the few that understands the RKL references. I bet you’re right. Bet that pool may have some water in it right now. We’ve just had well over six inches of rain in the last several days, at the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains. Likely quite a bit less back at this place, but maybe enough to moisten it up a bit.

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