Parks Management Company’s Red Rock Racket Continues

Santa Ynez River

“The writer’s duty to speak the truthespecially unpopular truth. Especially truth that offends the powerful, the rich, the well-established, the traditional, the mythic, the sentimental. To attack, when the time makes it necessary, the sacred cows of his society. And I mean all sacred cows.”

Edward Abbey, “A Writer’s Credo”

“Virtually no article of faith, ideology, or institution—be this sacred or profane, this worldly or otherworldly—escapes his scrutiny.”

—Max Oelschlaeger on Henry David Thoreau, “The Idea of Wilderness” 

When I use developed day-use sites to picnic or BBQ I pay the fee.

But we the people do not have to pay Parks Management Company anything to drive Santa Ynez River Road on the way to Red Rock swimming hole or to park in the dirt. So don’t.

*   *   *

Folks, Parks Management Company is up to their ol’ dirty business of fleecing unsuspecting recreationists of their hard earned money.

They have been perpetrating this outrage for years now.

Recall my post on the matter from 2017:

Parks Management Company’s Red Rock Racket

*   *   *

On Saturday, May 25th, 2019, I was pestered—or is harassment and bullying at this point?—for over ten minutes by two different PMC employees while sitting in my car at the checkpoint they’ve long ago installed at First Crossing in order to halt traffic and demand money.

When I first drove up to the checkpoint at around 11 or 12 noon the middle-aged blue eyed woman with straight sandy blonde hair asked for $10 for day-use.

“For what,” I simply asked.

The tone and mood was business-like but amiable and fine.

She repeated herself in some form saying there was a $10 fee for day-use.

I told her I was not using the day-use areas.

Again she requested payment having me believe that I was not allowed to pass without handing over cash.

I told her that I was not paying anything, and that she was wrong, and that she could not bar access to a public road. I told her that I wanted to talk to somebody else, somebody in charge, because this was not right.

She then questioned me as to my intent in wanting to drive the road, wanting to know where I was going, what I was doing.

This is an outrageous question. PMC has no business interrogating people as to their intent when driving a public road.

When a driver is pulled over by a cop, that driver does not have to answer any questions nor say anything at all to that cop. Not a word.

And we certainly don’t have to answer the questions of PMC interrogators.

I told her I was going to park on the side of the road in the dirt.

She told me I was not allowed to do that; that there was no parking beyond First Crossing without payment of a day-use fee to PMC.

I told her that was not true and that she was incorrect. I told her that this—Santa Ynez River Road—is a public road and that I did not have to pay anything to anybody to drive it.

This would be like plopping down a checkpoint at Cachuma Saddle on Figueroa Mountain on the way to Davy Brown Campground and NIRA campground, and barring access to the entire length of the road leading there except to those people whom pay a camping fee even if they were not camping.

“It’s a $20 fee for camping,” the checkpoint worker would demand.

“But I’m not camping,” I’d reply. “I’m just driving the road and parking in the dirt.”

“It’s a $20 fee,” they’d continue to insist.

That’s some BS right there.

If I am not using the developed, improved facilities and day-use recreation sites then I am not paying the fee and nor am I legally obligated to do so.

The checkpoint at First Crossing operated by Park’s Management Company. PMC has a profit incentive to keep the public uninformed and under the mistaken impression that people have to pay a fee and the company actively works to keep people uninformed, as explained in this post and in a previous post.

At this point in the argument a younger dude with a ring through his lip and a small scraggly mustache stepped up and began a terribly uninformed attempt to wax eloquent about my rights and the law and bowl me over with his understanding of the matter. He cited a law from 1985.

Excuse me. Pardon me. But this man was an ignoramus. The other option, an out-and-out liar. I would not ordinarily mention it but for what he did in trying to get my money.

“I’ve been coming up here since before ’85,” I said, “and I’m well aware of how it works around here and I have never paid to drive the road. So what’s your point?”

Of course, he had no point other than thinking he could intimidate me with some vague reference to a law from 34 years ago.

At what point does this behavior become bullying?

It didn’t work. He had no other reply, because he didn’t understand what it was he was talking about or the law from ’85 he referenced.

So he changed the subject.

The guy then told me that I could not “park along the road especially at night.” I raised a finger and interrupted him.

“Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Wait a minute here. Do you hear what you just told me? That I can’t park along the road. Especially at night? That’s not true at all. And I’m also not parking at night anyway so it’s irrelevant. And what’s with ‘especially’? It’s either legal or not. There is nothing especially about it. You need to be careful about what you say and choose your words more judiciously, because you’re talking about the law and my rights and what you’re saying is not true.”

In trying to get me to pay PMC money the guy told me something that is absolutely not true. He misrepresented the law in pursuit of profit. Say nothing of intent if you wish, but that is what happened.

When called out the guy began to stumble and stutter, his eyes shooting up to the corner of their sockets in thought as he floundered about trying to formulate a reasonable thought and put it into coherent sentences.

Mariposa lily or Calochortus growing along the Santa Ynez River.

The man with a ring in his lip had no intelligible reply. So he once more changed the subject.

He then told me that the public road stops at First Crossing there at the checkpoint booth. This false statement further gave the impression that I had no right to drive the road or access public forest without paying PMC.

I interrupted him again. That is not true either. Paradise Road is a Santa Barbara County road which runs to and meets Santa Ynez River Road (Forest Route 5N18) at First Crossing: See map.

From First Crossing onward Santa Ynez River Road (Forest Route 5N18) is a federal road by way of the US Forest Service.

In other words: It’s a public road. People are legally allowed to drive Santa Ynez River Road and park in unimproved dirt pull-outs along this road at any time, day or night.

When I sleep in the Los Padres National Forest at Matias Camp, I park in a dirt pull-out along Santa Ynez River Road. Overnight. This is legal.

When I hike the Camuesa Connector Trail I park day or night in a dirt pull-out along Santa Ynez River Road. This is legal.

What the hell is this bejeweled idiot talking about?

Back to the hypothetical Cachuma Saddle checkpoint scenario. This would be like telling people they cannot park in the dirt along the paved road to Davy Brown and NIRA to access hiking trails or just to stare at a rock, as I’m apt to do, without first paying a day-use fee to PMC.

It’s absurd. And I refuse to be bullied and intimidated by ignorant people telling falsehoods under the color of authority while in hard pursuit of my money.

My money is my life. Each dollar represents an increment of my life, my time spent working and worked away, which I will never get back. And I am not handing my life over to PMC stooges who have no legal authority whatsoever to force me to pay.

When I called the guy out on these, uh, mistruths, he stumbled and stuttered and then—yes, you guessed it—he changed the subject.

He then told me that I had entered into a recreation area back down the road when I passed Fremont Campground, the first campground along Paradise Road on the way to First Crossing.

I interrupted him again.

“Excuse me. The entire Los Padres National Forest and all designated wilderness areas are recreation areas,” I noted. “So you’re going to need stop a moment and define what exactly you have in mind because what you keep telling me doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.”

Again he stumbled and stuttered, the eyes darting about in his skull. And again he had no reasonable answer.

The improved, fee required Day-Use Area at First Crossing. 

I took the reigns and continued.

“You’re with Parks Management Company, right?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

“You operate under a Special-Use Permit granted by the US Forest Service, right? Yes, that’s correct. Thank you”

“And the permit grants you permission to run what?” I asked. “To manage improved or developed day-use areas and drive-up campgrounds and some trailheads,” I told them and pointed over to the large day-use, paved parking, picnic tables, BBQ grills and bathroom at First Crossing. “Like that over there. The permit does not grant you management of the entire forest, dude.”

The following is taken directly from the US Forest Service website:

The following recreation sites are included in the SUP with Parks Management Company:

Santa Barbara Ranger District: Fremont Campground, Los Prietos Campground, Paradise Campground, Sage Hill Group Campground, Upper Oso Campground, Falls Day Use Area, First Crossing Day Use Area, Live Oak Day Use Area, Lower Oso Day Use Area, Red Rock Day Use Area,  Sandstone Day Use Area, White Rock Day Use Area, and Red Rock Trailhead.

Those are the “recreation sites.” Santa Ynez River Road itself is not a recreation site. And nor is the verge or the numerous dirt pull-outs along the road.

I plodded on: “You have no authority to bar access to a public road or to demand payment to pass your checkpoint or to demand payment to park in a dirt pull-out,” I told him. 

The guy didn’t know what to do. He had been flying by the seat of his pants and making things up out of whole cloth the entire time and when called out and refuted at every turn he resorted to threats and accusations.

The guy then mentioned something about calling “sheriff Doug” because I was being “confrontational.”

This was comical.

That I was not buying this guy’s lies because I was far more informed and educated on the matter than he was; because of this I was “confrontational.”

I don’t think so, Cletus.

I had my three young children in the car. There was no confrontation, I assure you.

In fact, I’d turn it around on this guy and assert that he was being confrontational in his constant pressure and demands pushed with misinformation that I pay a fee which I am not legally obligated to pay. And then threatening me with the sheriff because I refused to be fleeced. That’s the confrontation!

We just wanted to park in the dirt and swim in a river that’s been there forever without need of any supposed “improvement.”

We did not want the so-called “improvements” peddled by PMC at a fee.

I had actually requested to speak with somebody of authority right at the get-go when the lady refused to let me pass without payment.

I wanted to speak with a sheriff. I have before. And it went well. Then PMC could explain to a law enforcement officer why it is that they are barring access to public roads and lands under the color of authority.

How about that?! How about PMC be held to account and made to explain this outrageous behavior?!

I’d like to see Noozhawk publish a piece detailing this long running problem.

How about it, Macfadyen?

Calochortus growing along the Santa Ynez River.

Then the manager in duty for PMC pulled up behind me and walked over. I had already turned my engine off several minutes before he arrived.

The pale, fuzzy-faced man of short stature kindly identified himself as the manager on duty and asked how he could help me.

“Howdy. Great. You tell me,” I said.

It’s on PMC to explain itself not me to explain myself.

And you know what happened?

Within 60 seconds the manager told me to my face, eye to eye, that if I was going to park in a dirt pull-out along the paved road that there would be no charge for that.

“Uh,” I exclaimed with a puff of wind in exasperation, raising my hand, palm upward, looking at the lady in the booth I first dealt with.

I said to her: “Is not that exactly what I first told you when I pulled up? Yes. It is. That is exactly what I told you. And him,” I pointed to the guy with the ring through his lip. “I told you that, too.”

“And he accused me of being confrontational,” I told the manager. “And he threatened to call the sheriff on me,” I said. “What’s up with that? This is outrageous!”

“I’m perfectly calm,” I said. “Calmer than you are.” Nobody laughed.

The manager attempted to change the course of the discussion not liking my tack. I’d just rhetorically hanged these people with their own rope, and they knew it, and the manager clearly just wanted to settle the matter rather than hear me continue to point out how outrageously out of line his employees had been acting. He reached out and tried to hand me a day-use pass. “Here be my guest for the day,” he said.

“What?!,” I said, rejecting the offer with extreme prejudice.


“No. No. No. That’s not right. That’s not the way it’s supposed to work. That I’m your guest and how fortunate for me that you’re allowing me to pass into my public land,” I said.

“I just want to go swim. Can I go swim now? Are you all done with me? Is the interrogation over? Is there some secret password I can utter next time I come through so I can avoid all of this nonsense,” I asked, and slowly drove off.

What good reason is there that I should have to pay a $10 day-use fee to park in the dirt along a public road so my kids can swim in the river? 

On Memorial Day Monday I returned. The same lady was working the checkpoint.

“Remember me?” I asked. This time I had my wife along, too, as with our three kids.

“I thought you looked familiar,” she replied.

“Has anything changed,” I asked?

She stammered, not understanding my point.

“I’m still allowed to drive the road and park without payment to your company, right?”

Her guarded reply: “As of today, I will let you pass.”

Can you believe this ****?

“Whoa, wait a minute. What do you mean as of today? You’ll let me pass? That’s not right. You are obligated to allow me to pass because that’s the law,” I insisted.

“I’ll let you pass today because as of now there is some disagreement on the matter between the sheriff and the Forest Service,” she said.

In point of fact, there has been “disagreement” on this matter for decades. This is nothing new and long predates PMC’s arrival on the scene.

She’s going to let me pass because she doesn’t have any legal authority not to. That’s the truth of the matter. How big of her, of PMC.

Well, my interpretation of what the lady told me is that yes, indeed, I am correct in my arguments and the sheriff agrees with my position on the matter.

Because if the sheriff did not agree with me, then, presumably, PMC would stand on the law enforcement’s official line of opposition to my argument and insist that I, that we the people, must pay and PMC would not allow any free access.

This is why the manager of PMC let me pass without payment. And that is why the lady did so again on Monday.

Because they know they have no legal authority to charge day-use fees for driving Santa Ynez River Road or parking in the dirt.

And they know that the sheriff will not back them in claiming that authority.

This is why other private corporations that previously managed this area under a Special-Use Permit prior to PMC also always acquiesced, always, eventually, with enough argument at the checkpoint, and allowed me to pass without payment so long as I was not using the improved day-use sites or paved parking lots.

When I use developed day-use sites to picnic or BBQ I pay the fee.

But we the people do not have to pay Parks Management Company anything to drive Santa Ynez River Road or park in the dirt. So don’t.

Santa Ynez River

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Horny Toad

“It was a rough land that bred a tough man.”

Louis L’Amour, Utah Blaine (1984)

The observer may glean some insight into the nature of the land by looking at its native inhabitants. When you’re wearing a helmet of horns and shrouded in barbed chain mail, then you know the San Rafael Wilderness is some rough country.

When I was a kid on a Monte Vista elementary school field trip to Cachuma Lake, one of the kids in my class caught a horny toad. It was a raving huge hit.

And so pestered did the lizard become as the center of rambunctious childhood attention that it demonstrated one of the oddest sights in this here county.

The crazy thing spurted blood from its eyeballs!

It was probably the first time most of the kids even became aware that such a wild looking lizard lived in their greater backyards, to say nothing of actually holding one, and then, of all things, watching the lizard shoot blood from its eyes.

It was a wild scene, I tell you what.

All these many years later, despite catching many of them through the decades, and even poking a few here and there, I still have not yet seen another horny toad bleed from its eyes.

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Hageman Falls

The view from the top of Hageman Falls, which overlooks the Santa Ynez River.

It is an ephemeral waterfall that only flows during periods of heavier rainfall and only for a short time thereafter.

Facing somewhat north eastward on the backside of the Santa Ynez Mountains, and being that it only flows during the winter months when the sun is low in the sky, it is not an easy waterfall to photograph in action because of the lighting. (Of course, I’m not a photographer, stopped using my SLR for this blog years ago, and now typically just use a cell phone.)

Even when flowing vigorously, it appears from below and at a distance to be not much more than a gush of white water framed in dense chaparral. It’s not among the most scenic falls in the county.

While it is a true waterfall, that is a vertical fall rather than a tumbling cascade, and it measures several tens of feet tall, the best view may just be from its top overlooking the river valley, rather than gazing up at it from below.

Whatever the case may be, it is a character in the local forest around this neck of the woods and so must, at some point, be featured on these pages even if only a relatively minor feature of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

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Koso Shoshone Native American Rock Art, Ghost Dance and Hunting Magic

Trona Pinnacles. Enter, if ye dare.

The Trip Out Yonder

Some monstrous industrial ramrod ferociously hammered at long intervals some unseen target of progress, the metallic slamming a devilish metronome, the concussive impact reverberating off a pinch of rolling mountains and across the salt flats.

We stood warmly colored in the slant of early morning sunlight.

The town of Trona lay scattered like flotsam along the foot of those desert mountains, the scattered wrack of abandonment and ruin washed ashore along the ancient high water line of Searles Dry Lake.

Semi-trucks clamored around the bending strip of asphalt behind us, speeding by in a vibratory sucking whoosh of swirling grit like big rigs in Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, barreling toward the tangle of pipes and towers and metalwork spread about the railroad tracks just down the road toward town.

He stood hunched under the hood of his truck fiddling to secure, yet again, the hood latch, the monstrous ramrod keeping the beat from somewhere off in the unseen distance.

On a previous outing the latch had busted loose. Nearly going airborne as we launched off a dirt berm, out of the desert scrub, and back onto the asphalt probably hadn’t helped.

We had driven out of the Mojave Desert after that to find a piece of wire to lash it shut amid the ruinous gutted remains of an auto repair garage beside the famed old Route 66.

This time we were on the road again after adjusting a couple of bolts and tightening them down.

Onward forth yet deeper into the desert, on our way from Trona Pinnacles where we had spent a wild mind-warped night under a harvest moon, and into the Panamint Mountains of Death Valley National Park.

Looking over the salt flats toward our destination high in the Panamint Mountains.

The brilliant stark white and glowing yellow paint stripes of the Shell gas station beamed obscenely in the morning slash of sunlight, sitting as it did against the drab backdrop of the half-dead town and its ragged and leaning and collapsed artifacts of better times.

The gas station recalled pop art pioneer Ed Ruscha’s iconic “Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas (1966).”

“I go out to the long, lonely stretches of desert,” Ruscha said in a recent interview I read in an in-flight magazine while over the Atlantic, commenting as he was about where he draws inspiration from.

Yes, sir, Mr Ruscha. Indeed. Inspiration.

I caught a peek of a local resident pulling off the byway and into his neighborhood. I strained to see what sort of person could possibly find this place worthy of living in.

The man drove a late model well-kept full-sized pickup truck, appeared clean shaven and dressed well enough, for what little I could glimpse as we sped by. He looked normal, which here looked out of place.

We passed the sprawling, out-sized campus of the local high school, an immaculate, well-built and maintained symbol of pride, but impossible to believe enough children were around to attend even half of it.

The school building stuck out from the town conspicuously like a knobby crystal inclusion cutting through dark stone.

The two best kept articles of property in all the town appeared to be the filling station and the school, so far as was seen at speed from the outside.

Ballarat (Previous post: The Bandit of Ballarat)

“Turn here.”

We left the two-lane asphalt and followed a dirt road across the salt flats toward Ballarat, once a town now not.

We passed the two buildings known as Ballarat, a lone man standing in the shadows outside gazing at us from afar.

We sped by climbing a long alluvial jumble of fractured rock spat out of the canyon mouth to the desert floor below. We reached the end of the old road and set up shop for the night in an old miner’s camp.

The next morning when I woke, laying on my cot and wrapped in my sleeping bag, I caught sight of a single desert bighorn sheep making its way up the canyon we would soon be hiking up.

The bighorn’s presence foreshadowed the day to come searching out as we would be Native American pictographs depicting the same type of mountain sheep.

The canyon hike.

Looking through the canyon on the hike up.

Canyon walls looming overhead.

The Hike

Once within the canyon walls I was surprised at the new world we had entered, so different from the desert just outside its mouth.

Cool water flowed giving life to a verdant flush of various plants. Orchids grew along the creek, while cacti sat perched high overhead along the stony walls. Riparian and desert habitats met headlong. Higher up the creek the canyon opened and gave way to juniper and piñon pine and sparse scrub.

We trudged up the relentless alluvial acclivity for some six miles, gaining over 4,000 feet, to an elevation of almost 7,000 feet. Long swaths of the trail led over loose shards of scree that shifted beneath your feet with each step and drew yet more energy from our peregrinatory engines.

The slope went on, and on, and on.

Finally we came to the site of an old mining operation and what was left of its town built in a boom during the late nineteenth century.

We saw the boulder, the underside of which we had come a long way to gaze upon and ponder. The boulder rested on a gentle slope overlooking the wash not far below and had a view of the ruined town.

Stilly in his element. Captain Crash leading the way, as always.

The ruins of the mining town. 

First Impressions

Perhaps the oddest and most remarkable and immediately evident point that struck me was that the Indian rock art on this lithic canvas was virtually free of vandalism.

How could this possibly be?

The boulder sat in clear view mere steps from what was once a bustling mining operation, whose inhabitants, like most if not all early mining towns, where drunken rowdy and violent rough-and-tumble types.

The historic town here has been described as the meanest, toughest hellhole around, but then again that is a popular description and the same is said of many such mining towns. It ain’t called the Wild West for nuttin’.

Somehow the Indian rock art survived unscathed. There were no initials nor names etched into the panel. I failed to find even a single bullet mark. Not a one. Imagine that. It was astounding!

I wondered if the paintings had come after the mining boom went bust and the town fell to ruins. The paint was certainly not too old looking being thick and pasty, the colors vibrant.

The rock shelter. (All photos from October 2017)

Some of the design elements found in the cave:

Quadrapeds (unidentified) 33
Bighorn sheep 26
Horse or mule and rider 9
Anthropomorphs 16
Anthropomorphs with weapons 8
Sun-like symbols 3
Deer 2
Bird 1
Ring 1
Star 1

The Cave Site And Interpretation 

This Indian rock art site is associated with hunting magic and the Ghost Dance movement of the latter nineteenth century in California. This site appears to depict hunting scenes as suggested by the bowmen and animals that appear to be pierced with arrows.

The Ghost Dance movement was a reaction to the decline and destruction of Native American cultures resulting from the various consequences of Euro-American settlement and the expansion of the United States.

The movement sought to revitalize native traditional ways of life to empower its people and bring on the return of bountiful lands and a fruitful and fulfilling existence for hunter gatherers.

Native American prophecy held that the world would be destroyed, but following this cataclysm the animals and plants would return along with the Indians and their dead ancestors, and the Europeans would disappear.

The Ghost Dance movement stimulated a renascence in rock art creation. And because rock art reflected important life experiences it is believed that many pictograph sites are adorned with aspects of the Ghost Dance.

The desert bighorn sheep design element at this site is key in linking the paintings to the Ghost Dance. It is thought that these paintings were inspired by participation in this movement.

The particular stylized design of the sheep was an important choice made by the artists in their efforts to restore depleted sheep herds and reinvigorate their cynegetic way of life.

The design of the bighorn sheep at this site are reminiscent of the many bighorn petroglyphs in the nearby Coso Range, which are thought to have been created around 1,000 years ago.

Although it is theorized that the creation of those ancient petroglyphs coincided with a sharp decline in bighorn sheep numbers, looking today at the many Coso petroglyphs, thousands of them depicting sheep, it gives the sense that game was incredibly abundant back then.

It may be that the artists at this site featured below, inspired by the Ghost Dance movement’s call to return to and enliven old ways, had been looking back at that ancient art found in the Cosos and saw a time of fecundity and therefore sought to mimic that style of art in their efforts to bring back abundant game and a vibrant culture.

The various horse or mule and rider designs along with the depiction of people wearing hats are believed to be Indians rather than Euro-Americans as might be commonly thought at first glance.

These riders are believed to be Indian Ghost Dance messengers.

The spread of the movement was facilitated by the adoption of horseback travel by native peoples. The arrival of such messengers on horseback would have been a special occasion worthy of the creation of rock art, whereas the sight of Euro-American riders in the late 1800s, long after the advent or arrival of white folk and domestic horses, would not likely have been worthy of special record.

This is the theory of, and all the preceding information comes from, anthropologists that studied the site in the 1980s. As always, such theories and conclusions, although underpinned by evidence of various sorts, are only “maybes.” And if newer studies have been conducted of which I am unaware, it may be that these conclusions by those scholars are now out dated. Take it as you wish.

This is an illustration depicting the design elements found in the cave. A close and careful examination of the illustration will help identify the same design elements shown in the photos below, though the snapshots are of poor quality.

White bowman center frame, as featured below.

A possible hunting dog seen here at the bowman’s side.

Here a horse or mule and rider can be (barely) seen on the very lower left just above the rocks. It was a hard canvas to capture clearly by this ‘ere rank amateur cell phone snapshot clicker.

Note the bowman on the lower left, which appears to be taking aim at a large horned animal of some sort.

Bighorn sheep and a horse or mule and rider on the left hand side.

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San Lucas Falls, Santa Ynez Mountains

A view of the Pacific Ocean overlooking the Gaviota Coast from the crest of the Santa Ynez Mountains atop San Lucas Falls canyon.

San Lucas Falls is rarely visited and hardly ever seen by anybody despite being one of the better waterfalls in the Santa Ynez Mountains of Santa Barbara County.

There is no easy access by way of an official, US Forest Service sanctioned and maintained trail. There is no trail at all, so far as I know.

The gatekeeper has long been the impenetrable forest of chaparral that surrounds the waterfall, although I suppose an enterprising hiker may find his way there bootlegging it up a long stretch of a particular dirt road, which I believe is private property, however.

There is an old overgrown, slough-covered road cut that runs by the falls.

San Lucas Falls is located center frame, the old road cut visible near the lower left.

Some years ago I stumbled across the falls on a US Geological Survey map from several decades ago.

A thin blue line marked its location with the name beside it.

I had never heard of the waterfall.

I needed to see it, but could not locate a single image online.

Obviously the mountains were calling and I needed to go. I had to study the falls first hand, up close and personal.

Ain’t that right, John Muir?

Cachuma Lake

But how to penetrate that impenetrable thicket that guarded the waterfall?

That was, for all but the most masochistic lunatics, not possible so far as I was concerned. Not even I, the lone weirdo wanderer of the woods and places of lesser interest, had an appetite for that sort of rough and bloody work.

It could take a body hours to move even just a mile. Something like Campbell Grant describes in his book, “Rock Paintings of the Chumash,” when on his way to a painted cave deep within the Santa Barbara backcountry.

“Carrying packs and cutting our way down a brush-choked arroyo with machetes,” Grant writes, “we made a mile in two hours.”


And once under scrub canopy a hiker is effectively lost, for all visible reckoning and route finding becomes extremely difficult if not impossible due to the thick cover of chaparral. You can’t see where you are nor where you need to go.

So San Lucas Falls lodged in my brain as a project to be done at some point. The years kept sliding by.

Looking down San Lucas Canyon toward the Santa Ynez Valley.

And then the Whittier wild fire swept through the area and thinned the forest just enough to offer a much easier, although still strenuous, passage.

And then two years later, right now, the winter finally brought a normal season of precipitation, which after seven or so years of drought seemed like a torrential deluge.

Every little runnel in the hills came back to life and flowed with gusto, while the major creeks once more roared and the Santa Ynez River, which San Lucas Creek flows into, raged high along its banks turbid, dangerous, swift and chilly.

This was the year to visit San Lucas Falls, while it was gushing, before the drought possibly continued, before the chaparral grew back, before the figurative doors were slammed shut once more for decades to come.

I hiked down the spine of a steep ridge just east of the waterfall, through the spotty patches of burned brush. The route was fairly open from the fire, but as you know forest fires do not burn evenly.

In several places I was forced to meander here and there through thickets of scorched but still standing brier, to retrace my steps and double back in search of openings, and in a few places resort to crawling.

The ridgeline falls steeply toward the Santa Ynez Valley in a series of stair steps, the backsides of which are not visible when hiking down into the canyon. From the valley floor these slopes appear closer to vertical than not.

I was not sure if each of the backsides of those stair-like graduated hilltops was burned clear or had been untouched by the blaze or merely just singed.

There was a good chance each of those backsides did not burn as they face northward on the north slope of the mountain range, and so tend to be wetter and greener and thus less susceptible to fire.

This translates logistically into standing atop highest of those stair steps on the ridge near the crest of the mountain and wondering, “If I hike 1,000 feet down to that far step which looks to provide the closest point of access into the creek, will the backside of that step be burned clear and easy to walk or did it not burn and is still shrouded in impenetrable brush?”

You have to make the call knowing you may get down there and find it impenetrable and then be forced to retrace your steps right back up the beastly steep slope to try and find another entry point.

This could consume a couple of hours of precious time and energy and leave you right where you started with nothing to show for it but dirt and charcoal stains, scratches and lots of sweat.

The bears around here, or “bars” as Abe Lincoln purportedly pronounced the word back when, have a funny habit of stepping right in the same foot prints every time they pass along their own trail. This results in rather deep and well-worn footprints like this one here.

There were two other possible entry points breaking off from higher up the ridge I was on, but the first and closest one led into the creek farther above the falls than I liked, which risked leaving me ledged up above the falls without any way to get down below for a looksee.

The second possible entry point appeared to end in a dense patch of brush that hadn’t burned and which was too far above the creek to want to bushwhack through.

But to determine if this was the case, I’d have to traverse along that hill quite some distance before being afforded a view down towards the creek to see if it had burned enough to get through.

If it hadn’t burned, then I’d have to retrace my trail back farther than I would have liked. So I wrote it off.

San Lucas Falls

Therefore, I made the call to proceed down to that aforementioned third entry point, the lowest one, that offered possible access into the creek shortly below the waterfall.

Off I went, down, down, down chasing a possibility, pants, long sleeves, leather gloves, trekking poles.

Fortunately the fire had indeed burned down the backside of that last stair step and cleared out the dense scrub enough to allow relatively easy passage.

But I didn’t know this for sure until I was right down atop that earlier mentioned sloughed over road cut just above the creek and just below the falls.

The entire hike down the ridge I was going on a “maybe” regarding weather or not I’d actually have a chance at getting into the creek.

Fortunately I was able to find my way through with relative ease.

The water falls with much more force than might be suggested by these photos and it casts off quite a misty breeze.

San Lucas Falls is located at the confluence of two streams. What might be called the highest east and west fork of San Lucas Creek were it a more substantial drainage.

The waterfall is found on the east fork not many yards upstream from this confluence.

San Lucas is among the best waterfalls in the local range, not a mere cascade and in no way small.

I’m a terrible judge of height and distance, but I’d hazard a rough guess that it is a 70 foot waterfall give or take 10 feet or so. But it may well be much taller. I think it probably is taller, but I don’t want to hype it. From my last post you know I don’t appreciate hype.

Whatever the case may be this waterfall gushes and roars. It doesn’t just trickle. But there is no plunge pool at its foot, just a very shallow slick of water over a gravel bed.

The whole canyon was loud with the sound of falling and running water when I was there.

New sprouts from seed of various scrub comprising chaparral were popping up all over the mountain burn scar in addition to the basal regrowth from established root systems of scorched bushes.

A normal amount of precipitation this season and a cooler winter that’s helped keep things wet seem to be setting the stage for a remarkable flush of new growth to fill out the forest that had been dying and shrinking in density and volume from the long drought.

The “west fork” of San Lucas Creek at the confluence showing a peek of the miniature “gorge.”

When we get a normal season of rainfall, it’s incredible how much water flows from the sandstone aquifer that are the rather short and stubby Santa Ynez Mountains.

The waterfall is difficult to get a decent view of because it is hemmed in and shrouded by tall trees.

This may be one reason why a trail was never cut to it; you can’t really see it from any distance and so it may be harder to appreciate than other more open falls.

The west fork of the creek at the falls cuts through a miniature gorge just above the confluence, which itself is a rather nifty place.

After the hike, I had pulled over on West Camino Cielo Road along a blind corner on the wrong side of the road to take a gander of the view from the top of the mountain.

Seeing a white truck rolling up behind me I waved it around signaling to the driver that it was clear to pass.

The driver stopped to hassle me for some damn reason. Understand that any interaction with another human when I’m out alone is a hassle for The Grouch of the Woods. It’s nothing personal.

He interrogated, er, asked me what I was doing, the door of his truck fashioned with some sort of official seal I guess I’m supposed to take seriously.

I told him I was just taking in the view, that I had just returned from a hike down to San Lucas Falls, that it was rough and rugged. I’m not sure he even knew what or where I was talking about.

“Well, so long as you can get in and out yourself,” he remarked and drove off.

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