Idle Musings on Los Padres Toponomy
Quick — where’s Bluff camp?
If you’re a Santa Barbara hiker, it’s the site off the service road between the San Raf and Dick Smith Wildernesses. If you’re a Ventura County hiker, it might also be that elusive and seldom-visited site in Santa Paula Canyon.
Ready for another? White Ledge. Beartrap Creek. (I bet you said “Reyes” or “near Scheideck”.) Alder (or its Spanish synonym, Aliso). There must be a million of those; I’ve counted at least seven Alder creeks or canyons in the southern Los Padres thus far (English edition only).
So why all the duplicate names? I have to check my cynical side at times when I think it was just people being lazy, like naming a street Elm or Maple (regardless what trees might actually grow there). But then I am reminded (or remind myself) most of the folks who named the features in the Los Padres backcountry weren’t the lazy type. This is rough terrain, and dang it if you get to put a name on it, good on you!
Some of the names may lack some creativity, sure, but in the case of, say, Bluff — originally used as a base camp for the crews building Big Pine Road during the Depression — that’s not my place to say (while I sit in my ergonomic chair under the light of a bank of CFLs and a pint of Murphy’s at my elbow). More power to them.
Some places are named after what grows or lives there (Madulce, Oak This, Lady Bug, Oak That, Blue Jay, Oak Flat, Bear Gulch, Turtle Canyon … oh, and Oak Something!), what happened there (Beartrap, Sluice, Ellis Apiary), or after the owner or other historical figure (Ortega, Mutau, Reyes, the Tumamait Trail, Bill Farris camp, etc.).
And for a region with far less geothermal activity than Yellowstone and a far lower mean temperature than much of the American southwest, the southern Los Padres — the Sespe Wilderness especially — seems to have a disproportionate number of infernal placenames. Devils Canyon, Devils Heart Peak, Devils Gateway … the mind boggles (more on those later). And of course there are plenty of Chumash names (Matilija, Sespe, Topatopa).
But I like places with almost ridiculous names. I read recently “Ozena” was a term for “horse with distemper” … gold star. Dead Horse Creek (just east of Snowy Peak in the Sespe)? Just as good!
… and I don’t even have anything against horses.