A Rowe’s by any Other Name …
In the nascent months of this site’s life, I threw down with a “roll call” of abandoned camps in the southern Los Padres … what I like to call “diamonds in the rough.” It’s become something of a hobby accounting for long-lost camps, and so that entry has become a perpetual work-in-progress and I try to add new intel or updates as they trickle in.
And for some time, the Yankee Barbareno and I both had our exploratory eye (lidless, wreathed in flame) fixed on the old Rose Canyon flat where once stood a USFS camp called Rowe’s Gulch. Bob Burtness had shared some anecdotes about the site from back in the 1960s, and relayed to me intel of one old ice can stove at the site given up long ago.
The current toponomy is derived not from the California wild rose — okay, I think I just felt the entire Dick Smith Wilderness contingent wince — but taken instead from the Rowe family, who had a hunting camp here in the very early 20th century. Rowe’s became Rose, and the camp was forgotten … its mention in Mr Burtness’s second edition of the Canalino Lodge camping guide was basically an epitaph. And aside from the map that accompanied those early guides, its cartographic legacy is anemic at best.
With the sharp eyes only single malt consumed in the dungeons of maptitude can provide, I’ve not seen the Rowe’s Gulch on any USGS/Army Corps/War Department map ever, and have only seen it marked on the 1938 Los Padres visitor map (which has added 37 new diamonds to the to-do list, I kid you not) and the 1950 Santa Barbara District map (curiously, it did not appear on the 1950 Los Padres visitor map), leading me to believe it was well on its way to archival status when Truman was in office.
The Barbareno arrived on that desolate flat before I did, and shared with us a fine trip report detailing conditions along Rose Canyon. Does that mean I needn’t make my own trip?
Oh hell no.
And so it was on a clear January day three beards converged in the wood to endeavor upon a route we’d all discussed in months past. Sure, the Barbareno’s sojourn likely lit a fire under my Vibrams, but what else is a man to do but be thankful he did so? ZK, Eric from VC Canyoneering, and I were joined by two of the pack, and up Rose Canyon we went.
There was very little tread to follow early on; what few stretches of old (presumably New Deal-era) treadwork and rock walls were visible quickly faded into high blackberry brambles or had long-since been cut by erosion. Some portions of the old trail have been pressed into game duty and were marginally passable, but clearly better-suited to lower-clearance four-footed creatures.
After very little work, a flat above the creek looked as though it might yield another piece of tread, as I knew the canyon was above to curve in that direction and the opposite banks were becoming increasingly steep. I scrambled through some scrub oak and large swathes of denuded poison oak and quite literally tripped over a length of 2″x6″ lumber. I shouted to the crew, who had made better progress in the ravine below. Lag bolts, rock work, footings cut at 45 degrees and old limbs cut clean from the Q. agrifolia above … by jove, we’d found it. And far closer than the smaller-scale maps had intimated.
Giddy with our barely-earned discovery, I began to pick around the kitchen , defining the boundaries of the old fire area, and hoping perhaps to discover the ice can said to have resided here as late as 1960. Eric and ZK headed toward a large meadow to the northeast, and I soon heard sheet metal being maneuvered from where they stood. There, the boys had uncovered what at present we can only guess was a strongbox, cache, or box trough of some sort … a great deal of wide metal braces that must have at one time held some form of wood construct.
The meadow was a long hillside full of star thistle, lending credence to ZK’s theory that this is where horses would have been put to pasture in the heyday of this small trail camp. Eric went on to explore the eastern banks a bit further, and on his way back down the slope — being new to our crew’s idiosyncrasies — ignored our entreaties to do the whole Laura-Ingalls-in-flight scene from “Little House on the Prairie.” Fail.
The bearded trio headed back down the slope to further examine the camp site, and ZK was able to trace out a series of switchbacks and water bars — across which we’d previously cut — leading to this pasture. Back down at camp, ZK went on full uber-archaeologist mode, quickly locating a heavy 7′ post that based on maximum dimensions had likely been a 6″x6″ before the local bears began using it as a scratching post, circa 1930s or so.
The post featured wood dowels à la the sign atop Haddock Mountain, but also — and I suspect placed much later — a trio of 3/8″ bolts. I quickly convinced myself the massive notch cut out of the upper portion of this post had accommodated one of the classic routered round-edge trapezoid camp signs I so adore.
And then of course Captain Show-off says behind me, “Dude. Here.”
Nice find! Eric and I continued picking around camp whilst ZK endeavored to expose some old coals in the fire pit. No remains of the ice can were uncovered. I soon spotted another piece of the old (second-gen?) camp sign which complemented the first, and so about the base of a poison-oak entangled oak we continued our search. “You would use a bulldozer to find … a … china … cup,” ZK and I cried out in unison. But it was all I could do to keep my breakfast down, being so close to the wicked tendrils of that evil weed. I tried to soldier on in the name of exploratory, but soon stepped back. Type IVs can only put up a brave face for so long.
We took what pieces we had and I tried to envision how the sign would have been configured. I don’t believe the sign was of the exact same configuration as the Bluff and Big Chorro signs (see below), ie, not [Forest Name] + Stacked USFS Script Logo + [Site Definition] set vertically on the upper portion, and then [Site Name] on the bottom yellow panel. I come to this conclusion because on the sign we found, the left edge near the word “National” seems to have been milled perfectly in the angle consistent with that inverted trapezoid shape (thus making the specific above-outlined convention unlikely), and seems to fit the variation we see up at Three Mile Camp:
The trick here is I don’t know what accounts for such differences. Era in which the sign was constructed? Some sort of administrative classification? Or simply the fact Ranger Tom and not Ranger Harry was operating the router that shift?
*Strokes the beard* Hmmm … looks like another to-do has been added to the list; specifically, a timeline of USFS (Region 5-specific) trail signage. I’m on it.
Soon enough we continued up the ravine intent on climbing out of the drainage and down into Little Caliente Canyon, but the increasingly thick PO — tempered by my admittedly complacent sense of “the mission is already accomplished, we found the camp” — prompted me to call Uncle. The icing on the cake (our planned up-and-over to Little Caliente) wasn’t going to be worth a week of steroids for me. So we picked around a bit more, and then headed back down-canyon.
Back on Camuesa Road, we toasted our success with Aberfeldy and enjoyed fine views of the bone-dry Santa Ynez. Later that afternoon, whilst we picked around Little Caliente Spring, I scanned those thick chaparral slopes covering the upper confines of Little Caliente Canyon and I felt better about the decision to head back via the Rose drainage. Little Caliente looks to be a pretty thick hedge of nigh-impassable doom. (But then again, isn’t that precisely what we wanderers of the LPNF are built for? We’ll be back.)
Later, Eric and I wiped down with CoreTex towels, and in the days since have endured only minor reminders of our incursion into the nine levels of Dante’s PO garden. (ZK’s immunity to poison oak doesn’t merit mention here, so I’m not going to give him the satisfaction.)
Wicked. So here’s hoping the Barbareno regales us with a tale of < insert target route of your choosing here > in the weeks to come and motivates us all to further trod these paths less-traveled!