dispatches & explored

Return to Cuyama Peak

Some time ago, I posted a short history of the Cuyama Peak lookout. Since then, I’ve visited the site a few more times after its 2011/2012 collapse and also uncovered some additional historical images of the old lookout.

Lilly Bags Cuyama Peak
Madeye Bags Cuyama Peak, Fall 2013.

Cuyama 1934_LPNF Archives
Hauling I-beams to the Peak, 1934. Image courtesy LPNF Archives.

Madeye and I headed up the rutted and markedly steep service road one fine morning, and enjoyed a fine day of wandering and lounging with expansive views of the Cuyama Valley and San Emigdio Mesa.

We hiked along the Tinta Trail for some ways …

Upper Tinta

… and then the remains of the Brubaker Route …

Brubaker Trail

Cuyama Peak Lookout/AWS Cabin Remains No. 8

… the upper stretches of which cause me of course to ponder pursuing a short exploratory based on the route shown in late 1960s USFS recreation maps. Ah, someday ….

244W01 (Brubaker)

But it was the remains of the lookout proper that truly held my interest. So whilst the heterochromatic hellhound dozed in the shadow of the superstructure, I picked around the site and atop the platform.

Cuyama Peak Lookout/AWS Cabin Remains No. 1

Cuyama Peak Lookout/AWS Cabin Remains No. 2

Cuyama Peak Lookout/AWS Cabin Remains No. 3

Cuyama Peak Lookout/AWS Cabin Remains No. 4

Cuyama Peak Lookout/AWS Cabin Remains No. 5

Cuyama Peak Lookout/AWS Cabin Remains No. 6

Compare the above with this image I uncovered in the archives from April 1973:

Cuyama Peak AWS Cabin, 1973
Cuyama Peak AWS Cabin, 1973. Image by Wes Turner and courtesy LPNF Archives.

After picking around a bit further, the hound and I packed it up and headed back down the road. Nearing the junction with Santa Barbara Canyon and Dry Canyon Roads, I stopped the rig to take a photo of some treefall so I could report it to the USFS.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a quick flash of brown and gray off to my 9 o’clock, and before I could even register what it was, all 106 lbs. of my daughter’s marginally unhinged bodyguard was using my lap as a springboard, and sprang out of the driver’s side window.


The chase was on! Lilly — despite her size — put on some really impressive speed, and tore after a scraggly coyote who now raced down Dry Canyon Road. Despite my calls, the two canids sped down the road, the much larger domestic gaining quickly. But then Monsieur Wile E. darted left into the brush, and Lilly — with nowhere near that kind of maneuverability — attempted to follow suit with predictably disastrous results. She hit the berm of the road, rolled once or twice, and then went end over end into the sagebrush in a really impressive cloud of dust, fur, and dog spittle.

And that coyote was long gone by the time she’d regained her bearings and casually moseyed back to the truck. (Le sigh.)

A few weeks later, I was again headed up to Cuyama Peak, this time with a crew of volunteers to clear out microtrash from the site. Conditions that day began with much the same weather as had my earlier reconnoiter, but that wasn’t to last.

Cuyama View_Carey

Over the course of the morning, as thick fog rolled over us and winds buffeted the crew, spirits remained as high as always. We celebrated Bardlero Primero’s birthday, ate cupcakes, and — in addition to performing our service — explored the lookout site further.

Cuyama Looby_Carey

Birthday Boy!

Cuyama Peak View No. 1

I pondered some of the historical photos I’d accrued over the past months as well, and in retrospect realize I should have approached this visit with some of the historical zeal and insight that lend some much gravity to the Expat’s photo essays (see his photos from this sojourn here).

Cuyama Peak Lookout, 1973
Cuyama Peak, April 1973. Image courtesy LPNF Archives.

Cuyama Peak gang of seven, October 29, 2013.
Cuyama Peak, October 2013. Image courtesy the Expat Eldon Walker.

Cuyama Peak Lookout, 1959 No. 1

Cuyama Peak Lookout, 1959 No. 2

Cuyama Peak Lookout, 1959 No. 3
Cuyama Peak, 1959. Images courtesy LPNF Archives.

Finally, a slightly more detailed video tour of the interior’s remains:

There aren’t many Los Padres lookouts left out there, folks (you can count them on one hand). See them while you can.

And take the little ones with you, so they have some insight as to what this forest of ours once held.

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3 Responses to Return to Cuyama Peak

  1. Kurt Hathaway says:

    As I say you have a great site. Wish we had taken pictures in the mid 90’s when our family was exploring the LPNF volunteering for CORVA trying to keep Johnson Ridge OHV route and Toad Springs OHV route open. The tower was intact with even old logs and we would watch the Persoid Meteor shower after exploring. Wonderful views.

  2. Michael Guerin says:

    Greetings. Thank you for documenting the deterioration of the Cuyama site. Sad but true. Even sad endings should be documented for historical purposes. I contribute to the National Historic Lookout Registry. May I send them your progression of photos for inclusion – crediting you and the original sources from which you received them?

    Here is the current listing, clearly in need of an update.

    I am a volunteer with the San Bernardino NF at their Red Mountain Lookout. Thanks for your work and consideration.

    • craig says:

      Of course — share away! Though since that that post but written the situation has of course only further deteriorated. Thorn Point is our last best pre-war lookout in the LPNF, though it too is in decline largely due to lack of upkeep.

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