dispatches & explored

Little Men, Big Sur

I’d like to think over the years I’ve learnt at least a handful of the many lessons I’ve received, and so in a rare act of Labor Day weekend wisdom, instead of heading into the cauldron that is the Sespe in the summer or scaling some blistering hill along Hurricane Deck, I led the intrepid Panthers and Mongooses of Cub Scout Pack 3179 for a four-day sojourn to the Pico Blanco Boy Scout camp in Big Sur.

I’ve camped at numerous BSA camps across the state, but had never visited Pico Blanco (a camp in the Monterey RD of the Los Padres operated by the Silicon Valley Monterey Bay Council). A handful of other Ventura-area troops have made the annual “family camp” offered on Labor Day weekend, and had been recommended to us as a chance to enjoy the programs and environs of the camp with everything available save the mess hall.

After the nearly 6-hour drive to camp, the boys hunkered down and quickly busied themselves with the setting up of their beds and kitchens. As we were car camping, this was a far easier and more complacent task than during some of our more adventurous sojourns.


The boys were up early their first morning, and I was glad to find Little Man busy prepping my breakfast. Having a go-to cook is proving supremely handy these days (though admittedly I greased those wheels by awarding him his own MSR PocketRocket, cook kit, fuel canisters, and a few lighters sans thumbguard … but come on people, this is the gift that keeps on giving [back to me]!).

Head Chef

After colors, our first order of business was to get numerous safety briefings from the camp staff. The instructions for the rifle and archery ranges — as one might expect — took the longest. But as our Webelos are known for their hiking prowess, it was with particular zeal that they took to the trek they’d selected from the menu of options — a journey through the Los Padres and along the Little Sur River toward Jackson Camp. This was a great 5-mile out-and-back along sorrel-clad ravines, cobble- and fern-choked crossings, and all beneath canopies of towering oaks and redwoods.


Image courtesy Camp Pico Blanco/Mr Roberts

Image courtesy Camp Pico Blanco/Mr Roberts

Image courtesy Camp Pico Blanco/Mr Roberts

Pico Blanco THTrail Masters

Trust UsTriple Towers_Pico Blanco

Fish Camp

At Jackson, the boys lunched and then busied themselves exploring the creekbed, catching bugs and snakes, hunting for albino redwoods, ID’ing (and avoiding … mostly) nettle and poison oak, and enjoying that old stalwart: unstructured free time.

Jackson Camp No 1

Hunting for Bugs

Whilst the boys roamed, some of us lounged in the splendor that is this tight little camp, and there in the duff and dirt lo and behold:

Lost and Found

I know you can read it with ease, gentle forest reader, but for the sake of being thorough allow me to translate: “JACKSON PUBLIC CAMP.” Dimensions are on par with those (very) few we still find afield (e.g., Indian Canyon) and the numerous in protected or private collections.

Indian Camp
Indian Canyon, Winter 2011

Battered, shot, rusted, and a general wreck, but still a nice find.

That night, the Cubs of 3179 unleashed on the unsuspecting staff of Pico Blanco their infamous “poker night” skit during campfire, and over the course of the next two days enjoyed the shooting range(s), waterfront along the Little Sur, the new climbing tower, and a night hike up Skinner Ridge.

poker table skit

Image courtesy Camp Pico Blanco/Mr Roberts


Race to the Top


Nighttime Traffic

A very relaxing time for us Scouters (well, for me at least), and the boys thoroughly enjoyed the camp. I suspect we’ll return before long.

Oh — we talked about receiving lessons, etc., at the opening of this one. The weekend detailed herein also happened to be my wedding anniversary. So … yeah, I’ve been reminded that next year it’s to be somewhere tropical. With the missus. 😉

Get ’em out there!

Pico Bound

(The Jackson Trail is detailed in Route 39 of Analise Elliot Heid’s Hiking and Backpacking Big Sur.)

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Station to Station: Pine Mountain Lodge Flashback

As time has allowed over the past few years (which is to say, almost never), and starting with a brief background I posted about Pine Mountain Lodge, I’ve been slowly pulling together some research that eventually I’ll release as the Footprints Project. Progress has been painfully slow, with real life and all sorts of other similarly silly things constantly impeding momentum.

However, as a very happy sidenote-cum-anchor to the PML section of the Footprints Project, plant systematist and paleobotanist Dr John M. Miller was kind enough to share with me a series of photos of Pine Mountain Lodge taken during his time exploring the southern Los Padres as a Boy Scout in the late 1960s. So whilst real-world obligations beset us on all sides, take a moment to soak up some great imagery of the old lodge site. Then you may go about your business.

Miller_Pine Mtn Lodge 1966

Pine Mountain Lodge, 1966 | Image courtesy Dr Miller

Miller_Pine Mtn Lodge Sunrise 1967

Pine Mountain Lodge Sunrise, 1967 | Image courtesy Dr Miller

Miller_Pine Mtn Lodge 1968_003

Pine Mountain Lodge, 1968 | Image courtesy Dr Miller

Miller_Pine Mtn Lodge 1968_002

Pine Mountain Lodge, 1968 | Image courtesy Dr Miller

Miller_Pine Mtn Lodge 1968_001

Pine Mountain Lodge, 1968 | Image courtesy Dr Miller

Miller_Pine Mtn Lodge 1968 006
Pine Mountain Lodge, 1968 | Image courtesy Dr Miller

Miller_Pine Mtn Lodge 1968 005

Pine Mountain Lodge, 1968 | Image courtesy Dr Miller

Miller_Pine Mtn Lodge 1969 001
Pine Mountain Lodge, 1969 | Image courtesy Dr Miller

Miller_Pine Mtn Lodge 1969 002
Pine Mountain Lodge, 1969 | Image courtesy Dr Miller

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Old School Signage: Alder Creek/Mutau

Another of the lost Santa Barbara NF enamel beauties, this one at the junction of the now-abandoned upper Alder Creek trail and Mutau Creek route, 1968.

Mt Pinos district stalwart EmSub and his hearty team have worked the tree-littered Mutau trail several times in the wake of the Day Fire (see some photos here and here), but the upper Alder Creek route (from the lower junction above the East Fork confluence to the Mutau junction) has fallen off the official maps.

Miller_Alder Creek/Mutau Trail, 1968

Thanks to fellow Scouter and Arrowman Dr John M. Miller for sharing this great image.

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Dungeons of Maptitude Review No. 6: Conant’s 2015 San Rafael Wilderness

Rejoice, fellow wanderers of the wood — we have new mappage!

Now, those who follow the map reviews on this little site are likely familiar with Bryan Conant‘s San Raf maps, though I’ve only (until now) reviewed the 2008 and 2013 editions of his excellent Matilija and Dick Smith Wilderness map. But now I’m happy to report we have a third edition of the San Rafael Wilderness map — and so finally, a review!

What’s New … and What’s Changed

First, the usual suspects: a new fold, new aesthetics, mileages have been refined, route numbers have been added, the shading indicating the wilderness area(s) is a much lighter — and better, IMHO — green, and the Zaca Fire (2007) perimeter has been removed. Seven years on, I suppose the changes that fire ushered into our forest is a part of the landscape now anyway. The map still shows the La Brea (2009) Fire perimeter.

As with the 2013 Dick Smith map, the route the Condor Trail will follow/follows is marked with the CT icon. As a CT supporter, I just love this.

CT Icon_San Raf 2015

Also as with the 2013 Dick Smith map, one of my favorite little additions to this new map are points of interest and historic sites (what we in the dungeons like to call “diamonds in the rough“), rendered in small caps and violet. This is such a great addition to his newer maps! Rightly, he doesn’t include all of the historic camps that once stretched across what is now the San Raf, but he sure nails most of the interesting ones (and exercises some real tact in those he chooses to exclude, for those wondering). I would love for historical lookouts and/or guard stations to be marked in this way in a future edition (but that’s just me getting my carto-nerd on).

Abandoned Goodness
Abandoned Goodness

Some camps listed are those only recently removed from any official inventory: Coche Camp, which the RSO and I enjoyed during 2011’s Riddler trek; Hiawatha; Hog Pen Spring; and Cachuma (which it turns out may — or may not — be on somebody else’s property).

New and Improved Coche
Coche Camp | Summer 2011

Ice Can Hiawatha
Ice Can Stove at the Old Hiawatha Site | Spring 2011 | Image courtesy Bryan Conant

Hog Pen Spring
Hog Pen Spring | Spring 2011

Some of these “diamonds in the rough” that are of particular interest are the Fall Canyon sites above the Sisquoc Condor Sanctuary and a handful of the old sites in the Buckhorn drainage … sites just begging for additional recon. And while (as mentioned above) most of the sites Mr. Conant has chosen to not mention are for good reason, one I rather wish he’d included is the old Branch Canyon camp in that exclave out in the South Cuyama Oil Field. It’s long-since razed of course — despite many online maps (incl. Google) marking it — but anything that draws attention to that corner and our inability to access the old Lion Canyon trailhead via Perkins Road is something I’ll get behind (see now in the comments section some articulate “back in my day” comment from the Expat Eldon Walker; one cannot discuss Lion Canyon access without raising his ire).

Branch Canyon GS, 1930s
Branch Canyon Guard Station, Cuyama Ranger District | 1930s

Branch Canyon Camp 1967
Branch Canyon | USFS 1967 Visitor’s Map

Another that I would like to see in this new “wayback” category is the Santa Barbara Potrero camp/Sierra Madre guard station, if only because its existence is near and dear to my heart.

Santa Barbara Potrero, 1931
Santa Barbara Potrero and Sierra Madre Station | 1931

2925-C @ Santa Barbara Potrero, 1938
CCC Crew 2925-C at Santa Barbara Potrero | 1938

One that was there, gone, and is now back again (in “historical” form) is McPherson Camp. McPherson appeared on the original 2003 San Raf maps, but did not appear in the 2007 second edition. While not a great site by any stretch of the imagination, it’s still useable and so I’m glad to see it at least mentioned in some form here.

McPherson Camp No. 2
McPherson Camp | Spring 2011

McPherson Camp No. 1

And whilst the historical features are great notes for we curious folk who spend way too much time down in the weeds, we also see a handful of “new” (to the map, anyway) routes that have been added for this edition: the Gifford Trail, the “new” camp at the Mono Narrows, the work camp along the Alamar upstream from Bill Faris (note also the spring once shown at Bill Faris camp? No longer.), and Kellogg camp along the Santa Cruz NRT. The Caliente TH has been removed, whilst Ray’s, Lorna, Horseshoe Bend camps, and a handful of attractions in the lower SYRA have been added. Too, the route heading southwest from Grassy Mountain toward Midland School’s various trails is also now shown.

Kellogg Camp | Spring 2013 | Image courtesy Cowboy Clark

The new camps included though do remind us that some existing camps still need some love if they’re to remain on future maps (e.g., hazard trees at Bill Faris). As much of the work on the Los Padres these days is done by volunteers, another great aspect of the new San Raf map is the section Conant allocates to singing the praises of — and trying to recruit — Volunteer Wilderness Rangers.

Burtness_Bill Faris 002 June 1962
George Hardie, George Guntermann, and Wayne Moore Carrying the Bill Faris Sign to Camp | June 1962 | Image courtesy Robert Burtness

Burtness_Bill Faris 001 June 1962
George Guntermann Painting Installed Sign | June 1962 | Image courtesy Robert Burtness

Also with this edition comes a new level of “thick”: non-colored lines indicating historical or genuinely hopeless routes (The Caracole, anyone?). This will either prove super-cool or a super-big headache to SB County SAR.

Conant_San Raf Trail Index

Old Hat, New Turf
The Expat along the Salisbury Canyon Trail (rated green by Conant) | Fall 2013

Minor tweaks across the board, of course, e.g., the White Oaks Fire Station (abandoned and then burned in the 2009 La Brea fire) no longer makes an appearance, and the inholding just west of Kendall Spring adjacent to Cox Canyon has been removed from the map: the Wilderness Land Trust bought said property from the Hvolboll family in 2011 and then passed it on to the Forest Service. (I guess we’ll just wait and see if the next Los Padres visitor’s map makes the same correction.)

All That Remain No. 2
White Oaks Fire Station site | 1967 and 2014

The site formerly known as “Indian Creek” (Dick Smith Wilderness) on Conant’s map is now “Indian Canyon,” with which I agree.

Indian Camp
Indian Canyon Camp | Winter 2011

One typo worth pointing out is McKinley Mountain v McKinley Peak (correct on the map proper, not so much on the inset). Small potatoes.

Peak v Mountain

The Nitty

Sometimes I think these map reviews should have a section just to laud eagle-eyed tweaks. To his credit, Conant also takes the time to correct tiny errors that have appeared on USFS and other maps for generations. “Gene Johnson” camp or “Johnson” Spring? No, those are Johnston, thank you kindly. “Roma” Potrero? It’s appeared that way on maps since World War II, but historians and the rangers back in the day maintain it is actually Romo Potrero. Frijol Flat, adjusted. The McKinley Spring v Cold Spring naming kerfuffle, handled.

Credit to a cartographer who concedes even his folk — with their mapping superpowers — can get it wrong (and then takes the trouble to correct such legacy errors).

Romo Potrero Erosion Control
Romo Potrero | July 1934

Exit stage left...
Entering Romo Potrero | Summer 2011 | Image courtesy the RSO

USFS 1974 Excerpt
“Johnson Spring” and Long List of Things Since Fallen Off the Map | USFS 1974 Visitor’s Map

Price has increased from $8.95 to $10.95, on par with the Matilija and Dick Smith. While you don’t get the value-add of the other map’s verso, it’s still absolutely worth it. Bear in mind however one thing: the UPC code on the back of the map will scan at $22.50. Whilst Mr. Conant is distributing stickers to address this issue, because the map ships shrink-wrapped (and that wrapping might be removed by window-shopper or folks only looking for one piece of intel), not all retail copies may sport the correct code. Be mindful at check-out that you are not over-charged.


So whilst the San Rafael Wilderness is the wilderness of those in the southern Los Padres in which I spend the least time, I am happy to have this new guide in my side pocket, ready to be rained upon, baked, torn, and worn into near-illegibility as have its mighty predecessors.

(Oh, and before anybody asks: yes, Kirschenmann Road is spelled correctly.) 😉


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