dispatches & explored

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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Of Pines, Water, and Wasting Away

It was a rag-tag crew that convened at the Horn Canyon trailhead on a recent Friday afternoon; dads just off work and kids and allies all ready to end the week with some fine time in a fine corner of the southern Los Padres.

There have been plenty of quick trips into the backwood of late — Sundays along the Sespe, lunch at Potrero John, hikes above Bellyache Springs and into Matilija Canyon for school science projects — but it had been a solid few weeks since I’d tramped into a trail camp.

Bautista_Rope Throw
Cub Scout Readyman Training | Spring 2015 | Image courtesy Mrs Bautista

"Science!" 1/2
“Because SCIENCE!” (Matilija) | Spring 2015

"Science!" 2/2
“Because SCIENCE!” (Bellyache Springs) | Spring 2015

But this was a special trip … perhaps we should call it the trip before the trip.

As many wanderers of our backwood have lamented of late, the ongoing drought has really put a dent in our options. Even usually reliable camps across the Forest are beginning to drop off the list of viable destinations as springs and creeks dry up, and the Forest Service itself had been detailing the wide-spread decline and death of drought- and beetle-stricken trees across the forest. To borrow from Professor Slughorn, these are mad times we live in. MAD! Weeks before this trek to The Pines, the reports had come in that the trough at the venerable camp had – like so many other sources — gone dry.

Well, I had a gaggle of Cub Scouts headed up that way in a few weeks, so that didn’t bode well. Level III fire restrictions is one thing, but dry-camping with a pile of youth … no. So a hearty crew of volunteers and volun-tolds had in their packs 19 gallons of water ready to cache for the impending Scout invasion.

After a nice chat with Thacher School’s headmaster (who informed us the hose leading from the spring to the trough had recently been routered, re-connected, and were again flowing), our merry band was off in the waning afternoon light. Armed with headlamps and enough water to drown a fish, we were in no particular hurry and with Tanman, Trailmaster Cobra, and the Caminator in the lead, we took some time to enjoy the views, chat about the numerous mariposa lilies in bloom, marvel at the ridiculously healthy poison oak, and ponder the geology of Horn Canyon. (Oh, and catch our breath.) It was a great time.

Horn Canyon Trail | Spring 2015 | Image courtesy and © Li’l G

Horn Canyon Trail | Spring 2015 | Image courtesy and © Li’l G

Woolly Blue Curls
Woolly Blue Curls (Trichostema lanatum), Horn Canyon Trail | Spring 2015

Wooly Blue Curls 1
Woolly Blue Curls | Spring 2015 | Image courtesy and © Li’l G

Now, the wee Careys have made this trip a number of times, and they’ve witnessed the slow decline of a few of the Coulter Pines at the namesake campsite, but I don’t think any of us were prepared for the dramatic decline in health the trees at The Pines now exhibit.

The Pines
View of the Pines | Winter 2010

What a Difference Two Months Makes
View of the Pines | Spring 2010

Pines in View! O! The Joy!
View of the Pines | Early Winter 2013

Approaching Camp
(Shaky, Zoomed) View of the Pines | Spring 2015 | Image courtesy and © Trailmaster Cobra

The glimpse one gains at the last stretch before heading west toward the “Red Ravine” gave a disheartening preview of what awaited us at camp. Now of course we all know the life of trees is finite … even Methuselah out in the Whites won’t live forever. But of late a number of notable trees that have held some level of import to me and my fellow wanderers have fallen victim to drought, among them “Quickbeam” along the Chorro Grande, G’s “Biggest Tree” along the North Fork Lockwood, and even the eastern bluegum of Ventura’s Two Trees. Beetles, the current drought, and whatever other stressors have made it a rather lousy time to be one of my favorite trees.

G's Tree
G’s Tree, Chumash Wilderness | Spring 2015

Panorama: The Chorro Grande trail Sentinel Trees, January 22, 2015
Chorro Grande Sentinel Trees | Winter 2015 | Image courtesy and © The Los Padres Expat

We arrived at camp with some daylight to spare, but as those fire restrictions precluded a warming fire which Trailmaster had so proudly built our last two visits, we set instead to jackets and beanies.

2013-02-10_HornCanyon-Pines (17)
Watch and Learn | The Pines, Winter 2013 | Photo courtesy and © Bardlero Primero

Our younger hikers picked around camp a bit, and though the weeds are encroaching mightily, one positive take-away from this island of dendrological decline was that the spring was in fine shape, and the overflow basins were all full. But true to the Scout motto, we were not to be caught unprepared if the spring did run dry, so we got to work secreting our heavy burden beneath a long-standing wood pile of Coulter rounds.

“Dad SMASH!” | Image courtesy and © Li’l G

Image courtesy and © Li’l G

19 Gallons
Image courtesy and © Li’l G


Pines Posse
Pines Posse | Spring 2015 | Image courtesy and © Li’l G

Image courtesy and © Li’l G


We rewarded our industry with a round of IPAs for the hydro-sherpas, and then packed up for the return. The hike out was under lamplight, and for many of our crew it was their first time night-hiking. Exciting stuff!

Night Descent


In the weeks after our caching expedition, I often found myself wondering what will become of Jacinto Reyes’s beloved copse of Coulter Pines. Though Coulters are notoriously fire-susceptible (Alamar or Madulce Peak trails post-Zaca, anyone?), I don’t dislike them as a tree … but wonder if perhaps some Big-cone Douglas firs (my favorite conifer of the southern LPNF) wouldn’t be better-suited to this stretch. Or need any trees be planted at all? Would that be “meddling?”

The Pines camp
The Pines | Spring 2013 | Image courtesy and © The Los Padres Expat

The Pines Camp from above
The Pines from On High | Summer 2011 | Image courtesy and © The Los Padres Expat

Horn Canyon trail ocean view - The Pines camp overlook
The Pines from On High | Fall 2012 | Image courtesy and © The Los Padres Expat

The Pines from On High | Spring 2014 | Image courtesy and © Andy K

A few weeks later, a fine team of Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts was assembled at the Horn Canyon trailhead on a hot Saturday morning. The morning had gotten off to a rough start, with Trailmaster being felled by a stomach bug and left home … and missing the Cubs’ 47th “Hunt of the Month.” He was not pleased.

Whilst we readied our gear, once one more did the Thacher school head happen by, and we had another short chat about conditions along the trail. And then we were off!

It was a scorcher, reaching between 83 and 86F as we made that slow climb beyond the fourth crossing. As this was the first backpacking trip for some of the boys, I was beginning to think I might end up ruing the decision to “bend” the no-Los-Padres-backpacking-after-Memorial-Day rule.


The BSA’s character trait of the month was “perseverance,” and the boys did all sorts of persevering. My Lady Mountaineers — Senior Girl Scouts — are hard-as-nails mountain women, so I wasn’t at all concerned with how they’d fare, but I was pleasantly surprised at the gusto with which so many 9- and 10-year-old boys tackled that hot-as-blazes ascent. Upon our arrival at camp, they were quick to set about to making swords from fallen branches, rope from yucca, improvised bows and arrows, and, well … acting like boyz in the wood.

Guardians at the Gate, The Pines | Spring 2015

Later that afternoon, a text came in informing me HRH was en route with the uber-hund and Trailmaster: the little man was on the mend and eager to join his fellow Cubs … could I meet them somewhere near the fourth crossing? And so with only a slight sigh, I headed back down the trail that steep mile-and-a-half to rendez-vous with my lovely bride, her ever-eager trail hound, and the young master.

It took some time to convince the 13-year-old uber-hund she was to return with Mrs Carey, but after that sad task done, the little man and I headed toward camp. Even with his pack and I only carrying a small day kit, he dusted me on many of the stretches. I am loathe to imagine what will happen when he hits double digits.

Once back at camp, the boys enjoyed unstructured free time into the night, we had a “flashlight fire” to award some recent advancement and badges, the Lady Mountaineers spent a disproportionate amount of time with their photography pursuits, and we all ate like kings of the forest. And yes, we went through all 19 gallons … and then some.

Image courtesy and © Li’l G

Image courtesy and © Li’l G


Image courtesy and © Li’l G

Spiral 3
Image courtesy and © Li’l G

We were up, fed, packed, and gone by 9am the next day. Another great adventure in the annals of little feet in a big Forest … but still I wonder what will be come of this camp, one that for nearly a century has been a refuge for many a hiker.


The Pines
Image courtesy and © Li’l G

Get ’em out there!

"What's that shadow on the blind?"

(The Horn Canyon Trail is detailed in Route 59 of Hiking and Backpacking Santa Barbara & Ventura.)

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Sespe Sundays

Last April, I spent a great 3 days out at Sespe Hot Springs with an intrepid crew of Los Padres luminaries. But this April has been a bit mellower — and the miles fewer — as schedules, water scarcity, and an aging pack all combined to make lazy afternoons creekside a pretty viable option.

The Warden

And so of late I’ve been revisiting the old Lion swimming hole along the Sespe. Once a crush of poorly-behaved revelers, half-drunk and/or half-naked rabble-rousers and general miscreants, the Lion swim hole wasn’t one I visited often (nor were we ever allowed to camp there as wee explorers of the forest when Lion Campground still stood). For us, Lion Camp was simply a take-off point into points beyond.

Lion Takeoff
12 Years Old, About to Get Taken Down a Notch | Lion Camp | Image Mumsy

Now the ever-bustling Piedra Blanca TH, it’s a place (like the Sespe itself) that has had many guises, including roadhead, CCC Camp, and party spot. After the camp was shuttered (official reason was the preservation of endangered amphibians, but you just know the USFS was glad to be rid of the headache that was Lion Camp), it seems many folks began to forget why it was such an attractive location in the first place.

2925-C @ Piedra Blanca Guard Station, May 1940
2925-C @ Piedra Blanca Guard Station, May 1940 | Image courtesy LPNF Archives

This past Easter — with our original plans for a family backpack made impractical by some of those aforementioned factors — the lovely bride and I hauled the wee ones and the pack to Lion for a day of decompression and some Easter egg hunting.

So less a trip report or idle musings and more of a photo essay of lazy days and Cub Scout fun at yonder swimmin’ hole and the old Lion camp grounds, behold the little forgotten corner that’s actually re-established itself as a nice little spot this past decade. (A “Diamond in the Rough” entry will follow in due time.)

On the Hunt
On the Hunt | Easter 2015

Found One!
“Found One!” | Easter 2015

Patrolmutt Emeritus

Lion Swimming Hole

“You May Scratch Me,” Quoth the Queen Uber-hund | Image courtesy Li’l G

Image courtesy Li’l G

Image courtesy Li’l G

Best Buds
Image courtesy Li’l G

Refreshed x3

Shake it Off
Image courtesy Li’l G

Bautista_Lion Orientation
Cub Scout Readyman Training | Spring 2015 | Image courtesy Mrs Bautista

Bautista_Rope Throw
Cub Scout Readyman Training | Spring 2015 | Image courtesy Mrs Bautista

Gibson_Setting the Buoys
Setting Safety Buoys | Spring 2015 | Image courtesy Ms Gibson

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Chumash X

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

In early April, the monkeys and I headed into the backwood for our annual Chumash Wilderness sojourn. We had spent the morning at the LPFA‘s excellent open house event at Wheeler Gorge, and so didn’t quite get the early start we often enjoy, but it was a sublime mosey along the North Fork of Lockwood Creek.

Heterochromatic Happiness

These Kids

“Mr McGee, Don’t Make Him Angry …” Image courtesy Li’l G.

Meadow-bound | Spring 2015 | Image courtesy Li’l G

Lily Meadows Campsite

Water was — as one might expect — about as low as could be, and short of having snow on the north-facing slopes to melt as I’d had my last few visits (including last Spring’s epic Bear Cub service project), we were relieved to see at least a trickle coming over the North Fork Falls, as we knew we should be able to locate at least some water closer to Lily Meadows.

Morning on the Chumash

This was a special year because it marked the tenth year in a row Li’l G was joining the trip. As so I did the math: those 10 trips included 9 treks up the North Fork and 1 to a guerrilla camp along Amargosa Creek, but in addition to those annual events she’d thrice backpacked in to Sheep Camp with the family or Scouts (her first trip at 3-and-one-half years, thank you kindly). Clearly, Li’l G isn’t so little anymore.

At the Pictographs
Lunch Break | Spring 2008

Lil G and the Sherpa
Off the Grid | Spring 2009

North Fork Falls No. 2
North Fork Falls | Spring 2010

Chumash Posse
Vincent Tumamait Trail | Spring 2012

We arrived at our traditional guerrilla camp in the late afternoon, and were greeted by the usual hiking hounds and general Forest malcontents: Mighty Mary, Billy Monster, Mr G, Hank, Bardlero Primero … a veritable gaggle of backwood wanderers, who’d landed here from points disparate. We set our beds beneath the usual copse of Jeffrey pines, and then after some idle fire-side chatting and beer-swilling, took advantage of the late sunset and wandered back downstream far enough to find a mucky, silted seep beneath Lily Springs where we were able to pull enough water to last us the rest of this sojourn. Even with the pre-filter and the intake set in the cleanest spot we could find, I was scrubbing the ceramic element on the filter after every liter. Dire times, people.

One Big Happy BPA-free Family | Image courtesy Li’l G

It was a long evening of revelry around the fire, and as temperatures dropped and folks turned in, Little Man (as usual) watched them go. He beds down at a reasonable hour at home, but when out here on the perimeter he seems to want to be awake for as much of the time as possible. And I don’t blame him.

Little Stalwart

Hank Alight
Hank Alight | Spring 2015

38 Degrees and All Good

Image courtesy Li’l G

To the ... North Star!
To the … North Star!

Eventually, though, we did turn in … the kids in their tent and the heterochromatic hellhound and I testing a new (to us) floorless tent I’d recently acquired.

Reading Light

The next morn, we were up when we felt like it … which might very well be the best thing about the wilderness. After hearty breakies and photo-taking, the crews all packed and were on their respective ways. Bardlero Primero joined Clan Carey for our descent back toward Camp Three Falls.


Smith_Chumash 001
Image courtesy Bardlero Primero

Thin tread

Smith_Chumash 003
Image courtesy Bardlero Primero

End of the Road 2015

Another fine outing, and already we look forward to next year. Get ’em out there!

(North Fork Lockwood Creek is detailed in Route 71 of Hiking and Backpacking Santa Barbara & Ventura.)

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