The 2011 Potreros Tour, Part II

Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun:
Montgomery Potrero to Santa Barbara Potrero

Here Comes the Sun

The sun was on us without mercy the next morn. We crawled from our bags and headed up the slope beneath a copse of oaks, where past campers had terraced out a few nice spots.

We pitched the tent there so as to have the screen and thereby some defense against the increasing cadre of bugs that beset any exposed skin, had a spot of breakie, and then set about exploring the area. I vacillate about even discussing this on the infernalweb … but this area, more than any other in the Forest, is so well-documented, as of this writing anyway I don’t feel I’m doing the legacy of the Chumash an injustice by sharing some of what we experienced along that sun-blasted ridge.

Nothing either I nor ZK could provide in terms of photography or wordsmithing would appropriately depict the site; I defer the reader instead to the works of Campbell Grant. Enjoy the images below, and afterward the narrative will continue.



Painted Rock No. 1

Painted Rock No. 2

Sun Disk

Painted Rock No. 4

Chumash Pictographs

Afterward, we took the reserve containers up to Montgomery No. 1 Spring, and found it — in ZK’s inimitable verbiage — a “cesspool of bovine befoulment.” We retrieved one of the hoses issuing from the spring that had been trampled into the muck and cowsh*t, and set it to filling a kettle from which we could filter the water. NB: We’ve left this kettle hanging on one of the turnbuckles beside the Pratt & Whitney tank for future use.


Unsure what the road ahead might hold in terms of water, we loaded five gallons betweenst the two of us (hey, we’re oxen, not gazelles), and after picking around the upper Rocky Ridge trail and taking a mid-afternoon siesta, set out from Montgomery Potrero at precisely 1500 hours.

Those who’ve hiked this stretch before know the views of Lion Canyon are immediately impressive; even the usual air pollution and brown haze of the Cuyama Valley, Caliente Range and Central Valley didn’t detract from the awesome geology the canyon exhibits. It begs for a future exploratory, and who are we to deny the call?

Lion Canyon

We pressed on in the late-afternoon heat through Pine Corral and shouted at several clusters of mobile burger-in-training to clear the road, and after reading through the register at the Sweetwater trailhead and watching a lone horse gallop through the Salisbury Potrero inholding, found a shaded spot along a curve in the road and cooked up some dinner. Even this late in the day the route was hot, and the respite welcome. We made every effort to stay hydrated, if for no other reason than to remove that extra weight from our packs.

Sweetwater Trailhead

Looking towards San Raf

Signage x3

Continuing eastward, we picked out the mountains visible to the south and determined which of the Potreros were those where Forest Service trails long-since abandoned once ran. While we were doing so the sun faded behind McPherson Peak.

"Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun"

We crested the final saddle just as darkness set in, and when a coyote began yapping at us from the ridge above, we lit the lamps for the final mile into Santa Barbara Potrero. Eschewing the dusty and barren site that was once the Sierra Madre guard station (and later the Santa Barbara Potrero campsite), we wandered out into the grass and settled in for a full night’s sleep.

Illumination x3

Once again, we agreed on a general plan for the next day. Reconnoiter Oak Spring, the guard station site, the Judell trailhead, and generally explore the area before our descent into Alamo and Santa Barbara Canyons.

Dark chocolate, Lagavulin, three Advil, and see you in the morning.

Video and several photos courtesy ZK.


8 responses to “The 2011 Potreros Tour, Part II”

  1. Thanks for wrapping up the Potrero tour. A new bike is imminent, so it’s on for another tour once temps cool down. And thanks for getting the hose working again and stashing the kettle for next time!

    The dam cattle around that area are really pissing me off… please tell me they’re at least kept away from the rock art sites???

  2. SMR is a real fun place to explore. I got to spend a day exploring Lion Canyon once, it was a blast. There is still some leftover gear from when the condor release program was up there. Is Montgomery 1 the spring near the cabin? I can’t remember. I think they all get trampled by the cattle anyway, yuck. Is there going to be a part 3?

  3. @Nico, there’s cowsh*t everywhere, right up to the low barrier below the lower cave, so they’re in there. Drives me nuts. Every water source was nasty beyond nasty; Pine Corral Spring was also nearly dry, so it was Montgomery No. 1 and then no water ’til Oak Spring. It’ll be better by the Fall, I’m sure … just hope those cows are out of there.

    @EP, Montgomery No. 1 is the one near the Pratt Whitney tank next to the road. It’s Black Willow that’s closer to Jackson Cabin. And yeah, a short Part III is set to release in the next week or so. There’s so much to cover these days! 🙂

  4. Danny Beck Avatar
    Danny Beck


    The Intern

  5. I had a very enjoyable bike ride last fall along the Sierra Madre from SB Cyn to Montgomery Potrero. The last five miles back to SB Cyn is all downhill (which is obviously the first five on the way in and uphill). Anyhow, I was flying down the road at sunset howling like a mad dog just having a good ‘ol time. I suppose the fact that it was a long day of peddling before that five miles of coasting, and remembering the early morning huff up that long incline, that made it all the more enjoyable. Whatever it was, it was a blast!

  6. George Armstrong Avatar
    George Armstrong

    I guess I lucked out when I hiked to Montgomery Potrero in May. The spring had not had any hooved visitors so was in pretty pristine condition. Hope it all gets washed out by this spring.

    1. Here’s hoping! Are you planning a return trip for the spring?

  7. George Armstrong Avatar
    George Armstrong

    I wonder if the cattle are just seasonal. Hope they are all rounded up by the beginning of next spring. Excellent posting Craig and the photos actually do it quite a bit of justice. A very inspiring work.

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