The Devil is in the Details

Pleased to Meet You, Won’t You Guess My Name?

For a region with far less geothermal activity than Yellowstone and a far lower mean temperature than much of the American southwest, the southern Los Padres — the Sespe Wilderness especially — still has its share of infernal placenames. You might have a devil of a time sorting them if not for the handy (partial) breakdown below.

Devils Canyon
The first major tributary to the Santa Ynez River downstream from the Gibraltar Reservoir, Devils Canyon drains northward from the Santa Ynez Mountains.

Devils Heart Peak
Named for the bare, heart-shaped sandstone formation on the peak’s south face, Devils Heart Peak is at the center of the Sespe Condor Sanctuary and a point now only (legally) stood upon by researchers and those in the employ of a handful of government agencies.

And this is really the area where one hits the mother lode of Satan’s toponomy. The 7.5′ quad that covers this area (Devils Heart Peak, naturalement), is loaded with these. So in a ~22 x 27-inch sheet we’ve got … what, at least half a dozen nods to the underworld? Isn’t it enough San Rafael Peak tops out at 6,666 feet?

Devil’s Gate

Also Burned

Often confused with the Devil’s Gateway to the northeast on the same quad, Devil’s Gate is a narrow rock-lined canyon along the Sespe (near the edge of the Forest boundary).

devils gate

Image courtesy bobby__emm

Devil’s Gateway
Often confused with the Devil’s Gate to the southwest on the same quad, Devil’s Gateway is a narrow formation along Agua Blanca Creek in the eastern Sespe Wilderness.

Devil's Gateway
Image courtesy lccothern

Devil’s Potrero
A grassy flat along the Pothole Trail in the eastern Sespe Wilderness, Devil’s Potrero is the grassy flatlands around the Pothole formation (just up a side drainage from the above-mentioned Gateway).

Meanwhile, back outside the Sespe, we’ve got the Devil’s Slide, Diablo Canyon (which reaches Agua Caliente Canyon just upstream from the debris dam), Devil’s Playground … this list goes on and on. Given the summer heat and fairly merciless chaparral, a likening to hell is understandable, but still something of a stretch.

Hell’s Half-Acre
But then there’s Hell’s Half-Acre. Who the … um, “hell” … named this, Nanook of the North? The similarly-named spot in Wyoming I get. Something along the San Emigdio badlands, sure. Anything in the Caliente Range I would totally understand. But this?

Hells Half-Acre

Along the old McKinley Fire Road in the upper Santa Barbara Ranger District, Hell’s Half-Acre provides fantastic views of the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Sierra Madres, and is nowhere nearly as intimidating as it sounds. This is more Julie Andrews-spinning-and-dancing-along-the-ridgeline terrain. Even in the summer — though hot — it’s a pretty sweet spot. In the spring, it’s closer to Valhalla.

So this begs the question … what spots out there actually deserve an archfiendish moniker?



7 responses to “The Devil is in the Details”

  1. Ned Clark Avatar

    I always thought Hell’s Half Acre was the stretch of the McKinley Fire Road with the sandstone rock outcroppings. I agree that it is far more beautiful than hellish, but I took it that it felt like hell to those trying to build that road through it!
    My personal hell trail would have to be the fire road over Hildreth Peak… brutal.

    1. Hey Ned, thanks for dropping by. Agreed; it must have been a herculean effort getting that stretch of road … have you seen that fire cut that heads southwest up the ridge from the outcrops? Somebody with some real nerve in that dozer. Not sure when it was cut … I know that stretch burned during the Wellman Fire, but it looks as though it’s been re-cut since.

  2. I agree with Ned, I always thought HHA was the rock formation section. I’ve often felt like Don Victor could be seen as hell, for a few different reasons.

    1. re: HHA, everything I’ve read indicates the name applies to that entire ridgeline from the western drop to the outcrops. But I’m totally willing to concede it’s just those rocks in the east (makes total sense). I’m putting further clarification on the mysteries-to-solve list, and will report any findings.

  3. Monsieur Santos Avatar
    Monsieur Santos

    Perhaps it isn`t the terrain that gives rise to the naming of the areas so much as what inhabits the areas…and the events that occur in them.

  4. If you can find out what the Native Americans called these areas, that may have some clues. A lot of places in the U.S. that have the word “devil” in the name are rough translations of the names given those places by the local Natives.

    What’s also interesting to me is that there always seems to be a much higher occurance of weirdness coming from places with names like Devil’s Creek or Devil’s Back Ridge or whatever. There are more missing people, more strange sightings of seemingly impossible stuff, and so forth.

    Maybe the Natives knew what they were doing when they named these places…?

  5. Terri Mitchell Avatar
    Terri Mitchell

    I’m assuming Craig our host or maybe some of you leaving comment, have read David Paulides many book(s), ” Missing 411. Off the Grid” or perhaps, ” Missing 411. The Devil’s in the Details ”

    There are two cases that he’s aware of, that happened in this area. Peter Laan 11/26/1982 and Micheal Herdman 06/13/2014. He has written about several highly abnormal missing person cases in North America and around the world. Especially those areas, with “Devil” as part of their naming. If you go to his site, he was following the Herdman case and blogging about the event in real time. He knew the location Search and Rescue efforts might possibly find Herdmans body, if it was to be discovered. The cases he writes about,have to have very particular criteria, to be in his books. Any outdoors types should read his books or listen to his interviews on You Tube, Coast to Coast etc..He also has a documentary out ” Missing 411″

    Be safe by being aware…Terri

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