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Saturday, November 17 , 2018, 2:01 pm | Fair with Haze 65º

 
 
 
 
Outdoors

Dan McCaslin: Paradise Road Camping, Hiking Getting Back on Track After Rey Fire

A few areas remain closed and restrictions are still in place, but most of the camps are again open to visitors after the destructive fire

The recent Rey Fire burned more than 33,000 acres over San Marcos Pass. Click to view larger
The recent Rey Fire burned more than 33,000 acres over San Marcos Pass. (Dan McCaslin / Noozhawk photo)

Along with the lovely frontcountry trails we can trudge upon with our children and friends, we lucky Santa Barbarans can access even more pristine zones with just a bit more driving.

The recent and horrific Rey Fire burned more than 33,000 acres over San Marcos Pass and was only declared completely out on Sept. 18. It required closure of several favorite local car-camping areas, including all of the eastern Camino Cielo Forest Service camps such as P-Bar, Big Caliente Hot Springs and Mono Camp.

P-Bar Flat and the Caliente Hot Springs areas were reopened Thursday, as well as some portions of the San Rafael Wilderness. See the map at the bottom of the story for closure information.

On Sept. 20, I drove from my Westside home 14 miles up Highway 154 — the famous Chumash Highway — to the well-marked right turn at Paradise Road. This area is signed as the Santa Ynez Recreation Area and has eight Forest Service camps along or near the river.

It’s always good practice to call the Santa Barbara Ranger District (805.967.3481) as well as check its website before driving to Paradise, but I also wanted to report back about the Sept. 20 conditions and try to interest fellow walkers about hiking and camping possibilities over San Marcos Pass.

Most of the beautiful camps back there are indeed open, and on a Tuesday there were hardly any campers present at all. It’s too early for the snowbirds, and schools are now back in session — a perfect time to go! Naturally, there are strict prohibitions against open fires.

There are strict prohibitions against open fires in the Paradise Road camping area.
There are strict prohibitions against open fires in the Paradise Road camping area. (Dan McCaslin / Noozhawk photo)

Below you will find the name of the camp first, how far it is from Santa Barbara’s Westside and whether it is open for visitors. An Adventure Pass is required to camp overnight, and the respective camp hosts can sell you one right there for $5.

» 1. Fremont Camp, 16 miles, open

» 2. Paradise, 17 miles, open

» 3. Whiterock (day use), 18 miles, closed

» 4. Sage Hill Group Camp & Los Prietos Ranger Station, 19 miles, open

» 5. Los Prietos Camp, 20 miles, open

» 6. First Crossing (day use), 20.3 miles, open

The Canyon Fire has burned more than 12,000 acres near Lompoc.
The Canyon Fire has burned more than 12,000 acres near Lompoc. (Dan McCaslin / Noozhawk photo)

» 7. Red Rock (day use), road is open

» 8. Upper Oso, 21.5 miles, open (Camuesa Road closed above)

Fremont Camp was open for business and completely empty except for the camp host. You should bring your own water, and if staying overnight remember no fires at all; use only a gas-type stove for cooking.

Yet another wildfire has been charring vast areas of our dry chaparral, this one called the Canyon Fire, and it has burned more than 12,000 acres near Lompoc. The fire certainly has affected the air quality on Paradise Road and at these campsites.

The landscape consists of dry grasses, rocks, scattered valley oaks providing some shade, and a great vault of open blue sky with a thin film of smoke. Five years of drought have exacted quite a price, yet much life survives.

Paradise Camp itself is next, and the friendly camp host said there had been exactly one overnight camper. Although it was warm at 11 a.m., there was a cool breeze blowing, and it felt like the smoke was dissipating. When the Canyon Fire burns out, air quality will rebound.

An Adventure Pass, required to camp overnight, are available for purchase at Paradise Campground.
An Adventure Pass, required to camp overnight, are available for purchase at Paradise Campground. (Dan McCaslin / Noozhawk photo)

After just another mile along the paved road, celebrated Whiterock Campground appears on the left. It is still closed because of the Rey Fire. This day-use area is right along the dry riverbed of the Santa Ynez, and in the first Whiterock photo you can see the fire damage through the power lines across the invisible Santa Ynez riverbed.

In the second ​Whiterock picture, we observe one way the fire might have started because of a tree falling on power lines, although I don’t know if this was the actual site of the initial ignition. It remains under investigation.

There seems to be general agreement that a falling tree hitting power lines somewhere in the Paradise area most likely started the Rey Fire. Since the power lines were put up by humans and for good reason, this does qualify as another impact of the human-dominated Anthropocene on our natural environment.

After passing through empty Los Prietos and First Crossing camps, I drove over the dry Santa Ynez riverbed and faced the following sign, which did not indicate that the Santa Cruz Trail and Camuesa-Buckhorn were closed. However, I had stopped at the Los Prietos Ranger Station where the desk person confirmed that I could drive the very few miles to Upper Oso Camp, and even over to Red Rock.

Fire damage can be seen through downed power lines across the invisible Santa Ynez riverbed.
Fire damage can be seen through downed power lines across the invisible Santa Ynez riverbed. (Dan McCaslin / Noozhawk photo)

However, at Red Rock you can’t hike around on the other side of the river and it’s currently dry. It’s always best to check and double-check your sources; the Forest Service website had indicated the road to Red Rock was closed, but it wasn’t.

I’ve always favored Upper Oso Camp because the jump-off onto the Camuesa-Buckhorn Road is right there, as well as the subsequent turnoff onto the alluring Santa Cruz Trail leading to 19 Oaks Camp and beyond. You can also mountain bike the ​Camuesa Road way around to the Caliente Hot Springs area and ultimately Pendola Station.

The camp host at Upper Oso is another pleasant fellow; he said they had only one camper, and few others had come by.

“The Rey Fire has scared them off, and now we’re getting the Lompoc [Canyon] fire’s smoke,” he said.

A sign greeting visitors doesn’t indicate that the Santa Cruz Trail and Camuesa-Buckhorn route were closed.
A sign greeting visitors doesn’t indicate that the Santa Cruz Trail and Camuesa-Buckhorn route were closed. (Dan McCaslin / Noozhawk photo)

Together we surveyed some of the Rey Fire damage, which had come close to burning out Upper Oso, and we could see huge burn areas on the northern rim.

While loath to ask permission — since it grants the question’s recipient the power to deny — I casually wondered whether anyone really cared if a hiker wandered up the ​Camuesa-Buckhorn Road. It looked pretty safe from the barred gate, despite at least four signs stating categorically: No entrance.

He laughed and said, well, the Forest Service would care indeed, and anyway there’s a surveillance camera so they would get my truck license number.

Once the Canyon Fire at Vandenberg subsides, and the smoke literally clears from Paradise, there’s wonderful car-camping and day-hiking at any of these listed camps in Los Padres National Forest’s Santa Ynez Recreation Area. When the weather cools as October approaches, if you go on a weekend, take the kids and enjoy cooking outside and hiking along the dry riverbed.

4-1-1: Driving Directions

» From Santa Barbara’s Westside, take Highway 101 from Mission Street to the Highway 154 exit and drive 14 miles to the well-marked Paradise Road turnoff. You will see the large Santa Ynez Recreation Area sign. The first campsite, Fremont, is just another two miles, and the others follow closely.

— Dan McCaslin is the author of Stone Anchors in Antiquity, and has written extensively about the local backcountry. He welcomes reader ideas for future Noozhawk columns, and can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here to read additional columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

Los Padres National Forest closures were in effect after the Rey Fire, with some areas reopening to the public soon after crews gained full containment. Click to view larger
Los Padres National Forest closures were in effect after the Rey Fire, with some areas reopening to the public soon after crews gained full containment.  (U.S. Forest Service photo)

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