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Lizard Head

20 February 1988

By: Alan Coles


Leaders: Alan Coles, Martin Feather

As luck would have it, this trip followed another one led the previous week going up the same route. I planned to use this route because of the high scenic values along the way - but it turned out that it was the only feasible way due to the Dry Canyon Road closure.

Fifteen people showed up on a windy, cold morning at the Rancho Nuevo Trailhead, including one (Mike Fredette) who had done it the previous week. The frozen mud made the stream crossings easier as we walked briskly up the beautiful canyon with the many sedimentary layers exposed by the erosion of the stream. The terrain is more like the "Four Corners" area than like Southern California. There are spruce and piñons clinging on the steep slopes between layers of rock and numerous small caves. Everywhere you look, there are surprises, bizarre formations that don't seem quite real. There is much to take in, one that our rather fast pace didn't allow full time to realize.

We met one school group camping out at Deal Junction surprising them and us. They were heading up toward Upper Rancho Nuevo Campground for the weekend. When I inquired of their leader, I wasn't surprised to learn that Jim Blakley, the famous historian of Santa Barbara backcountry had recommended this location to them. Jim and Dick Smith, for whom this area is now named, spent much time in this area before Dick's death from a heart attack several years ago. (You can obtain information and publications about this region from the Los Padres Interpretive Association, 6755 Hollister Avenue, Suite 150, Goleta, CA 93117. One good source is the Santa Barbara Overview by Jim Blakley.)

It took just over two hours to go the six miles and 500 feet of gain to the upper campsite where this nice trail ends (the campground unfortunately is not as nice, nor is the stream from which you would not care to collect water). We hiked cross-county over the first oxbow and walked around the second before leaving the canyon at the location recommended by the peak guide. The topo is not clear here. It shows two gullies where there is only one. The entrance to it looks too brushy to be the right one but it soon works out and the ascent to the ridge is quite straightforward. After a steep climb up to the ridge, the rest of the way is rather painless (little brush). We reached the summit around noon and enjoyed the fine views from there.

Like fire and ice, the summit was rather warm and a little breeze would have been nice. But when we were in the shade it was cold. Snow, still frozen, remained. Except for one change, we retraced our steps. We crossed over the second oxbow and found it brushy but shorter. Once back on the trail, we made good time getting back to the cars by 5:00PM. Thanks to all participants for making it a good day and to the group who did it the previous weekend, making it easier to find the way and to Martin Feather for bringing up the rear.

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