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Nineteen Oaks Via Santa Cruz Trail

An Enjoyable Short Hike or You Can Go All the Way to the Top of Little Pine


Sunday, May 4, 2008

TRAIL INFORMATION

Distance - 2 miles to Nineteen Oaks from Upper Oso; 3 miles from Lower Oso

Elevation Gain - 300’

Difficulty - Easy

Topo - San Marcos Pass

HIGHLIGHTS

The trail leads through the Oso Narrows, a beautiful sandstone canyon formed of Matilija Sandstone, then connects with the Santa Cruz Trail. Nineteen Oaks is a little more than a mile along this trail, which is a bit more open, leading through serpentine formations to the base of Little Pine Mountain. The camp is situated on a grassy knoll filled with large oaks and provides a nice picnic area as well as overnight camp.

DIRECTIONS

From Lower Oso picnic area, follow the spur road leading to Upper Oso, a distance of 1 mile.

THE HIKE

Ah, Nineteen Oaks. Such a pretty place. Oso Canyon narrows as it passes through a thick-bedded layer of Matilija Sandstone, then in the upper canyon opens to a blue-green valley caused by the serpentine, cinnabar, and other minerals which have been exposed along the Little Pine Fault. The meadows are plentiful and in the springtime, intense green grasses dominate the landscape, along with owl’s clover, poppies, cream cups, lupine, and other wildflowers.

A dirt road, known as the Buckhorn Road, leads from Upper Oso to the high country and is the easiest way to get to the start of the Santa Cruz Trail. But this is a well traveled ORV route. A nicer way to get there is by a little known trail leading directly up the canyon from the horse corrals on the west side of the creek. Though you will still hear the sound of an occasional motorcycle, at least you won’t have to worry about running into one of them.

From the upper end of the campground look for the road that crosses Oso Creek. The trail - which is three-fourths mile long - is just beyond the corrals. Immediately you are in the Oso Narrows. Sandstone walls rise up on either side and the creek zigzags back and forth through lush vegetation, with the trail crossing and re-crossing the creek numerous times before intersecting with the Santa Cruz Trail.

From this point the trail is almost level, following the right side of the creek for a mile to Nineteen Oaks. The camp is up and to the right on a bench overlooking the canyon and has several tables for picnics.

If you’d like to continue on into the upper end of Oso Canyon, look for a trail that leads through the camp to the northeast. It leads to an abandoned road known as the “Old Mine Road.” Above the camp the trail gains several hundred feet. Serpentine has colored this country; the soil is blue, as are the rocks.

A quarter mile from the camp (just after a steep hill) you come to the road. Turning left will take you to a spot which was once mined for quicksilver. You won’t find any mining equipment, but you can spot the location from the tailings. From here the creek is open enough you can continue walking up it, if you enjoy this type of exploration.

Turning right will lead you up to the Buckhorn Road. A half mile down this road will bring you to the upper end of the Camuesa Connector Trail. With a shuttle already set up, continue down the Camuesa trail to Paradise Road. You will end up between Santa Ynez camp and Live Oak picnic area.

SANTA CRUZ TRAIL

TRAIL INFORMATION

Distance - 6 miles to saddle; 7 miles to Happy Hollow

Elevation Gain - 3400’

Difficulty - Strenuous

Topo - San Marcos Pass and Little Pine Mountain

HIGHLIGHTS

Incredible views, secluded stands of pine atop Little Pine Mountain, and in the wintertime, the snow-filled bowl at Happy Hollow - these all contribute to making this one of Santa Barbara’s best hikes. However, the 3400’ elevation gain demands that you be in pretty good physical shape to enjoy it all the way up. Little Pine Mountain is covered by Monterey Shale, which wears easily to form a rich soil that supports grasses and a variety of wildflowers. A small camp at Happy Hollow provides an overnight camp.

DIRECTIONS

From Lower Oso picnic area, follow the spur road leading to Upper Oso, a distance of 1 mile.

You’re looking for a long hike. One that will challenge you a bit. You want views - loads of them - and you’re willing to pay the price. And perhaps you are a little tired of the chaparral and would like a change of scenery. Then the Santa Cruz Trail is for you.

A dirt road, known as the Buckhorn Road, leads from Upper Oso to the high country and is the easiest way to get to the start of the Santa Cruz Trail. But this is a well traveled ORV route. A nicer way to get there is by a little known trail leading directly up the canyon from the horse corrals on the west side of the creek. Though you will still hear the sound of an occasional motorcycle, at least you won’t have to worry about running into one of them.

From the upper end of the campground look for the road that crosses Oso Creek. The trail - which is three-fourths mile long - is just beyond the corrals. Immediately you are in the Oso Narrows. Sandstone walls rise up on either side and the creek zigzags back and forth through lush vegetation, with the trail crossing and re-crossing the creek numerous times before intersecting with the Santa Cruz Trail. From this point the trail is almost level, following the right side of the creek for a mile to Nineteen Oaks.

In the early morning, the lower canyon is still cool, and this is a good time to be on the trail. Above Nineteen Oaks, the trail crosses the creek and ascends through serpentine soils to a prominent ridgeline. From here the trail leads steadily uphill to the peak.

Up on the ridgeline, the sun finally beginning to peak over the shoulder of Little Pine Mountain, the hills become alive in the morning light. You continue on through oak meadows and grass and finally into the chaparral. Steadily you continue up the left side of the ridge, with switchbacks on the steeper sections. Finally you come to a saddle where the ridge ends - the halfway point in elevation gain.

From here you begin to work your way west across the face of the mountain. The trail winds in and out of small creases, then opening onto a large meadow at the base of the upper slope of Little Pine. The grass is deep, 3 to 4 high, and after the relentless climb to this point, adds just the right touch. Mus-tard and wild radish provide a yellow and violet contrast to the colorful grasses. If you are quiet on the way back down you may spot a deer or two grazing here.

Three-quarters of a mile later you’re there - at Alexander Saddle, which marks the high point on the trail. Alexander Peak is a half-mile to the west and 150’ in elevation gain above the saddle. The ridge leading to it is thin, and overlooks the upper part of Santa Cruz Creek. Beyond is the high country of the San Rafael Wilderness.

Billy Collins & Aimee Mann

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