Standing on a snow-covered Sierra Madre ridgeline in the Los Padres National Forest, I was looking through my binoculars down on the distant town of New Cuyama. I was rationing the last of my peppered strips of buffalo jerky, dried mangoes, and the bottom half of 16 ounces of lukewarm water. I was still about 15 long miles from the northern fringe of Santa Barbara County. It was going to be a slow trudge down the heavily rutted Rocky Ridge Trail of Lion Canyon and eventually that high-desert outpost.
I told myself after three days backpacking from Santa Barbara to New Cuyama, I would treat myself to a room at the Cuyama Buckhorn, a motel, saloon, and restaurant, a sort of oasis hugging Highway 166. When I arrived that early January afternoon, caked in backcountry dust, I was disappointed to find the Buckhorn was closed and had been for some time.
However, I soon learned that was all about to change. I ran into the new owner of the Cuyama Buckhorn, Johnny Thomsen, an enthusiastic, young entrepreneur who gave me a newly remodeled room despite the ongoing construction among the breathtaking badlands and thorny tumbleweeds clinging to rusted barbwire.
Thomsen is originally from Bakersfield but was living and working in Newport Beach before the Cuyama Buckhorn caught his attention. He sold his businesses down south and put all his efforts into his new establishment along the busy highway.
“I recently bought the motel and restaurant as well as the surrounding five acres,” said Thomsen, standing behind the bar in his rustic saloon. “Eventually, I’m going to open this up to an RV park and music festivals.”
The newly remodeled Cuyama Buckhorn reopened in February, but there will be a grand opening party on April 18, following the Cuyama Valley Car Show. Then there is a slew of events slated for the Buckhorn. Expect everything from country music and reggae festivals to motorbike rallies, hot rod shows, and horseshoe tournaments.
The Buckhorn plans on serving American cuisine with plenty of barbecuing, with ostrich, elk, bison, and deer on the menu. Thomsen’s parents are of German and Pacific Islander descent, and he plans to incorporate his family’s fare into the menu, as well. “There’s going to be weekend specials added to the menu,” said general manager Jason Berg. “There’s going to be a lot of fun out here.”
For more information, call the Cuyama Buckhorn at (661) 766-2825; check its Facebook page for ongoing updates.