Off the Map: Bushwhacked

In the shade of the sycamores, a gathering of parents and children rested on the library lawn and clapped at the jugglers and stilt-walkers performing for their pleasure. Just another leisurely summer day in Solvang, California. I only glimpsed this circus scene for a few seconds as I drove past on Highway 246, heading for the Tequepis Trailhead, but the thought went through my head: that looks like a much more enjoyable experience than I’m soon to be having.

For my final week in Southern California before departing for Montana, I had chosen to seek out an obscure relic from an outdated map – a jeep trail that wound from the Santa Ynez Valley floor to the top of 4,298-foot Santa Ynez Peak. Evidence of the road could no longer be viewed from the ground; I suspected that it been mostly erased by time and the steady encroachment of chaparral brush. The road originated on private property, so to reach it I would have to bushwhack through National Forest from the east, starting in the vicinity of the Outdoor School where I teach during the school year.

The search was marked with significant quantities of both trial and error. Twice I ventured up alternate jeep roads that climbed the flanks of Santa Ynez Peak for a thousand vertical feet before ending abruptly. Every potential route towards the primary jeep trail on my map became a dead-end, and I hesitated to bushwhack further because of heavy brush and poison oak. I was left with only one other option: I could dip into neighboring Circle V Ranch, which was currently hosting its summer camp, and if I wasn’t chased away too quickly, I was fairly certain I could find a connecting road that linked up with the jeep trail.

I decided to risk entering the property, even though I might be perceived as the “creepy guy” who lurks on the outskirts of camp. I hiked down one of the access roads into Circle V Ranch, but before I could come within sight of the main buildings, a cook came strolling up the road, looking for cell phone reception. He was a nice kid, who sympathized with my quest but did not have any encouraging advice for me. Still, the encounter spooked me enough that I gave up the hunt for the jeep trail as a lost cause and went home.

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