San Rafael Mountains

San Rafael Mountains

The San Rafael Mountains are a mountain range in central Santa Barbara County, California, USA. They are a portion of the Transverse Ranges, which are themselves part of the Pacific Coast Ranges of western North America.The mountains mainly consist of sedimentary rocks, of Jurassic age or younger, though there are a few regions of igneous intrusions. Several prominent faults exist, including the Big Pine Fault, which trends eastward towards the San Andreas Fault about forty miles away. The highest peaks include Big Pine Mountain (6,820 ft, 2,079 m), San Rafael Mountain (6,593 ft, 2,010 m) and McKinley Mountain (6,220 ft, 1,896 m), none of which are easily accessible except by foot, horse or mountain bike. Most of the mountain range is within the Los Padres National Forest, and the northern slope is included in the remote San Rafael Wilderness area.

The mountains are steep and rugged, and lower slopes are covered with almost impenetrable chaparral, except where it has been burned, an event which occurs naturally every ten or twenty years; decades of fire suppression, however, have resulted in some areas of brush which have not burned within the last century. The Forest Service occasionally conducts controlled burns to remove areas of high fire hazard and restore ecological balance. Above the chaparral zone are stands of conifers. Snow is common in the winter on the summits, above about 6,000 feet (1,800 m), though overall the climate of the mountain range is Mediterranean, with mild rainy winters and warm, dry summers.

The earliest known residents of the San Rafael Mountains were the Chumash Indians, and evidence of their habitation can still be found by intrepid hikers in the form of rock paintings in remote areas. In historic times, mercury mining was conducted on portions of the southern slopes. Tailings from these old mines sometimes contain high levels of mercury, and recent environmental investigations have been conducted to determine if cleanup is necessary and feasible.

Note: Not to be confused with San Rafael Hills, a group of hills that is located near downtown Los Angeles.

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