San Rafael Wilderness

San Rafael Wilderness

Infobox_protected_area | name = San Rafael Wilderness
iucn_category = Ib

caption =
locator_x = 16
locator_y = 100
location = California, USA
nearest_city = Santa Barbara, California
lat_degrees = 34
lat_minutes = 48
lat_seconds = 41
lat_direction = N
long_degrees = 119
long_minutes = 51
long_seconds = 46
long_direction = W
area = 197,380 acres (799 km²)
established = 1968
visitation_num =
visitation_year =
governing_body = U.S. Forest Service
The San Rafael Wilderness is a wilderness area in the mountains of north central Santa Barbara County, California, USA. It is completely contained within the Los Padres National Forest, and is north of the city of Santa Barbara and east of Santa Maria. Formed in 1968, it was the first wilderness area to be created from a previously designated Primitive Area after the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act. It also includes the Sisquoc Condor Sanctuary, created in 1937, which is the oldest designated sanctuary for the large endangered birds. [Gagnon, p. 14]


Most of the wilderness lies between the crests of two parallel mountain ranges, the San Rafael Mountains and Sierra Madre Mountains, and includes the drainages of two watercourses: the Sisquoc River and Manzana Creek. Both flow to the northwest, eventually joining together and draining into the ocean near Santa Maria. Elevations within the wilderness vary from convert|1166|ft|m|0 at the confluence of Manzana Creek and the Sisquoc River on the western boundary, to over 6,800 feet at Big Pine Mountain, the highest point in Santa Barbara County. Dividing the drainages of the Manzana and Sisquoc is a ridge known as Hurricane Deck, a rugged 15 mile slab of upthrust sandstone with a trail snaking along the top.

Rock formations in the wilderness are predominantly sedimentary, and are of Miocene and Cretaceous age. Both the Nacimiento and Big Pine Faults run through the wilderness, roughly parallelling the Sierra Madre and San Rafael Mountain crests respectively. Hurricane Deck is a single block of Miocene-age sedimentary rock. Immediately south of the wilderness, opposite the Big Pine and Camuesa Faults, is a large region of the Franciscan Formation. Mercury was formerly mined in this area, and abandoned mines along with tailings piles can be found. [Jennings/Strand, Geologic Map of California, Los Angeles Sheet (1:250,000 scale).]


The climate of the wilderness is Mediterranean, although the distance from the coast allows for cooler winters and hotter summers than are found in the coastal strip. Snow is common on the higher peaks in the winter, although it rarely lingers except on north-facing slopes. Rain is extremely rare in the summer, and dry lightning from the occasional thunderstorms can start fires.

Vegetation and wildlife

The typical vegetation in the wilderness is chaparral and oak woodland, although there are stands of pine and fir at higher elevations and on north-facing slopes, as well as riparian forests in the streams. The river valleys open out in a few places to allow for meadows and grasslands; these are the locations that were settled in the 19th century. [Gagnon, p. 47] Wildlife that may be encountered in the wilderness includes coyotes, black bears, and mountain lions. The California Condor can occasionally be seen, since the endangered bird was released back into the wild in 1992. The 1200 acre Sisquoc Condor Sanctuary, in the southeastern part of the wilderness, was chosen for its inaccessible terrain, which includes rock ledges favored by condors for nesting sites. Public entry is prohibited in the Sanctuary.


The region has been continuously inhabited by humans for over 10,000 years. Rock art by the resident Chumash Indians is scattered across the region; locations of rock paintings are generally not made public for fear of vandalism.

In the 1880s, a group of about 200 faith healers, lead by Hiram Preserved Wheat (1822–1903), settled along the Sisquoc River in about 20 separate homesteads. The ruins of their habitations, including the "Manzana Schoolhouse," can be seen to the present day. At the time, they were mistakenly called "Mormons," and the error has been preserved in the name of one campsite along the Sisquoc River in the central part of the wilderness. They built the schoolhouse in 1893, but by 1902 it was closed, and most of the group had left. [Manzana Schoolhouse, [] ] [Gagnon, p. 13, 39] After the faith healers had left, another settler, Charles Dabney, built a cabin for himself and his family in 1914; it can be seen on a terrace above Manzana Creek. [From San Rafael Wilderness description page at Los Padres National Forest web site [] ]

The wilderness is often closed to entry during fire season, the exact dates of which vary but usually include the late summer and early fall. Most of the wilderness was burned in the 1966 Wellman Fire, and during July, August, and September 2007, the western, southern, and eastern parts of the wilderness are burned for the first time in 41 years (for the western portion) and for more than 100 years (for the remainder), in the Zaca Fire. []

At its creation in 1968 the San Rafael Wilderness consisted of only convert|149170|acre|km2|0. Originally it was the San Rafael Primitive Area. Due to a disagreement between the Forest Service, US Congress and conservationists over 2,200 acres of natural grass openings called "portreros", which contained pictographs from the Chumash Indians, it took a long time for the wilderness desigination. [Godfrey, Anthony "The Ever-Changing View-A History of the National Forests in California" USDA Forest Service Publishers, 2005 pp 444-5] In 1992, after the passage of the Los Padres Condor Range and River Protection Act, Congress added an additional convert|48210|acre|km2|0 adjacent to the original area on the northwest. The wilderness is also adjacent to the Dick Smith Wilderness to the east; this protected area was created in 1984.


* Gagnon, Dennis R. "Hiking the Santa Barbara Backcountry." The Ward Ritchie Press, Pasadena, California, 1974. ISBN 0378-03542-8
* Charles W. Jennings and Rudolph G. Strand. "Geologic Map of California, Los Angeles Sheet." State of California, Division of Mines and Geology. 1969.


External links

* [ Wildernesses within the Los Padres National Forest]
* [ Description at]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • 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… …   Wikipedia

  • San Rafael Mountains — p1p5 San Rafael Mountains Höchster Gipfel Big Pine Mountain (2.079 m) …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • San Rafael Swell — The San Rafael Swell is a large geologic feature located in south central Utah, USA about 30 miles (50 km) west of Green River, Utah. The San Rafael Swell, approximately 75 miles by 40 miles (120 x 65 km), consists of a giant dome shaped… …   Wikipedia

  • San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park — San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park …   Wikipedia

  • San Joaquin River — Coordinates: 38°04′00″N 121°51′04″W / 38.0666667°N 121.85111°W / 38.0666667; 121.85111 …   Wikipedia

  • San Diego — This article is about the city in California. For the metropolitan area, see San Diego metropolitan area. For other meanings of San Diego , see San Diego (disambiguation). San Diego   City   City of San Diego …   Wikipedia

  • San Benito, Texas — Infobox Settlement official name = San Benito, Texas settlement type = City nickname = The Resaca City, San Bene motto = imagesize = image caption = image mapsize = 250x200px map caption = Location of San Benito, Texas mapsize1 = 250px map… …   Wikipedia

  • Dick Smith Wilderness — IUCN Category Ib (Wilderness Area) …   Wikipedia

  • California Wilderness Act of 1984 — The California Wilderness Act of 1984 is a federal law (Public Law 98 425), passed by the United States Congress on September 28, 1984, that authorized the addition of over 3 million acres [ [… …   Wikipedia

  • Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge — Coordinates: 37°30′N 122°07′W / 37.5°N 122.117°W / 37.5; 122.117 …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”