Los alamos is Spanish for “the cottonwoods.” This describes the graceful trees lining the banks of San Antonio Creek perfectly. Located in a valley bounded on the south by the oak-studded Purisima Hills and on the north by Camelback Hill, Los Alamos blossoms in the springtime when everything seems to turn a lush green. It is a town I have always thought I would like to live in, and I visit my friend Chris Childers, who is lucky enough to be a resident, to ride whenever I can.
When Mexico broke free of Spanish rule in 1821, Los Alamos Valley was granted to Antonio de la Guerra y Noriega, who controlled 49,000 acres known as Rancho Los Alamos. The town was founded in 1876, when John Bell and Dr. J.B. Shaw purchased property released from Spanish land grant after California became a state. Its location and distance from the Los Olivos stage stop created a need for lodging, so the Union Hotel was built and the town also became a stage stop.
The Wells Fargo stagecoach began making daily trips from the Union Hotel in Los Alamos to Los Olivos and then to Santa Barbara. Holdups and robberies were common, so passengers traveled at their own risk. Historical data include reports of highwaymen along this route demanding valuables, watches, and the Wells Fargo strongbox on several occasions.
The hills above Los Alamos are reputed to have served as a hideout for highway bandito Salomon Pico, whose escapades were popularized by the character Zorro. As cousin to Mexican governor Pio Pico, he enjoyed immunity from the law. Skulls with bullet holes found in isolated canyons and stories about Pico fueled legends. This lawless character frequented the region during the 1840s. He was said to terrorize gringos, even wearing a necklace made of his victims’ ears.
Mostly likely you won’t lose an ear or be terrorized by the infamous Zorro while you are out in the Los Alamos hills, but you as ride through these pastures of heaven you will get a feel for a very special place you might not otherwise have visited.
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When heading out on any of our local trails always remember to bring plenty of water and take care while you are out there.