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Trail History

“Mountain ranges ever have been obstacles, sometimes an all but impassable barrier to man and beast, as they have moved about over the surface of the earth; and even the birds in their annual migrations have flown up and down the valleys and along the coastal plains, whenever possible, rather than face the hard, aerial climbs to altitudes sufficiently high to allow them to pass over the range crests.”

Noticias -- The "Mountain Passes" Issue

“I cannot describe my feelings as I stood on that ridge, that shore of an ancient ocean. How lonely and desolate! Who shall tell how many centuries, how many decades of centuries, have elapsed since these rocks resounded to the roar of breakers, and these animals sported in their foam? I picked up a bone, cemented in the rock with shells. A feeling of awe came over me. Around me rose rugged mountains; no human being was within miles of me to break the silence. And then I felt overwhelmed....”

William Brewer -- Up and Down California

There’s just a wisp of a line across the ridge line anymore, a long thread of a line that suggests more of a past than it does the future. This is the Arroyo Burro Trail, once the main passageway into the back country for the Chumash. It is a trail rich with history. Countless hunting parties used it heading into the San Rafael Mountains. Prospectors walked along the rutted path on the way to quicksilver mines. Later the Forest Service improved it as use of the back country increased. Yet today the Arroyo Burro Trail is off limits to the public because  a three-mile section of it lies on private property, part of it running through Rancho San Roque.

In 1972, despite hundreds of years of trail use, the ranch fenced off the property and posted No Trespassing signs at the trailhead. In 1977, the County of Santa Barbara, urged by hiking enthusiasts, sued the corporation which owned the ranch  on the grounds of adverse possession, an old English common law designed to keep property in constant use. The law states that if an owner has ignored public use of his land for a period of five years or more it becomes implicitly dedicated to the users. In 1979, the County hired the Environmental Defense Center to pursue the case. 

The County maintained that the public was entitled to an easement for use of the historic trail because of its “open, notorious, continuous and uninterrupted use” for many years. However, after a series of appeals, the County lost the initial suit when a local judge determined that there had been insufficient trail use  to satisfy the legal requirement of “open, notorious, and continuous use.”

This has caused great concern to local hiking groups, for sweeping across the mountain wall is a swath of private land holdings, with most of the trails leading up into the Santa Ynez Mountains passing through them. How the County deals with landowners who have trails crossing through their property will have a great impact on the future of trail access. 

A short way up Cold Springs Trail, there is a small bronze plaque imbedded in sandstone which is symbolic of the problem facing hikers in the Santa Barbara front country. It reads:

Right To Pass By Permission, And
Subject To Control Of Owner
Sect. 1008, California Civil Code

In 1982, Dieter Goetze, chairperson of the County Riding and Hiking Trails Advisory Committee (CRAHTAC), summarized the situation this way: “In the past 15 years, seven trails in Santa Barbara County have been closed due to private ownership. Another three trails lie within property owned by the City of Santa Barbara Water District. These trails are in jeopardy of being sold to private parties should the public choose to okay such an action.”

The problem isn’t just one of property being closed off to recreational use. As people move up onto the mountain wall, many trails face the possibility of losing the qualities for which people have sought them out—a sense of peace, a few moments to get away from civilization, the quiet sounds of a natural environment. 

One of these, the Hot Springs trail, has fallen victim to the impact of a growing urban population. The Hot Springs have been bulldozed, parts of the trail are now off limits, and the available sections are bounded by rows of glitzy homes. Because of this I have chosen not to include it in this update of  Day Hikes of the Santa Barbara Foothills.

Spanish Land Grants—A Curious Legacy
Access to trails in the Santa Barbara front country is a problem with deep historical roots, developing partly due to land use patterns brought to Santa Barbara by the Spanish. These practices have tied up much of the front country, especially that fronting the Santa Ynez Mountains, in large land holdings. 

By decree of King Carlos III of Spain, each presidio was allotted four square leagues (one league equals approximately 4,400 acres), while the Franciscan missionaries were given dominion over the lands under their ecclesiastical jurisdiction, to hold in sacred trust for the Indians. In 1782 the Santa Barbara Presidio was founded, and four years later the Santa Barbara Mission. Since these two would be in close proximity, they quickly reached an agreement over control of land on the South Coast. These negotiations not only had a far-reaching effect on  on the destiny of Goleta Valley but on access to the mountain wall as well. 

According to the agreement, land to the west of Santa Barbara was to be under the control of the Mission, as well as that to the north, including the Santa Ynez Valley and all land as far up the coast as the Santa Maria River. The coastal strip to the east, including Santa Barbara proper, Montecito, Summerland, and Carpinteria was designated pueblo land under control of the presidio.

Spanish missionaries then began the process of converting thousands of Chumash Indians to their Christain way of life as expressed in the following quote:

It is said that the Franciscan friars had a good practical knowledge of the value of land, the benefits arising from a favorable climate, and the methods of cultivating the soil so as to accomplish the greatest results in agriculture. They not only believed in converting the soul to Christianity, but the body as well; hence, they took into account all the peculiarities of climate and soil, which has since made Santa Barbara so famous.

With the aid of the Chumash, the Franciscan padres quickly developed an economy near the Mission based on livestock grazing and agriculture. By the latter part of the 1820s, however, the experiment in converting the Chumash from hunter gatherers to agriculturalists was at an end. Just a half century after Portola’s expedition, two-thirds of these Indians were gone, most victims of disease, others having fled to the interior. 

Almost before anyone noticed or cared, the Chumash culture, which had existed on the Santa Barbara coast for longer than the whole of Western civilization, had disappeared.

Revolution in Mexico ended the Spanish experiment in the New World. The Mexican government did not hold the Spanish missionaries in high esteem. In 1824, when the few remaining Chumash led a brief revolt to protest their retched treatment, the new government initiated a series of laws freeing the Indians from mission control—albeit too late to do these Indians much good.

 This was the first step in the dismantling of the mission system. Feelings against the missions intensified in the late 1820s as Mexican soldiers and citizens at the Presidio clamored for the breakup of the huge land holdings controlled by the Franciscans. In 1833, with the arrival of the first permanent Mexican governor for California, General Jose Figueroa, land patterns changed drastically. In August of 1834, the Governor issued an order secularizing mission lands, inaugurating an era of land disposal in the County. This move, which was authorized by the government in Mexico City the previous year, officially ended Franciscan control of the mission lands and transferred it to civilian hands. 

The new leaders began to break up the coastal lands  west of the Santa Barbara pueblo. All heads of households and males over twenty were to be given allotments from these lands, not to exceed 400 yards in length and breadth. Most importantly, huge land grants, some forty in all, were handed out between 1834 and 1846 under Figueroa’s authority and that of three succeeding governors. 

 Three were issued in Goleta Valley. In 1842, Nicolas Den, an Irish-born physician turned rancher, became grantee of rancho Los Dos Pueblos, a 15,534-acre parcel which encompassed most of the Goleta Valley from Fairview Avenue west. A year later the 3,282-acre Las Positas y La Calera rancho was obtained by Lieutenant Narciso Fabrigat, the presidio officer who was in charge of troops that followed the Chumash into the southern San Joaquin Valley after their 1824 revolt. The third, the last grant to be issued in Santa Barbara County, was given to Daniel Hill, a Massachusetts sailor who had come to Santa Barbara in 1823, the 4,426-acre Rancho La Goleta.

Rancho lifestyle during the 1830s and 1840s were decades characterized by rapid growth in the cattle industry and deterioration of the environment in which the Chumash had lived harmoniously for several thousands of years. Thick forests of live oak were cut for firewood and to expand grazing lands. Native plants were eliminated as the drought-resistant plants of the Southwest prevailed. Wildlife, unable to coexist with the domestic animals, disappeared. Predators such as the grizzly, the coyote, the puma, and the bobcat were eliminated from the valley.

Though the mountain wall remained basically unchanged, the valley, like the Chumash, would never be the same. As he walked slowly over the rolling hills of his Rancho La Goleta, Daniel Hill saw a land described by Walker Tompkins in his wonderful book Goleta the Good Land that we will  never know:

“...Golden poppies made flame-colored patches on the rounded foothills; between them and the mountain chaparral line, in thmile-wide frost-free belt, wildflowers were blooming in riotous profusion. Lupin, verbena, and Castilian roses made a rainbow-hued blanket on the overflow lands closer to the slough. Daniel Hill, reveling in the clouds of ducks and geese, the herds of antelope and deer glimpsed through the live oaks, was convinced he had stumbled onto the Garden of Eden.”

Rancho owners, bouyed by a sense of the good life they thought would never end, continued to expand their cattle empires. After California was admitted to the Union in 1850, the state’s population spiralled and trading activity increased. The cattle industry prospered even more as a result. By the early 1860s, 250,000 head of cattle grazed in the County. Droughts in 1863 and 1864, however, destroyed all but 5,000 of these, and with them the rancho way of life. Many of the owners, facing bankruptcy, sold portions of their holdings to remain solvent, bringing the first Americans, such as W.W. Hollister, to the area. 

The future of Santa Barbara was now in the hands of Americans, who were moving to this rapidly changing area. It was they who would begin to look toward the mountain wall and dream of ways to improve routes across it. Santa Barbara’s isolation was about to come to an end.

Early Mountain Trails
In 1804, before the founding of Mission Santa Ynez, the only route through present Santa Barbara County was by way of El Camino Real, the same route taken by Gaspar de Portola on his expedition up the California coast in 1769 and 1770. This rough dirt road  followed what is now the route of the Southern Pacific Railroad. 

Indian trails led over the crest of the Santa Ynez Mountains at the passes, and also by way of Romero Canyon and the Arroyo Burro Trail, but these were not used initially by the Spaniards. In 1794, Jose Francisco Ortega, the first commandante of the Santa Barbara Presidio, settled on his rancho in Refugio Canyon. After that, no doubt, the Indian trail over Refugio Pass was used more frequently. 

In 1800, Father Estevan Tapis of the Santa Barbara Mission directed improvement of the route over San Marcos Pass, which made it easier to reach Indian villages in the Santa Ynez Valley to obtain sufficient beams to build the houses of Christianized Indians at the mission. According to the diary of Father Tapis, local Indians volunteered to seek out pines on the distant mountains for the houses, which they found some fourteen leagues from Santa Barbara. The source of these materials most likely was Little Pine Mountain. This improved, but still rough-hewn, route was soon known as el arrastradero, or the haul road, because of the timbers dragged by oxen across its length.

Until the American period a half century later, routes over the mountain wall remained essentially unimproved. In 1860, however, the California Legislature appropriated $15,000 for the construction of the first County road, to be cut through Gaviota Pass. Prior to this, Gaviota Pass had been used during the Gold Rush by those on horseback or on foot, but the rocky narrows near the present site of Gaviota Tunnel and numerous stream crossings made it impassable to wagons until the County road was built, which the Bixby and Flint stagecoaches quickly began to take advantage of.

Then in 1868 a group of Santa Barbara businessmen decided that a shortcut across San Marcos Pass would be lucrative if travelers over it could be required to pay a toll for crossing the Pass. Known as the Santa Ynez Turnpike Road, this route greatly reduced the distance into the Santa Ynez Valley. With the construction of a narrow-gauge railroad from the San Luis Obispo area to Los Olivos in 1886, San Marcos Pass became a busy thoroughfare. 

A Civil War veteran, Pat Kinevan, was hired as toll collector.  The gate was at the head of San Jose Creek near what is now the junction of West Camino Cielo. The fee charged was $1 for horse and wagon, $2.50 for a stage and team, 25 cents a head for horses and cattle, and a nickel per head of sheep. Soon thereafter Pat and his wife Nora built a frame house near the toll gate, called the Summit House, which was to serve as the dinner station for the next 25 years.

In the 1870s and 1880s, stage coaches carried thousands of passengers over San Marcos Pass each year. The mountain wall, which had once been considered an almost insurmountable barrier, was increasingly being breached. Many of those who traveled over the crest were attracted by the mountain beauty. Some homesteaded, while others later purchased tracts of land near the Pass from the original settlers. When Santa Barbara’s tourist industry flourished, retreats such as Johnson Ogram’s Painted Cave Resort were established.

The Quicksilver Mines
Due to interest in the potential mineral wealth that might be found in the back country, use of  trails over the Santa Ynez Mountains also increased in the 1860s and 1870s and new routes were established. In the early 1860s, quicksilver, used to separate gold and silver from the crushed ore, was discovered by miner Jose Moraga on the north side of the Santa Ynez Mountains near the Gibraltar Narrows. The vein of precious metal  ran in an east-west direction nearly parallel to the river. Two principal claims were quicky established and by the 1870s the Santa Ynez and Los Prietos mines were in full operation.

But access to the mines wasn’t easy. Equipment was hauled over San Marcos Pass and up the Santa Ynez River on a dirt road which crossed the river some 22 times. In October, 1874, the California state Index of Mines reported: “Already a graded pack-horse trail has been made from the mine over the Santa Ynez Mountains into Santa Barbara [possibly down Mission Canyon, the site of Tunnel Trail]. By this trail horsemen can go from this city, up and over the mountains, and down to the mines in three hours.” 

In spite of the poor road, the machinery and heavy timbers arrived for mine construction shortly thereafter. In March, 1875, a large boiler for the Los Prietos Mine weighing over 4,000 pounds was wagoned over the mountains, requiring six good-sized mules to move it along. The furnace itself was to be built from bricks manufactured on the site, some 140,000 in all. By April there were two main tunnels carved into the bedrock, each more than 100 feet in depth, with as many as 400 men engaged in the mining.

But problems developed. The remoteness of the mines made winter access problematical, and when the river rose during the rainy period, the mines were shut off from the outside world except for the rugged mountain trail. There were also questions regarding boundaries of Rancho Najalayegua y Los Prietos, one of the original land grants. Some claimed the grant included the land covering the mining claims; others denied it. Jose Moraga, who had originally discovered the ore, attempted to jump one of the claims which he thought rightfully was his, further confusing the situation.

Despite their early promise, eventually the mines fell into disuse due to a rapid decrease in the price of the mercury, after numerous discoveries in the northern part of the state, and the inconvenience of the remote location. But they weren’t abandoned until the mining efforts further added to the opening of the mountain wall.

The Search For Coal
Another form of mineral wealth, coal, reportedly was to be found further up the Santa Ynez watershed; it, too, involved miner Jose Moraga. In 1862, Moraga, along with several others, laid claim to what supposedly was a rich coal deposit. William Brewer, a member of the California State Geologic Survey authorized by the Legislature in 1860, was dispatched by State Geologist Josiah Whitney to survey Moraga’s claim and other potential mineral sites along the coast.

Eventually, this continued interest in mining on the Santa Ynez River caused two trails, the Rattlesnake and Cold Springs, to be pushed over the mountain wall. 

“Reaching the first peak,” Brewer noted, as he crossed the mountain wall on his way to the coal mines, “we struck back over a transverse ridge, down and up, through dense chaparral, in which we toiled for seven hours. This is vastly more fatiguing than merely climbing steep slopes; it tires every muscle in the body.... 

“Our lunch was useless, for in our intense thirst we could eat nothing except a little juicy meat,” he continued, “Our canteen of water gave out long before we reached the top. I have never before suffered with thirst as I did that day.” 

At the coal mine he found tools—drill, picks, shovels, and hammers—and signs of intense activity, but the vein itself proved to be a bust. There were a few seams from 1/8 to 3/4 inches thick, a sort of pocket that might furnish a few pecks of coal. “I did not tell the stockholders how very slim the indications were, on my return,” he wrote, “but slicked it over by merely telling them that they would not find the coal in profitable quantities.”

Interest in the mineral wealth of the back country continued undiminished, however, spurred by the efforts of Moraga and those who backed him. There were further efforts to extract wealth from this land, culminating in the discovery of a pure vein of limestone (now called the Sierra Blanca Formation) along Indian Creek, one of the tributaries of the Santa Ynez River. 

Charles Huse (who later turned out to be a scoundrel), one of Moraga’s partners, pressed the Board of Supervisors to construct a route up Cold Springs Canyon, since the trail up through Mission Canyon had fallen into disrepair after the end of the quicksilver boom. This would shorten the distance to the limestone outcropping by about five miles:

“To reach a point seven miles due north of the city of Santa Barbara, it is necessary to go thirty-seven miles by the toll road or more than fifty miles by way of the Gaviota Pass. In the rainy season, as at present, the route up the river Santa Ynez is wholly impractical, by reason of the quick-sands which exist in the bed of the river....All supplies for the mines during the rainy season are sent on the backs of pack-animals over a very circuitous, rough and almost impassable trail over the mountains....

If this work is done by the county, the city of Santa Barbara...can be supplied with lime from the interior....In all of the [back country] this county has never spent a single dollar for roads or trails, or for any other object whatever.  This region forms at least a quarter part of the territory of the county and merits some attention....”

Though the prospect of finding huge bodies of ore  captured the attention of many Santa Barbarans, the back country never proved out. Nevertheless, as these men found their way back out of this hard-boiled chaparral countryside, many of them, like William Brewer, discovered something else. 

Though searching for material wealth, Brewer found the mountains to be inviting. To be alluring. And even, to be attractive.  

“The clear sky above, the twinkling stars—to watch them rise over the mountains in the northeast and sink out of sight in the west, to watch the moon rise ... all this is pleasant ...,” he said after one of his excursions. “From this summit we had a grand view of the desolate, forbidding wilderness of mountains that surrounded us .... The wild dark canyon, rugged rocks, the dark shadows under the bushes and behind the rocks, the wild scenery on every side, conspired with the hour to produce a most picturesque effect.” 

Gradually, as men like Brewer crossed the mountain wall, as stagecoach passengers enjoyed the views while crossing San Marcos Pass or dining at Summit House, as homesteaders began to filter onto the crest and especially, as Santa Barbara became a mecca for tourists, people began to look at the Santa Ynez Mountains as something more than a barrier.

Hot Springs and Tourism
When Wilbur Curtiss came to Santa Barbara in the 1850s he was suffering from an incurable disease and doctors had given him only six months to live. Having lost his health in the mines, he was determined to spend his remaining days enjoying the scenery and wonderful climate in the Montecito hills. But he, too, would find an attraction in the mountain wall.

One day while hiking in the foothills he noticed an old Indian, bathing in Hot Springs Creek, who seemed to be in remarkable health. An Indian boy who accompanied Curtiss on his daily excursions explained that the secret behind the old man’s lengthy years, which totalled 110, was his bathing in some hot springs, which flowed from the base of a sandstone cliff further up the canyon. After several hours of climbing, Curtiss reached the springs. 

There were four of these thermal pools, each heated to 116 degrees, and containing a foul-smelling sulphur, as well as arsenic, iron, magnesium, and other minerals. He soaked himself  in the soothing water, apparently even drinking from one of the pools. Perhaps the hot springs had nothing to do with it, but after repeated visits to them his health began to improve remarkably, enough so that six years later, still alive and doing well, Wilbur Curtiss filed a homestead claim for this part of Hot Springs Canyon.

Slowly the site evolved as a resort-from camping spot to a tent camp, then a hut-before a cottage was eventually built. In 1873 the Santa Barbara Morning Press announced that a magnificent hotel costing $100,000 would be built at the mouth of the hot springs to accommodate the tourists flocking to the area. 

One writer boasted, “Many a rheumatic and neuralgic cripple has left his crutches here as a momento to the healing touches of the waters, and gone down from the rocky mountain glen out into the gay world, shouting praises to the boiling fountain which has invested him with new life.”

By 1877 there was a large plunge, a shower, and three bath houses, each containing large tubs-enough in all to handle forty persons. In the early 1880s a three-story wooden hotel was finally completed on a bench above the springs. By this time Curtiss’s original homestead had become the property of a number of wealthy Montecitans and the private club ritzy enough that anyone with a bank account containing less than seven digits was not considered substantial enough to apply for membership.

In 1920, a forest fire destroyed the hotel and most of the vegetation in the canyon. It was rebuilt in 1923, but this time under the ownership of a corporation that contained but 17 members, all Montecito residents, who also controlled the Montecito Water Company. This  structure stood until destroyed in the Coyote Fire of 1964. 

New Trailblazing
In the late 1890s and early 1900s a drastic change occurred when the back country became part of the National Forest system. Concerned by the rapid destruction of forest resources, and, locally, fed by the need to manage the chaparral for water, the public pressured for federal management of what remained of the country’s public lands. In 1891, an obscure amendment to an act revising land disposal policies gave the President the power to set aside forest reserves. In 1897, another act, the Forest Management Act, spelled out the terms under which these reserves were to be managed.  

One of those was to secure favorable water flows. Faced with an impending water shortage, Santa Barbarans clamored for the mountainous country behind them to be included in the system. As a result, in 1899, the Santa Ynez Forest Reserve was added to the already existing Pine Mountain and Zaca Lake Reserve. For the first time, the County’s mountainous territories were under the direct management of the federal government.

The first trail created during this new era was the La Cumbre Trail, one you won’t find listed anymore. It has been fifty years since anyone has used this path, because subsequently it has been widened and paved to become Gibraltar Road. On New Year’s Day in 1902, the Santa Barbara Morning Press speculated: 

“Someday there will be an easy wagon road leading up to La Cumbre, to accommodate vehicles and the automobile; and it is quite within the range of possibilities that a trolley-line may be constructed to the place, getting its power from the Mission falls, and which will course the summit of the range and add one more to the great wonders of the world.”

A trail construction committee composed of members of the  Chamber of Commerce began a campaign early in 1902 to raise funds, estimated at that time to be some $400 to $500. They also proposed to rework the overgrown and rundown Rattlesnake Canyon Trail, which had been constructed earlier in part by Jose Moraga and by a man named Flores, who owned a homestead at the head of the canyon.

Work was carried out primarily by rangers in the newly-created Forest Service. Beginning in Sycamore Canyon, the La Cumbre trail intersected the present location of Gibraltar Road about a mile up from Mountain Drive at a large promontory, the original Inspiration Point. As the trail was ascended, one encountered various views, all named by the Chamber of Commerce. These names emphasized the new attitude Santa Barbarans had about the mountains behind them.

The first view of Montecito was called El Contento, or the place of contentment, while the first glimpse of Goleta Valley was El Reposo or tranquility. At the 1,700 foot elevation was La Roca Grande (the great boulder); a spot at 2,400 feet was called El Encanto, meaning the enchanting place.

At 2,900 feet a large block of sandstone, known today as Gibraltar Rock, was entitled Centinela del Abismo, or the sentinel of the abyss. Just beyond was Flores Flat or El Descanso, the resting spot. At the 3,300-foot summit, one found La Sorpresa or the surprise, where one could see the San Rafael Mountains for the first time.

This increased use of the mountains was due primarily to the tourist boom, itself made possible by the transportation revolution, begun by the construction of the Gaviota Road. In 1887, when the Southern Pacific Railroad completed a branch line from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara, even more people began to travel to the area. 

In 1892, when Lillard and Catlett, owners of the property traversed by the stage coaches closed the old stage road, a newer, more practical route over San Marcos Pass was built, making it much easier to travel into the Santa Ynez Mountains. A decade later, the age of the automobile came to Santa Barbara on San Marcos Pass road, when a Locomobile Steamer piloted by George Beauhoff of Philadelphia chugged over the summit on March 28, 1901. Santa Barbara’s stagecoach days were just about over.

Three days later, the day the Southern Pacific Railroad completed its connection between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the last stage coach traversed the Pass. In the process Santa Barbara’s isolation was ended forever.

Trail Use Explodes
At first, despite the new modes of transportation, trail use became even more popular. During the first decade of the century other trails were built as more tourists came to Santa Barbara.  The San Ysidro Guest Ranch pushed a horse trail to the summit, and as hunting and fishing became more popular, the Franklin and Rincon trails were built in behind Carpinteria giving better access to the upper Santa Ynez drainage from this area. 

The Forest Service also contributed to the popularization of the back country, as forest rangers improved and extended the trails over the crest. In 1910, with the support of a $10 million federal appropriation for the improvement of roads within the forest reserves, the local mountains became much more accessible by auto.

First a rough road was cut from San Marcos Pass Road to Los Prietos, substantially following  the same route used by the quicksilver miners. At the same time the County began to improve the roads over the passes, spurred by such men as wealthy Santa Barbaran George Owen Knapp, who had purchased one of the original homesteads on the crest from  pioneer Homer Snyder. 

Knapps’ Road 
Camino Cielo, the sky-hugging road along the crest of the Santa Ynez Mountains, was built during World War I, one of the many dreams made real by George Owen Knapp. In October, 1916, the Santa Barbara Daily News announced that the Forest Service was planning to “open large sections of the forest reserve for lease in small tracts, large enough for a camping lodge and horse corrals, to entice many people to build camps in the woods next summer.” 

To facilitate this, Congress approved $10,000,000 for the improvement of roads in the forest reserves.  The first built was a rough road from San Marcos Pass to Los Prietos, giving access to the upper Santa Ynez recreation area. On the ocean side of the mountains, spurred by the Forest Service activity and the urgings and financial support of private citizens, the County also contributed to opening the mountain wall.

One of the citizens who contributed most to this effort was  George Owen Knapp, who had come to Santa Barbara in 1912. Born in 1855 in Hatfield, Massachusetts, Knapp graduated as a civil engineer from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute of New York in 1876. He went on to work for People’s Gas, Light and Coke Company in Chicago, building gas plants, and eventually became president of the company before moving to Union Carbide, where he was Chairman of the Board for 25 years.

Retiring in Santa Barbara, Knapp quickly became involved with everything that seemed to be identified with the city’s progress. Within a few years he had funded a nursing school at Cottage Hospital with a $200,000 contribution, donated substantial sums toward the construction of both All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church and Montecito Presbyterian Church, and provided money for a number of costly pipe organs in other churches.

Next to building organs and hospitals, Knapp’s abiding passion was building roads. Although he was past 60 years of age at the time, he personally supervised the construction of mountain roads to and from a lodge he was constructing in the Santa Ynez Mountains “with all the interest and enthusiasm of a man half his years.” More than anyone, it was George Owen Knapp who was responsible for the construction of Camino Cielo.

Knapp and C.K. Billings, another lover of the mountains, hired laborers to remedy poor road conditions. Due to their efforts, horse trails were extended east all the way to Ojai and west to Refugio Pass. In 1920, again due to their  efforts, San Marcos Pass Road was greatly improved. The two men provided half of the $50,000 expense for this work, the County the other half. “Eventually these summit trails will be widened and graded for the automobile, giving Santa Barbara the finest system of  scenic automobile roads in the state,” prophesied the Daily News in 1917. 

For their work these men were praised highly, the Daily News stating, “They are strong advocates of the great out-of-doors, and under their leadership places in the wilds heretofore denied humans because of utter inaccessibility are being opened up to the hiker and the horseback rider.”

From 1916 through the 1920s, as men like Knapp moved to Santa Barbara, ownership of the land in these mountains changed hands rapidly. The mountain setting was what drew the wealthy to the Santa Ynez Mountains. It felt good to own a place at the top of the mountains with sweeping views, cool breezes, and unpolluted air, where “one could rub elbows with a historic past”. Eventually pioneer homesteaders gradually relinquished their holdings to these “men with money”, as property values hardly dreamed possible a few years earlier were placed on the mountain properties.

Knapp himself built four palaces in the mountains: the “Castle” above Painted Cave; one near Wind Cave (it is likely that the steps at the Chumash cave there were built by him); a third near Refugio Pass, now the site of Rancho La Chirpa; and the last  next to a hot springs in the upper Santa Ynez drainage, now known as Pendola Hot Springs. The cement pool you will find there was added by Knapp.

As the original mountain homesteaders began to move out, use of the land near San Marcos Pass entered a new phase. Homer Snyder, formerly a cook at the Arlington Hotel, had originally homesteaded his retreat for his ailing wife. Subsequently developed his Laurel Springs Ranch as a vacation resort. Snyder sold a portion of his land to Knapp in 1916 for the mountain lodge, and in 1925 Knapp added Laurel Springs to his possessions. Others, such as Mike Finneran, the boisterous “Mayor of San Marcos Pass”, died and his land and that of a number of others were sold to properous Santa Barbarans. Civilization was finally creeping up onto the mountaintop.  

Trail Use Declines
Unfortunately, as access to the mountains by road was made easier, use of many of the front country trails, so popular at the turn of the century, began to decline. Ironically, despite the large number of people who hike in the Santa Ynez Mountains today, there are fewer trails open now than there were at the turn of the century. 

In the 1930s, with the aid of thousands of Civilian Conservation Corps workers, roads were further improved, others were added, and as this occurred, use of the front country trails diminished even further. Horseback enthusiasts who wanted to use the Santa Ynez Recreation areas no longer needed to ride over the crest, for it was now easier to trailer horses over the Pass to Upper Oso or Pendola than to ride over. By the late 1930s, most hunters no longer used the foothill trails either, nor did tourists, since their automobiles gave them increased mobility.

The Forest Service also contributed to this diminished use in the 1930s. To protect the Santa Ynez watershed, seasonal closure of the area above Los Prietos was put into effect in 1934, restricting travel during fire season. Then, during World War II, the back country was closed entirely because there wasn’t sufficient personnel to supervise regulated use.

By the 1950s many of the historic front-country trails had fallen into almost complete disuse. Among them were the Arroyo Burro, Franklin, and Romero Canyon trails. Concurrently, much of the private land, held in large blocks since the era of the land grant, was being broken up into smaller parcels. Foothill properties were  subdivided and used for speculative purposes and ownership changed somewhat frequently. 

As the land passed through a series of hands, owners became accustomed to the lack of trail use. In fact, many of the owners weren’t even aware that historic trails passed through their property. Once closed, few owners who found out about trails going through their properties wanted hikers to begin crossing their land again. Private property signs began to go up on many ranches and large land holdings.

Some who did so were avocado growers, such as the owners of Rancho San Roque, who feared that a fungus known as cinnamon root rot would be brought onto their property on the soles of hikers’ shoes. Others had purchased property away from the city to live in the peace and quiet the foothills offered and didn’t want scores of hikers invading their solitude. There were those, too, like the owner of the land above the San Antonio Creek Trail, whose land value would fall as much as $600,000, according to appraisals, should trail users be allowed to cut through the middle of their property.

The Future
Today, the Santa Ynez Mountain trails and those found in the back country are as popular as ever. Despite legal problems affecting a few of them they offer us something special: a place to get away when life in Santa Barbara gets a little too hectic; the joy to be found in a quiet canyon filled with the flow of cascading water and the cheerful sounds of chaparral birds; the physical release that comes from an energetic hike. 

Few other locales have places such as these to offer their communities. In an environment where we can enjoy both the beauty of the sea and the majesty of the summit within minutes of one another, the mountain wall offers us still another of the treats which makes Santa Barbara so special.

The history of this land, the geology, the chaparral plant community, and and perhaps an understanding of ourselves can be found in the exploration of this country. There is also the heritage of the people who lived in this land—the Chumash, the pioneer miners, and the homesteaders.

The trails, and the hidden places to be found along them, are there to appreciate, and to enjoy. They are both beautiful and fragile, and they need the care of all of us.  

These mountains have many messages to offer. Please take care of them.

Dick Smith

By Ray Ford  © 1984

In the evening, from the crest of the Santa Ynez Mountains, you can get a glimmer of what lies in the outback. With the midday harshness of the chaparral mountainsides softened by evening alpenglow, in the dusky light the land reaches out like a promise. Sitting astride a thin outcrop of sandstone I breathed quietly, absorbing the mood and the sounds—the delicately quiet interplay of breeze and birdsong, the rustling of oats, the screech of a red-tail hawk circling overhead.

The silence of the distant mountains—the San Rafael and the Sierra Madres—beckons me, as does the invisible image of the man who devoted his life to protecting them. He was born Richard J. Smith on August 29, 1920 in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. The "J" stood for Jay, but everyone knew him as Dick. He died on the evening of February 2, 1977 of a heart attack while out in the corral feeding his horses. He was only 56.

This was Dick Smith's kind of country. To him it was not forbidding, but a world of unsullied grandeur, a land he thought of as "inner wilderness," where the beauty comes not so much from an appreciation of its surface features but something that developes from within, a heightening of one's own senses in the face of wilderness challenges. 

Dick loved the chaparral countryside without reservation. Something in him urged a closer inspection, a desire to peek beneath the surface and immerse himself in its subtleties. Many people, like myself, learned to love this land first through his eyes.

"For us who remain behind it is hard," wrote author Bob Easton (co-author with Dick of California Condor: Vanishing American) after his death. "Who will fill the gap he leaves? Who will care as much? Who will be, as one friend accurately said, 'the conscience of our community?"'

Artist, photographer, Promotion Manager for the Santa Barbara News-Press, self-taught naturalist, ardent conservationist, Dick Smith devoted the last 20 years of his life getting to know Santa Barbara County better than anyone. Fittingly, in the mid-1980s a 74,000 acre chunk of the back country was designated the Dick Smith Wilderness by President Reagan.

Dick's first introduction to the backcountry came in the 1950s on a family picnic to Figueroa Mountain with close friend Noel Young, now owner of Capra Press. While the wives and kids scampered around the camp collecting pine cones for Christmas, Dick and Noel hiked up the fire road to a lookout at the top of the mountain.

There he met an old man who was at the station all by himself. A little bit lonesome for conversation, the old man began to talk about the country, telling Dick about the pioneer homesteaders, the Chumash who had once lived back here, and about the wildlife.

"Come on over here," the old timer invited. "Let me show you something special." The two of them walked over to the tip of the ridge where the sunset was just developing. "Jenny and Natt will be along soon," he added, "and I want you to meet them."

Dick didn't know it at the time, but Jenny and Natt were foxes which had become accustomed to the presence of the old man, and often wandered by the lookout at dusk. When Jenny and Natt showed up, almost as if right on schedule, Dick was deeply impressed.

This was the first Dick had ever heard of this country or its wildlife. The old man's stories, the lighting, and the appearance of the foxes lent a sense of mystery and enchantment to the moment.

"I've got to get down into that country," Dick breathed after a moment of staring out over the landscape, "I've got to see what's out there."

Dick was Promotion Manager for the Santa Barbara News-Press at the time, and soon thereafter he invited one of the staff writers, Barney Brantingham, to join him on a backpacking trip to the Sierra Madre Mountains.

"We ended up hiking half the night, off-trail, up some brush-choked, god-forbidding side canyon," Barney remembered. "Dick had no idea where we were, but he didn't let me know it. Instead, he'd just keep urging me on a little further, getting my imagination worked up about what might be around the next bend.

"Before we knew it we were not only hopelessly lost, but too far from anything we could call camp to bed down before dark, so we stopped right there, out in the middle of nowhere, which was exactly where Dick seemed to want to be anyway.

"Dick loved it. You could see it in his eyes and the things he said. You knew there wasn't anyplace he'd rather be right then, despite the aching muscles, the scratched arms and legs, and the intense thirst." 

Predictably, few people went on a second trip with Dick. But as a result of his intensity, Dick got to know the back country in a depth that few before him ever had.

About this time Dick Smith's duties at the News-Press expanded. He became a staff artist and also was given the opportunity to write his first environmental articles for the paper. These duties made it possible for him to get out into the back country more and more.

It was a career, however, that was leading him further and further away from his childhood dreams. In the Depression years of the mid-1930s in rural North Dakota, while most tenenagers were engaged in practical pursuits, Dick was dreaming of goiung to art school. He loved sculpture. 

His father, however, had different ideas.

"His father was a lovely person, but rigid." Dick's widow, Olive, explained to me. "There was the wrong way and his way. Dick was very definitely like his father—not so authoritative, but very opinionated."

The father prevailed in the choice of schools and Dick enrolled at the State School of Science in Wahpeton, North Dakota, taking courses in electrical engineering, but he succeeded only in flunking out. At this point Dick decided to go his own way, enrolling at the Minnesota School of Art. He met Olive there.

"Dick had the artist in him from the very start," Olive said. "He was long-haired far before it was fashionable, and I remember that he was always wearing a ratty old green corduroy coat that he thought fit the image.

"What impressed me even then was that Dick had made the jacket himself—no pattern—he just did it, saying 'Gee, I wonder if I can make that."'

This was to become a trademark of Dick's: "He wouldn't buy a damned thing unless he absolutely had to," added News-Press writer, Bob Sollen. "He'd go out and price whatever it was he needed, then say 'the hell with it' and make it himself."

Once, he even tried to make his own false teeth, actually purchasing all of the needed supplies, before common sense encouraged him to go to the family dentist.

World War II interrupted art school and he never went back after he returned from service. He never did obtain a college degree, and that often bothered him.

After he joined the Navy in 1943, Dick was stationed in San Francisco in 1943. He met Noel Young there, and it was their friendship which led him to Santa Barbara.

"I was in the Army and like all soldiers, when I was on leave, I headed for the City to get drunk," said Noel. We were both hitchhiking—Dick was on the way back to his apartment on Van Ness—and we quickly struck up a conversation. We both dreamed of being artists then—me being convinced I was going to be the next Dostoevsky—and on the spot Dick invited me over. Based on the conversation in the car, Dick gave me a key to his apartment and welcomed me anytime.

"When I opened the door I could see Dick's easel up in the middle of the room, which was full of the smell of linseed oil. I went out and bought salami and cheese and came back and relaxed and listened to Dick's records—Mendelsohn, Back and Bessie Smith—and that was the start of something special."

Eventually, after the end of the war, Noel and his wife settled in Santa Barbara, though not by plan. "Our car broke down here," Noel explained, "and we sort of settled in without ever planning to."

In 1948, Dick and Olive visited the Young family while on a vacation trip. At the time Dick was in the promotion department of a Minneapolis newspaper. Almost as an afterthought, Noel suggested that Dick interview for a job with the News-Press.

"I knew Charles Storke, so I arranged for a meeting between Dick and him. I mentioned to Mr. Storke that a Richard J. Smith might be stopping by, but when I saw the resume I noticed it said Dick Smith. I asked him about that. He told me he wasn't a Richard, just a Dick."

A month after the vacation, Storke sent Dick a letter offering him a job as Promotion Manager. It was quickly accepted. Immediately afterward, Dick called Noel and told him to buy him the best house he could find that was close to Noel. Several days after this, a cashier's check for $8,000 arrived in Noel's mailbox. Soon thereafter Dick showed up.

"He arrived in Santa Barbara by train and he had with him a trunkload of tools that must have weighed 500 pounds. We needed to rent a truck to haul them to the house I had found in Summerland. He went to work on it furiously, opening up walls, installing view windows and the like. A month later the house had been transformed.

"Even then Dick had a fierce determination—he'd work until he dropped, often later than 2 AM, and as soon as he woke in the morning he'd start again. He pushed himself so hard that he often hurt himself—he always seemed wounded—but no matter how much he hurt himself he wouldn't quit until he was finished.

"Dick's body was more than just a physical thing—it was a vehicle for his spirit—and it seemed like he lived more that 2-3 lifetimes in his 56 years."

A few years later the two families moved onto the same property, purchasing a lot together. It was nothing but bare ground with an old goat shed. "We evicted the goats and moved the families in," Noel laughed.

The shed was partitioned with an old blanket and in the midst of the winter rains both families moved in. The slabs were poured for both houses in January.

"Since there were no building codes at the time, we built them out of our weekly paychecks, doing what we could after we'd paid for food and whatever else we needed," Noel added.

The Smiths were in their house by Easter. There were no windows—just the framing and the roof—and a sea of mud—but they were in! Though neighbors complained of the late-night pounding and the sound of screaming skill saws, the family dream began to take shape. Unfortunately, not all was going so well at the News-Press.

"Dick worked for a terrible person—someone who treated him like dirt—and in those days he compromised himself every working day," Olive said. 

Noel Young hoped Dick's dissatisfaction with the News-Press job would rekindle his artistic talents. If Noel had his way they would have gone into business on their own. "I got Dick odd jobs in the evening doing layouts and art work, and once I even said pointblank, 'Dick, why don't we go into the publishing business together?' But he said, 'I don't want to have to think about money.' That was why he liked working for a large corporation—it was secure."

Somewhere in these years Dick turned away from gallery art. The next Picasso was destined to become something else. With his camera and writer's notebook, he began to sketch out an image of the back country that has since become a legacy to all of us.

In the early house-building years, painting was still important to Dick. His canvasses were scattered throughout the house, even propped atop the baby's high chair. By the 1960s, however, the palette had been replaced by a camera.

Going up into the mountains seemed to counteract the pressure of working at the News-Press and it seemed to inflame his imagination. While the trip to Figueroa Mountain had served to initiate Dick's curiosity about the back country, the trip with Barney Brantingham was his first direct contact with the land. Shortly thereafter, a conversation with Campbell Grant (author of Rock Paintings of the Chumash) gave a distinct purpose to his travels. 

Campbell told Dick about a very special Chumash rock art site known as Pool Rock. Only he didn't tell Dick where it was.

For more than a year, whenever he could, Dick traveled into the Hurricane Deck country (in the heart of what is now the San Rafael Wilderness), exploring the land he had first seen from atop Figueroa Mountain. He searched diligently for the sacred spot, exploring each of the side canyons, in the process learning more and more about the back country. By the time he had found it he knew he had found his life's purpose. 

Early in 1963, he shared Pool Rock with another long time Santa Barbara resident, Bob Easton. Bob's father had been manager of Rancho Sisquoc in the early 1900s and Bob had grown up as a child exploring the back country. 

Together they explored the nearby canyons, eventually finding Condor Cave, which the two of them surmised might have once been a sacred site used by Chumash shamans to conduct solstice ceremonies. Bob suggested a summer trip to explore other parts of the back country. The trip took them across the high country, through Mission Pine Basin and down Fall Canyon to the Sisquoc River.

This was to be Dick's first big exposure to the Sisquoc. Coming right on top of the trip to Pool Rock, he was overwhelmed—especially since they were traveling by horseback. Bob remembered the trip quite well, laughing, "I don't think Dick had ever been on a horse before in his life. He held the reins too tight, and he was really stiff, like a dude, but he had a great time, and from that time on he loved traveling by horseback."

Soon after he got back from the trip, Dick bought his daughter Judy, who had been along with Bob and him, her own horse. She, seeing how much the experience meant to her dad, returned the favor by buying him his own. He named the horse Josephine and quickly began to outfit it.

Saddle bags were made out of old jeans with the bottoms of the legs sewn shut. Grain went in the pant legs, while above, in the crotch, went the pots and pans and assorted gear. Typically, Dick refused to buy a trailer, instead teaching Josephine to jump up into the back of his battered old pick-up truck, which he had outfitted with board sides and top and compartments to store gear.

About this time the pressures at the News-Press eased as Dick was able to expand his duties to include artwork and occasional writing and photographic assignments.

"No one else could have gotten away with the things Dick did—but everything he did always seemed to end up helping the News-Press—so he got away with it," Bob Sollen explained. Eventually Dick worked out the ideal job there. His title was Promotion Manager, but that only took about 25 percent of his time—the rest of the time Dick did what he wanted to do.

"He'd work Mondays and Tuesdays—maybe Wednesdays—then he'd take off for the back country to follow up on a story—and often no one knew where he was," Bob continued. "I'm not even sure Olive knew; he was just off exploring some new part of the county.

"But by doing it that way, by taking the time and by getting off the beaten path, Dick got the great pictures—the baby owl in the tree, the misty clouds with the sunset light filtering through, the condor soaring in flight.

"Dick really wasn't a good reporter. He didn't have a good newspaper style, and he was usually too involved in his stories to remain objective, but he had good ideas, and he knew everything that was going on in the county, especially with the Forest Service, where he had plenty of friends.

"When Dick would hear about something going on, he would disappear for a few days and when he would get back he'd drag me out of the office for a 45 minute coffee break—whether I could afford the time or not. He'd tell me all these stories—about some road being pushed into the back country, or some camp being ruined—then he'd be off to drum up support for his position among one of the environmental groups in town, or to the Forest Service to see what he could do. Not everyone always appreciated his meddling."

Olive put it more succinctly. "There were a number of people who couldn't stomach Dick," she said.

"He didn't hesitate to use people if it helped support something he believed in," Joy Parkinson, then President of the local chapter of the Audubon Society, told me.

"Often Dick would come to the wrong conclusions and then stubbornly stick to them," Bob Easton acknowleged. "His knowledge was intuitive and experiential—rather than intellectual, and sometimes he would fall into the error of the person who was a little bit educated and would therefore think he knew a lot. And if pushed, he could really make an ass of himself.

But if there was a measure of his life, it was in his fierce determination, the stubbornness, his desire to protect this piece of wilderness, the very things that sometimes led him to make an ass of himself.

"His whole attitude was one of such wonder, and he taught you to love things and experience things you never could have on your own," explained Jan Hamber, his research companion in his last years of work on the California Condor.

"He'd never stop and take my hand to help me across a precarious crossing. He'd just drop down some steep slope, cross the little creek with a hop and keep right on 

going. If I yelled for help he'd point out the way and hold for a second to make sure I was okay. Once he could see I'd be able to make it, he was right on going again."

That was the way Dick Smith lived his life.

It was the condor to which Dick devoted the last part of his life.

"There are moments when one is larger than life," Bob Easton reminded me, "and it is important that we judge one by those moments." For Dick, many of these moments involved the condor.

"One day I saw Dick on the other side of the street," Noel Young said, "and when he saw me he started jumping up and down, gesturing animatedly with his arms, 'We just had a babyl We just had a babyl' I could hear him shouting. I couldn't figure out what he was talking about because all I could think of was Olive and she wasn't exactly child-bearing age. But when he got across the street I found out that he was talking about a baby condor, the first recording  of one being born in Santa Barbara County since the early 1900s.

"Here he was 55 years old and I thought, 'What are you so excited about?' He was just crazy—jumping up and down and carrying on—but that was Dick—his personality was everything."

If there was a flaw, it was in his intensity. If there was something that separated him from others, it was in his undiminished devotion to and care for the back country—he was a friend of the wildlife first, and only second to those who wanted to use the land. If there was a mistake, it was that he was intolerant of those who thought otherwise.

Dick Smith died on February 2, 1977. It was something he knew to be coming for quite awhile, but his love for the back country wouldn't allow him to slow down.

There was the high blood pressure that had been with him all his life. Even as early as 1964 there were signs of physical problems. He passed out once while helping a friend protect his house during the Coyote Fire in 1964. The chest pains were there for at least a year before he died.

"He had the pain for quite a while," Jan Hamber added. "He'd say his strap wasn't adjusted right or that there was something wrong with his pack. He was always adjusting the straps and using this as an excuse for the pains radiating across his chest.

"Finally I asked Dick pointblank, 'What do I do if you drop dead while we are out here in the middle of nowhere?'

“‘Just leave me,' he replied.

"'That's just fine if I know where we are,' I answered."

On several occasions friends urged Dick to see a doctor about the pain, but in a rare moment of gruffness, he replied, "I don't want to. I don't take stock in doctors." Perhaps more importantly, he was afraid the doctor would tell him he couldn't go out in the back country anymore. This was something he wouldn't have allowed anyone to say to him.

Instead of easing up, he pushed on, continuing the condor studies and leading several expeditions into the San Rafael Mountains. On one trip, a mule tumbled down a steep cliff, forcing Dick to make a strenuous recovery, perhaps causing that final, ultimate weakening of the heart muscle which cost him his life.

A few days after his death members of the family threaded their way up a narrow dirt road, the same followed by Dick and Barney Brantingham on their first trip into the high country.

They wandered across the potreros, which were filled with sandstone outcroppings that looked like dolphins frolicking in a sea of wildflower covered grass. At one point the car stopped. The gathered few stepped over to one particular rock, and after a few moments of silence, scattered Dick's ashes.

"When everyone else was saying how they missed Dick so much after he died I never felt that," Bob Sollen admitted. "I always felt he was still here. When I did a story, he was always over my shoulder saying, 'No, that's not quite right,' or 'Why don't you try it this way?"'

If you are in the back country, hiking the high country potreros, why not try looking under your feet. For as Bob Easton said so eloquently, "He will be right there under your feet."

Note: This article first appeared in the November, 1984 edition of the Condor Call, a monthly newspaper published by the Los Padres Chaper of the Sierra Club.

Walker Tompkins

Walker A. Tompkins was born on July 10, 1909 in Prosser, Yakima County, Washington. He was the son of Charle E. and Bertha Tompkins who had moved to Washington from Missouri. Tompkins grew up on a wheat farm in Walla Walla County before moving with his family to Turlock, California in 1920. He began his writing career in Turlock, at the age of fourteen, as a reporter for the Daily Journal. At the age of 21, he sold his first western novel to Street and Smith of New York, just before beginning college at Washington State. He also attended Modesto Junior College.

In 1931, Tompkins went to work at the (Portland) Sunday Oregonian. He also wrote fiction on the side for magazines, books, radio, and later, television. During the 1930s, he worked his way around the world, travelling to Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Dutch East Indies. He wrote western pulp stories during these journeys and collected his fees for them on the fly. At the beginning of World War II, Tompkins was drafted into the Army where he served as a correspondent in Europe for three years. Following the war, he settled in Santa Barbara, California where he began concentrating on local history.

Dubbed "Two-Gun Tompkins" early in his career for his prodigious output of pulp westerns, he wrote western fiction for 30 years before switching to history and biography. He was best known for his work in the latter field, especially his regional histories which focused on the Santa Barbara area. His many works include: Goleta: The Good Land (1966), Santa Barbara Past and Present (1975), It Happened in Old Santa Barbara (1976), Stagecoach Days in Santa Barbara County (1982),and Santa Barbara History Makers (1983). While working on his many projects, he also held a job as a reporter for the Santa Barbara News-Press from 1957 to 1973, where he was the author of the column "Santa Barbara Yesterdays." Tompkins was greatly interested in the history of Santa Barbara's neighborhoods and sought to encourage his readers and listeners to appreciate the unique attributes of each. To this end, he published his twelve-pamphlet series, Santa Barbara's Neighborhoods, originally published between 1977 and 1980.

Tompkins served on the board of directors for the Santa Barbara Historical Society and the Santa Barbara County Landmarks Advisory Committee. In 1975, he was honored by the California State Legislature for his contributions in the area of regional history. Walker A. Tompkins died in Santa Barbara, California on November 24, 1988.

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