Lake Cachuma, one of Southern California's most popular recreation sites, wasn't always so popular. Cachuma, during the "water wars" of the late 1940s was an epithet; you didn't say it, you sneezed it, the joke went.
Building a dam to impound the Santa Ynez River was called a socialist plot, a capitalist plot and a criminal plot to suck the lifeblood from the Santa Ynez and Lompoc valleys. Dam opponents, perhaps more concerned about the Cold War than the water war, argued that the dam would be a "sitting duck" for an atomic bomb and that all the people and livestock downstream would be washed into the Pacific.
When water-short Santa Barbara resorted to rationing during 1948, the dam and lake were approved by local voters. Congress appropriated funds, and the project was completed in 1953.
Nowadays, Lake Cachuma, besides storing an important part of Santa Barbara County's water supply, is a popular weekend destination for Southland anglers, campers and bird watchers. For the hiker, Tequepis Trail offers the best view of the lake, as well as a 360-degree panorama from the high peaks of Los Padres National Forest to the Channel Islands. It's one of the most beautiful, yet least used, trails in the Santa Ynez Mountains.
Much of the trail is shaded with live oak and sycamore. Near the top are two arboreal surprises--tanoak and madrone, trees more commonly found in the northern part of the state. In springtime, lupine, bush poppy and other wildflowers splash color along the trail.
Tequepis is the Chumash word for seed gatherer. Indians beat the grasses on nearby slopes with a tennis racket-like tool to gather the seeds.
You can get an eagle's-eye view of Lake Cachuma by taking Tequepis Trail, and you can get an eagle's-eye view of eagles on a two-hour boat cruise. Hundreds of bald eagles make the shores of Cachuma their winter home. (See feature story, Page 14.)
Directions to the trailhead: From U.S. 101 in Santa Barbara, exit on California 154 (San Marcos Pass Road) and drive 17 1/2 miles to a left-turn lane and a road leading left signed Cachuma Camp and Camp Cielo. Proceed with caution over the first half of this road, which is dirt and potholed. The second half of the 1.3-mile road is paved. Park in a dirt lot just outside the wooden gate of the Campfire Girls' Camp Cielo. Walk, don't drive, up the asphalt service road into the camp.
The hike: Walk up the paved camp road 75 yards, past a swimming pool, to the signed beginning of the trail. Tequepis Trail, actually the camp road for its first quarter-mile, passes some tiny A-frame tent cabins. Leaving Magic Forest Camp behind, the dirt road crosses and recrosses a seasonal creek. Only after a good winter rain is there water in the creek.
Ignore a side road to the right and a bulldozer track to your left and arrive face to face with what appears to be a gigantic Egyptian shroud pin. The hieroglyphics on it read: "Seaboard Ohio, Santa Ynez Unit No. 2."
There's a water pipeline below ground.
One mile from the trailhead, the dirt road dead-ends. Signed Tequepis Trail, from this point forward a narrow path veers left. The trail climbs moderately for a quarter-mile, then very steeply for another quarter-mile. After this strenuous stretch, the path ascends at a more accommodating pace via well-graded switchbacks.
View of the Lake
About a mile from the top, you will get a great view of the lake, then pass near a stand of cinnamon-colored madrone. In bloom, the small tree sprouts white urn-shaped flowers and clusters of reddish-orange berries. Farther along the trail, look for the tanoak, or tanbark oak, a handsome tree more often associated with redwood or Douglas fir forests.
The trail tops a ridge and ends at unpaved West Camino Cielo. From the ridge top just above the road, you'll have commanding views to the north of the San Rafael and Sierra Madre Mountains. Just below is Lake Cachuma and the Santa Ynez Valley. Far to the east you might spot Mt. Pinos, highest peak in Los Padres National Forest. To the south is a good view of Isla Vista and UC Santa Barbara, and the state beaches of Refugio and El Capitan. Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel islands float on the horizon.
If looking south to view the ocean is a bit disconcerting, remember that Santa Barbara County's coastline and the Santa Ynez Mountains that parallel it, stretch from east to west.
If you're still feeling frisky and want to do a little bushwhacking, take the very rough and steep side trail from the ridge top to Broadcast Peak. Thrash a half-mile through manzanita and yerba santa up to the 4,028-foot summit, which is crowned with the transmitting tower of KEYT-TV.
The peak and its great views also can be reached by West Camino Cielo, a longer but much easier route. Ultra-energetic hikers can continue another mile west on West Camino Cielo to the lookout on 4,298-foot Santa Ynez Peak.
Camp Cielo to West Camino Cielo: 8 miles round trip; 2,300-foot elevation gain.
Camp Cielo to Broadcast Peak: 9 miles round trip; 2,800-foot elevation gain.