The views of the Cuyama Valley, looking east from one of the many ridge trails in the Rock
Southwest of Pozo, High Mountain Road (25 miles, approximately 20 unpaved) also rides a gently undulating series of ridge tops in the Santa Lucia range. In dry (summer) weather, much of the trail is passable in two-wheel drive, though several stream crossings along the southern half of the trail can require four-wheel drive (and a bit of lift) if traveled immediately following the rainy season. At the trail's summit, roughly 15 miles in and 3,200 feet above sea level, two spur trails branch off in succession to the right. The first, which is marked by a gate, is a hiking trail that leads to a Forest Service lookout tower. Recently restored, the tower was originally built by the California Conservation Corps in the 1930s to monitor fires, but it's also popular as a spot to observe the endangered California Condor, which were reintroduced to the area in the late 1980s and which some 200 are known to remain in the wild. The facility is closed from time to time (the gate will be locked), but if the gate is open, it's well worth the short hike. The second trail, Garcia Ridge, follows the top of Garcia Mountain for four miles before dead-ending at a gate to a wilderness area. The first mile or so has some steep ascents, and there are a few rocky sections along the way that will test your suspension flex (there are bypasses for all the rough stuff), but overall, it's fairly stress-free, and the panoramic vistas of Cuyama Valley to the southeast from the top of the mountain, some 3,000 feet up, are spectacular.
Near the top of High Mountain, you can watch the morning fog rolling in from the coast, bl
This smaller OHV Area lies some 10 to 15 miles south of Pozo-La Panza along California Highway 166 east of Santa Maria, and is a popular weekend hang for dirt bikers (judging by the day we spent there; we saw plenty of bikes and only a couple of trucks), though there are plenty of fair-to-middlin' 4x4 trails within the complex. Most of the more challenging trails, some 40 miles in all, can be found north of the highway along Big Rocks Trail, an easy north-south traverse through shady stands of oak that's surrounded on both sides by huge rock outcroppings. Along the way, trails such as Twin Rocks, Branch Creek, and Paradise Road spur off the main road and into the surrounding foothills; all are clearly marked and fairly easy to drive, with some moderately challenging hillclimbs, and each can be traversed in under two hours.
High Mountain Road wends its way through groves of oak and manzanita, with several streamb
To the south of Highway 166 are trails such as Miranda Pine, Bates Canyon, and Sierra Madre. These are interconnecting 10- to 30-mile ridge and shelf roads that are frequently graded and which can be traversed in two-wheel drive for much of the year. The wheeling isn't the real payoff here-it's the views of the valley floor afforded by these mountain trails, which rise over 5,000 feet above sea level, with numerous campsites nestled amid conifer groves along the way. Condors have been sighted here, and Tule elk, recently reintroduced to the area, can be spied on occasion as well. (Black bear and mountain lion also call these hills home, so don't leave any food scraps laying around your campsite.) If you want seclusion, this would appear to be a great destination; we spent half a day running these trails (on a Sunday, no less) and encountered only two trucks-both Forest Service work rigs-during the course of our ride. And if having a whole mountain range to yourself isn't enough, you can spend a full day touring these scenic trails, and still be back on the beach in Pismo to share a warm frothy with your buddies before sundown.