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Old Highway 399, Part 4: The Maricopa Highway (Rose Valley to Santa Barbara County Line) (CA 33)

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Go to: Part 3 | Main 399 page | Part 5

From Rose Valley, we continue on the Maricopa Highway over the Topatopas to the Sespe Gorge and the Sespe Creek that forms it. The Sespe Creek flows south towards Fillmore as a tributary of the Santa Clara River, which drains the central coast from its headwaters near Acton to its mouth between Ventura and Oxnard. It is unusual in California that neither it nor its component tributaries, including the Sespe, are in any way channelized or dammed; they remain today in their native state. The name Sespe is similarly ubiquitous and also of Chumash derivation, likely meaning "knee cap" and referring to the sharp bends of the region's geography, though the original spelling and specific reference are today unknown.

Again, please forgive some of the glitches in these photographs as this is a difficult and isolated stretch to photograph upon; these photos are the best selections from three separate passes on the route.

Continuing on from our untimely traffic stop, over the Topatopa summit at 3700' (unsigned).

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Curling around on the downgrade, this time.

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PM 26.75.

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Watch your speed in winter; this section can get icy and wet, as the inclement weather on this day demonstrates.

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Coming around to parallel the Sespe Creek.

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Less constraining than the Matilija Canyon, the Sespe Gorge is still a relatively tight fit for our highway. The Creek sits to our left.

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And, like the Matilija Creek, the Sespe also undulates under us in several places, including this charming old-style crossing built in 1932.

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PM 31.18.

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We do still get some sheer faces despite the overall more forgiving terrain.

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NB CA 33/old US 399.

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The Creek beside us.

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Eventually the Creek starts to peter off towards its headwaters and we start diverging away from it into the Pine Mountains (guess where that name comes from).

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Leaving the Creek and its eponymous gorge to the southwest.

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Starting our (initially slow) ascent.

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Weatherbeaten formations in the rocks around us.

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One of my runs through the region showed that the road can also get washed out. Drive carefully and remember the road can close at any time.

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Around the floor of the rock rim.

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This is not an idle threat in winter.

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PM 41.43 as our ascent starts getting steeper up to the summit.

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Sun peeps out as we get above the cloud cover.

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Approaching the summit.

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Pine Mountain Summit (5,160'). This is more or less the southern end of the original 1926 road (see Part 3 for the history).

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View from the Summit. From here we overlook the Cuyama Valley and the Cuyama River that forms it, our last water feature that will accompany us to the north end of the Maricopa Hwy. Yet again Cuyama is a corrupted Chumash term, this time kuyam "clam," and the name was also used for several of the local small land grants.

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Cold clouds as we start the downward trek.

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Curling around the north rim.

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The descent here is fairly steep and snarled.

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PM 44.68.

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Crossing the Billy Creek, one of the Cuyama River's feeders.

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Turn-off via old Camp Ozena and Lockwood Valley to the Grapevine and Tejon Pass, where US 99 and now I-5 run. This is a really bad idea unless you absolutely can't proceed any further along CA 33 and must reach the Interstate as quickly as possible, because this road is virtually deserted and there is no cell signal anywhere if the road is impassable and/or you run into trouble. There is a new retroflective crap sign up but I like the crazed angle of this old button copy one.

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By the way, the advice I gave is not just my opinion; the county of Ventura wants you to think twice too.

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Distance signage at the Lockwood Valley turn-off.

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Tunnel height warning (Part 3) as we look back south, then get back on our way.

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Crossing the Cuyama River, which will then join us to our left.

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The Cuyama River, a better view on a later trip in sunlight. Not much water is in it now, but it can be a fearsome torrent during squalls. Once it reaches its namesake valley, it flows east to become a tributary of the Santa Maria River, reaching the Pacific north of that city as the border between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

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Dropping down to the river valley floor.

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Turn-off for one of the nearby valley campsites. Again, watch out for the rain.

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In fact, motorists even on the mainline should beware of flooding because we really aren't very high above the waterrun.

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Leaving Los Padres National Forest.

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And just after it, the Santa Barbara county line.

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Terminal postmile for Ventura county (PM 57.51).

Continue to Part 5

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