Treebeard's Homepage : Stumpers

Treebeard's Stumper Answer
16 October 98

Local Geography

Here are some local geography stumpers to find on the map. Where in Santa Barbara County (or nearby) is the closest:

Extinct volcanoNatural lake
River with steelhead troutWilderness area
Nuclear power plantEarthquake fault
Working mineLost treasure
Hot springsSurfing contest
Archeological siteSwimming hole
Endangered speciesNational Park
8,000+ foot mountainSalt lake

If you're not from Santa Barbara County, then the stumper is to make up your own list of local geography stumpers!


Santa Barbara County is "California's wonderful corner" for those of us lucky enough to live here. There is a huge backcountry just waiting to explore. My answers for the local geography stumpers are below, with some links. There could be many more such stumpers. For example, we have a real limestone cave here in the Santa Ynez Valley, complete with dripping stalactites. It's known only to Hike Club regulars and a few others. I hope everyone regards their home area as such a special place and finds it's secrets!

Where in Santa Barbara County (or nearby) is the nearest:

Extinct Volcano
Tranquillon Mountain is the plug of an ancient volcano on the western end of the Santa Ynez Mountains southwest of Lompoc, past the end of Miguelito Canyon Road. You can spot it from the top of Figueroa Mountain. It even looks like a volcano! Deposits of ash from the eruption (modified to Bentonite clay) can be found at the base of the Monterey Shale along the beaches west of Goleta. It last erupted millions of years ago (in Miocene times), so don't worry. There are blocks of pillow lava formed from ancient undersea eruptions at the base of Grass Mountain and elsewhere along the the San Rafael Mountains. The Nine Sisters or Morros on a line between San Luis Opispo and Morro Bay (including Morro Rock itself) are also volcano plugs. There are more ancient volcanoes on Santa Cruz Island and in the Santa Monica Mountains to the south.

Natural Lake
Zaca Lake is a beautiful natural lake sitting on an earthquake fault in a canyon behind Grass Mountain and Zaca Peak. There are also several vernal ponds (that usually go dry in summer) along Highway 101 between Los Alamos and Santa Maria. Oso Flaco Lake and several others are hidden among the sand dunes between Guadalupe and Pismo Beach.

River with Steelhead Trout
Steelhead Trout, like Salmon, are large anadromous fish that live in the ocean, but return to fresh water to spawn. The Santa Ynez River was renowned for its Steelhead runs of 20,000+ fish before three dams cut off the flow. There is still a remnant population (recently listed as endangered), and efforts are underway to restore this fishery, though there is some controversy about this goal. Steelhead are also known to run up coastal streams like Gaviota Creek.

Wilderness Area
From school, we can look up at the front boundary of the San Rafael Wilderness that encompasses Hurricane Deck and the Sisquoc River in the mountains beyond. Further east is the remote Dick Smith Wilderness. There's much more info on the the Santa Barbara Outdoors server
. Our backyard is a huge wildland to explore!

Nuclear Power Plant
Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant is just 60 miles away, hidden in a cove between Pismo Beach and Morro Bay. That's close enough!

Earthquake Fault
The potential for earthquakes is close at hand. The Santa Ynez Fault runs along the base of the Santa Ynez Mountains, but it hasn't been active in historical times. Another major fault runs along the base of Figueroa Mountain and the San Rafaels. There are many smaller faults. There was a small quake centered near Firestone Winery a few years ago. The San Andreas Fault runs east of us, only about 40 miles away as the condor soars. UCSB hosts a good site on Santa Barbara Earthquake History.

Working Mine
There is a sand quarry in Ballard Canyon, though I don't think that counts as a mine. The closest working hardrock mine is the limestone quarry at Bee Rock in the Santa Ynez Mountains south of Lake Cachuma. I've been watching this hill slowly disappear over the years as mining continues. You can see the distinctive crystalline rock around the parking lot at the Santa Ynez Valley Market near school. Diatomite is mined near Lompoc. There are several mercury and chromite mines and prospects on Figueroa Mountain and the upper Santa Ynez River, but they are not in operation now. And of course there's oil.

Lost Treasure
There are stories of hidden gold buried on San Marcos Pass after a stagecoach robbery 100 years ago. (Yes, I've looked for it!) Chumash workers used to leave the Ventura Mission and trek into the backcountry to return days later with gold nuggets. This lead to stories of the Lost Padres Mine somewhere in the hills around Mount Piños. The first gold rush in California was not the famous one. Real gold was found in several canyons not far from Magic Mountain in the early 1840s. It's probably still there!

Hot Springs
Las Cruces Hot Springs is the closest. It's near Vista School, not far from Gaviota Beach. There are several others (that are hotter and not so muddy) along the Santa Ynez River above Gibraltar Reservoir. Little Caliente is my favorite, but you have to find it yourself!

Surfing Contest
There are annual longboard surfing contests at Rincon and at California Street ("C-Street") in Ventura. These are legendary surfing beaches, along with The Ranch, Hammond's, Stanley's (R.I.P.), Tanks, The Overhead, and many more!

Archeological Site
I think the entire Santa Ynez Valley is an archeological site! A major Chumash village site was rediscovered last year near the junction of Highway 101 and Highway 154 just a few miles from school. Hike Club regulars have visited rock art sites on San Marcos Pass and the "Indian mounds" at the base of Grass Mountain. Local history runs deep!

Swimming Hole
The swimming holes at Red Rock and Paradise are the stuff of postcards and memories, complete with high jumps and a rope swing. But any creek will do in a pinch. I hope the local kids know them all!

Endangered Species
Southern California Steelhead Trout were listed last August as an endangered species (actually a population), along with Red-Legged Frogs. Both are hopefully hanging on in the Santa Ynez River and its tributaries not far from school. The California Condor is trying to make it in the backcountry, and the Tidewater Goby fish is in the Goleta Slough. If you're lucky, you've spotted a Bald Eagle (now only threatened?) at Lake Cachuma. Several endangered plants only grow on the Channel Islands. The area around Lompoc is rich with rare endemic plants. Check out the Endangered Species Home Page for more info.

National Park
Channel Islands National Park lies just off the coast, though it's easy not to think of it. Here's one National Park where traffic is not a problem!

8,000 ft. Mountain
We can see Mission Pine Mountain (aka San Rafael, 6593 ft.) and Big Pine Mountain (6828 ft.) from school. They're big, but not quite big enough. Mount Piños, known as Iwihinmu by the Chumash, is far in the backcountry and more than high enough at 8,831 feet, the highest place in the Las Padres National Forest. Mount Piños sits at the intersection of most of the major faults in Southern California, like the hub of a wheel. I'd like to be there (hanging on to a tree) when the "big one" comes and watch California spin around me! There is great cross-country skiing on the summit after winter storms.

Salt Lake
Soda Lake in the Carrizo Plains is beyond the mountains to the northeast. It's another world. This desolate alkali lake has no drainage to the sea. It's the winter home to thousands of Sandhill Cranes. The best wildflower displays I've ever seen are nearby. It's off the beaten track, but definitely worth a visit!
Note: Much good information about Santa Barbara County is available on Ray Ford's Back Country Page and the other good sites on Ray's Santa Barbara Outdoors server. Ray is the author of several essential books and maps about the Santa Barbara area, and he's in the process of making his works and others' (including Treebeard's Flora) available on the Web. More local links are available on my Santa Barbara Natural History page, though it needs updating.

I figured this question would finally stump Graybear, my regular email buddy from Virginia who's also a teacher and answers all my stumpers. I figured wrong!

I see you have found a way to make the stumper harder for me to solve than for your students. That's alright, I believe I'll take the easy way out and tell you about some of the more interesting geologic/natural items near where I live.

Extinct Volcano - The East Coast is certainly not known for it's volcanic activity. We do have igneous rocks like basalt which have come to the surface due to erosion. I have a sample on my desk that is so close to spherical, and was found in quantity near a Civil War battlefield that I thought they might be cannonballs until I cut mine in half on a diamond saw. They measured about 2.25" in diameter.

River with Steelhead Trout - We are too far from the ocean to have steelhead trout, but I learned the steelhead is the same as a rainbow trout - once they've been in freshwater for a week or so, they get the rainbow stripe. We have lots of local streams and rivers with rainbow trout.

Nuclear Power Plant - Our power supplier, Virginia Power produces 34% of its electricity from two nuclear power plants. The closer one to me is the North Anna Plant in Mineral, Virginia, about 75 miles away. It's also the larger of the two, capable of producing 1,790 Mega-Watts.

Working Mine - Virginia has working mines of slate, coal, iron pyrite, etc., but the closest and most interesting mine I can find here is a soapstone mine near Schuyler, the boyhood home of Earl Hammner, Jr., creator of The Waltons series. Soapstone is used in the manufacture of woodstoves, and as pavers for porches and patios. It's called soapstone because it feels oily and soft like soap. When freshly mined, it can be machined using woodworking tools.

Hot Springs - I don't know of any hot springs around here. We have plenty of sulphur springs, but as far as I know they are all cold. We do have a very interesting spring here in Rockingham County called Tide Spring because its actions were thought to be related to the tides. The spring is usually dry, but about four times a day (more or less dependent on rainfall) it flows a stream large enough that you cannot cross it without getting your feet wet. It is now believed that a siphon action similar to a toilet is responsible for the phenomena.

Archaeological Site - A recently explored local site is the town of Stokesville, Virginia about thirty miles away. At the turn of the century, it was a bustling town of several thousand people. Its main (only) industry was timber/lumber, and when that ran out, the population dwindled. Later a fire, then a flood, all but erased what was left of the town. One of the professors here at James Madison University is attempting to document what was there through photographs, interviews and archaeological research.

Endangered Species - Several years ago I saw a bald eagle near here.

8,000+ Foot Mountain - The highest mountain in Virginia is Mt. Rogers, about 220 miles to the southwest. It is 5729 feet tall - small by west coast standards, but tall enough to have a stand of Balsam Fir, White Birch, and other trees that are usually only found several hundred miles north. When I hiked the section of the Appalachian Trail that passes about a half mile from the top, I took the side trail to the summit. Although it was June, it felt like a New England Autumn at the top.

Natural Lake - Virginia has thousands of lakes but only two are natural, the rest are for flood control, recreation, and/or hydroelectric power generation. The nearest natural lake is Mountain Lake which was formed by a landslide. It is about 160 miles to the southwest and has been a resort for the last 150 years. The movie "Dirty Dancing", with Patrick Swayze was filmed there.

Wilderness Area - See National Park, below. Both George Washington National Forest and Shenandoah National Park are largely wilderness areas.

Earthquake Fault - Nothing like the San Andreas fault around here, but the land IS fractured with many faultlines, including one through my city. Earthquakes around here rarely register above a "2" on the Richter Scale, so they go unnoticed except as a sidenote on the evening news.

Lost Treasure - The is a legend that one of the pirates buried a lot of treasure near Bedford, but noone has found it. Another buried treasure was supposedly left near Centreville by General Braddock's men on their way from Alexandria to Fort Duquesne in 1755, but I think it was a cover up for missing gold.

Surfing Contest - Is that 'net surfing, or channel surfing?

Swimming Hole - There are several around here, including some on Naked Creek which is in a fairly secluded section of Shenandoah National Park for the naturists among us.

National Park - Rockingham County is bounded to the east by Shenandoah National Park, and to the west by George Washington National Forest so take your pick. Approximately half of the land in Rockingham County is within one of these parks.

Salt Lake - The other natural lake in Virginia is in the Great Dismal Swamp. It's brackish water, but I wouldn't call it a Salt Lake.

In addition, nearby Natural Bridge and Luray Caverns have been called two of "the seven natural wonders of the world". There are lots of caverns here, due to the limestone formations beneath my feet.

So much to see, so little time!

Thanks, Graybear. I hope mine were as interesting for you as yours were for me!

I visited my father on the North Umpqua River in Oregon last weekend. We also managed to find most of the stumpers locally. We mostly thought about Steelhead!

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Copyright © 1998 by Marc Kummel / mkummel@rain.org