Saturday, May 10, 2014

Dollar Canyon, Of Fossils And Flowers

This one was a tough nut to crack. Took me two real tries to find these fossils. Here's how it started.

A gent dropped an off-hand remark which piqued my interest. He said there was a big fossil at the top of Dollar Canyon. "What kind of fossil?", I asked, "Because there are fossil seashells all over the place." (as you'll see later). "And where the hell is Dollar Canyon? It's not on any map of the Los Padres I've ever seen." He said it was fossil remains of a large mammal. "Oh?", my eyes narrowed, "Do tell..."

This is going be fun for any of you with an adventurous spirit and a desire to go see something new. I'm going to share with you the same treasure hunt type info I was given, but with two additional and critical pieces of beta that I had to figure out on my own. First I'll explain why Dollar Canyon isn't on the map. The Reyes family purchased Santa Barbara Canyon Ranch in 1946, known prior to their ownership as Reeves Ranch. The name "Dollar" refers to a bet between two cow hands about wether or not there was water up this particular canyon. The wager was a dollar. There is water, but it's so scarce at this point as to be not worth the mention.

So if you've got a yen to find this fossil, here's your beta:
1.) Dollar Canyon is the first canyon/drainage past the first cattle guard on Santa Barbara Canyon Rd past turning onto that road at Reyes Ranch. It is narrow, hot, twisty, and not very friendly.
2.) The fossil is at the very top of the canyon.
3.) High in the canyon are several smaller tributary gullies. It may be important to bring a close up of a map detail in order to determine which of these is the correct one to follow.
4.) The fossil is to be found on the face of a dirty grey band of diatomaceous stone.
5.) The aspect of this rock band with the fossil faces due south.

And there you go. Armed with that info, some purpose and a good map, interested parties should be able to locate the fossil. It should go without saying that I'd be pretty disappointed to find that somebody went up there with a hammer and a rock chisel and tried to pry out some fossil bone. Please just enjoy it for what it is and take only photos. It's been there for millions of years, let it be. On the other hand, there are fossils of large seashells all over the place in a couple of the gullies which stream off the northern ridge of Dollar Canyon. After finding the primary fossil you should have a much better eye for the type of rock these fossils can be found in. Have at it.

I have a call out to a gent who has seen these fossils and may be able to shed some light on the identification of the critter.

This photo is one of your clues.
As I mentioned at the beginning, this one took me two tries to find. Having been up, down, and back up Dollar Canyon I decided to go back to the truck by way of the northern ridge of Dollar. Decades ago there was an old horse trail which climbed this ridge all the way up to Fox Mountain. Most of that trail has vanished over time, though remnants remain, but for the most part going up or down this ridge qualifies as cross country hiking. This ridge is essentially part of the rim of the Cuyama Badlands and the views from up there are spectacularly reminiscent of Kaibab National Forest in Arizona (west of Flagstaff). Splashed with red and white soils, dotted with juniper and pinyon pines, and cut through by hundreds of random arroyos, washes, and gullies, this is the kind of country that hides it's mysteries well. While descending the ridge I was treated to a full on flower show, with whole fields of the rounded ridge top in bloom with yellows, whites, purple, and blue hues. The air was crystal clear and silent but for a gentle, cooling breeze. The high desert can be cruel and coarse, but sometimes she's a giver.

Santa Barbara Canyon Ranch.
As I mentioned earlier, low on the ridge and nearing the bottom of Santa Barbara Canyon I dropped off the ridge and began descending back into Dollar Canyon. I passed through a strata of the same rock on which the fossil up high can be found. Here I found dozens of mollusk fossils sprinkled in large and small rocks. Additionally, I found a fossil with a tooth in it and one with a single exposed bone. If one had the urge to go fossil crazy for a day, this would be a place to do it. I really enjoyed myself.