The Wilderness Act celebrated its 50th anniversary on September 3, 2014, and my first thoughts are with the first Wilderness set aside by this amazing piece of legislation: the San Rafael Wilderness.

Interpretive sign near Manzana Creek describes the 25th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act of 1964. Time to celebrate the 50th anniversary with a new sign!
Interpretive sign near Manzana Creek describes the 25th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act of 1964. Time to celebrate the 50th anniversary with a new sign!

The San Rafael Wilderness also happens to be the one closest to my home. It’s about 16 miles as the condor flies from downtown Santa Barbara to the southern boundary of the San Rafael and about 25 miles to NIRA Campground, a popular trailhead for hikes into the wilderness.

The Wilderness Act first protected some 9 million acres of America’s wild lands as official Wilderness. Many more wondrous wild lands have been added to the national wilderness system, and today about 110 million acres of mountains, desert, forest and seashore are part of the nation’s natural heritage.

The 197,380-acre wilderness includes two parallel mountain ranges, the San Rafael Mountains and Sierra Madre Mountains and two major waterways, the Sisquoc River and Manzana Creek, which eventually merge and flow into the ocean near Santa Maria.

Hit the trail into the San Rafael Wilderness (one of America's first designated wilderness areas), located in Los Padres National Forest about 25 miles as the condor flies from Santa Barbara, California.
Hit the trail into the San Rafael Wilderness (one of America’s first designated wilderness areas), located in Los Padres National Forest about 25 miles as the condor flies from Santa Barbara, California.

The hiking along Manazana Creek is pretty mellow—a good day hike or fine family weekend backpack adventure. For something more challenging, hike along Hurricane Deck, a rugged 15-mile long sandstone ridge that divides the drainages of Manzana Creek and the Siquoc River.

“San Rafael is rocky, rugged, wooded and lonely,” President Lyndon B. Johnson remarked when he signed the San Rafael Wilderness bill on March 21, 1968. “I believe it will enrich the spirit of America.”

Certainly Santa Barbarans—at least those who’ve explored the Los Padres National Forest backcountry—have been enriched by our nearby wilderness.

Fortunate is he or she who has camped along the Manzana River, hiked the awesome and austere Hurricane Deck and sighted a condor soaring high over the oak-dotted potreros and chaparral.

It is altogether fitting that we give thanks for wilderness, refuges for Nature primeval and places that uplift the human spirit.