Salinas Valley near Pozo


Santa Margarita Lake - Rincoņada - Las Pilitas Road - Pozo Saloon

-- click on thumbnails for larger image --

Peaceful Lake Margarita Watch out for fires ...

This ride explores the hills and valleys east of the small town of Santa Margarita which lies about 20 km north of San Luis Obispo just off Highway 101 known more romantically El Camino Real.

I chose to start at the Country Park at Santa Margarita Lake.

This lake was formed during World War II by damming the upper reaches of the Salinas River. The resource was needed to serve the expanding Camp Roberts some 50 km to the north. Nowadays the water is delivered to San Luis Obispo.

Watch out for rattlesnakes ... Watch out for poison oak ... Watch out for mountain lions ...
Watch out for condors ...

The Country Park has a small marina, restrooms and a café ... which unfortunately was closed.

The Rincoņada General Store

The peaceful lake is mainly used by fishermen and sailors ... and the surroundings by hikers.

But on a quiet Tuesday morning I seemed to be the only person around.

The store seems to have seen better times Joining Pozo Road

I was somewhat alarmed to read the long list of warning notices at the Park entrance.

As a minimum I was to expect poison oak, rattlesnakes and mountain lions ... although somewhat reassuringly no one had seen a lion for six months.

I also had to look out for condors ... but I wasn't sure whether they were a danger to me ... or I to them.

Rincoņada Ranch Views south west from Pozo Road to the Santa Lucia Range Pozo Road was being rebuilt
The valley in which Rincoņada Creek runs Pozo Road sweeping down the valley

From the Country Park cul de sac I headed back to towards Pozo Road ... at the junction stands the Rincoņada Store which seems to specialise in fishing bait and drink.

Unfortunately it shuts on Tuesdays.

Turnoff for Las Pilitas Road ahead

The store is one of the few remains of Rincoņada Ghost Town ... I was to see some others later in the ride.


At Pozo Road I turned right to follow Rincoņada Creek downhill towards Santa Margarita township.

The creek flows through a wide flat bottomed valley with the Santa Lucia Range bounding its western edge.

Makes you feel welcome Makes you feel un-welcome

Pozo Road was undergoing a major reconstruction ... and progress was hampered every few hundred metres by stop/go boards.

This section of road has been declared a 'bike route' ... and to clarify matters the signs indicated that there would be 'bikes on the road'.

No bicyclists ... not very friendly

After many stop/starts I reached Five Mile Bridge where I turned right up Las Pilitas Road.

As is common in country districts there were plenty of signs warning against trespassing and hunting ... but what was unusual was one sign citing 'bicyclists and joggers'. I guess that's two things the Lone Ranger didn't have to put up with.

'Hey Tonto - we're surrounded by joggers and mountain bikers - we'll have to surrender'

Las Pilitas Road climbs and narrows A cow Trees encroach on the road
The surroundings become dryer ... ... the hills get steeper ... ... although fortunately this one is downhill
Fire blackened undergrowth Fire blackened tree

Las Pilitas Road is only one lane wide and climbs over a rocky spur.

Safe bike path away from the main traffic

The land turns distinctly drier and there are signs of recent bush fires.

After reaching a crest the road then descends quickly to reach the Salinas River ... containing the outflow from Santa Margarita Lake.

Still plenty of water in the Salinas River Nearly 90 years old Crossing the Salinas River headwaters
Small farmstead with water tank Shady creek crossing

Crossing the river is an elegant metal lattice bridge constructed in 1917.

The bridge is now reserved for cyclists and walkers ... vehicles use a new concrete bridge some 50 metres upstream.

Vinyards Self sufficiency?
New shape for handlebars? Fancy a view of the lake?
Rocks on one side of the road ... .. a meadow on the other

The trail now follows Pilitas Creek uphill.

The road rises in a series of steps ... a number of steep narrow sections linked by a set of wide meadows.

Road sliding down the hill Parson's Rest and Recovery Ranch

Care needs to be taken even going uphill ... parts of the road were pealing off down the slope.

The trail reaches a touch over 2,000' and then begins a long slow descent back to the start.

Las Pilitas Road joins Park Hill Road soon after the summit and the route turns southeastwards.

Las Pilitas Road meets Park Hill Road This mailbox has seen better days
Rather wonky sign indicating a junction on Las Pilitas Road A cool pool by the roadside
FAA Radar FAA Radar

The turn opens up views eastward to La Panza Range and southward towards Garcia Mountain both of which are part of the Los Padres National Monument.

Ahead high on Black Mountain to the east can be seen the radome of a Federal Aviation Authority radar.

As the road twists and turns the radar appears in various different directions ... unless there was more than one of them.

An old shack ... ... plus an old privy A crown of thorns?
Park Hill Road / River Road Junction More self sufficiency?

The trail passes Turkey Flat ... but I didn't see any turkeys ... nor was it very flat.

Many of the farmsteads had windmills ... but most were disconnected from the pumps and generators that they had originally driven ... and were left turning idly in the breeze.

K-6 Angus Ranch
Gentle twists and turns Bone dry creek bed

Gold was discovered in La Panza Range in 1878 in Placer Creek on the far side of the range.

A now abandoned settlement called La Panza was established there as a gold town.

Loops of an absent stream Watch out for school buses Do we have to go over that ridge?
Sign at Navajo Grade

The route passes the turn up along Navajo Grade which leads all the way up Black Mountain to the FAA radar.

Black Mountain is over 3,000' high ... so I decided to leave the climb for another day.

Another dried up water hole Languid bends Yet another thing to worry about
Bends into the distance

Park Hill Road continues to descend into the broad Pozo Valley.


The upper part of the valley is rather arid and the road crosses numerous dried up creek beds.

Nevertheless there were many signs warning of flooding ... so flash floods must be a problem in these parts.

Park Hill Road / Pozo Road Junction

I next reached the junction with Pozo Road.

Not too fast on this bend ...

Soon afterwards you arrive at the spreadout community of Pozo.

Pozo was established in the 1870's Gold Rush and by 1882 its population had swelled to 850 and the town boasted two hotels and three saloons.

Shaded avenue leading off to a well-to-do farmstead

The gold rush was soon over and the Depression and Prohibition caused the saloons to close ... the town was 'picked apart and carried off'. Nowadays the population is around 30.

... more vinyards ...

In 1967 the saloon was reopened by the former SLO county sheriff.

The saloon's main trade is done on a Saturday night when it draws its clientele from a wide area. Needless to say it was shut when I was there.

The saloon and memorial plaque Memorial plaque describing the history of the saloon Bench outside the Pozo Saloon
.. another thing to worry about ... oh I forgot ... I'm already worrying about fires Nice clean fire engine

Behind the saloon is a makeshift open air stage where concerts are regularly held. My guidebook indicated that these can get quite rowdy ... but I guess there are only 29 neighbours to annoy.

Just down the road from the saloon is the Fire Station.

Signs outside indicated that the fire risk was high.

Snakes or bends? We're on the right road Final few bends
Ranch sign

After leaving Pozo you re-cross the infant Salinas River which at this point is little more than a trickle.

After that you climb over a bluff and out off the Pozo Valley.

... something new to worry about ... Ranch Logo

On the other side you pass the turnoff to the remains of the Rincoņada Mine.

This was a mercury mine. Mercury was used in the extraction of gold ... so it is fortunate that the two were found in close proximity.

The good news is that it's downhill ... the bad news - look over your shoulder

Beyond the mine a final freewheel took me back to the turn off to the lake alongside the Rincoņada Store (which was still shut).

Rincoņada Trailhead

Behind the store were a few other remains of the original town. One, the old Rincoņada Country Church, is still in regular use.

Blue water ... blue sky ... The old Rincoņada Country Church

All that was left to do was to cycle the last kilometre back to the lake ... to find the café still closed.

Oh well ... at least I still had the lake to myself.


Kirby James