A Visit to the Porter Ranch

(8 minutes/Scenic Travel)

My friend and co-author Wanda Snow Porter invited me to tour her family ranch last week and my love for the valleys and mountain ranges of this Central Coast California region was revitalized (as if that needed doing). The Porter ranch is a working cattle ranch as well as a historic property, a land grant originally bestowed upon Isaac James Sparks, one time otter hunter for William Goodwin Dana.

Dana took care of his American friends and employees and helped Isaac obtain his grant from then-governor Micheltorena. Otter hunting also helped Sparks acquire wealth with which he built the first brick mansion in Santa Barbara, where he mostly stayed, leaving the Huasna Valley grant to be enjoyed by his heirs. Sparks married María de los Remedios Josefa Antonio “Mary” Ayers [Eayres], the daughter of an unlucky sea captain and the direct descendent of Midshipman George Stewart of the well known but ill-fated HMS Bounty. Herein lies a dramatic and romantic story not to be missed in Wanda’s book “Voyages of No Return” (find it on Amazon).

But I write not about history but about today and the nature in abundance on the large ranches of Central California. The Huasna Valley stretches long the Huasna River through two Porter ranches to the tiny community of Huasna. The bucolic nature of the area is in part maintained by the Twitchell Reservoir which in a rainy season can flood as far as the Porter barn, slightly askew now from water undermining its foundation. Nothing permanent can be built in the water flood plain. But the old barn still stands, and cattle and turkeys find shade here.

There was a proposal to drill for oil on the ranch. Oil leases would have provided additional resources for the Porter family but there were concerns raised by local residents. The fast-food chain In-N-Out Burger owns a 4,834-acre ranch three miles to the north of the proposed project and brought their considerable power to bear against the oil project and it didn’t happen.

The beauty of the ranch and its environs have thus been preserved in a time capsule of the Sparks land grant of 1843 with the beef raising Sparks/Porter family currently maintaining an unbroken chain of ranching presence here since that time.

Our first sighting in this magnificent river valley was a bald eagle which Wanda with her sharp eyes and long lens was able to capture. The fifteen-mile drive brought us to the ranch house, built by New Yorker Arza Porter with an un-California style peaked roof reminiscent of his former home. The interior of the home has a museum feel to it with its plank floors and many antique and original furnishings. The sunny open kitchen reminded me of my own grandparent’s home in Kansas with its wide functional table and outside access.

We took a “backcountry” drive in the Jeep where Wanda used to ride her horse. The loop followed the eastward bend of the river before turning back south and through wooded area and grassy meadows and over steep ridges. A seasonal hunting camp is tucked away in this back acreage. There are plenty of deer, quail, and turkey.

It was a pleasure and a privilege to drive back in history and enjoy the beauty of land virtually unchanged for centuries.

Watch for TOLLIVER TALES to return from its summer siesta in September!

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