Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of California’s “Hidden Valley of Enchantment.”
Part of the magic of the Cuyama Valley and the tiny cluster of towns that dot this inland valley an hour east of Santa Maria is the unpopulated, quiet magnitude of the natural landscape. A visit to this area, especially during a spring wildflower season that’s expected to be a super bloom this year, offers an opportunity to tap into some of Cuyama’s elusive enchantment.
Locals — and, likely, publicists — may have given this valley its catchy name. But they’re not wrong about its appeal. Despite its sleepy remoteness and vast, empty stretches, this hidden valley is a beguiling spot. No crowds, no rush hour bustle — just serenity and delightful surprises.
Start your sojourn at the Cuyama Buckhorn, a historic property built in 1952 that has been brought back to life by Ferial Sadeghian and Jeff Vance, partners in the Los Angeles design and architecture firm, iD Group. They bought the property in 2018 and over the next two years, began renovating and reinvigorating the resort, which opened to guests in 2020.
This could so easily have been one of those situations where outsiders come in and “discover” a place, leaving out the local community in the process of gentrification. But the storyline here is not that. Vance had been coming here for 20 years, stopping in at the Buckhorn on the regular. He saw that it was falling into disrepair, and when it eventually came up for sale, he couldn’t shake the desire to preserve it. So he and Sadeghian, who has a keen eye for design and for all things culinary, set out to create a community hub, one that showcases local products, craft cooking and a vintage-meets-modern aesthetic. One that locals embrace.
After checking in, stop for a superb cocktail at The Buckhorn Bar, where you’ll likely meet a few local ranchers hanging out. Then head over to The Buckhorn Restaurant for the signature, regionally-appropriate Buckhorn Smokehouse Platter with red oak-smoked Santa Maria tri-tip or dry-rubbed pulled pork — or combination of the two — along with a pool of baked Rancho Gordo pinquito beans and all the fixings.
Don’t miss a slice of blueberry lavender pie for dessert. Before crashing in your “mid-century farmhouse” style room, a design term coined by the team, meander over to a fire pit with your complimentary s’mores kit to have a sweet bite under the wide open, starry night sky.
In the morning, start your day on a stool in the Buckhorn with a cup of Los Angels-based Canyon Coffee and a hot plate of chilaquiles, before heading off to your next adventure…
The wildflowers are spectacular here in the spring — especially this year, with its abundant rain. The entrance to Carrizo Plain National Monument is just a 15-minute drive from the inn, but it’s just the beginning. At 50 miles long and 15 wide, the grasslands of the Carrizo Plain beg to be explored. It’s an hour-long drive, with some bits of unpaved road, to get to some of the best hikes and views of the vibrantly colored, rolling hills.
The Selby Campground Loop hike (4.4 miles, make sure you carry water) takes you to the highest, most magnificent vantage point. Nearby, you can do a self-guided tour and hike of Painted Rock, a culturally significant historical site for Native American art.
This 250,000-acre national monument is home to 15 endangered native Californian animal and plant species, and the Nature Conservancy calls its diversity of wildlife “comparable to Africa’s Serengeti.” It’s home, too, to Soda Lake, the largest remaining natural alkali wetland in this part of the state.
The wildflowers are spectacular, but please respect this special land and stay on marked trails. It is tempting to frolic out into the flowering meadows, but you’ll disrupt the natural cycle of these native beauties and hinder our chances for future super blooms.
There’s plenty to do here besides wildflower appreciation. Agriculture and sustainability are key in Cuyama Valley, where you can visit farms and stock up on local specialties, like the fat green nuts at Santa Barbara Pistachio Company.
Be sure to indulge in some olive oil and wine tasting at Condor’s Hope, the organic, dry-farmed vineyard founded nearly 30 years ago by Steve Gliessman and Robbie Jaffe. The name is a nod to the endangered California condors, who were reintroduced to the nearby Los Padres National Forest in 1992, after a nearly decade-long effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Los Angeles Zoo and San Diego Wild Animal Park to stabilize the population through captive breeding. The hope was to return a species, whose population had dropped to just 22 individuals, back to the wild.
By the time, Gliessman and Jaffe planted their vineyard in 1995, condors were soaring overhead Today, hundreds of California condors fly free. “If there is hope for the condor, maybe there’s hope for us,” Gliessman muses.
It’s not just the sustainability of wildlife that’s important here; it’s the sustainability of land and community. “We have this land that we all cherish, that we share as a common base,” Gliessman says.
Just a couple of blocks behind the Buckhorn, you’ll find the Blue Sky Center, a nonprofit that echoes that ethos, working to support and build rural creative and economic opportunities to strengthen the surrounding community. There are workshops and artists in residence, small businesses, including the High Desert Print Co., and the recently reopened Cuyama Airstrip. Book one of the five yurt-like huts for an eclectic overnight. Or schedule a visit to the Center’s Cuyama Beverage Co., a sparkling mead operation that turns local jujube fruit into a lovely pink bubbly that is like nothing you’ve ever had before.
Then grab a bottle to enjoy back at The Buckhorn, as you toast this diamond-in-the-rough destination.
If You Go:
Cuyama Buckhorn: This historic high desert inn offers lodging (rooms start at $179), a restaurant and bar, and a Buck Stop coffee shop and market. Add-ons for guests include box lunches, picnic baskets, spa services and dog-friendly rooms. 4923 Primero St., New Cuyama; cuyamabuckhorn.com
Carrizo Plain National Monument: There are no services at this park, so make sure you fuel up and pick up water and food in one of the small towns outside the park, and print out or download any maps you may need. The entrance to the park is on Soda Lake Road off Highway 166, California Valley; blm.gov.
Santa Barbara Pistachio Co.: Open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily at 3380 Highway 33 in Ventucopa; santabarbarapistachios.com.
Condor’s Hope: Once the rainy season is over, the winery will be offering two-hour visits by appointment that include a tour of the vineyard followed by tastings of wine and olive oil paired with small bites. $35 per person.12340 Foothill Road, New Cuyama; www.condorshope.com
Blue Sky Center: Find details on the Blue Sky Huts ($98 and up) on Airbnb, and Cuyama Beverage at www.cuyamabeverage.com. 1000 Perkins Road, New Cuyama; blueskycenter.org
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