Cuyama Oaks XP


March 17-18-19, 2023

AERC 55, 50, 25 as well as XP Club rides

The distances are subject to change due to weather and land owner restriction img_3544 img_3535 img_3562img_3559 



This is the 20th year of our popular ride in New Cuyama, located in the grasslands and oak covered foothills between Bakersfield and Santa Maria. When the wildflowers and spring grasses are blooming its one of the most beautiful places on earth. The Cuyama Ride has always been very popular and in the past we were required to limit entries. I wish that were still a problem and it probably is once again because of the low entry limit due to the Covid Pandemic. We still need to have a reasonably accurate idea of the number of participants.

Jon and Mari Jones, ranchers on Cottonwood Road, allowed us to camp on their property in the past, but we moved the camp next door to the Hassett Thomson Ranch due to the recent wet years.  We are hoping to be back to the Jones Ranch where we can camp under the oak trees once again. There are trails connecting his property to the trails south of the North Fork, so we’re able to use all the scenic loops near the mountains that we have in the past. Once again, Jon has checked with neighbors to the west for access to lands we haven’t been able to use in the past. Jon remains our contact for keeping everything  in place for the ride.  Historical information of the area is available on our expanded Cuyama information page under 2021 XP Rides and Dates.

Address for Health Certificates:  Jones Ranch, 2401 Cottonwood Canyon Road, New Cuyama, CA 93254

TRAIL: Most of the ride takes place on private lands that trace back to the old Spanish Land Grants. The trail is more difficult than most XP Rides and ranges from a crude single track to dirt roads. There will be wire gates to open and close as we pass through private cattle country. The trail has some rocky portions that some feel necessitate the use of hoof protection. The elevation ranges from 1600 to 5600 feet if we chose to ride to the top of the Sierra Madre Range. The area is home to mountain lion, bear, coyotes, and an occasional Frozen Duck. The trails wind through the same rolling pastures that have supported cattle since the days of the California Vaqueros.

AWARDS: Participation awards will be given to all participants. Horse and rider teams that complete all three days receive special vest or sweatshirt awards.

CUYAMA HISTORY: Local Information The Cuyama Valley is best known for its oil strike of the 40’s and 50’s.   Richfield Oil Company was instrumental in the establishment of the town site as it is today.  Yet Cuyama’s history dates much farther back and is significantly woven into the fabric of California history as a state and a territory. There are many pronunciations of the name “Cuyama”. Some of the more common mispronunciations are “Cay-u-ma”, “Kee-ah-ma, and “Koo-yah-mah”.  The Duck’s favorite is “Nuke-yor-mama”.  The proper pronunciation is “Kwee-ah-ma”, suspected to be Chumash for Valley of the Clams.  There are, in fact, considerable deposits of fossilized marine sediment containing clam shells in and around the valley.  The name can be documented on paper as far back as 1843 when the name Arroyo Llamado de Cuyam is mentioned and again in 1846 when the name Cuyama was given to two land grants.  Some suggest it has its origins in the word Kuyam, meaning to rest, repose, sit and wait. Extensive deposits of fossilized marine sediment are found in the Cuyama Valley.  These beds contain the fossilized remains of Ostrea titan, the huge oyster, Argo pecten, an early scallop, and Astrodapsis cuyamesis, an early sand dollar.  The Astrodopsis cuyamesis takes its species name from the Cuyama Valley as this is the only place to date that fossilized remains can be found.  

In addition to early architecture, Cuyama Valley has many points of pre-California and prehistoric interest as well.  The Chumash Indians were some of the earliest documented inhabitants of the valley.  Extensive anthropological study of the valley estimates their population to have been as high as 1000 and 30,000 in their entire range. The Chumash were centrally based hunters and gatherers that traveled seasonally to resources, such as pinion nuts and antelope, and did not take part in agriculture. The Chumash inhabited the area for 13,000 years. The evidence of their presence appears as cave and rock paintings scattered throughout the Cuyama Valley and Carrizo Plains as well as stone artifacts commonly found in this area. The natural erosion process and vandalism have taken their toll and many of these sites are now under the auspices of the Nature Conservancy and the BLM.  Guided tours are available locally for their viewing.  Many of the Chumash village site artifacts collected from the Cuyama Valley are on display at the Natural History Museum in Santa Barbara. As you ride to the top of the mountain on the last day, you will be able to see the mountain ranges north of Santa Barbara where the mission was located.  The Chumash Indians revolted many times under the repressive mission system and escaped from their Spanish captors and made it to this area. Their recapture in the San Joaquin Valley and arduous trip back thru Cuyama to the mission is a little known California version of the “trail of tears”.  The old trails to the east of Hog Pen Springs were the main route back to the mission.

In 1841, the Bartelson Party of wagon trains headed west from Missouri, using the route many of us traversed on the summer XP 2001.  Among them was eighteen year old Nancy Kelsey and her husband Benjamin.  They began their journey with sixty nine men, women and children. On November 4, 1841, six months after beginning their journey, Benjamin Kelsey and John Bidwell led the remaining twenty-four emigrants across the Sierra Nevada Range into California. During the Bear Flag Revolt of 1846, Nancy Kelsey was chosen to create the flag for the California Republic.  With designs of William Todd, a nephew of Abraham Lincoln, she fashioned the flag from a piece of unbleached muslin and a strip of red fabric from her petticoat.  Her design is still flown today as the state flag of California. Throughout the years, Nancy and her husband traveled extensively. When Benjamin died in Los Angeles in 1888, Nancy, remembering the Cuyama Valley as one of her favorite places, applied for and received a government homestead of 160 acres in what is now Kelsey Canyon.   She built a homestead cabin and began raising poultry.  At regular intervals, she traveled by buckboard to Santa Maria to market fryers and setting hens. When Nancy neared death she was cared for by the family living nearby in Cottonwood Canyon. After her death a “real” coffin was brought from Santa Maria by buckboard as per her request and she was buried by the homestead she died at. Bonnie Goller now lives on that homestead and has graciously allowed us to pass through her private property on the ride.  We will pass by the Nancy Kelsey grave site on the last day just before we enter Bates Canyon, on the climb to the top of the Sierra Madres.

The Mexican land grants in the valley are relatively recent and date to the period just before California was taken over by the United States.  After California was admitted to the Union, many smaller homesteads were granted in the area, including the one that you are camped on. The base camp is located in Schoolhouse Canyon, named for the first school in Cuyama Valley. That one room school was located in the north end of the camp pasture near the yellow gate.  Old stone ruins remain along the fence line west of the gate.   A second school was built in the 1930’s and was later used as the ranch house for the Spade ranch. Most of the later homesteads are in the brush covered foothills, while the old Mexican land grant was located in the lower country where the grazing would have been better. The town of New Cuyama is probably most famous, in current times for the Buckhorn Bar and restaurant.  Established in 1953 by Richfield Oil, to service the new town and to provide a meeting and recreation place for its employees, it has come to be known in modern times for its great food and friendly atmosphere.  The banquet room features “ Lamar’s Cabin”, named for Cuyama’s longest resident, Lamar Johnson.   A mini museum, Lamars Cabin should be seen by anyone interested in the colorful history of Cuyama.

In the two years following the initial oil strike, Cuyama’s oil fields boomed into fifth place among California’s oil areas in average daily production.  Today, Hallador production is still involved in gas and oil production on the same location and is a major employer in the valley. The original land grant is now known as the Russell Ranch and runs from the area north of New Cuyama down to Cottonwood Canyon.  Most of the open lands in the lower elevations are part of the ranch.  It has been divided into large pastures so that the cattle can be moved from one pasture to another to make the best use of the feed.  In most years, the cattle will be able to remain here in the valley on a permanent basis, but modern transportation now allows the flexibility to move them to summer pastures and some distant location during drought years, such as the present.  The wild pigs are a fairly recent addition and have moved into the Schoolhouse and Deadman Canyon areas in the last few years.  The pigs are not a native species but are descendants of domestic pigs, Spanish escapees and Russian pigs imported for hunting. The pigs can often be seen in the brushy areas along the river and have been seen recently near the windmill just north of the yellow gate. Much of the information in this paper was plagiarized from the menu at the Buckhorn Cafe in New Cuyama.  The Buckhorn Cafe, bar and hotel reopens and closes on a regular basis, so we no longer try to keep up with the changes.


The 2023 Cuyama XP will be our last AERC/XP ride in California


Cuyama XP at Laurel Mountain

March 17-18-19, 2023

Distances subject to last minute adjustments for weather.

We have always had a soft spot in our hearts for the trails around the El Paso Mountains. We used most of these trails in the days when the Death Valley Encounter started with two days here and then moved to Trona.  The trail will touch the spectacular geography of Red Rock Canyon and has been modified in that area to go over the Bonanza Trail, past several old miners cabins and an old time post office.

There is plenty of camping room in the gravel pit that is immune to weather problems.  There is a motel and restaurant 7 miles north in Inyokern as well as numerous facilities in Ridgecrest.

Registration will start at 3:00 on Thursday. The vet check will start at 6:00 if the vet shows up on time. There will be a ride meeting around 7:00 each evening. Contrary to what is on some internet information, the 25 will start after the start of the fifty on most, if not all days. The fifty mile rides usually start at 7:00 and the 25’s will probably start at 8:00. The lunch stops will be in camp on all days.  Much of the footing is all weather decomposed granite and desert two track with some rocky sections and sand washes thrown in. The trail is easy to moderately difficult but can be easily completed on new horses ridden with care by good horsemen.

A General Description of this ride is a no frills, low budget, relaxed training ride that will offer riders an opportunity to camp out with friends and ride around the eastern Sierras.

Ride Rules are generally the same as AERC rules as interpreted by the ride manager and her advisors. However, be aware this ride has completion requirements that differ from AERC in that the control judges can and will pull horses that do not recover to their satisfaction. The XP Club Rides will offer less strenuous distances and less formalities for those wanting to just have fun. We offer the Club Rides in lieu of the AERC intro rides.  We tailor the Club Rides to the needs and wants of those who are at the ride. 


Travelers from all directions should take US Hwy 395 to the junction of South China Lake Blvd and Brown Road. This is the location of the vet check on the Twenty Mule Team Ride. Instead of turning towards Ridgecrest, go west on Brown Road for 4 miles. Turn left on EP26 (Wiknich Rd), an old paved road, for 1 mile to the ride camp. 

From the San Fernando Valley area: Take Hwy 14 to CA 178. Turn right to the town of Inyokern. Turn right on Brown Road at the gas station/convenience store and follow Brown Road to EP26 (Wiknich Rd).

Basic Ride Info: We have combined the trails north of the Garlock Road between Hwy 395 and CA 14. This year we have expanded the ride to a three day Pioneer Ride and have added a WDRA ride each day for those wanting to ride more than an LD but less than an AERC 50.  The camp is easy accessible on a good road and features a good base even when wet. The camp has no amenities other than the water and portable toilets supplied by ride management.  The first day trail starts near Sheep Springs and heads out towards Laurel Mountain then down into the Garlock Valley before climbing back through Goler Gulch onto Mormon Flat and back to the camp. The second day returns to Mormon Flat, then turns west into the Last Chance area and the upper Red Canyon drainage then back to camp via the west side of Black Mountain. Most of the trail is excellent desert footing with spectacular desert scenery, hopefully with green grass and early flowers if El Nino delivers as promised. A motel and the best Mexican restaurant in Kern County is located in Inyokern just 6 miles to the north.  More choices for accommodations and culinary options are available 8-10 miles away in Ridgecrest.

Destination information for health certificates: Health certificates are required for horses coming into California from other states. They are not required for horses coming from within the state. The requirements for health papers vary depending on conditions both in California and other states. Your local veterinarian will be able to counsel you on current requirements. The destination address is EP26 and Brown Road, Inyokern, CA 93527.

Meals: Annie will not be doing dinners in ride camp as there are a multitude of restaurants in Ridgecrest, as well as a fine Mexican Restaurant in Inyokern. Annie’s free lunches are available at all XP Rides including Laurel Mtn.

You can pay at the ride after determining how many days you end up riding. Unfortunately we have reluctantly been forced to once again raise entry fees. The final straw for the California rides has been the increase in the drug fees from $8.00 to $14.00 for the California Department of Agriculture.  This mandatory fee/tax, along with the insane inflation of fuel, awards, groceries, etc leaves us with no choice.

Phone 907 209 8881 or e-mail


Ride Fees

AERC One Day     $150.00 check  or $155 PayPal

XP One Day           $130.00 check or $135 PayPal

AERC Two Day     $280 check or $285 PayPal

XP Two Day           $240 check or $245 PayPal

AERC Three Day    $420.00 or $ 435 PayPal

If you are not a paid up AERC member we will assume you are riding the XP Club ride and the results will not be turned into AERC.