Bryan Conant knows that the backcountry in Los Padres National Forest doesn’t have the majestic appeal of the Sierra Nevada.

Still, he thinks that there’s an inherent beauty in the rugged terrain blanketed with dense chaparral where you can hike for days and never see another soul.

“It took a few years to fall in love with it,” said the Ventura cartographer, “and then you see the beauty in it.”

He should know.

Conant spent a large part of the past five years hiking the rugged terrain of the Dick Smith and Matilija wildernesses, making an extremely detailed map of the region in hopes of getting others to explore the forest in northern Ventura County.

Conant, 33, sold about 4,500 copies of a similar map of the San Rafael Wilderness in Santa Barbara and was looking for a new project.

The maps covering northern Ventura and eastern Santa Barbara counties hadn’t been updated for years, he said. Many of the trails that were outlined either no longer exist or were so poorly marked they were uninviting to hikers. So he started making his own.

Although he used a trundle wheel — a crude measuring device with a wheel attached to a handle — to create the San Rafael map, he upgraded for the Los Padres project by buying a GPS receiver. Then he hit the trails.

Most weekends, holidays and vacation days were spent hiking the roughly 500 miles of trails in the backcountry. He saw rattlesnakes and bears and got lost more than once. He crawled through tunnels of overgrown chaparral trying to find old trails. One hiking trip lasted 17 days, during 10 of which he never saw anyone else.

“In the Sierras, you are going to see people, but out here, you are getting back to the basics,” he said. “You are not going to see a lot of people.”

Heidi Anderson, Ojai Ranger District trails manager, said the map was a needed addition because some are out of date and the Matilija wilderness never had an adequate map.

“The maps are fantastic,” she said. “It meets the needs of all levels of hikers.”

After the Zaca fire in 2007 burned much of the area Conant was mapping, he wondered if his project was up in smoke, too. With so much charred, he wondered if people would want to hike there. Then he hiked back into the rocky crags and rolling hills and saw the beauty that the fire had created, opening up the land and making the streams and wildlife more visible. So he plodded on and finished.

The result is a map that has the exact mileage of each trail, topographical representation of the mountains, campsites that haven’t been on a map in decades and historical trails that he hopes will be refurbished.

He labels each trail as easy, difficult or near impossible. He admits that last classification may be a dare.

— Maps can be ordered at or found at Real Cheap Sports in Ventura.  (Call the store at 805-648-3803 to order one.)

Ventura County Star

By Zeke Barlow (Contact

Thursday, October 30, 2008



• Printed on tear resistant waterproof paper

• Full color user friendly graphics

• Shaded relief with topographic contour lines

• Created with GPS and GIS technology

• Accurate trail mileages and camp locations

• Designates trail conditions and quality

• Zaca Fire permeter shown on map

• Map dimensions: 28” x 31.5” unfolded – 4” x 6.3” folde


Hiking clothing and equipment at