Unquestioned ignorance spreads mis-information

Everyone knows the internet is full of mis-information.  And that mis-information is often passed on via social media.  Having a gap in one’s knowledge, “simple ignorance”, becomes “damn ignorance” when that gap is filled with incorrect assumptions, or even made-up “facts”, and posted to the web as factual without any attempt to question or verify, spreading still more mis-information. 

A example was recently posted on Instagram, claiming Big Sur Trailmap (and so me) publishes incorrect wilderness boundary lines, calling this “criminal”.  The “proof” was this map (fyi rotated with North on left, without any map attribution)

Instagram image 1

showing a wilderness boundary along the west edge of Arroyo Seco river, whereas the edge of my “gold” (yellow) “wilderness” overlay instead follows a narrow wilderness corridor along ArroyoSeco-Indians Road – see below

Instagram image 2

Definitely disappointed that no attempt was made to ask me about Big Sur Trailmap’s boundary lines, to get any clarifying info.  Or look at reliable data elsewhere on the web, such such as CalTopo.  Instead, without any fact checking, a post and rant was made about how I am “criminal” – with bile, etc.  (Who believes these are ‘boundaries set by VWA’ )  Bizarre to read how heinous my promulgation of official US wilderness data is – when the real problem is the poster’s own lack of knowledge and and failure to examine a map, not any error on my map.


The Big Sur Trailmap gold (yellow) “wilderness” overlay is based on wilderness boundary points taken from current government databases.  (See “DETAILS” below for details.)

FACT #1:  out-of-date map

The map used in the post is out-of-date.  In the original ‘Endangered American Wilderness Act’ of 1978 the boundary did follow Arroyo Seco for awhile, but the ‘Big Sur Wilderness and Conservation Act’ of 2002 changed that into a narrow corridor on each side of ArroyoSeco-Indians Road.  (Giving wilderness protection to Arroyo Seco, a good thing IMHO.)

FACT #2:  believing an “INDEFINITE” line

The wilderness boundary line on that old map was not even an official line back when the map was made.  If you follow it around, you find “INDEFINITE” in many places.  Two are shown below, with the same region as used in the post:

The “INDEFINITE” marking was put there for a reason !

FACT #3:  USGS map validates Big Sur Trailmap

Instagram image 2 above, showing a Big Sur Trailmap with ‘USGS Topo + Wilderness’ background, has its own intrinsic validation if you read the map precisely.  Note how the edge of my gold overlay matches the green line.  That green line does not come from me, it comes from the underlying USGS topo map, marking the wilderness boundary as set by the USGS.  (If you use the ‘USGS Topo’ background the yellow overlay disappears, but the green line remains.)  So the USGS wilderness boundary data validates my overlay edge. 

(FYI that USGS background map is the current “National Map”, not the now out-of-date USGS quadrangle maps.  Also, USGS green lines are generic boundary lines, so elsewhere on map can indicate property lines, national forest boundaries, etc.)

FACT #4:  other Internet data

Other websites also provide wilderness boundary data.  You can check out CalTopo’s default ‘Map Builder’ background which uses green wilderness boundaries.  You’ll find agreement with my wilderness lines as a narrow non-wilderness corridor.

Of course incorrect wilderness maps can also be found on the internet.  For example, CalTopo has a “Forest Service – 2013” map which does not have a narrow ArroyoSeco-Indians Road corridor (also with “INDEFINITE” along its wilderness boundary lines).  A good example of incorrect info appearing on the web, since supposedly dated ‘2013’ but with a line invalidated by the 2002 act.


Wilderness boundary lines are certainly incorrect on some maps.  But the poster himself was the one using an out-of-date map.  And using lines marked on the map as being unofficial (and ultimately incorrect).  And not bothering to do any further investigation before spreading mis-information on the web.

Big Sur Trailmap focuses on current info about trails.  Inserting new boundary line data is time-consuming and a PITA, with lots of pieces to keep track of – so done only if I know of a change or error.  As of this post, I know of no errors.

If I do learn of a change or error, I will make corrections.  But just hearing about a supposed error is not enough – the trustworthiness of the source and other available info must be considered.  Lots of snap judgements and mis-information flying around out there !

DETAILS – Big Sur Trailmap wilderness boundaries

Wilderness boundaries are set by acts of Congress, which publish the lawful boundaries.  The first wilderness boundaries were created by the Endangered American Wilderness Act of 1978.

They are amended from time to time – for example, the Big Sur Wilderness and Conservation Act of 2002 made several additions to the original Ventana wilderness.  (The VWA was instrumental in this process, you can praise/blame them as you wish.)

Also, wilderness boundaries can change without a formal act of congress.  Notably, inholdings are excluded from wilderness areas – so if an inholding legal boundaries change or is transferred to the government, that automatically changes the wilderness boundary.

The congressional bills contain legal descriptions.  Turning those into lat/lon points to be used on maps, etc. depends upon government agencies.  Wilderness boundaries can be found in both USGS (U.S.  Geological Survey) and USFS (U.S.  Forest Service) databases – but translating legal descriptions is tricky and the the lines from the different agencies do have some differences, mostly minor. 

Big Sur Trailmap uses digital lat/lon boundary data obtained from USGS/USFS servers, which are then converted to lines or shapes displayed on a background map.  I know of two small errors in the USFS wilderness boundary data, both of which are correct in the USGS data – so in the main my wilderness boundary lines use the USGS data.  However, I also know of one error in the USGS data (an inholding boundary has been formally changed by the USFS and not yet known to USSG), so my wilderness overlay follows the USFS data there.

NatGeo creates a Big Sur map
(but gets it wrong)


In 2005 Wilderness Press (“WP”) produced the first sheet map available for the backcountry Big Sur trails – before that, hikers had to depend upon upon quadrangle maps with their many drawbacks.  I first used that WP map when exploring the Ventana Wilderness and always liked its very clean and readable format, with trail lines clearly displayed atop contour lines.

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Black Butte semi-bushwhack: views from the fifth-highest Ventana peak

Round trip: 3.2 miles & 900 ft elevation gain & 5 hours

Hike date: December 26, 2017
Interactive map:  Can zoom & drag
  To Peak       From Peak       GPS Route  
(Click here for full-size interactive map)


Many don’t realize that Black Butte is the fifth highest peak in the Ventana (and in Monterey County), only 35 ft lower than South Ventana Cone.  In fact, some have not even heard of Black Butte! Yet the views from there are magnificent – the summit is narrow, so gives a 360° panorama from a 4936 ft elevation.



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Elfin Redwood Forest: Andrew Molera State Park

Elfin Redwoods – Andrew Molera SP
(Click for interactive map)

I was ignorant – I called them Cypress trees.  Actually, I knew they didn’t quite look like Cypress – but their wind-blown shaping was akin to what I’ve seen in Cypress and I didn’t know what else they might be.  Surely not Redwoods, those magnificently tall trees we here on the Central Coast know so well – these trees were only 15-20 ft high.

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The 2017 Molera State Park: after the flood

Hike date: December 6, 2017

2016 & 2017 Molera SP Trailmaps
(click for larger image)

I went out to see what the current Molera State Park looks like.  Only the Post Summit ridgeline was burnt by the 2016 Soberanes fire – but the following winter’s heavy rainfall events caused the Big Sur River to overflow and flood lower sections of the park, notably its parking lot and campground.  The park was closed for a long time, then re-opened this summer but with many trails closed.  Currently only the Bluffs, Bobcat, Creamery Meadows, Panorama, Ridge, and Spring Trails are open.

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Rattlesnake Camp bushwhack

Round trip: 12 miles & 4000 ft gain & 12 hours
Hike date: November 25, 2017

Route:   Out (red)  Return (yellow)  Trail (green)
(ignore “Rattlesnake Campground” label on map)
(click for larger, interactive map) (kmz file)

Waking at 3:15AM is not my ideal way of starting a day – but today lack of daylight was not going to keep me from reaching Rattlesnake Camp.  Last time I’d had to abort my attempt due to running out of daylight and energy.  This time I would start earlier and would avoid the difficulty of trying to follow Rattlesnake Creek Trail – instead, it would be a bushwhack.

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Bushwhacking the “lost” Rattlesnake Creek Trail

Round trip: 11.2 miles & 3760 ft gain & 11 hours
Hike date: November 12, 2017

Route:   Outbound (red)  Return (blue)   Trail (green)
Note: Rattlesnake Camp NOT where map depicts
(click for larger, interactive map)

Sadly, the lower half of Rattlesnake Creek Trail, below Rattlesnake Camp, is now impassable.  This venerable trail was one of the oldest in the Ventana wilderness, having appeared on a 1921 quadrangle when few Ventana trails existed.

[Sorry folks, long post and not many photos – was spending all my time deciding where to go.]

1924 National Forest map
(click for full-size image)

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Restoring the “historic” Carrizo Trail

Carrizo Trail: historic (magenta) & shortcut (red) routes
(click for interactive map)

My “Finding the Carrizo Trail” post glossed over the fact that the western end of the Carrizo Trail of that time (2009) differed significantly from the current (2017) route.  In my “Maps can lie” post, describing my mapping of that end, I had followed the route described in VWA Trail Reports: leave the North Coast Ridge Trail at a flag marking a ridge.  At the time I’d noted the initial section was rough and sketchy, tread only becoming evident after leaving the ridge.  I was later enlightened by Paul Danielson as we were hiking along the North Coast Ridge Trail – shortly after the Gamboa Trail junction, 0.6 miles before the ridge, he pointed out a spot where the “historic” Carrizo Trail junction had been.  That route had become overgrown and abandoned, so hikers were instead taking a shortcut along an old dozer cut along the ridge.

In July of 2010, trailworker par excellence Robert Parks took it upon himself to restore that overgrown “historic” section.  Over six worktrips, he and some helpers (including Paul Danielson) hacked and sawed their way through that brush.  Much of the tread was still intact, so following the route itself was not too difficult.  In October the final section was completed and a celebration held.

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