The Ventana Wilderness Alliance's Ventana Wild Rivers Campaign — in partnership with Friends of the River & the Ventana Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Ventana Wild Rivers Campaign
Arroyo Seco River
Tassajara Creek & Church Creek

Arroyo Seco River

The Arroyo Seco River is the only major tributary of the Salinas River that remains undammed. The river flows east from the crest of the Santa Lucia Mountains, then north along a major fault line, and then east again into the Salinas Valley near the town of Greenfield in Monterey County. Approximately 19 miles of the river are located on public lands in the Los Padres National Forest.

The Forest Service completed a Wild & Scenic study of the Arroyo Seco River in 2005. The agency concluded that the river was eligible for federal protection and recommended that Congress designate more than 19 miles of the river from its source to the Los Padres National Forest boundary.

Outstanding Values:

Scenery & Recreation — The river flows through a series of deep rocky gorges that provide a rugged and scenic setting for a variety of outdoor recreation pursuits, including camping, hiking, backpacking, swimming, and whitewater kayaking. About 70% of the 50,000 people who visit the Arroyo Seco River every year are Monterey County residents.

Fish — The Arroyo Seco River supports the most persistent remnants of the threatened Central Coast steelhead that spawn in the Salinas River watershed. It is also an important middle link for salmon migrating from the Salinas River to Tassajara Creek and other tributaries.

Wildlife — The river's riparian habitat provides foraging and nesting sites for the California spotted owl, and its pools are home to the Southwestern pond turtle (both are listed sensitive species).

Geology — The river cuts through a complex geological cross section of the Coast Range ideal for research into important tectonic and seismic processes.


Most of the Arroyo Seco River flows through public lands and the Ventana Wilderness. There are two small private inholdings that will be unaffected by designation. The river's proposed Recreational segments accommodate the Monterey County Sportsman's Club on the upper river, as well as lower river campgrounds, picnic areas, and trailhead facilities. The Scenic segments are adjacent to the closed but still existing Indians Road and would not affect its potential re-opening. This proposal differs from the Forest Service's in that includes more of the river near its source and it applies Wild classification to the Segment of the river downstream of Escondido Campground clearly within the existing Ventana Wilderness, and it applies Scenic classification to a short section of the river between the Tassajara Creek confluence and Rocky Creek confluence, where the existing Indians Road is significantly vertically separated from the river. Virtually all of the water in the Arroyo Seco River is used for agricultural and municipal purposes downstream. Designation would not affect this use.


Segment 1 Source to Ventana Wilderness boundary 3.68 miles Wild
Segment 2 Ventana Wilderness boundary to the confluence with Roosevelt Creek .5 miles Recreational
Segment 3 Roosevelt Creek confluence to confluence with unnamed tributary in Sec. 1, T20S, R5E 1.69 miles Scenic
Segment 4 Unnamed tributary to the Ventana Wilderness boundary upstream of the Tassajara Creek confluence 8.68 miles Wild
Segment 5 Ventana Wilderness boundary upstream of the Tassajara Creek confluence to the Rocky Creek confluence 2.13 miles Scenic
Segment 6 Rocky Creek confluence to the Los Padres National Forest boundary 2.53 miles Recreational
TOTAL 19.21 miles

Tassajara Creek & Church Creek
Tributaries of the Arroyo Seco

Tassajara Creek is the largest tributary of the Arroyo Seco River. The creek flows southeast from the slopes of South Ventana Cone past Tassajara Hot Springs and into the Arroyo Seco River. Most of the creek's 10.4 miles are located on public lands in the Ventana Wilderness.

Church Creek is Tassajara Creek's largest tributary. It flows southwest from the Church Creek divide that separates Church Creek from Pine Valley and the Carmel River watershed into Tassajara Creek, about 2.5 miles upstream of Tassajara Hot Springs. Most of Church Creek is located on public lands and the Ventana Wilderness.

The Forest Service completed a Wild & Scenic study of Tassajara Creek in 2005. The agency concluded that the creek was free flowing but did not possess any outstanding values. Conservationists believe that all 10.4 miles of the creek possess outstanding fish, wildlife, cultural, and recreational values. The Forest Service did not assess Church Creek for eligibility.

Outstanding Values:

Fish & Wildlife — Threatened central coast steelhead migrate all the way from the Pacific Ocean up the Salinas and Arroyo Seco Rivers to spawn in Tassajara Creek's high quality habitat. The creek also supports one of the few Central Coast populations of the sensitive foothill yellow-legged frog.

Cultural — Tassajara Creek and its mineral rich hot springs have been a destination for human use for thousands of years, first as a sacred cultural site of the Esselen Indians, later as a historic resort site, and now the locale of the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, which carries on the 1,000 year-old tradition of monastic zen training.

Inside a cave in a narrow canyon near Tassajara
The vault of rock is painted with hands,
A multitude of hands in the twilight, a cloud of men's palms, no more,
No other picture. There's no one to say
Whether the brown shy quiet people who are dead intended
Religion or magic, or made their tracings
In the idleness of art; but over the division of years these careful
Signs-manual are now like a sealed message
Saying: "Look: we also were human; we had hands, not paws. All hail
You people with cleverer hands, our supplanters
In the beautiful country: enjoy her a season, her beauty, and come down
And be supplanted; for you also are human."

— Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962)

Church Creek also has outstanding Native American cultural values. Archeological studies of rock shelters along the creek show that the area was a refuge for the Esselen Tribe following the arrival of Spanish Missionaries. Church Creek's incredible sandstone formations — remnants of a seafloor formed millions of years ago — create large overhangs, many of which were used by the Tribe as shelters. Most notably, a cave overlooking Church Creek has "hand" rock paintings estimated to be hundreds of years old. The cave and its rock paintings were celebrated in Robinson Jeffer's poem, "Hands."

Recreation — Both creeks provides popular loop trail connections to routes leading to the Big Sur and Carmel Rivers.


Most of Tassajara Creek flows through public lands. There is one small private inholding encompassing the Tassajara Zen Center. Designation would not affect access to or use of the Zen Center. Church Creek has one private inholding that consists of the Bruce Church Ranch. Designation would not affect access to the ranch or its operations.


Tassajara Creek
Segment 1 Source in the Ventana Wilderness to Tassajara Hot Springs boundary 6.5 miles Wild
Segment 2 Creek segment within the Tassajara Hot Springs private property boundary 1 mile Recreational
Segment 3 Tassajara Hot Springs boundary to the Arroyo Seco River confluence 3.5 miles Wild
Church Creek
Segment 1 Source to the confluence with the unnamed tributary flowing in from the north in sec. 13, T19S, R3E 1.2 miles Wild
Segment 2 Unnamed tributary confluence in sec. 13 to the confluence of the unnamed tributary flowing in from the east in sec. 24, T19S, R3E 1 mile Recreational
Segment 3 Unnamed tributary confluence in sec. 24 to the confluence with Tassajara Creek 2.36 miles Wild
TOTAL 15.56 miles