May 10th, 2014
The celebrated Santa Barbara historian Walter A. Tomkins wrote about the valley of the Santa Ynez River, “in its uppermost end to the east, the land was narrow and exceedingly rough and wild, widening for the so-called Santa Ynez Valley, pinching off when it became Santa Rosa Valley, then stretching on westward, seeking the sea through the Santa Rita Hills, and breaking free at last in the broad Lompoc Valley.
Robert Norris, Professor Emeritus of Geology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, describes the Santa Ynez River Valley as “one of the two most prominent valleys in the county, that extends 75 miles from the Ventura County line near Old Man Mountain, westward to the coast at Surf, west of Lompoc. The upper part of this valley near Juncal Damis steep and narrow, but it widens near Lake Cachuma to form a nearly flat, more or less triangular plain called the Santa Ynez Valley with its corners at Los Olivos, Solvang, and where State Highway 154 crosses the Santa Ynez River. The floor of the valley is gently tilted to the south and is made up of a blanket of stream deposits, sands and gravels, laid down by southward-flowing Alamo Pintado Creek on the west, Zanja de Cota Creek in the center and Santa Agueda Creek on the east. The Santa Ynez River and its flood plain deposits form the southern side of this triangle. Downstream from Solvang, the Santa Ynez River Valley narrows appreciably, but opens again near Lompoc, there the valley is almost four miles wide”.
Whether one refers to the smaller Santa Ynez Valley or to the broader Santa Ynez River Valley described above, it is reasonable to assume that “the Valley” was named after the Santa Ynez River. Actually the smaller Santa Ynez Valley was named after Mission Santa Ines, the first local Spanish settlement established next to Solvang. The Santa Ynez River was originally named the Santa Rosa River, the name given by the Portola expedition who first explored the area in 1769 with Padre Juniperro Serra, and who on that trip mapped the future sites along the river of two of the California Missions, La Purisima de Concepcion (1791) and Santa Ines (1804). After both missions were built, the Santa Rosa River became La Purisima River on the stretch near Lompoc, and the Santa Ynez River farther upstream near Mission Santa Ines. Nowadays, the entire length is known as the Santa Ynez River, surrounded by the geographical features of the Purisima Hills, the Santa Rosa Hills and Santa Rosa Road, and the Santa Ynez Mountains.