Gaviota Pass, California

Phyliss Miranda sig line for P&P BluebonnetFor the last few posts, I’ve been writing about El Camino Real and the haunted missions along the way.  Today, I’m going to discuss one area of Highway 101 that I bet just about everybody has seen on television commericals … the Gaviota Pass one and a half miles west of Gaviota, near Santa Barbara, California.

gaviota-pass-tunnel-for-pp-11-29-16It’s a place where the road narrows to just a few feet.  It’s where El Camino Real moves away from the coast and into the interior of California.  The long climb up the grade takes travelers to Mission Santa Inez and La Purisima, which I’ve previously blogged on.  The land mark is a haunted one, also.   gaviota-pass-memorial-for-pp-11-16

This bronze plaque commemorates where on Christmas day 1846 an ambush set up by Mexican loyalists to stop Lt. Col. John Fremont’s U.S. troops from moving south forcing the Americans to take a more labored approach to capture Santa Barbara where it was captured without bloodshed.

The ghosts of Gaviota Pass date to an earlier time when a detachment of Spanish Lancers were set upon by the local inhabitants. The Spanish were forced to retreat down the road and through the pass toward to coast. For a while it looked like the Natives would win the day, but as the warriors prepared to mount a charge on the exhausted Spanish Troops a strong wind came up from the sea and inland. In desperation the Spanish set fire to the dry grass in the pass. The flames fueled by the ocean’s wind roared up the pass.  The native warriors trapped in the conflagration were burned to death.

Defeated spirits haunt the pass today. Some have reported seeing a figure who wanders alone. Local legend is that this is the chief who led his people into the fiery defeat. There is no doubt this is a spooky place, especially for those who visit the place at night.  When the wind blows one may still hear the horrible wails of those warriors succumbing to fire.

Now my truth.  I’ve gone through this pass hundreds of times, during all times of the night and day, and my daughter who lives in Santa Barbara County travels to LA regularly and neither of us have seen or heard anything.  I certainly want to make it clear that I’m not discounting any of this as fact, because I just know that sole legendary chief will make sure I believe in him the next time I’m around the pass.

Those of you who have traveled the 101 and gone through this pass, have you ever had any weird sensations.

Okay, as I promised this is the month, I’m telling you all about my grandson’s experience at the La Purisima Mission not far from his home.  Last summer when I was out there for four months, he came out from college in Texas to one of his sister’s graduation.  A friend from Texas had moved out to Santa Barbara with her family, so they went ghost busting at the mission.  They climbed over the gate, as others did, and after not finding anything that interested them, they returned to his folks home.  When his friend started to leave, she couldn’t find her keys.  She was sure they were secured in her closed up shoulder bag. They looked everywhere and could find them, so as a last resort they went back to the La Purisima.

When they turned into the drive right outside the gate they saw a flash.  Checking it out, they found not only her keys but a billfold, both which had been crushed.  There was no way a car could have done it.  They came home certain that this had to be an act of one of the Mission’s ghosts.

There wasn’t a driver’s license in the billfold, but a card for a doctor’s appointment and cash.  They physician’s clerk called the gentleman and told him where his billfold was but never mentioned where it was found.  I answered the door when he showed up. He was pleasantly surprised we had his billfold but perplexed because he was sure it had been secure in his back pocket which was zipped up. “Where was it found?,” he asked.  When I told him, all he could say was “That dern ghost must have stolen it, crushed the dern thing to let us know not to go ghost busting out there again.”

Now you tell me whether you think it was just a coincidence or a reminder from our La Purisima ghosts not to bother them at night?

To one lucky person who leaves a comment, I will give away an autographed copy of the award winning anthology A Texas Christmas by sister filly, Linda Broday, Jodi Thomas, the late DeWanna Pace, and me.


Website | + posts

A native Texan, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Phyliss Miranda still believes in the Code of the Old West and loves to share her love for antiques, the lost art of quilting, and the Wild West.

Visit her at

32 thoughts on “Gaviota Pass, California”

  1. Well, I think it was a reminder to not come back again. We used to have a ghost that lived in our house in Riverside, CA. There was one room that every time we opened the door the door would then close on its own and even latch. There were also a lot of other things that happened but they are too many to mention here.

    The book looks wonderful and I would love to win a copy! Thank you for the chance.

    Cindy W.

    • Hi Cindy, sorry I’m late getting to replies. Thanks for dropping by and reading my blog. There must be more ghosts than normal in California! That’s interesting about the door in your house. Do you still live there? I know we have them here, too. My daddy was an upholster and years ago he did work to refurbish the Anderson house, one of the historic homes in Amarillo. When Mrs. Anderson passed away she said that she didn’t want anybody else to live in the house and it was to be burnt to the ground. Of course, it had historical value and thank goodness it wasn’t burnt. Anyway, when Daddy was working there all types of weird things happened. His tools would disappear and stuff like that. Once thing I remember is that he measured a window seat (long one, not curved) and Daddy was a perfectionist. When he came back with the cut fabric, etc. the bench was not the same one as he measured. It was a different size, but otherwise it was exactly the same wood, etc. That happened more than once. They finally got the home refurbished and later sold it to a restaurant franchise that should have done extremely well, but it didn’t. Just too many “odd” things happened and they went out of business. Now the beautiful home sits alone and I’m sure her family keeps it clean and all, but nobody lives there and probably never will. Mrs. Anderson came from a founding family here, so hat off to her. She made sure her wishes were carried out. Thanks, Cindy, for dropping by and I hope your name is drawn for “A Texas Christmas”. Hugs, Phyliss

      • No, we moved several years ago and now I live in a totally different state. The owners after us tore out the wall of the bedroom “she” was in and oddly moved soon afterward. The mother of the original owner of the house passed away in the home and they sold the house to us soon after. Course we found this out later.

  2. Wow what a fantastic article. I believe in ghosts, so this very well could have been the case. I had one, a little boy ghost live in one of the homes I rented back in the 90’s. So I truly believe. Thank you for sharing this Phyliss. You have a Merry Christmas.

    • Thanks, Tonya. Wow, a little boy. Did you ever learn whether there was a child who had lived there and had something tragic happen to him? That’s very interesting. I don’t think I have any ghosts here, but when I got home from rehab and a trip to recup in California after my knee replacement, I got my keys from the drawer I’d put them before I left for the hospital. I had them one minute and the next they were gone. I’m still looking for them and hopefully they are in one of my bag I had during that four month period. Then on the day my sister passed, three weeks ago, my husband’s extra set of car keys we had disappeared. We used them to unlock the door and haven’t seen them since. Now I’m beginning to wonder why keys kept disappearing … and no it isn’t my age, not yet! LOL Hope you have a wonderful holiday season, too. Big hugs, Phyliss

      • Wow! The missing keys, you will have to let us know if you find them. Yes the backstory on the little boy was many years ago he lived their own the land and they had a home in this little boy was killed and they said he roams from house to house out on that property there’s five houses and he has visited all of them, as a matter of fact when I told my boss about it I figured he think that I had flipped my lid but he said no “Tonya, it’s true what you saw is correct”, he said “that’s why me and my wife moved out of the country in into town because she could not take Little Charlie any longer” I really freaked out then & I said “who is little Charlie?” That’s when he told me the backstory, so from then on I just talk to Charlie and he finally quit bothering me one day. He never did anything very strange, but I would come home and my gas cookstove in my kitchen would be burning, my windows and doors would be open and when I took a shower always felt like someone was watching me it was quite creepy. I tell you one thing I did tell Little Charlie “you leave that gas cookstove alone so you do not burn the house down or I will spank you.” I figured if I talk to him like a normal child as if he’s really there he would respect me and I guess he did because about a month later he moved on and never did he turn the gas stove on again after I told him not too.

      • Oh my gosh, Tonya! What an interesting story. Obviously, you did the right thing with little Charlie by calling him down. Maybe that’s what I need to do, tell whoever knows where these two sets of keys are that I’m not mad at them, but really need them back. Otherwise, I have to pay a couple of hundred dollars to get a replacement set. Good idea to talk to them. Thanks for writing back with the story. So very interesting. Hugs, P

  3. I never knew that and lived of and on in Santa Barbara and Goleta for 35 years and it is taking you to tell me about Gaviota Pass, the Plaque and the Ambush with the ghosts still attached yikes! Wish my history teachers had told us that considering how many hundred times I have driven that stretch of road. See how you help bring out these good local things we should know? I am glad to read and hear about all this. Walker Thompkins I believe has books on all of California but as a kid you don’t buy them. Keep up the neat tidbits Phyliss, they are great and informative, also pretty cool too. Glad we have you here. Now next time I drive by it… of course will look it up a bit first too. Thank you very much for letting us learn this and more from you each time you are on Phyliss. They have had high wind warnings all weekend here so it makes you wonder. Were they the Chumash Indians by the way that were burned? It would make sense since this seems to be base for the local Native Americans or Chumash Tribe. You make me want to be a Ghost Hunter now in our local Tri County area of San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties Phyliss. Hmm maybe we can all meet up and go exploring, hunting and discovering the local ghosts together. Walker A. Tompkins was the local historican and writer here in Santa Barbara, lots of his books are around still. He even worked for the Santa Barbara News Press before I did but I did meet him at least once and remember meeting his granddaughter one day too, not with him but alone and introduced herself as his granddaughter. So it’s interesting who we meet in our lives, 6 degrees of separation indeed. Heck how many can say they worked for the Santa Barbara News Press, much less for at least 5 years? Bottom line there’s lots of interesting information and data about local places to be found if you look, ghosts included at no extra charge!

    • Thanks, Elaine. It’s always nice to have readers write back about what you’ve blogged about that has “been there and done that”. I love Santa Barbara…The Wharf. Yummy. I have to give credit to a book I purchased in the Santa Inez gift shop about ghosts of the California missions by Richard Senate. I used a lot of his data and inspiration. I looked at several sources and couldn’t find what Native American tribe was involved, but this certainly was Chumash county. I talked with my granddaughter who has been through the tunnel for years and she said she’d never look at it the same way after what I told her. LOL And, she beings her new job in Santa Barbara on the 28th, so she’ll pass through it twice a day! I love SLO and will check out Walker A. Tompkins and his books. Sounds interesting. These last few months, I’ve only written about Mission and places where I’ve personally been. I wanted to do the Queen of the missions, the Mission Santa Barbara but there’s just too much to get into one blog. It’s beautiful, interesting, and so historical. Your background in journalism really gives you an opportunity to meet and write about people, places, and things of interest. Congrats! I’m gonna start a California list of people to contact on my next trip when I can go as I please (no leg restriction) because there are so many things we need to get together to see. Ghosts included. My wonderful son-in-law is involved with a dealership, so he always brings me home a car to use when I’m out there. WOW, and they are always new one or new trade-in’s. Now that’s fun. And, Elaine, thank you so much for the nice compliments. Now my chest is sticking out and my head has gotten so big that I’m not sure I can cook supper tonight!!! Thanks. Have a great holiday and I hope to see you one day. Hugs, Phyliss

      • Thanks Phyliss it would be nice to see you too, in fact am going for an apt in Santa Paula, Ventura County right now. Los Angeles County is okay but like my TriCounties still, love the mountains and water. Getting a car for travelling is a nice perk, you are lucky to have a nice family. Take care and have a good week. Walker A Tompkins though has lots of books for everyone on all different locales here including day hikes, neat to check them out on the net to see the types and places he covered including ghosts too I think.

      • Elaine, thanks for writing back. So you’re in the LA area. My daughter, who is with the American Cancer Society has to travel to and from LA regularly. We have a good time talking on the speaker phone along the way. But, of course, there are a number of spots we lose contact, especially around the tunnel. Hum???? I thought it was because of the mountains, but now I’m wondering. Big hugs and again thanks for writing back. Phyliss

    • Hi Estella, thanks for stopping by. I love to drive the 101, but better yet the CPH, slower for sure but oh what a beautiful sight along the ocean (not to mention the surfers). Hopefully, you can visit some of these missions. They are beautiful. I’d love to visit the ones south of Santa Barbara. Maybe, I will. Again, thanks for stopping and leaving a comment. Hope you have a wonderful holiday season. See you on December 19th when I kick off the first of two sP&P Special Weeks with memorable letters to Santa. It’s gonna be a fun two weeks. Hugs, Phyliss

    • DebraG, good to hear from you. I hope you can visit some of the areas of California, I’ve blogged about. It’s so rich in history and that’s hard for me to admit since I’m a Texas born and bred! Have a wonderful holiday season. Big hugs, Phyliss

  4. I’ve never had an experience with a ghost and truthfully don;t wish to. I don’t discount them because no one can prove every last thing that happens. I have had feelings that loved ones who have passed are around me, but whether they are or not, I welcome their “presence” however it shows up in my life, whether they’re angels or just deep in my heart and bone marrow.

    • Hi Eliza, thanks for leaving a comment. I’m totally in agreement with you. There are just some things that cannot be explained. I also believe strongly that your loved ones who have passed are still a part of your life. I was with my mother-in-law here at the house during her final hours. She kept looking off to her left as if she was watching people. Just moments before she died, she spoke to my mother and aunt by name and told them that they shouldn’t forget that she uses cream in her coffee. Shortly thereafter I have little doubt they escorted her home. It was funny that of all the people, my mother and aunt came for her, not her husband or daddy or her mother, but our families were very close. I love to share this story. I’m totally with you, Eliza. Have a great holiday season,

  5. Great blog, Phyliss! I’m going to have to go out to California sometime and visit these places. I do believe in ghosts and angels and often feel the presence of loved ones. I know they exist. Interesting subject. Love your giveaway. Whoever wins it will find some wonderful stories waiting that will definitely put them in the Christmas spirit.

    • Hi my friend, Linda. Thanks for commenting when I know how busy you are today. We’re going out to California together one of these days. I promise! As I wrote to Eliza, I’m with you both on ghosts and angels. Isn’t my giveaway something special? As you know, but for the others, Kensington released this anthology for two or three holiday seasons. It hit NYTimes and USA Today, so we were all very pleased. I think it has great stories, so I hope whoever wins it will enjoy the book as much as we did writing it. Happy Holidays, Fellow Filly. Love, Phyliss

  6. In my house, things have disappeared at times and then later show up in weird places… we always say the ghost is playing games with us.

    • Hi Colleen, I bet they are playing games. Will you please tell whoever is hiding your stuff and then allowing it to show up, to please communicate with whoever is taking the keys in my house, please, please! Have a great day and wonderful holiday. See you on December 19th for my blog on my letter to Santa. Big hugs, Phyliss

  7. Great post, Phyliss. I would have enjoyed learning this stuff in school I love La Purisma. It’s a real working ranch still. We have a ghost at the San Buenaventura Mission!

    • Hi my previous friend and Sister Filly, hope all is well with you and yours. In Texas we are really taught from the first grade, I think, about our state’s history, since like California it’s so rich in history. Not that every state isn’t, but being a Texan for me and a Californian for you, we think our states are the richest of all! As much as I’ve worked with my grandkids out there, I didn’t realize they didn’t learn as much as they should about the state’s history. This last May, the main reason we went to Santa Inez Mission was because my granddaughter’s end-of-the-year project was going to a mission and doing an extensive study of it’s history, including drawing pictures. She said everybody would be going to La Purisima, so we selected Santa Inez instead. It was a wonderful, fruitful afternoon. I’ve got to read about the San Buenaventura Mission this evening for sure. I’ve already found it in Mr. Senate’s book and marked it! Hope you have a wonderful holiday, and I’ll be talking to you. Love and Texas hugs, Phyliss

  8. I’ve never been that far out west but it’s a fascinating story (and heartbreaking) and as to ghosts – I think anything is possible!

    • Hi catslady, so glad to hear from you. Go west young lady, go west! Someday! It’s so different when you have a home to come back to when you do these things out in California. My daughter is with the American Cancer Society, so she has done Relay for Life’s all over the state at one time or another. That’s given us the opportunity to visit places we normally wouldn’t. Love it and love being able to go out there and stay for extended periods of time. Again, thanks for commenting and like you, I believe anything is possible! Big Texas hugs, Phyliss

  9. Thanks, Kim. I’m glad you found my blog interesting. I have a lot more about ghosts but I think I’ve written enough about them for a while. Have a great holiday and I’ll see you on December 19th when I kick off the first of two special holiday weeks for P&P. I’ve got a very special letter to Santa that I’ll be sharing with you guys. Have a wonderful holiday. Hugs, Phyliss

    • Hi Britney. Thanks for your nice comments. I appreciate it. If you haven’t already read today’s winners, you’ll be pleased to know that I added you to the winner list. You came under the wire with your comment! Congratulations and thanks so much for reading and commenting on my blog. Have a great holiday season. Hugs, Phyliss

  10. Hi Naomi. Thank you for reading and commenting on my blog. I appreciate each and every reader. If you haven’t already read today’s winner list, you’ll be pleased to know that I added you to the winner list. Congratulations and you’ll be hearing from me via email tomorrow as to how to claim your book. Again, thanks for commenting and yes, I think spooky stories gives us all chills! Hope you have a wonderful holiday season. Big Texas hugs, Phyliss

Comments are closed.