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Tassajara Creek & Church Creek

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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.

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.

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