A ride starting at Live Oak Campground, gateway to the Los Padres Forest lands adjacent to Lake Cachuma, fording the Santa Ynez river and exploring the canyons and valleys above the lake. Behind Santa Barbara, Southern California.
Length: 6.9 miles
Duration: 3 hours
Difficulty: Easy. Side-by-side and single file, rolling hills with gradual climbs, lots of creek crossings with ankle-deep water.
Altitude gain: 980 ft
View Lake Cachuma 6-30-11 in a larger map
All tacked up and ready for a ride on the Live Oak lands adjacent to Lake Cachuma. A sunny summer day, 5 horses to pal around with, and Tobe is ready.
He smiles in anticipation. No motorized vehicles or bicycles allowed here, no dogs, just humans and equines and lots of deer, cows, coyotes, mountain lions, bears, bobcats................ wild life!
When we left the parking area we chose a route that took us down the Santa Ynez river, through a grass woodland dotted with oak trees that looks down onto the riverbed.
The beautiful oaks are vibrant with deep green color and silhouetted against the grass turning sere yellow in the summer sun.
The golf course on the other side of the river is a lush green, and tiny carts buzzing around the greens look like a child's toy model.
The chaparral smells wonderful at this time of year, and as we brush through the white sage and artemisia sagebrush the scents envelop us.
Coming up out of the riverbed we track along the barbed wire fence that marks the edge of the massive Rancho San Fernando Rey, home currently to a very large mixed herd of cow/calf pairs. They sensibly gather beneath the spreading branches of gigantic oaks.
The herd contains brahmas, herefords, black angus, all nibbling at the short grass for their short lifespan in the sun.
Today the only "wild" horses we saw were these two gentlemen swatting each others flies nose-to-tail. They are quite probably former pets abandoned on the property. Not a bad destiny.
The sure-footed mule gazes wistfully at the near mountain ranges, where true adventure waits. But right now, today's ride is a slow amble through the landscape and that's just fine too.
Of course, where there is a stretch of track this straight and clean, no squirrel holes, no rocks, we did enough loping to get the yearning for it out of the system. Sometimes you just need to feel the wind in your hair, and mane, and celebrate the feeling of oneness that is the centaur destiny.
Gates separate the various parts of the property, so the cows and horses can be segregated to different areas at different seasons. They are a nice challenge to latch and unlatch from the saddle, a perfect application of the vocabulary of movement represented by learning side-passing, turning on the hindquarters and forequarters.
And now, a first glimpse of the Lake on the Western horizon. A fork in the road, to choose the trail ahead.
We went up a ridge to the left for a view out to the coastal ridge and the river below.
And from that same ridge turning to view the lake.
Looking inland the ridges of the mountain ranges stretch out into the distance. California may seem densely populated in some urban areas, but with expansive vistas like this there is little human presence.
Until this winter's storms felled it, this ancient patriarch stood 5 times as tall as the mere stump that is left. Blasted by fire or perhaps lightning generations ago, it stood as a hollow shell filled with bees.
Crossing one of the streams again, cool shade and a nice poultice of cooling mud for hardy hooves.
Taking a lunch break, the humans have a snack and the equines forage under oaks for tender grasses.
Half of the oaks in the area are Quercus lobata, Valley Oaks. They have distinctive lobed leaves and beautiful gnarled bark.
Just across the path was this Quercus agrifolia, the Coastal live oak. Here it is very shrubby but in the right conditions it makes a tree as large as any other oak.
Looking down in this plain both kinds of oaks stand in the grasses, an untamed landscape that calls to mind the African veld.
Coming back around to our starting point we look once more down on the river, and at the Live Oak campground area on the other side.
These ancient sorting pens are presumably still used for bovine medicinal dipping.
This curved chute is I believe one of Temple Grandin's designs.
One last water-crossing, and what was belly-deep a month ago is just fetlock deep now.
Splashing through the sparkling water, time to go home and be ready to return another day to this marvelous slice of history, preserved and protected from development, a magic glimpse into the landscape that is what people came to California for.