Sunday, July 31, 2011

Greenwell Preserve 7-31-11

A ride that began at the Greenwell Preserve, in the aptly named Summerland, California. We climbed Ortega Ridge up to the Ortega Reservoir, skirted the edge of the Birnam Wood Golf Course on the Coffin Family Trail, and ventured towards Innisbrook but then turned back. A lovely summer day, trails in excellent condition, a bit of cooling haze.

Length: 6.2 miles
Duration: 3 hours

Difficulty: Moderate. Trails single file, steep climbs, well maintained and reinforced trails, ankle deep water crossings.

Altitude gain: 770 ft 

Grade: II

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As always Tobe is ready to go, no matter where I ask him to carry me. He's skeptical, but enthusiastic. Eager, but stubborn. A consummate athlete, but at his own pace. He carefully places each foot on the trail, he knows he is in charge of getting us wherever we are going in a safe manner. He is the very essence of MULE.
I had read in the Montecito Trail Foundation newsletter that a lot of repair work had been done on this trail up Ortega Ridge, and I was curious to see it. Sure enough, a new wooden bridge spanned a tiny seasonal creek. Tobe was NOT convinced it was safe, and try as I might, all my calm assertive encouragement was met with refusal. So we resorted to the standard fallback, having my riding companion get her quarterhorse to cross first. Sometimes it can get embarrassing how firmly Tobe will refuse to do things he considers dangerous. Like they say "You can FORCE a horse, you can ASK a mule."
I don't know the history behind this cubist red gate, it seems to guard access to an unimproved hillside, but perhaps at one time this was a secret entrance to a grand estate.
Turning to look out to sea from half way up the ridge, the marine layer obscures the islands from view.
Turning to look up, the Ortega Reservoir is the near horizon line, with the frontcountry of the Los Padres National Forest looming above behind it.
A tremendous amount of work has gone into the maintenance of these trails. Wooden beams are anchored in such a way as to counteract the effects of erosion, all done by the MTF crews. Much appreciated.
On the left is another kind of trail reinforcement, buttressing up a sandy hillside to keep the trail from collapsing.
At the top of the trail we look across on a level with the reservoir. And on the other side of it, a curious dwelling that looks like a kids' playhouse on a grand scale.
Looking into the next valley, across acres of avocado trees in neatly spaced rows, up into the mountain trails. In just a few minutes we can completely leave the freeway, the city, and all the noise of civilization and look upward to the trails that lead to the unimproved interior. The California that those who stay in their cars never see.
This road once gave access to local estates, now it is gated off and slowly succumbing to weeds and earthquake cracks.
Looking down onto a palatial estate, a horse farm with no visible horses, just massive arenas and barns and a house like Versailles. I wonder if Tobe would consider it heaven or hell to live in such a place? Probably heaven would be a field in Ezel, Kentucky grazing with his late mother, a Rocky Mountain mare.
Now we are on the Coffin Family Trail, which also shows the restorative touch of the MTF crew, with reinforcements and wooden planks laid into it.
Looking down at the unnatural green, it could be nothing but a golf course. Tobe is NOT OK with golf carts, he sees them and is riveted. No matter that they are the size of insects way below us, he stops and watches them, unwilling to turn away lest they might decide to swarm up the hillside.
The MTF places signs to encourage appropriate trail etiquette. Bikes are supposed to yield to both hikers and equines, and equines always have the right of way. Look closely and you will see clustered snails beneath the trail sign, gathered where the fog and mist collects dew. It must be the Snail Trail.
This is horse purgatory, a large boarding stable on Sheffield Road. A waiting zone, filled with beautiful animals, many of them Rocky Mountains like Tobe. But as many times as we ride through we seldom see an owner, and the animals feel parked and forgotten.
The trails skirting the edge of the former Coffin Family Ranch are well done, and I do my bit by trimming overhanging branches as we pass through.
It may be mid-summer but the creek is beautiful and full, and Tobe stopped for a well earned drink before crossing.
Water always makes a ride more enjoyable, and the aquatic vegetation is Tobe's favorite salad bar.
We HAD intended to go to the shady valley called Innisbrook, but we lagged and when we got as far as the ancient stone bridge, with the inviting oak forest ahead of us, truth was I had a tattoo to do and had to call the ride short and get to work. So we turned around, knowing we can always return another day.
And we backtracked our steps, feeling thankful that the Coffin Family have been so generous as to give access to superb riding trails on their property, and that the Montecito Trails Foundation keeps them in such good repair. All so that Tobe and I and our fortunate companions can go for scenic strolls like this one.

Friday, July 29, 2011

La Purisima Mission 7-29-11

A ride at La Purisima Mission, a very large Spanish land grant that used to part of the California Mission system and is now a state managed historical park in Lompoc, California. A foggy day, with the ride starting misty and cool and then burning off to a bright and clear afternoon.

Length: 6.1 miles
Duration: 2.2 hours

Difficulty: Very easy, trails mostly sand, some climbing, well maintained open trails frequented by hikers and dog walkers.

Altitude gain: 320 ft 

Grade: I

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 La Purisima Mission buildings have been restored and are a popular educational resource for the local community, teaching children and visitors about what life was like durning the Mission system years.
 Ascending the first ridge above the building area we look out over the valley towards the town of Lompoc, with the fog of morning obscuring the view towards the ocean.
 A lot of the trails here are old roads, well maintained with great footing. This is traditionally the place that equestrians flock to in rainy weather, because the sand drains quickly when other nearby areas with clay soils are too wet to ride.
 Turning onto smaller trails they go from road to sand pathway, hemmed in by live oak and LOTS of poison oak.
 Then sand path becomes sand trail, and the moist morning humidity makes the chaparral scents fill the air with heady perfume.
 From a high vantage point we can look back down into the valley below, civilization in the distance.
 The junction of the Cuclillo de Tierra Trail and El Chaparral Trail.
 Spanish moss hanging from the trees gives a still, timeless quality to the forests of oaks. Wildflowers bloom beneath the oaks, in tangles of poison oak bushes.
 The junction of the Mesa Arenosa Trail and El Chapparal Trail.
 The mule ahead of us is lost in a swirl of dust. Tobe and I sensibly follow at a distance when riders in front kick up dust, and of course that's a very good reason to offer to lead a trail ride!
 The Huerta Malador Trail marker.
 Coming off the sandy mountain we look back down across the central valley, once the major agricultural crop land of the Mission and now set to growing hay.
 Because I'm Scottish I have to love thistles. And because I wear chinks they do not spike me.
But very close to where this photo was taken I did fall. Tobe was being very cautious about crossing a very old stone water cistern and then when he made up his mind to cross it he JUMPED and there was a tree limb hanging into the trail and as I leaned left to avoid the limb I think my cinch has loosened up from an hour of riding and Tobe was hopping and I flopped. No harm done, except a bit of a scratch on my nose and cheek. My Red Cross first Aid training came in handy! All I really cared about as I lay on the ground was that my fall had been broken by a bush, but my first thought was that if it was poison oak, and it had scratched my face, I was going to be in for a world of hurt. Fortunately it was wild blackberries, so I just dusted myself off and got back on and counted myself lucky that it was an uneventful unplanned dismount.
 After a long walk we reach the top of the valley fields and look back down the entire expanse. The fields are bare and dry now, just stubble and tiny wildflowers.
 Coming back around down the hill we see stands of opuntia cactus in a more desert-like setting.
 Little buildings like this one dot the landscape, remnants of the various agricultural tasks that once formed the daily lives of the Padres and Indians who lived here.
If I had taken the time to view the exhibits inside the quite modern Interpretive Center I could tell you more about the Mission, but alas, today I came to ride and that is what we did. Another time I can stop and be more informed.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Devereaux Lagoon 7-21-11

A ride around the Devereaux Lagoon, just North of the UCSB campus, and around the Ellwood Mesa area. A hazy day, misty and cool on the coastline.

Length: 6 miles
Duration: 2.5 hours

Difficulty: Very easy, trails mostly former oil company access roads, some pushing through overgrown brush that required us stopping and trimming. 
Altitude gain: 140 ft 
Grade: I

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 We start out on the edges of the golf course, which rumor has it is soon to be turned back into native habitat. So much for this wee slice of Scottish sport.
 Tobe is never entirely comfortable around golf courses, with their whizzing carts and random balls flying. Or maybe it is the fashion sense of the participants.
 Venoco Oil once used this entire area for onshore processing of the Channel Islands oil. There are a lot of structures left, and the company is funding a massive "wetland restoration" project in the adjacent areas as penance for numerous spills.
 Most of the trails are former oil company access roads like this one. Nice if you want to ride alongside your trail companions and chat. Or if you want to lope and fly along a clear stretch of well maintained dirt.
 Easily visible offshore are the oil rigs that Jim Morrison called "The Crystal Ships" for their illuminated beauty at night. In foggy daytime weather they are just barely visible on the horizon, and the islands are lost in mist behind them.
 The restoration of the wetlands involves labor intensive replacement of the scrub growth with native flora, marked out in patches with little bright flags.
 The Devereaux lagoon is a haven for birds, and we like to watch for egrets, herons, stilts, ducks....
 More plants that are part of the restoration project. The oil company has had numerous spills on this land and this is the way they do penance, funding the plantings as a reparation.
 The mouth of the lagoon where it falls out into the sea, a beautiful natural resource enjoyed by many.
 Along the top of the cliffs the road cuts through fields of anise and mustard, waiting to be returned to botanical diversity.
 At the edge of the University property at Coal Oil Point the lagoon is host to many species of birds. Visible here are a white egret on the left, mallard ducks and coots swimming.
 This structure has been known to generations of UCSB students as The Red Barn and in my days as an undergraduate was home to amateur theatrical performances and musical events. Now it is a decaying ruin, graffitied and sealed up and I fully expect one day to come by and find that it has collapsed entirely.
 A group of circling pigeons shot up out of the grass and whirled around us, having their daily exercise perhaps before returning to a nearby home.
 Use Tobe's nose as a pointer and squint and you will be able to see a 3' California King Snake in the grass. Always a pleasure to see snakes out on the trail doing their job, catching the ground squirrels who make the ankle-twisting holes.
 Looking out to sea, the classic California view of surfers catching waves. The idyllic endless summer of the glorious youth culture.
 The very bottom of the Campbell cross at Coal Oil Point that appears as the profile photo of Tobe and I for LuckyTrails. A soldier on a horse, perhaps, off to conquer unknown lands. Placed here by a member of my own Scottish clan.
 Whizzing by offshore a whale watching boat heads downcoast, perhaps after a trip to the islands and back.
 And it is our turn to head back, across the lagoon road that leads to the staff housing complex, back across the slough, another day's pleasant hours spent exploring the beauty of the area.
And on the Eastern horizon loom the frontcountry mountains of the Los Padres forest, beckoning the equine adventurers to explore them another day.