Tuesday, August 30, 2011

More Hope 8-30-11

Finally, after a week off because of issues with the SubUrban tow vehicle brakes, we hit the trail again. This time it was a walk around the edge of More Mesa, a preserved open space on the seaside, and then through the wealthy enclave Hope Ranch.

Length: 6.8 miles
Duration: 2.9 hours
Difficulty: Easy. Trails largely unimproved and unmaintained dirt paths across the Mesa, then track adjacent private roads with only one steep climb. Beautiful landscaping and the homes of the wealthy seen from across back yard fences.

Altitude gain: 430 ft 

Grade: I

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 Finally, we are headed back to the trails where we can be the Centaur Team!
 This entrance to the Mesa has apparently just been opened back up, after years of neglect, so we opt to enter from a different place.
 Looks promising, like a mighty machine has been through cutting back the underbrush.
Unfortunately this was an illusion, and not far past this point we started bashing through the dense bush that turned us back from the other side the LAST time we tried to ride here. This time we did get through, but scratched and whacked and not unscathed.
 The back side of the SB Orchid Estate, acres of lath houses filled with orchids all growing outdoors in our fabulous climate.
 Looking out across the Mesa, with the maritime fog blowing in obscuring the horizon.
 I don't know why, when we climb mountain crags and tiny trails with impunity, the sight of the ocean churning below a cliff seems just so much father down!
 I think back to my first riding lessons and the trainer saying "Don't look down! Where you look you will go." So it takes an act of will to hold Tobe posing on the cliffside and snap photos.
 We are both happy to turn back inland and follow the salty trail.
 Which winds back to yet more cliffside vistas, lost in the fog when the rest of the country is baking in summer heat waves.
 Then we turn to the interior, a sea of sere grass, a nice place for a fast racking walk.
 But there is the entrance to Hope Ranch, private gated community of equestrian estates. We DO know that trail access is ONLY permitted to those who are riding with residents, but we decide to play dumb and stroll on in.
 Past estates of unimaginable wealth. This one has coils of black hose all down the hillside on the left, my guess is they are a solar-heating scheme for a pool.
 Two lazy old Appaloosas live here, too busy eating to be bothered to greet visitors.
 Two Lusitanos live here, the trails sneak past between estates and only the horses and the gardeners are home.
 What a delight to see that this is ONLY a trail for equines! How relaxing it is not to dodge other sorts of fellow travelers.
 Coming up to the top of Chalk Hill we look out over a canyon of estates toward the sea, where more fog is rolling in.
 A shady path between two properties, nicely maintained by the Association's gardeners.
 A view lot left fallow, overlooking the islands.
 The olive orchard, home to two donkeys, adjacent the home of the woman who owns the local newspaper.
 The old dairy barn and stables, now empty, owned by the newspaper Queen.
 A gated property with its own lake, complete with rowboat and ducks. A bit Disney.
 Costs nothing to LOOK! But, enough, we pop back out of the housing zone and return to the Mesa.
 Where a bright hot summer day is in progress, and the animals are getting a bit tired and we humans are ready to head home.
We studiously avoid the overgrown trail where I got scratched up earlier, and follow the track home along the Atascadero Creek, now cemented into an urban channel with a bike path on the other side. All in all a lovely stroll on a classically pretty Stabarbacan summer day.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sierra Nevada Clinic 8-14-11

The fourth and final day of a Jerry Tindell Horsemanship Clinic in the Sierra Nevada mountains above Fresno, California. We said our goodbyes and left our second campsite and headed out. That's when we kinda got lost. Dag nabbit, we followed a guy who said "Take this short cut!" and then, endurance rider that he is, took off! That led to my companion and I getting discombobulated and riding the complete loop we'd been riding the last few days, coming back to the ranch for an unexpected pleasant last lunch with the cook, and THEN following the road out to the rigs. No loss, we got an extra ride in!

Length: 8 miles
Duration: 3.5 hours
Difficulty: Moderate. Trails largely roads with steady, steep climbs, beautiful forest and high altitude vistas.

Altitude gain: 1070 ft 

Grade: II

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 The beautiful ranch where we camped for 2 days, Cowboy Shangri-La, a land that time has touched but little.
 I worked real hard to come up with a gift for Jerry Tindell that would be appropriate. Since he is always teaching Tobe and I things, I thought of challenging him to learn something he didn't know how to do ... YET! I brought an ostrich egg for a one-egg omelette for a dozen people! I read the instructions while he used his knife to open a hole in the end and then blow out the scrambled contents!
 Always a good sport, JT rose to the occasion and breakfast was served. The cook was so skeptical that it would be edible that she scrambled up two dozen chicken eggs, which made an equal amount of scramble.... so it turned out that we could have a taste test. Quite surprisingly none of us could taste ANY difference. It was a first for all.
 Then we all said our thanks and goodbyes and headed out. The red in this tree is poison oak, which will become more obvious as the season turns.
 THIS is where we made the error of taking the advice of the guy on the Arabian who said "This way to the short-cut" and whizzed off ahead of us. So, my riding companion and I followed, never suspecting that it would be hours later that we would realize we'd gone a bit off in the wrong direction. My pal said it wasn't the first time he'd been led astray by a woman, and had the good humor to say it was a welcome opportunity for an enjoyable extra ride before hitting the road home.
 I started recognizing the views and thinking surely the "short cut" road to take us back to the rigs would appear at any time......
But no, we strolled along the miles of trails and roads we'd gone on the last couple of days, recognizing landmarks, and prolonging our vacation. At some point my iPhone lost battery power so then we were back to primitive reconnoitering, and eventually I had to admit I knew we were on our way back to the ranch. Where we strolled back in to find the cook and her husband relaxing, had a last nice chat and some watermelon, and THEN followed the road back to the place where the vehicles were parked, packed up, loaded up the animals, and made a vow to attend another Jerry Tindell clinic again next summer and have another educational adventure.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sierra Nevada Clinic 8-13-11

The third day of a Jerry Tindell Horsemanship Clinic in the Sierra Nevada mountains above Fresno, California. We left our initial campsite and walked a 6.5 mile loop that we'd covered the day before, but this time working hard on riding skills as we went.

Length: 6.5 miles
Duration: 2.5 hours
Difficulty: Moderate. Trails largely roads with steady, steep climbs, several water crossings and high altitude vistas.

Altitude gain: 1070 ft 

Grade: II

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 Starting out at the old ranch we marveled at the 140 year old buildings still standing. Built from timber harvested from these forests, sawn into planks at the mill that stood where we camped the first two nights.
 The stock tanked up gratefully at an old bath tub, ready for the long walk ahead.
 The old ranch buildings have seen generations of kids spend their summers here, learning to ride and rope, and countless cowboys stayed here when moving cattle through the area to winter or summer pasturing.
 Today Jerry had us focusing on getting the animals supple, bending their necks and directing their movement without resistance.
 We walked out into the forest, and saw the way the periodic controlled burning opens up the land for multiple habitat zones.
 This was a road decades ago, and the National Parks Service is coming through now and bulldozing the roads open again as fire breaks,
 The pile on the left is manzanita, pushed oout of the roadbed and will be burned in the winter when it is not a fire hazard to do so.
 This splendid horsewoman does packing with her Morgan horses, and brought two of them as loaners for the gals who flew in from Alaska. Why, she does things with these horses that others only do with mules! She takes them on challenging back country adventures and then finds grateful owners to buy them. She gave us talks throughout the clinic on the principles of "Gentle Use" and "Leave No Trace" that represent the tenets of responsible stewardship of the land that are espoused and embodied by the BackCountry HorseMen of America.
 We played a "game" that involved the first rider pulling off to the side and asking their equine to stand still and let all the rest of the group ride on past. We leap-frogged in this fashion, and it was astonishing how very difficult it was to ask for a stand stay from an animal that is very interested in maintaining its place with the safety of the herd.
 Tobe was doing all the hard work, and the only time we'd have a tussle was when I'd insist on a stop and stay so I could get his ears lined up just right for the photo. And he'd insist a stop meant an opportunity to snack.
 I have tried to make a video of the bobbing ears that are such a pleasurable part of riding on a mule. But the result is just too wobbly and would make a viewer seasick. As we proceed down a quiet path Tobe gets into a gaited rhythm that sets his ears to a loose floppy bounce. Then if something alerts him he is instantly pointing them both at it, like a dog on point, a strikingly different posture that is quite obvious.
 But on these walks if we were out in front setting the pace we were utterly relaxed. If we walked in the middle of the crowd we'd watch as some of the horses had issues, and their riders took advice from Jerry Tindell in how to "support" them and "not let them fail." Taking animals out of their "comfort zone" and into a far-away environment like this trip shows the owners the holes in their training, and is very inspiring.
But it is the sheer beauty of the land that is the calming and nourishing lasting memory. Traveling at the speed of a walking mule through a timeless forest gives space for the mind to soar. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Sierra Nevada Clinic 8-12-11

The second day of a Jerry Tindell Horsemanship Clinic in the Sierra Nevada mountains above Fresno, California. We left our initial campsite and walked a 6.4 mile loop that moved us to the homestead of a gracious rancher who allowed us to set up a campsite on his land.

Length: 6.4 miles
Duration: 3 hours
Difficulty: Moderate. Trails largely roads with steady, steep climbs, several water crossings and high altitude vistas.

Altitude gain: 1190 ft 

Grade: II

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The vehicles were left behind parked at Blue Canyon, except the cook's massive living-quarters trailer stocked with our camp kitchen and food. She drove on ahead while we adventurous equestrians prepared to head out in style on our trusty mounts. Tobe was the only mule, I am sorry to say, but he represented the mule team with enthusiasm.
 A veterinarian came to give us lectures on animal first aid and care, and Tobe always likes vets so he was attentive and respectful to her. Ya think he can tell she owns 4 mules?
 The Belgians waited with stoic grace in a shady spot, knowing another hot day of pulling the wagon was about to begin.
 With any group of a dozen riders there are always last-minute panics, and it is always instructive for me to watch people handle their stock.
 Finally it was time to head 'em out, and through the gate and away we went.
 Once again the roads were pretty much clear of any cars, a good thing, but almost eerie, in a "Land that Time Forgot" kind of way. Just a few miles away there would be legions of tourists gearing up for a beer-fueled weekend. Judging by the trash that filled the campsite ground when we got there they'd be a loud and rowdy bunch, so we were leaving the public campground area before their predictable arrival.
 Back out into the forest, and already since we were passing through some of the same areas some of the more memorable trees or rock formations are starting to be familiar.
 This recent rock slide, for instance, that we went past yesterday. When the rocks came crashing down to the roadway they brought a tree with them.
 Coming up out of canyons is always a reward, with vistas stretching to the horizon across the valley floor.
 I started out in front of the group of a dozen but eventually I decided I wanted to keep up with this gal who is a professional packer and breeder and trainer of Morgan horses. Astonishingly enough by keeping up with her Tobe and I went 4.3mph, which is double his usual mule gear 2.2mph. I really didn't know he had it in him! After a while we realized the rest of the group was NOT behind us..... we forged on at speed!
We later learned that the Belgians had started having a rough time of it, so the vet had the whole group stop and count their respirations. A normal horse breathes 16-10 times a minute. The Belgians were getting up to 60-80, dangerous, so they'd stop and time them and count, and when they got down to a safe measure they'd proceed.
 A massive ball of mistletoe hanging in a tree, low enough for me to snag some for Druid good luck by positioning Tobe beneath it.
 Here we are arriving at the ranch where we'll spend the next 2 nights. The buildings date to 1860, and the apple orchard was planted in 1870. We didn't know that the main body of students were so far behind up, so we strolled in and had some watermelon, got the animals watered and de-tacked and fed and high-lined for the night. We were quite cosy by the time everyone else came in.
I pitched my tiny green tent underneath one of the apple trees, whose unusual tasting blush pink fruit was a treat for both Tobe and I. We saw the mule deer who come into this meadow to eat the apples, simply amazing that trees that old can still be producing fruit. A bit of a Cowboy Shangri-La. 
We were welcomed by the owner with Old West grace, he made us feel completely at home and the 96 year old woman whose family has run cattle in these valleys for generations came and told us stories about the settling of the area. What a treat to see such a private and unique special place.
Cue up the swelling music for the Western Saga!