Friday, September 30, 2011

Las Caballeras Fun Day 9-30-11

This day was devoted to riding up to the Rancho Escondido again and then many of the gals took part in a costumed "Parade of Pretty Ponies" and equestrian games. But I was watching the sky, and listening to the booming thunder, and a group of us decided we'd rather take a small cadre and ride back on an interesting trail than stick around gaming and maybe ride back in rain.

Length: 8.6 miles
Duration: 4 hours
Difficulty: Moderate. Some rocky climbs, single track trails, but nothing with a significant drop-off. 

Altitude gain: 1070 ft 

Grade: II

View Las Caballeras Fun Day 9-30-11 in a larger map

 Patient Tobe, dozing in the sun, ready to carry me to adventure.
 Off we go, leading the way out of the pretty campground.
 Everyone straggled out of camp in small groups. already I have found two gals with gaited Rocky Mountain horses, what Tobe's mother was, so we make a fine riding crew.
 There are a lot of clouds over the mountains, and the sound of thunder booming close by, and we struck out to explore, all the while aiming for the Rancho Escondido we had visited the day before. Fun how going the opposite direction on a trail makes it a whole new ride.
 Looking out to sea it is a clear summer's day, visual poetry.
 Relatively flat open areas gave us a chance to rack our gaited animals. Poor Tobe, he does his best but his rack is just not as fast as a full Rocky Mountain horse. I have to think that if I get him out on the trail to practice with more Rockies that he'll have an incentive to get faster!
 At Rancho Escondido the Wrigley family have a lovely small museum with artifacts from their time living on the island. This is a carriage used to bring people up to the ranches from the harbors.
 All of what is being done with Catalina today is due to the foresight William Wrigley, Jr. Without his stewardship it could so easily have been developed into a Coney Island West.
 This place is filled with history, and pride of accomplishment.
 The display cases had lots of silver-mounted saddles made for the family by Edward Bohlin, for use in events like the Pasadena Rose Parade.
 Walking down a barranca away from the ranch as the first raindrops fell.
 Following old roads, sensing as the smells of the chaparral are enhanced by the slight moisture falling.
 An open sided picnic house, that was built in the 1920's for dignitaries to be treated to an al fresco meal after a tour in one of the wagons or on horseback.
 A view across the interior, way out to the coast where we are camped. By this time the rain had stopped, but we could still hear thunder.
 Oh no, not another bison! So far we have not met any angry ones, but once I learned that they can out run any horse I have been trying my darndest not to let that nervousness transmit to Tobe. I know if I am scared he feels it through my legs, so as we go past these monsters I practice calm breathing.
 And there is our home base, a slice of paradise.
A sunset over my tent under the pam tree, a lovely cap for a pleasant day. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Las Caballeras Airport in the Sky 9-29-11

For our first ambitious ride I hooked up with some spirited gals and we decided to ride up to the Airport in the Sky and then come back. A perfect example of the journey being more important than the destination, we just want to explore and discover Catalina.

Length: 12.5 miles
Duration: 4.25 hours
Difficulty: Moderate. Some rocky climbs, single track trails, but nothing with a significant drop-off. 

Altitude gain: 2060 ft 

Grade: II

Tobe wearing my beret, looking jaunty and patient as I get him all tacked up and ready to go exploring and visit the Airport in the Sky. 

 These trails and roads are a good example of why shoes are necessary here. The rocks are very sharp and all this walking in sandy roads would wear down his hooves.
 The day was much clearer and the sea a splendid azure, as we wound around and rose higher and higher.
 This is looking back on our little cove, what an amazing campsite. I even swam in the ocean, made it feel even more like summer camp.
 There are lots of harbors and coves all along the coast, and because the land has never been developed except for minimal roads it is easy to imagine landing on this place in a canoe or a sailing vessel in eons past.
 Traveling at mule speed is so relaxing, watching the landscape unfold. 
 And the island is big enough that there are mountain ranges receding into the distance, ........... but wait, ears UP! There are three more bison! We actually went of the road and bushwhacked a big leisurely loop around these guys.
 Off the grid, no computer, just natural light and vistas to gaze upon.
 This looked like a natural lagoon that was a bison watering hole. 
 A sign for the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy outside the airport. We were so very grateful that they granted Las Caballeras the opportunity to ride on the Island once a year.
 The airport, tiny and quaint and with an astounding mountaintop location.
 A metal sculpture of a cowboy roping a calf at the entrance to the ranch next to the airport.
 Looking across the valley at Rancho Escondido, where the Wrigley family used to have their famous Arabian horse breeding program. Now it houses a museum and is being restored for more public use.
 Rancho Escondido's main buildings and corral.
 An old barn at the Rancho.
And a silly portrait of me, wearing a buffalo gal hat I got at the airport. If they scare me I have to find a way to deal with that, might as well laugh!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Las Caballeras riding into Little Harbor camp 9-28-11

In the morning we took a bus back to where the animals had been high-lined overnight, and tacked up and prepared for our first Catalina trail adventure.

Length: 7.2 miles
Duration: 3 hours
Difficulty: Easy. Mostly traveling on the road, jeep worthy, and the only real hazard being the wild bison who live freely on the island and added an element of danger and thrill to the stroll.

Altitude gain: 1670 ft 

Grade: I

View Trans Catalina in a larger map

 Tobe had had enough of standing around, we were both ready to begin to see the secret interior of Santa Catalina Island. On my numerous previous visits I had only explored the area around Avalon, but now with the help of my surefooted steed I was going to be able to explore the REAL island, the part that the Wrigley family fell in love with and then deeded over to the Conservancy so that it can remain wild and free forever.
 The first part of the track to Little Harbor had recently burned, an eerie landscape to pass through. On the first climb two horses threw shoes and had to turn back to get boots fitted. Tobe was wearing shoes on all 4 hooves for the first time since I've had him, as required by the organizers of the ride. Since there are no boots made for mules he had metal shoes, and I said a big prayer that they'd stay firmly on for the whole week and not cause problems.
 Looking back through the burnt trees at Cat Harbor, where the barge transporting the animals came in.
 Then we turned our attention to the trail. The group I was with was ambitious enough to say we'd do the Trans-Catalina Trail. What did I know? You suggest it, I'll go for it! But wait, what is that dark shape up there on the hill....... Tobe is riveted on it.....
 Looking back, the beautiful calm Cat harbor.
 Then, holy moley, there was our first sighting of a bison. No wonder Tobe didn't want to turn around and take another harbor photo. I swear they look as big as a truck. Wikipedia says that can grow to 11.5' long and weigh up to 2,800 pounds. That's double the size of Tobe, who is a very big animal. In typical mule mode he kept his gaze firmly focused on the big unknown.
 I was afraid when viewing these pictures in my iPhone that the bison couldn't possibly look as BIG as they really are. When it flicked its ears Tobe did do a sidestep into some of that opuntia cactus you see growing there, and we had to stop and pluck out the spines. I don't know that he'd ever had cactus spines stuck in him before, but he's a quick learner and never did that again. As long as I never fall in any, I'm OK with whatever evasive maneuver he thinks necessary in the face of danger.
 Some of the other riders actually turned back. Seemed to me like the gals transmitted so much of their own fear of the bison to their horses that they felt like they couldn't possibly ride past it. I don't know what they ever did, presumably someone more confident escorted them to camp because later we all got there.
 We started to do the Trans-Catalina trail but rode up into fog so thick we had no view at all. This fence had something I've never seen before, barbed wire graffiti. Eventually we reconsidered, thinking why cling to cliff edge trails if you can't even see the drop off to the sea. So we changed course and went another way that would take us on an inland route to camp, vowing to do the Trans-Cat later during our stay.
 Mist and fog and exploring a new landscape with new friends. Doesn't get much better than that.
 Except oh no, there's another bison! As Wikipedia describes: "The heads and forequarters are massive, and both sexes have short, curved horns that can grow up to 2 feet (61 cm) long, which they use in fighting for status within the herd and for defense."
 We did a two-step and a quick pass by and the bison just stared us down and made no aggressive move. I just tried to breathe evenly and NOT transmit any tension to Tobe through my legs.
 Much of the island is laced with old fences, which might at one point have seemed as if they could contain the bison. Clearly from the condition of them that was not an adequate assessment. Now the cactus growing in them is probably more of a deterrent than the century-old barbed wire.
 This is a buffalo pen. Every two years the bison are rounded up, checked for diseases, treated if necessary, and a percentage of them are culled out and shipped to a Native American tribe in North Dakota to add to a herd there. The ones breeding on the island have been a pure isolated population for so many generations, never interbreeding with cattle, that they are considered a genetically pure and valuable strain. Presumably the bison burgers served at the island cafes are imported from elsewhere.
 A change in the light and air heralded the coastline ahead.
 A reservoir lagoon in a valley was a pretty sight.
 And then, topping a last ridge, we see our campground, Little Harbor.
And here is Tobe's campsite, high-lined with all the horses, getting fed as much as he wanted and relaxing after a nice walk.