Tuesday, April 21, 2015

4/17/15 Las Caballeras at V6 Ranch

The map above shows 4 trail rides enjoyed by Las Caballeras and guests, starting at the Blue Oak Camp on the V6 Ranch, located in the Cholame Valley in Central California, just inland from Santa Margarita and Paso Robles. We stayed at the camp for 4 days, and each of the 4 trail rides was a bit over 7 miles, never leaving the ranch's 20,000 acres.

Driving in to the ranch's valley I saw this rather ominous sign, announcing that I was driving over the San Andreas Fault. My advance research into the area had informed me that the US Geological Service maintains a monitoring station here to detect tremors and temblors arising from the shifting of the earth.
If that wasn't enough, when I pulled into Parkfield the one-room schoolhouse had this rather amazing sculpture in the playground. For the area kids who attend, growing up on horseback, this specimen serves the very useful purpose of giving them an anatomy lesson every day. Our host later told me he put it there, after digging up a horse that had been lying dead for several years.
Tobe was, as usual, the only mule on the invitation list. After a 4 hour drive he was in good humor to go for a stroll, but being ever optimistic he is here tacked up and ready to go but investigating the possibility of an apple in the SubUrban.

The Blue Oak Camp is filled with cowboy art, sculptures made from things that Jack Varian, the patriarch of the family, just couldn't resist at auctions. The ringing of this big bell when supper was being served brought us all a-runnin'.
As soon as we left the camp area we were immediately immersed in the beauty of country calm. Surprisingly, even in the current drought there were areas of green grass in the shade of the oaks and lindens. Havens for sassy cows.
We headed out for trail rides with the 60 members of the Las Caballeras and their invited guests, several wranglers and three amazing ranch dogs. If we walked 7 miles those dogs ran 30. No cow was safe from their nagging, all in good fun.

From the mountain trails of Santa Barbara front country to these rolling hills and pastures, from the buzz of a tattoo studio to the quiet of nature, a lovely transition.
The higher we got the landscape got dryer, and the trails were filled with ground squirrel holes. Does that phase a mule? Never!
Tobe and I, with his ear shadow looking like I am flashing a V for Victory. Or would that be V for Varian?
 The ear covers are not just fashion, they keep the gnats and ticks out of his ears. I'd been warned there were a lot of ticks around, which did cause me a bit of a sleepless night the first evening, with every itch a threat of a bloodsucking infestation. But actually neither Tobe nor I were bitten, that I know of. We both eat a lot of garlic.
This is the main ranch house and buildings. The ranch was purchased in the 1960's by the elder generation of Varians, who had 6 kids..... hence the name, the V6 Ranch.
Sometimes Tobe goes without the ear flaps, just for variety.
Ascending the hills and looking back the way we had climbed, simply amazing to walk 7 miles and still be on the same property. It is personal freedom and responsibility on a scale unimagined by city dwellers.
At one of the rest stops there were massive mistletoe balls in the trees.
The mistletoe that grows in the USA is not the same as the one in Europe, but it also seems a magical plant.

I am forever grateful for my well mannered and intelligent equine, who cooperates with my whims for adventures in new and different places. I watch everyone else in group ride situations like this, and in so many cases my response to seeing their horses is "Better you than me." It may take a bit of a quirky personality to want to ride a mule, but I say it has great benefits.
The Varians run cattle in these canyons, and every so often we'd some across a small band. Then the cowboys would show off, and chase them down off their refuges and drive them back toward the camp for a later session of sorting practice in the arena.
Many of the canyons are accessible by roads, but most are not, and the horse is still the working necessity to be able to traverse the vastness.
This water hole has shrunk up to only a small pool, and the mud around it is fissured with giant cracks in the dry mud. Frogs were still croaking, and red headed blackbirds swooped, but signs of the severe drought were ominous.
Every time we'd ascend a hilltop there would be another vista stretching out to the horizon. Living on the crowded coastline as I do, it is easy to lose the perspective that the interior of California has many areas as rural and unpopulated as this.
The actual San Andreas Fault is several miles off the Varian property, running along that top ridge. On some nearby ranches there are cracks in the ground a tall man can stand inside of, evidence of the "Big Ones" everyone talks about.
This is looking out toward the ocean, 50 miles to the West, with beautiful patterns of color and changing land forms as the mountains slowly roll away.

Our host John Varian, arriving with the "Cowboy Limo" to take us out to dinner Saturday night.
Yes, the limo was a stock trailer. With organic material still underfoot. Dozens of us piled in for the short ride to "town" and the Parkfield Cafe.

The Parkfield Cafe, located in downtown Parkfield, population 18. Earthquake Center  of the World. Promoting tourism with the cheerful sentiment: "Be Here when IT Happens!"
Across the street ifs the Parkfield Hotel, the only other business, and a haven for bicyclists and car enthusiasts who come to speed around on the deserted country roads. When I drove away on Sunday afternoon I saw a group of Corvette concoursers parked at the restaurant, and they later came rumbling up behind me and then passed my vehicles in a roaring blur.
Inside the restaurant this is on the beam above the bar: "If you feel a shake or a quake, get under your table and eat your steak!"
Traditional farm implements cover the walls, more evidence of the elder Varian's penchant for attending auctions and bringing home treasures.
We were lucky to be at the camp in the season of the cranefly orgy. The not-so-little critters were everywhere, attracted by any light, and heedlessly flitting about harmlessly, except that laughing with too wide open a mouth held a risk of inhaling one.

Last day, last ride,through scrub brush reminiscent of the Los Padres Forest.

Perfect cow country, but challenging to gather them in from! Tobe got quite the workout as we did the last of the rides and savored the chaparral and sage smells.

Looking down across the valley, knowing we'd climbed all that way, and were now going to descend and get ready for the drive back to civilization.
And one last red tailed hawk flew over calling to us. And we said, yes, we will be back next spring and ride these trails again.  

read more about the V6 Ranch here

Sunday, April 5, 2015

4/4/15 Jesusita Ride, Santa Barbara, CA

  • A short ride up into the front country 

6.62 miles,  2.5 hours, with a Rocky mule and an Arabian.
The blob at the bottom right is Tobe & I doing a lesson in the arena at the ranch. 
 If you enlarge the map you can see us making a spaghetti of movement, and a wee tiny mule and rider in the center of the arena ....... when the Google Earth fly-over was done! 
We warmed up with the arena maneuvers and then we were ready to RIDE !

 Walking up the hills out of the ranch the first thing we see is the Lauro Canyon Reservoir. In the midst of the terrible drought California is experiencing this is a welcome refreshing sight. The grass may all be burned brown, but the reservoir is sparkling in the sun.

 Looking in the other direction we see the coastline of the city, with the Channel Islands just barely visible on the horizon in the ocean's haze. The horse ranch we left from is on the very edge of civilization. Immediately above it is the Los Padres National Forest. What a resource!

Zo the Arabian  came along for the fun. His owner has been riding since he was put in a saddle when he was 2 weeks old, so they were fearless companions who led Tobe and I upward.
Zo would like to race to the top of the mountain, while Tobe is more inclined to mosey along.
The geldings compromised on a medium pace, and we moved steadily along the trail.

Amazingly there was still water in the stream in the canyon and under the ancient oak trees it was lush and cool.
There were lots of hikers and dogs, out for Easter weekend strolls, and I think the sight of us on our stylish steeds quite possibly inspired more than a few of them with a wish that they, too, had an equine!

For Tobe and I this was our first trip up to explore the mountain from the Jesusita Trail. We needed an escort! And we found a wonderful one!
Now that we have learned the way to this trail it will be easy to return again, and begin to explore the many trails that connect to it to access the mountains. Onward to adventure!