Wednesday, March 30, 2016

3/30/16 Grass Mountain, Los Olivos

Today I was privileged to be able to ride on the 3,000 acre Midland School property in Los Olivos. On beautiful trails created and maintained by the Santa Barbara Trails Council, we meandered through woods and fields and followed our whim, without a plan. We rode 5 miles in 2.5 hours, nobody fell off and a good time was had by all.
Access is graciously granted to the public by the school, with a protocol in place to monitor and limit the number of trail riders and hikers who are on the property at any given time. To ride requires asking for permission at least 48 hours in advance, at which time a permit is issued and the code for a locked gate given. The parking area for equestrian rigs is very large, and glowing on the horizon is grass mountain, covered right now with a coating of poppies.
This is an aerial photograph of the area, in the center of which is Figueroa Mountain, in the directly adjacent Los Padres National Forest. The call of the golden poppies was too wonderful to resist.
On this trek we did not actually find a hillside as covered in blooms as this, but hiker posted this photo the week before and when I saw it I knew I had to take advantage of the Super Bloom that is currently filling the mountain with color.
The signposted trails pointed the way. Mules and horses, begin your adventure here!
Today Tobe Mule had a pleasant surprise, a traveling companion named Miss Penny QuarterHorse. It brought out the best in him to have a girl to show off for. Ain't that the way it always is?
The beginning of the trail is a road, and on this lovely spring day it was shady under the oaks.
On our left was a stream, and everywhere the grass was lush and the land sang with the vitality brought by recent rains.
Under ancient oaks hung with Spanish moss we began our ascent toward the mountain with an easy slope. The temptation to lope and kick up our heels was strong, but there was no telling what rigors the trail above might require, and so we were conservative in what we asked of our animals. We strolled.
Once we got out of the oaks we were in classic California coastal sagebrush chaparral, pushing our way through fragrant sage and watching the play of the clouds on the landscape. The wind started to pick up too, as the elevation increased.
A small vernal pool that looked like a rice paddy filled a hillside terrace, and my handsome contemplative steed took a moment to catch his breath as we climbed ever higher.
Up and up, on easy wide access roads, watching the beauty of the landscape unfold.
Turning to look back down the valley the school is just barely visible at the cleared area above Tobe's right ear. Past it is the tiny community of Los Olivos, and further still eventually the Pacific Ocean, beyond the last hazy coastal mountain range.
 The sense of peace and quiet up above the Real World is a restorative, fully the antidote for the pressures of the Every Day.
It doesn't work well trying to take photos of wildflowers from the back of a 16hh mule with an iPhone, but this bush of Indian Paintbrush was so vivid I had to give it a try. Everywhere the ground cover is filled with tiny bright spots of color. This is their moment, springing forth in their annual glory, especially wonderful this year after several years of drought.
The varied plants the the visuals at every turn were lovely, and our steady animals climbed ever higher.
Finally we took a turn off the main road and headed towards Grass Mountain itself. Admittedly we were not being good responsible riders and were not following the maps the Midland School had provided us with. The trail stretched before us, and I can always tell where West is, and if that failed I am pretty darn sure Tobe can always find his way back to the BrenderUp. So we meandered off onto single tracks, and took turns leading the way into the unknown. We had been warned that not even a mule could actually climb this mountain, loose shale kept all but the sturdiest human hikers from the summit, so it was decided not to make an example of ourselves and instead make it an initial foray into a place we know we will want to return to.
Eventually it was decided to make the sensible decision to begin to return, and start by following the ancient orienteering method: when presented with a trail fork turn downhill and follow water. Tobe was pleased we got to a stream where he could get a drink and stand with his hooves in the water, cooling off.
After almost 5 miles of trails he deserved a bit of a rest in the shady spot.
But clearly our adventurous companions Miss Molly and Miss Penny were not going to stand around, so off we went down the stream. Nothing like having good buddies to ride with, for safety on the trail and for the encouragement to keep going when the trail goes ever onward.
We got back down to the level of the valley where we had parked, and had a nice stroll on the flatland to finish up our day, casting appreciative looks back up to the mountains we had traversed.
And there waiting for us were the rigs that will haul us back to home, where all this beauty will seem like a dream. But it is an attainable dream, and we will return again soon. The flowers are putting on a brief and magnificent show in this moment in time, and visiting wilderness is a tonic that nourishes the spirit.

“We need the tonic of wildness...At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious .........We can never have enough of nature.”
    - Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

3/26/16 Malibu Creek State Park Spring Fling Ride with ETI

This is the view. No matter where we go, the landscape changes but the view of the instrument control panel does not. The ears let me know what is worth paying extra attention to, and when they are flopping back and forth we are in cruise mode.
Today Tobe and I joined a dozen members of Equestrian Trails Corral 36 for their Spring Fling ride at the Malibu Creek State Park, over 7,000 acres of nature in the center of the Santa Monica Mountains. We did a ride of 5.56 miles in 2.5 hours, a leisurely stroll through the Reagan Ranch and then viewing Udell Gorge, and passing by the Goat Buttes, once the hunting grounds of the Golden Age millionaires.
Running along the edge of the park is Mulholland Drive, once the route the elite traveled to this idyllic spot for rural recreation. Now the famous Drive is beloved by weekend warrior motorcyclists, who revel in its curves and twists. Ronald Reagan had a ranch here from 1957-67, and some of the buildings remain. The trail through his former acres is called the Yearling Trail, and old pens and fencing testify to ranching times.
This is one of the doors of the original Reagan Ranch stables. Once he became governor he deeded the property to the State, and it later became part of the larger Park property, preserved for posterity now as a historical facility.
The landscape is quite dramatic, and trails wind back and forth throughout. Some are reserved only for equestrians and hikers, while bicyclists are allowed on others.
The mighty sandstone outcroppings that form the Goat Buttes above the Backbone Trail always seem like something from another world to me, like a gorge in China. Seeking a rural setting in which to enjoy the outdoors, a group of wealthy Los Angeles businessmen formed the Crags Country Club in 1900 and bought 2,000 acres along Malibu Creek that would later become the nucleus of Malibu Creek State Park.

Layer after layer of mountains reveal themselves as you walk through the trails.
In 1903 the Crags Country Club built a 50' dam in Malibu Creek, creating a 7 acre lake as their private duck hunting and trout fishing preserve. It was later renamed Century Lake by 20th Century Fox Studios when they bought the property and began filming on it.

Looking closely you can see redwoods at the base of the buttes, their 100+ years of growth now threatened by drought. The rest of the landscape is flourishing in the current El NiƱo weather, but the redwoods have been hard hit and are distinctly brown.
Heading back we looked down into the valley, a bit of Shangri-La attesting to why the name Malibu is known world wide as the playground of the rich and famous.
Me, I'm living in my own cowgirl movie, and it was time to head back to civilization. After a pleasant lunch with the ETI crew I loaded up my creature in the MuleBox and transported him home.
He's my little girl dream of a pony come true, and together we look forward to many more adventures exploring the American landscape.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

3/22/16 Tivy Valley to Clark's Valley, Sanger, CA

A very quick visit to the foothills of the Sierras, seeing newborn Morgan colts at the home of a role model equestrian pal and taking a quick trail ride up onto a hillside to look down on the beautiful Tivy valley she calls home, up to an overlook and a view of Clark's Valley. You can see on the map we wended our way through acres of mandarin and navel orange groves, then ascended for views, then tracked back.
Altogether 6.14 miles in 2:19 hours, 4 Morgans and 1 Mule.
Of course, what would a trip across the American landscape BE without a roadside attraction!
This is the plane crash Quik Stop gas station on the old Hwy 41 in Caruthers. And there is my rig, the sturdy SubUrban and Tobe riding in his BrenderUp, ready for adventure.
We started our ride by walking in extreme wind through acres of navel oranges. When equines hear rustling in a bush, they get alert! Very hard for them to assess danger when everything around them is in motion.
But what the heck happened here? Spider infestation?
No, turns out mandarin oranges are self-pollinating, and to prevent any cross-pollination or contamination from adjacent crops the farmers painstakingly cover each tree with a net, keeping bees, bugs and birds out.
The higher we went the more we could see the hills above, the goal to be attained after the long orchard stroll. My host was trying to show the rest of us some cowgirl equine footwork maneuvers, but I confess Tobe and I were in a dyslexic muddle and needed to promise to practice that trick another day.

At the summit of a rise the wind really whipped up, and the grass was undulating and Tobe's mane was whirling.
But on the other side, a slice of heaven. An uninhabited valley, prime agricultural land. Visualize this next time you bite into a California orange.

We turned and followed irrigation culverts through the valley edge, and passed this mysterious stone dolmen.
The waterworks look ancient, but the water was fresh and clean and ever so welcome in this drought time. The trees stand ready to convert sunshine and water to the best oranges ever.
Then it was time to turn back, return the horses to the ranch, where one of them will deliver a new colt in just a few days. And Tobe and I needed to hit the highway, and wend our way back to the Edge of the Continent, where further adventures await us.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

2016/3/9 Brown Ranch, Santa Ynez Valley, SYVR

On a mild and misty spring day I was fortunate to be allowed to ride on the beautiful Brown Ranch, a historic piece of old California on Foxen Canyon Road in the Santa Ynez Valley. It was my first time out with the Santa Ynez Valley Riders, and we were escorted across the property and through many gates, seeing the verdant growth of the season, nourished by recent rains.

Two dozen of us rode 3.86 miles in 1.36 hours, a leisurely stroll through a landscape changed very little by human hand.
We started out walking up the old ranch paths and immediately the lushness of the hillsides filled our senses. Down on the coast the drought is unmistakable, and the nearby Lake Cachuma is very low, but here the spring rains have renewed the land.
The massive trees that ennoble the habitat are Quercus lobata, the Valley Oak. Living hundreds of years, they have seen many droughts come and go.
They stand sentinel on the ridges, providing habitat and shelter for the creatures of this place.
The tiny specs in this shot are black cattle who scattered out of the way of the riders. By the time Tobe and I moved up into position for a photo they were just a series of skid marks in the grass..... did someone talk too loudly about Santa Maria style bar-b-que?
Green pastures like this are a mule's dream. He can eat a more varied banquet than a mere horse, so while he was attending to the business of carting me around the 4 miles he was casting yearning looks at the aromatic bouquet of greens.
Lots of tiny spring flowers were in bloom, fiddleneck and blue dicks, lupine and chamomile, and a sprinkling of California poppies.

Better photos could have been had if I'd dismounted and hunkered down, but I was on a mission.
The mist rolling in is the secret of the vineyards that fill the lowlands in this valley, now becoming world famous for the fine vintages produced. And it made our ride pleasant and cool.
I am ever grateful that my stalwart beast carries me to see sights such as this.

"Ah, shucks, Ma'am," says my Kentucky mule. "T'ain't nuthin'."