Sunday, April 17, 2016

2016/4/14-17 V6 Ranch Ride

That's Tobe and I chasing a steer! Holy cow!
Who knew!
That's one thing about getting a used mule, you just never know what talents may be lurking that you hadn't bargained on. Tobe was too slow to really turn and burn those steers, but he had a beady eye and they definitely knew he was coming for them.
And where did we do this?
On a lovely return visit to the V6 Ranch in Parkfield, CA with Las Caballeras.
The day started with caravanning, so there's my rig and Cowboy Bob's right behind.
We stopped at Bakery Bob's Well Bread in Los Alamos for caffeination and a nosh, then headed up into the Other California, the rural interior.
You have to know you are going seriously Country when you cross a cattle guard into a whole valley. In this case the Cholame Valley, home of the Varian family's V6 Ranch. Cholame is the Yokut Indian word for "the beautiful one" and this valley certainly is that.
Not only that, this is the most studied earthquake zone in the world.

Parkfield, which consists of a cafe, an inn, a school and a volunteer fire station

A place where the town population is 18, and the kids presumably ride horses to the tiny grammar school.

This horse skeleton is in the playground, a marvelous way to teach kids first-hand the anatomy of the animals they and their families depend on for their livelihoods.

Tobe Mule and Ananda Arabian settled into their enclosures, and immediately were riveted to the view of cattle on the hillside above. They knew already this was not going to be a normal vacation.
I converted my BrenderUp into a little bunkhouse for me, with a cosy cot and sleeping bag. It got down to 32 degrees at night and there was frost on the hay bales, but I was a snug bug.
Dozens of Las Caballeras members and their friends started to arrive, and the next morning it was time to saddle up and hit the trail for the first of several trail rides.
As shown on the map at the heading of the post, there were 3 different rides while we were there.
On 4/15/16 we did 7 miles in 2.5 hours
then later went back out and did 3.5 miles in 2 hours
on 4/16 we did 11 miles in 4 hours.
Climbing up and down hills with a large group of people there is just no guesstimating how long a ride will be.

I was excited to see the ranch so green. When I came up last year it was burnt brown, but this year it still retained the lush look of winter.

“Nobody run off with her,” Roscoe said. "She just run off with herself, I guess.” -   Larry McMurtry
    Lonesome Dove
The landscape is mostly grassland, and can only support one cow per 25 acres. Fortunately the V6 Ranch is 17,000 acres, and the owners are committed to preservation of the land, using innovative stock handling techniques to keep the land as productive as possible even in times of drought.
Water holes are located throughout the property, but are only a fraction of the size they were in previous years.
I particularly enjoyed walking through the chaparral woodland scrub, as Tobe brushes up against bushes the scent that will always be for me the perfume of a California day wafts up and envelops us.
As we walked slowly across the landscape, the focus changes from nearby tiny flowers to the mountains in the distance.  For a city dweller this is a most restorative activity. No tattoos to draw, no squinting at skin under bright light, just wide open vistas and a mule my mode of conveyance.
In some places the ground was significantly redder, a lovely contrast with the white sage.
Tobe well remembered being asked to hop up onto tires at the Max Bishop clinic in Arizona last year, and gave this empty one a skeptical look. The tire is intended to be a water trough at some future date, but for now it is a bit of alien technology out on a pasture.
Solitary oaks on a grassy hillside, the essence of a California landscape.
The ride was not strenuous, but this hill shows how the 54 riders looked spread out on the trail, each animal taking the descent in their own time. Remarkably in all the rides no one fell off and no one came to any grief, a fine accomplishment with this many personalities involved.
In the middle of the longest ride we stopped for lunch at a lakeside pavilion built for entertaining guests at the V6, and the creatures were all tied to rest while the humans ate. Here are the three Santa Barbara compadres: Tobe Mule, Ananda Arabian, and Skip QuarterHorse. They DO look like they are comparing notes on their humans.
Several of the Varian family members have their homes on this hilltop. Lairds of all they survey.
This is John Varian, ranch owner and generous spirit. On his lap is one of his ranch dogs, a corgi. The herding dogs ran alongside on our trail rides with no problem, but the corgi has a bit of trouble running uphill on those wee legs of hers, so John would stop and give her a lift up the inclines.
The lines of seeded grass visible in this track are evidence of the care-taking and management practiced by the Varians. They are interested in trying out grasses from Australia now, which would produce on a different seasonal cycle and allow them to feed their stock through a longer season.
 This is an unusual way to make a fence support, filing a basket of wire with rocks. Whatever method they use it needs to withstand earthquake tremors.
Tobe signaling for a left turn.
And posing with an up-do on a windy day.
But maybe THIS is what is getting Tobe's hair up.... some inter-species hijinks on the trail! Don't tell the Trail Boss's missus what he was caught doing!
The grasses blowing in the wind are like being in a ship at sea, hypnotic and soothing.

When we got back to the camp Tobe and I stopped to watch some of the other folks playing with cows in the arena. Last year I chickened out and did not try it, but this year I promised myself I'd give it a go. But not today!
This is a section of the actual San Andreas fault, which cuts across the V6.

At the Parkfield Cafe the Varians serve their grass-fed beef and have this sensible advice should the Big One happen while you are there.
 Not to worry! I'm on vacation! No drama!

This is John and Barb Varian, in the back of their restaurant, with the gift I brought them.

It is a 1960's toy, an Earthquake in a Can. You shake it up & then place it on the table, it begins to hop around as if the Earth is moving.

But I am not here for an earthquake, I'm here to move my mule to move some cows!

Here we can see more shots of my maiden excursion into the world of working cattle.
In the top photo Cowboy Boy waits on Ananda with the side while Tobe and I gait over to the steer and tell it to get going. In the second shot Cowgirl Linda and Skip are seriously flying to cut off the steer while Tobe is intent on bending it to his will.
I hate to admit that horses CAN do some things better than a mule, but in this case a gaited mule gliding around an arena was simply no match for a quarter horse with real cow sense.
Finally, the steers were allowed to exit the arena, after humoring all these greenhorn cowpokes making a game of chasing them around.
Then it was time to do a little cattle drive, taking the patient beeves who had been play toys for the group and letting them go back to pasture, so we drove them back into the hills to relax and enjoy the grass.
Tobe got a bit of a rest and a drink,
then it was time to head back to civilization.
A lovely time was had by all.
And maybe, just maybe, this has awakened in Tobe an ambition for cow working ranch life. For now it was a vacation for us both, a glimpse of how the timeless activities on a ranch go on as they have for generations.

See you on the next trail!