Tuesday, May 31, 2016

2016/5/31 Acorns Ride Again !!!

Once again the Live Oak Acorn Riders convened for another exploration of this amazing local resource: the Live Oak Camp property on the shores of Lake Cachuma.

One magnificent mule and three adventurous horses, 5.77 miles in 2.5 hours.

A sunny bright day, a bit of a wind, and off we went.
The little mule that could rode on the Burb hood up and over HWY154 to the other side of the mountains.
We met up with today's cohort and headed out.

Tobe Mule and I
Team Leaders and Herd Bosses
Cowboy Bob on Ananda Arabian

Miss Molly on her current Charm School pupil Stoney the Brandenburg/Thoroughbred X

Holly the owner of Stoney, riding the ever-so sensible borrowed Woodrow QuarterHorse

Off we went to explore what is technically called FrontCountry but sure looks like empty wildness and potential for adventure to us! One can excuse tourists who get the impression that California is densely populated. Locals know that once you go half an hour inland there is nobody home!
And of course, danger lurks in the wilds! This beautiful flaming bush is Toxicodendron diversilobum, Pacific poison oak. Mr Mule snacks on it, but humans who touch it are in for a nasty rash.

Here is the first of many trail obstacles. A tree has fallen across the trail, so all equines were required to ATV up and over to the left, around the roadblock.
No worries for a mule, but a learning experience for the green bean Mr Stoney, who was on his 14th ride ever and only his 2nd trail ride.

This ancient valley oak, Quercus lobata, had also fallen, and we saw many more with deadfalls beneath them. The drought here is severe.
But then unexpectedly we'd rise out of a canyon to a jeep road, and a clearer view of Lake Cachuma ahead, currently at 14% of capacity. Usually these trails wind down to the water's edge, but now they skirt a sea of drying mud flats.

I KNOW the trail sign points to the left, but look at that clear path leading to the right.......

And so off we went, and I admit that being a rather eccentric Trail Boss I led the party off astray where I did not know the route. If you consult the map of our track above you will see the big loop at the bottom left. This fateful photo was taken as we started out to see what we could see.
This downed oak with beautiful reptilian skin and a completely hollow interior testify to the severe drought, and holes leading to a den beneath are clues to a small inhabitant of a subterranean chamber.
 Somewhere in this photo is the deer that had all the animals fascinated. This is also where we ran up against a fence and realized that we needed to strike off for a new path to get us back to the trailhead.
More Valley Oaks, surrounded by branches as they pull back their energy desperate to outlast this drought. The rest of the state may be getting lots of rain but here the plants and animals are suffering.

Finally we had to backtrack all the way to the little sign that insisted the trail went off to the left.
Sharp eyes finally saw what might have been a cow path, that evolved into the trail that headed up and over.

And from the top, a view of what used to be the lake, now looking like a golf course. The water keeps receding and the valley that was here 60 years ago before it was dammed up comes back to its ancient form.

And then it was time to track back down, slowly at mule speed, carefully placing hooves and enjoying the scenery.

Spring wildflowers still clung to their moment, even as the summer heat has begun.

In this photo are the peach-colored Mimulus aurantiacus, "monkeyflower" at bottom right, 
and middle right a magenta patch of Epilobium canum, the California fuchsia.
Just over Tobe's ears is a patch of yellow
Achillea millefolium lanulosa, Mountain Yarrow.

The great thing about riding, aside from the fact that Mr Mule is doing all the work, is that you can switch focus from the tiny flowers, to the broad ecosystems, to the far horizon and landscape.
Coming down the last hill, heading back to the trailers, looking across what used to be the Santa Ynez River to the Live Oak Campground on the mesa on the right.
But wait.......
 In the shade of the trees are the Wild Horses.
We don't mess with them.
They have a stallion and a herd of mares and colts, and watch us pass by.
 Tobe notices a small rock cairn, river stones piles in a column, a marker to the way home.
And yes, there are the rigs at the trailhead, and today's adventure is almost drawing to a close.
Once again a Kentucky Mule adventures into Vaquero California.

“It ain’t dying I’m talking about, it’s living. 
I doubt it matters where you die, but it matters where you live.” 

~spoken by Augustus McCrae” 
Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove