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.