Wednesday, April 27, 2016

2016/4/27 Dry Lake Cachuma

Tobe turned 18 and it was time for a birthday party! On a blustery sunny day a group of happy equines and riders set out to explore the shores of what used to be Lake Cachuma. At only 14% of capacity this mighty reservoir is now a dry mud basin, an eerie sight.

OK, so even on his birthday he has to confront the prejudice, the assumption, that only horses would be on this trail. But does he have a chip on his withers about that? Hardly.

We opened the gate, and proceeded to escort the party forward.

This is the gateway to the 9,000 acre Cachuma Lake Recreation Area. An incredible resource for equestrians, a jewel on our doorstep, and today our little group had it entirely to ourselves.

We rode 9 miles in 3 hours, ascending 1,468 feet, in a big loop that took us out to a far edge of the lake, climbing up and down canyons, then we doubled back on our tracks and took a slightly different route back to the staging area.

Once through the fence, adventure beckons. No vehicles, no bicycles, no dogs.
Just us and the native creatures.
But first, we had to ford the Santa Ynez River. This is the same river we crossed a fortnight ago not far away and it was so deep we almost swam it. But here, a bone dry bed of rocks stretches out.
The Godzilla El NiƱo let us down.
Ordinarily this is the spot where we get a first glimpse of the shimmering water of the lake.  In fact, should you wish to navigate to other blogs from past years on this site about this same trail, sad but true it used to be quite the view.
So we turned to the East, and in his slo-mo mode Tobe led the way downhill and into the beautiful interior trails.
The summer is coming, and the grass is now turning from lush to sere, and the drought's effects on the valley oaks is obvious. But on this windy day the grasses were blowing and spirits were high. None of the other riders had been here before, so Tobe and I were default Trail Bosses and so very happy to share this land preserved for posterity.
Then we saw it. This is the scariest of all the images, the former Arrow Island now just a small mountain. The lake was created in 1953 when the Bradbury Dam was built, and has been a boating and fishing resource since, as it functioned as the water supply for Santa Barbara. But now, it is almost back to the natural valley so long submerged.
Just for comparison, this is the visual of the lake offered on Wikipedia, and my photo above was taken from the land edge on the right side, looking at the island that appears dead center in this photo.

The geology of the area is laid quite bare by the way the chaparral covers the gentler slopes but leaves the bones of the land exposed. Walking through at the 3mph speed of a mule is the perfect way to appreciate the lay of the land.
Another view of the island, it is just so shocking to see what is such a familiar stretch of water and now just mud.
Doubtless there are biologists finding this fascinating, watching nature reclaim a sunken valley. But as someone who wants to drink clear water and have a tropical garden back in my little slice of civilization, the implications of water rationing loom on the immediate horizon.
But dwelling on that is useless, there are larger forces at work in the climate changes than a mere mule and artist can comprehend, so we had to shake off the scary visual and return to the business at hand: living in the moment, and enjoying the ride.

 Hard times for the woodland creatures, as the predators come further down the mountains to access water and find food. We saw several fleet footed deer and some jackrabbits, lots of birds, and no doubt there were many more locals who stayed in hiding and watched us go past.
Amazingly in the canyons there is still a lot of greenery, and we savored it. Knowing that very soon it will all burn brown as the summer comes on, predicted to be a hot one.

The wind was ruffling Tobe's mane into a mohawk, as we turned back to the starting point and made a plan to return as often as possible to this magical wilderness.

My gift to my companions today was this patch, and each was dubbed a Knight of the Acorn Riders. A stalwart crew I hope to return to ride here with many times in the months to come.