Saturday, November 18, 2017

2017/11/18 Buena Vista Trail in Montecito

Looking down at the Santa Barbara Harbor from the mountain ridge above Montecito.

Five riders took to the trails to achieve glorious views and give their animals a real workout.
We went 3 miles in a bit less than 2 hours, climbing 660' in altitude and conquering extremely rocky and technical trails. Slow going, but scenic and challenging.

Montecito is a land of great estates, fabulously wealthy and famous people living behind gates and walls.
Despite the danger of crowding their homes up into the forest, where fires periodically rage, these are the coveted acres.

To reach our trail head I traveled up this eucalyptus-lined street.

And one by one the trailers and riders and their trusty steeds arrived.

More than a dozen had RSVP'd, but then slowly schedules changed and animals injured themselves, so in the end there were but 5.

We began with the Buena Vista Trail.

Looking at the map above that is the straight shot up the canyon, and was extremely rocky. We're not talking gravel and pebbles, this is the bones of the earth causing the barefoot mule to go rock-hopping to get up the trail. And of course it is not just an ascent, it is up for a while, then descending into a crack and across a creek bed, then back up the other side.

I know, it looks like a smooth trail but it is not. These boulders are more like what it was made of, and it takes a smart mule or horse to carefully pick their way across the terrain.

But the horizon of the mountain above beckons.

In some places rocks have been blasted away to connect the trail through.

In other places the massive boulders loomed over us, with caves scooped out of them by eons of erosion.
For scale, look on the bottom right corner to see the riders, passing through a shady tunnel of tree branches.

These photos show an invasive plant that goes by the common name of Cape Ivy or German Ivy.
Delairea odorata.
It climbs up and smothers native chaparral plants, choking them and preventing them from getting the sunlight they need. It is relentless and increases the danger of wildfires moving swiftly through these canyons filled with dead brush beneath their canopy.
Once we got to the top of the canyon we turned West on the Edison Catway, a bulldozed road used by utility workers for power line maintenance.
I asked my riding companions to pose there.
From left: SP on a mule, KM on an Arabian, JM and CT on Rocky Mountain horses.
And of course, the Santa Barbara Harbor behind. The islands were just barely visible today.
The power lines make a convenient spot to rest and take a break, and contemplate the 200 miles of trails available in these mountains, so lightly used they seem a hidden treasure.

But then it was time to continue down the Catway,
me and my shadow
and my mule
flopping his ears and enjoying his outing.

Some of my favorite things about this landscape are the dramatic cliffs and boulders, breaking through the trees, showing the geography of the land.

After the Catway we turned left and started to descend on the San Ysidro Trail. 

 This is a popular hiking route and we met lots of people with their kids and dogs having a healthy afternoon.

This cactus was growing at the bottom edge of a steep rock face, having somehow found a way to take hold and cling to the sandstone and multiply.

At some seasons of the year this creek bed will have water, but now it is mostly defined by the riparian trees that send their roots deep down to thrive here.

We knew we were almost back to civilization when we saw this rustic fence.
Fashioned from gnarled chaparral branches it could almost be made of driftwood.

We turned left here to follow the Old Pueblo Trail back across to the trail head we had entered the trail system from.

At this point we are tracking along the back fences of the Great Estates. The smell of bar-b-que wafted up, and the sounds of parties on this lovely Fall day that felt like Indian Summer.

And just before we got back to our starting point we found this wind-sculpted rock with a dedication plaque to Peter Bakewell.

"For his energy and time to make our trails in the Montecito area the pleasant riding and hiking paths they are today."
Montecito Trails Foundation 1981.

So it was with appreciation and gratitude that we ended our ride. Thanks to the MTF, Montecito Trails Foundation, that keeps these trails maintained for the use of the community. To the LPTR, the Los Padres Trail Riders, who sponsored and organized this ride. To my MeetUp group, the Horse and Mule Trail Riders of the 805, that attracted riders who had not previously experienced this trail system to join us.

We will return, and hope to see more riders on the trails when we do.


Some trails are happy ones,
Others are blue.
It's the way you ride the trail that counts,
Here's a happy one for you.
Happy trails to you,
Until we meet again.
Happy trails to you,
Keep smiling until then.
Who cares about the clouds when we're together?
Just sing a song, and bring the sunny weather.
Happy trails to you,
Until we meet again.
      - Roy Rogers & Dale Evans 
                                                                 ##### FIN  #######

Sunday, November 5, 2017

2017/11/5 Rancho Tinaquaic

For this trail ride two groups of local riders were privileged to experience one of the great historical Spanish land grant holdings, the 8,875-acre Rancho Tinaquaic. The Santa Barbara County Cattlewomen and the Santa Ynez Valley Riders joined up to go for an interesting walk across the property.

We covered 4.5 miles in 2 hours, which may seem slow unless you were there and saw how much of it was up and down rather steep hillsides.

The ride began with a discussion of the ranch rules, a sensible briefing before going out onto this beautiful private property.

Then we set out to explore the rolling hillsides, covered with end-of-summer dry grasses and dark green oaks.

We didn't follow established paths, it was more of an antic scramble with all sorts of different breeds of horses and mules following the leaders up and down steep hillsides and around valleys.

And always the horizon showed more.

There were stock tanks available for the thirsty animals, who after all were doing all the work of climbing those hills. Quarterhorses and paints, Norwegian Fjords and Arabians, and a handful of mules all shared a drink and then mustered on.

"If you're not the lead mule, the view never changes...."   or so they say.

So most photos illustrating rides could be something like this, a variable group of companionable strangers getting acquainted as they share the experience of traveling across landscape on the animals they love. Since time immemorial this is how humans have traversed the known world, and it is good for the soul to get in a few hours of it in good company.

Some of the trees were drought-blasted silhouettes, with hanging Spanish moss, creating roosts for many birds.

One of the few signs of human management aside from the roads and paths was this structure, which I presumed to be a water tank of some sort.

Some of the paths cut under the oaks, a welcome respite of shade, and where I expected to see cattle loafing, but I saw none.

Finally we ascended a particularly high hill and were able to look out towards the Pacific ocean.

This ranch is in a canyon inland from Los Alamos, not far from the sea, and it gave a scope and perspective to stretch that visible distance.

And then we were done.
Tobe mule had earned a good feed in the trailer on the way home, and I took my mule riding pal out to lunch at the bakery owned by a client/friend in Los Alamos, and then we settled in for the drive back to Santa Barbara.

Where the adventure had started early in the morning with me taking Tobe to the parking lot of Earl Warren Showgrounds to tack up, and where we saw the

Circo Caballero setting up their tents...... which anyone might presume was an equestrian circus. But it is not. Mexican gymnasts and jugglers and clowns, but no horses.

Although in the dawn light as Tobe patiently got dressed for the ride and thought his morning mule thoughts, maybe he was pondering whether he'd like to run away with the circus.
"Tobe the Wonder Mule......" 

“Damn everything but the circus!. . .The average 'painter' 'sculptor' 'poet' 'composer' 'playwright' is a person who cannot leap through a hoop from the back of a galloping horse, make people laugh with a clown's mouth, orchestrate twenty lions.”      
--- e.e. cummings

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

2017/11/1 Live Oak

Today in celebration of the Celtic New Year and All Saints Day Tobe Mule and I joined a new friend and rode at the old favorite, Live Oak.

The photo above is the view as you leave the equestrian parking area and cross the bone-dry Santa Ynez River, the entrance to the thousands of acres of lovely trails.

The map has a glitch, I had a technical issue so the iPhone battery ran out half-way back, causing the Motion-GPX to stop recording. Which didn't matter since we were retracing our path. BUT when the iPhone recharged in the SubUrban it suddenly drew that straight line to the point where I was driving on Highway 154.

We rode for about 2 hours and went 5 miles, first through the wooded ridge and then tracking along the fence line of the Rancho San Fernando Rey, in a dry mesa that ends at a bluff overlooking the golf course.
The only other rider we met was this 78 year old on a quarter horse who was looking for the Horse & Mule Riders of the 805 Meet-Up! I'd changed our Meet-Up ride time to noon and he showed up at 11AM as I had originally advertised it, so instead of riding together we sat around and chatted for a long time and then went our separate ways, vowing to share a trail in the future.

Once across the river the landscape rises up quickly, thickly forested with oak trees and crossed with trails that allow for two horses to walk adjacent much of the time.

We saw one deer, but you always get the impression that lots of creatures are watching as you pass by.

Then we got up onto the mesa, which I always think it like being on the African veld.  Dried grasses, huge ancient oaks, and a horizon of mountains that beckon with the promise of trails to discoveries.

Many of the oaks were blasted by the recent drought, so while the main trunk survives the ground around them is littered with fallen limbs.

We tracked along the straight fence that separates the government-owned Live Oak Camp, part of the Lake Cachuma property, from the Rancho San Fernando Rey.

The only cow we saw was this desiccated mummified relic under a tree. I boxed up an enlargement in the photo, we were on the other side of the fence and plenty glad not to get close enough to smell it.

A beautiful day, perfect mild weather, and a classic California landscape.

And a new equestrienne friend, a very accomplished competitive rider who was kind enough to spend an afternoon reining in her Arab to adjust to mule speed.

The camaraderie of the equine enthusiasts transcends occupational or educational differences.

The oak trees are of two distinct kinds. Quercus agrifolia, the Coastal Live Oak, with the rounded and spiky leaves. And Quercus lobata, the Valley Oak, with lobed leaves and deeply fissured trunks. This area is unique in that both kinds grow in close proximity.

We may be walking in tame landscape here, but the mountains are so very close, and a trail system tracks through them that a mule can conquer.

But this ride had achieved its goal, to come to the edge of the bluff overlooking the golf course and Hwy 154.  Then it was time to turn around, and head back to the transport vehicles and down to real life below.

"To see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands, and eternity in an hour."                  --- William Blake

You know, real life doesn't just suddenly resolve itself. You have to keep working at it. Viggo Mortensen
Read more at:
You know, real life doesn't just suddenly resolve itself. You have to keep working at it. Viggo Mortensen
Read more at:

Sunday, October 29, 2017

2017/10/29 YellowJacket Ranch in the Huasna Valley

Two days before Hallowe'en the Equestrian Trails Alliance organization Ride Nipomo offered members the opportunity to ride on the YellowJacket Ranch in the Huasna Valley, East of Arroyo Grande, California. I joined the club just to take advantage of this rare opportunity.
It required loading up Tobe Mule in the pre-dawn dark to get there on time, but we knew it would be worth it. After following winding country roads, glimpsing cows and wild turkeys and various crops filling lush bottom land surrounded by heavily wooded mountains..... at last we arrived.
I had been invited to come by Stormy and her Awesome Arab Pico, and she promised to lead us across the landscape safely.

Also my pal Ben from Boston was in town for a photo shoot and I thought he might enjoy a hike in "the Other California," the one hidden away on private ranches, unseen from the highways, inhabited by cows and country folk.
He was ready !

And off we go, with our leader in blaze orange confidently setting the pace.

 There we go, wee specs at 11 o'clock.

Pico is an endurance Arab, and I know he could fly these trails, but he and his mistress kindly adapt to Mule Pace when we are with them.

We went a distance of 4 miles in 2 hours, which may not seem like far but it was often very very steep !!!

 It is certainly not a civilized place. Rolling hills that give cows a home, and humans a chance to roam and explore. In the second photo above, Ben is a tiny blip traversing a hillside at 1 o'clock..... quite a change from an urban life in Boston, where exercise is done in a gym.

Gullies with dense undergrowth and stands of old oaks alternated with wide open hillsides covered in dried grasses, testimony to how lush they must have been in last winter's rainy season.

 If you refer back to the map you'll see a place where the trail dead-ended, and these photos show the teaser trail we followed up to that peak.

Climbing higher and higher and seeing the valley stretching out towards the sea. The ranch owner told us later that if there had been no maritime fog we would have been able to see Morro Rock in Morro Bay to the North.
Tobe and Pico stop for a breather and to admire the landscape. 
Looking back inland there are ponds and more hills and valleys stretching out to the horizon.

But no resting on our half-way accomplishment, there was one more push to attain the top.

Pico, being an Arabian, practically dances up hills.

Tobe, being a mule, puts his shoulder to the wheel and conquers the task with slow and steady power.

And here we are, the IncrediMule and the Queen of Knots attain the heights.

And the stalwart Stormy and Perky Pico got us here!

What is utterly unfair is that there is no way to convey in photographs how nearly vertical some of these trails are. 
I've been battling a bit of PTSD after a mule wreck a few years back that injured me, and steep drop-offs and vertiginous trails have been a challenge. But today I really felt like any consciousness of fear is my friend, making me aware of living in the moment, and I was utterly calm. I knew if I kept myself centered my mule would get me through, and he was seeing Pico up ahead of us conquering the trail, so no doubt he could too.

Once back off the hill we were in cow land. There were cow-calf pairs making their ambling way across the slopes, and it was a good reminder of where the beef comes from. The little calves were often gamboling about, making the best of the one frivolous part of their brief lives.

We came up to one of the little lakes and saw that there was a cow there with twins, but the calves were two different colors!

We stopped at a respectful distance, watching them watch us.

The pink ribbon on the bush was put there as a marker for the riders, letting them know this is a main trail throughout the ranch that will loop them back to the starting point.

Talking to the ranch owner later he said that all the cattle are Black Angus, but since they did have another other breed of cows previously on the ranch some of the mother cows have a bit of mixed blood and sometimes an oddly colored set of twins like this will appear.

This must have been a pond until just recently, it was still filled with a lush growth and looked like it might have been boggy.

And coming down the main jeep track we saw this water feature, with picturesque ducks.

 In this shot taken from above, we are the two tiny specks dead center walking along the water.

Up on the crest of a hill appear some riders.

The ride was more of an opportunity than an organized event. Three dozen Ride Nipomo members RSVP'd, and then took off in small groups to explore, with a  promise to rendezvous in 3 hours for lunch.

We had one final hurdle to cross. We came to a stream with mud  that looked very boggy.  Pico was not sure it was safe, but Tobe and I determined that the area to the far right looked safe to us and Tobe strolled across it carefully, placing each foot with great deliberation.

Then Pico, being a horse,  decided that getting this over with as quickly as possible was the best approach to danger and ran through it.
And then the ride came to a close
 And we tracked back to where the trailers were parked.

I end the day with thanks to the ranch land owners for their generosity for allowing us to visit their property, to Ride Nipomo for the opportunity, to Stormy for alerting me to the event and being our guide, to Ben for being a good right hand and able conversationalist and traveling companion, and to the mighty Tobe the IncrediMule, for being my legs.

Happy Hallowe'en !!!!