Saturday, September 16, 2017

2017/9/16 Rice Canyon Trail in Ojai

A ride in Ojai, the Valley of the Moon.
The Ventura River Preserve is a quite sensibly managed section of river bottom and adjacent canyons passing through Ojai, very close for residents to access for riding, biking, and hiking, making it a true multi-use recreation area.

Today Tobe Mule & I joined eight of the Santa Ynez Valley Riders for a 2 hour 4.7 mile stroll up Rice Canyon and then back down Wills Canyon. Extremely easy riding.

 Tobe and I are good citizens on the trail, obeying the rules of the road.
Even no martinis.
Frankly, Tobe has never even seen me tipsy. It just wouldn't DO to have him think I was less than his eternally capable leader.

No fishing!
And the Rice Canyon sign quite clearly warns we on 4-footeds that off-road mountain bikers will be sharing the trails with us.
Fortunately today all of the people we encountered on wheels were nice, and were willing to go by slowly so there were no major equine panics. Tobe Mule can hear a bike's tread on dirt a city block away, and will flip an ear and track the sound...... so I turn him to face it and we have no problems.

The first obstacle on our course is the riverbed, entirely dry at this season and filled with tumbled round rocks as far as the eye can see, evidence of the winter storms that have washed them down from the mountains.

Sure footed goes the mighty mule.

As we come up out of the river we hit the Fish Diversion, built to allow spawning runs to reach a lake far upstream.

No horses, yes fish, no mention of mules.

At this dry end-of-summer season there is clearly no water and the grasses are tinder dry. Looming above on the horizon are the Topa Topa mountains, a wonderful orienting landmark. Pretty hard to get lost on any of these trails, because climbing to a ridge will always give you a view of the Topa Topas and instantly you know where you are.

Fairly soon we are under the canopy of oaks in dappled shade, and moving through the forest.

Silly horses, can't they read the COWS ONLY spray painted on the trough?

Well, no worries,  after an uphill walk on a warm day, all the equines had a drink.

Soon we came to the high point on the Rice Canyon Trail, 
and looked out over the valley to the West.

And THIS is the BEST panoramic I have ever taken from mule back.
Almost always there are blurry bits as horses fidgit, but not this time!
Of course give credit to the mule, Tobe WAS standing perfectly still, glad for a bit of a breather after climbing up to this point.

There are gates in the preserve, ostensibly to contain cattle in certain sections.

And our Trail Boss dismounted and held them open for us to pass through.

Some of the best things about this riding group are sensible trail bosses, riders with solid animals, and a generous spirit of willingness to help each other.

One guest was a girl whose 18th birthday present from her grandfather was to rent her a horse and come along for the ride.
 Funny how the configurations of trees, the play of light and shade, are so engrossing and soothing as you pass through them at the steady 2.5mph of a strolling equine, and yet trying to capture the feeling in a photo is so very difficult.

 No virtual reality could match the 3D experience.

This picturesque rural bridge is clearly marked as NOT safe for equines, and the trail bends around it.

Benches like this one are scattered along the trail, often dedicated to someone who loved this place in life. We'd often come across hikers taking a breather on them.

But I don't need a break,
all I have to do is sit on my gliding gaited mule and enjoy the ride.

Well, I DO have to pay attention to the ears alerting me to things he is paying attention to, it isn't quite like letting him be the self-driving vehicle.
Coming down the Wills Canyon eventually the trees clear and we start to see the inhabited valley below.
This is looking back across the river bottom, on to farmland, not onto the cities of Ojai and Meiners Oaks. Like so much of Southern California, you can be inside the urban world and in just minutes explore the wilderness.

So lastly, we once again crossed the river bottom rock world, and proceeded back to the Oso trailhead.

Then, one last morbid moment.
On the way in I had hit a cute as a bunny little rabbit. I did. I refused to swerve and have the weight of the horse trailer pull me off kilter, so when the suicidal brush rabbit Sylvilagus bachmani ran forward into the road I let nature take its course.
Then oh my, on the way out half a dozen vultures, Aegypius Monachus, were in the road eating it. Not the condors that inhabit the peaks near here, brought back from extinction and such a proud symbol. Nope. Vultures.

I had determined NOT to let it seem like an omen, and certainly nothing untoward happened on the ride. But coming back out and heading home there it was, evidence of the mortality that waits for us all.

Marcus Aurelius “Your days are numbered. Use them to throw open the windows of your soul to the sun. If you do not, the sun will soon set, and you with it.”

- Marcus Aurelius, The Emperor's Handbook        

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Saturday, September 9, 2017

2017/9/9 Los Flores Ranch Park

A lovely hot California day, and a chance to explore a new place I'd never been. But it did not begin accurately. I had an invitation to ride with a docent who knows the property well, but did I pay attention when she clearly instructed me to get off the 101 at exit 161? No, of course not. I set the park address I found online into my iPhone and trusted technology, got off at exit 165, and proceeded to the wrong entrance. Represented on the map above by the top right corner. As you can see, I should have been at the bottom left.
That caused an hour delay, so Tobe snacked and I combed out all the tangles in his tail, and I watched people arrive to go hiking, and waited, and finally when I gave up hope I started back to the freeway whereupon I returned to cell service and my phone pinged with the messages telling me where I should have been.
I could have stayed cranky, but I adjusted my attitude and proceeded on to the correct spot, and on to a fine ride.
My escort and her athletic Arabian use this as their training ground for endurance rides, but were kind to go at mule speed today, so in 2 hours we did a scenic distance of either 5.28 or 6.12 miles, depending on whether you are looking at my GPX track or hers. It seems hers is calibrated more generously, her tracker says she has ridden over 3,300 miles in the 3 years she and her perky Pico have been together!
The Los Flores Ranch Park is 1,778 acres (nearly 2.8 square miles) located about 8 miles South of Santa Maria, California, in the Solomon Hills.  
All information about the Park is available online HERE.

This is the utterly unremarkable exit 161 off highway 101. Gateway to a slice of Old California, a place I intend to explore at other seasons of the year to watch the now dry grassland spring to life with flowers when the rains return.

This is the staging area. Plenty of room for any size equestrian transport vehicles, tie rails, a mounting block and a huge metal shed with picnic tables inside for after-ride social hours.

And if I am lucky I will be able to ride again with today's guide extraordinaire.

Her Arabian gelding is decked out in the latest in bright biothane tack, and she is every inch the endurance rider.
She is presently preparing for a 50 mile ride next month, and so is out on the trails as often as possible.

 Tobe and I are strolling rubberneckers by comparison, and she was kind enough to slow down and wait for us whenever we lagged behind.

We did a big loop, as the map shows, and much of it followed ridge crests and gave a fine view off across the Santa Maria valley to the East.

The Park is quite new, and many of the trails we followed have been created in just the past year. The City of Santa Maria is committed to making this a multi-use recreational area, and we saw lots of orange flags set out marking where future trails would be blazed.
Arabians "drink the wind" and I'm quite sure Pico could have sped through these trails in half the time, but he was well mannered about being a mule escort.

The hills we traversed were almost entirely grass burnt to straw, with just a few tiny wildflowers here and there. The trees are Live Oaks, all looking quite healthy, and giving a stark contrast with their dark green leaves.
And here is our guide, posing in a spot where an oak spans the trail.

With the exception of 5 bicyclists and 2 hikers we had the place to ourselves, the only sound the tapping of hooves and the calls of red tailed hawks soaring above.
Tobe did all the work of course, but he's a good-natured beast and glad for a chance to leave his paddock behind and stretch his legs on a new trail.
 It is always interesting to explore a place like this, so little utilized, and then come up over a ridge and there is the highway, streaming along. This is the antidote for the pressure of urban living, the perspective on how very much of California is in fact ranch land, not populated at all.
One small obstacle before the ride was done. Looking very much like a training trial in an arena contest, a slightly wobbly wooden bridge spanned a deep crack in the earth. Neither animal gave it a moment's hesitation.

And then it was back to the trailers for a well earned lunch, and then for Tobe and I an hour's ride back to civilization. Another memory made.

"Well, certainly memory is a curious machine and strangely capricious. It has no order, it has no system, it has no notion of values, it is always throwing away gold and hoarding rubbish. Out of that dim old time I have recalled that swarm of wholly trifling facts with case and precision, yet to save my life I can't get back my mathematics. It vexes me, yet I am aware that everybody's memory is like that, and that therefore I have no right to complain."

Mark Twain   - "Three Thousand Years among the Microbes"

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