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.

Here is a nice movie that Ride Nipomo made about this event, featuring many of the photos from this blog:

Happy Hallowe'en !!!!


Saturday, October 28, 2017

2017/10/28 Greenwell & Ennisbrook

On a beautiful cool Fall day 8 members of the Los Padres Trail Riders met at the Greenwell Preserve and took a stroll across the Summerland and Montecito landscape. The route skirted the edge of the Birnam Wood golf course, and then explored the beautiful Ennisbrook nature preserve.

In 3.5 hours we walked 8.5 miles, sometimes climbing trails and other times forming an unusual sight on the housing area streets.

 Heading up from the Greenwell Preserve, many of the hillsides are cultivated with avocados.

Estates grid up the acres, some are second or third homes for the very wealthy, some are ranches producing avocados or dedicated to training horses.

A steep and somewhat challenging rocky climb leads up to the Ortega Reservoir. From below it looks like an earthen dam, then from the top it is efficiently covered to prevent evaporation.

Walking down the roads between the beautifully landscaped estates, the many colors of profuse bouganvilla and fruit trees and succulents delight the eye.

Usually when I ride up here the residents have never been in view, only the gardeners and caretakers busy at their tasks keeping it all tidy.

Clearly Tobe can smell the horses behind this custom wrought iron gate, and is curious about them.

The trails are lined with dry brush, a reminder of
the fragility of the urban environment imposed on these foothills. All too clearly locals remember fires which have swept through these neighborhoods, with terrible results.

It is at this time of year, when the dry winds come out of the deserts and blow across the spent grasses and tangled chaparral, that fires are most likely to catch hold.

Our path takes us between these great estates, sharing their views and sentinel trees, a place of tranquil beauty.

Normally this would be a view of the Santa Barbara harbor, and the Channel Islands beyond. But today the maritime fog is thick, and we are just fine with it being a cooler day.

Looking down off the trail we are circling around the Birnam Wood Golf Club. It has 18 holes, was built in 1968 by Robert Trent Jones, and is surrounded by high value estates.

The land across which our trail passes was once part of a very large land holding that belonged to the Coffin Family. It is with their generous permission that the Coffin Family Trail provides a vital equestrian link in the area.

The trails in this system are maintained by the MTF, the Montecito Trails Foundation, and their efforts keep these trails in very excellent condition.

This hilltop has a convenient picnic table for admiring the view. On clear days the Mission and the city of Santa Barbara stretch out below.

Then our track took us through a large boarding stable as we made out way from the Summerland side of the hill to Sheffield Drive and Montecito.

Many of the trails are edged with fence rails, and make passage between the estates easy. Here we crossed a stream, just a trickle in this season.

Then our path took us through a long stand of eucalyptus trees, with their shedding bark forming a scented mulch we walked through.

A fine bright color fills the interior of these freshly cut logs.

And then it was time to enter Ennisbrook.  At one time this was part of a grand estate, the Rancho San Leandro, with polo grounds and a world class team.
But the Great Depression ended the glory days, and by the 1940's the property fell into disrepair.
In the late 1980's plans were approved to put 63 homes on the acres, and permission to build was contingent upon the developers setting aside 44 wooded acres on San Ysidro Creek to be Montecito's first nature preserve.

It is now a favorite with walkers, hikers, and equestrians.

I believe this old adobe stable is a part of the original Rancho San Leandro.

Two stone bridges built around 1900
still give pedestrian and equestrian access across the creek.

We emerged from the preserve and walked along the streets filled with the houses built in this tract in the 1980's. This yard was filled with liquid amber trees, at their peak moment of the year. In a part of California where we seldom have indications of seasons they were a treat to behold.

And quite unexpectedly we came across this magnificent horticultural folly. Walking past it has the effect of moving past row crops, and the play of light and shadow on the sculptured hedges was entrancing.

And last and best, we detoured a bit to pay our respects at the angel memorial. The carving on the base says
Members of the group all had different stories about the origin of this beautiful sculpture, and I was unable to determine the true one.
The quote is from Shakespeare, Hamlet: Act 5, Scene 2, Page 17.

Whoever it commemorates must have once been greatly loved, and seeing the angel is always a time to pause, and reflect, and be grateful for days that include time spent traveling through natural beauty on the back of a willing mule.