Tuesday, November 28, 2017

2017/11/28 MeetUp at La Purisima Mission

Looking from a burned area on the La Purisima Mission hillside out across the Lompoc Valley.

To celebrate my birthday I convened a group of riders by advertising my intent to ride the La Purisima Mission in Lompoc.
In addition to the restored original buildings, the nearly 2,000 acre park is home to 25 miles of hiking and riding trails. Much of the land is sandy, so it is the best choice for winter rainy-season riding. Whichever trail we chose, there would be changes in terrain and views out across the Lompoc Valley. 
As it turned out, we rode for 2.5 hours and went 7 miles, slowly adventuring around the property.

And here are the Lucky Seven who opted to join me on this lovely day.
Plus Tobe & I on the right, added with digital cleverness. 
Some I had met before, some were brought to this place by the magic of the


which now after 2 months has almost 100 members.

I look forward to a future in which I have many new riding companions and am able to add many more trail adventures to my schedule.

My introduction to the Meetup reads:

Riding in good company can be a safer and friendly way to explore the beauties of the front-country and back-country trails of the 805 area. Join this Meetup and participate in group rides, and find new like-minded riders who will share the trail with you. Anyone who owns and rides a horse or mule or donkey is welcome to be a part of this Meetup. If you know good trails, meet new friends and show them the way. If you are new to the area, come along and follow someone who knows the trails. We are united by our love for the grace and power of the animals that make our explorations so very special. Exploring Happy Trails !!!

For these rides I don't have a number of hours in mind, actually. I always think it is best to have a talk with the group before we go out and the most important thing to me is to ride to the least rider. So if someone only wants to ride 2 hours, or has a rehabilitating horse or mule that can't do distance, I always say we ride to accommodate them. If that means a shorter ride and half the group wants to go back and the other half wants to split off and go longer, that works too. There really aren't any rules for this, just common courtesy.

For more info about the mission see: http://www.lapurisimamission.org/

We started out tracking up the Western perimeter, through sandy  trails and some recently burned over areas.

Fairly soon we were tracking through dense chaparral.

       On the higher areas we could see the Santa Ynez Mountains on the horizon, and also the vast expanse of this property, waiting to be  explored.
             At the highest point we traveled the Burton Mesa stretches back several miles. 
Beautiful Spanish moss hanging from an ancient oak beside the trail.
In places where the trail was eroded a rather crude but effective system of planks have been sunk into the dirt, causing the water to eddy around them when the rains come. A bit of an obstacle course, no worries for a mule.

As our path descended we came to the upper portion of the central valley, where the Padres grew grain for the colony that developed around the Mission.

Now the ghosts of all those long ago missionaries and the indigenous peoples forced to live under their power haunt this quiet place.

A choice.... which way to turn? On the map above this was the X intersection, where we began the top loop. Tobe set off with a happy gaited rack, and the horses followed behind.

the natural landscape with mare's tail clouds in the sky above.

And sometimes it can feel as it you are transported to another State entirely, to a place with seasons perhaps.

And then back to the fragrant chaparral, where chemise and sage give up their scents as the animals push through the overgrown bushes.

At this time of year the chaparral looks scrubby, and is most inhospitable should you get a wild hair to go off a trail.
But in the spring dozens of species of flowering plants will rise up and fill these trails with bright splashes of color.

Following behind other riders through manzanita forests, often bashing our way through on the poorly maintained trails. That's the one problem with riding a big mule, often my head is far above what any trail trimmers cut for.

And then we started to curve back towards where we started, following a gravel access road.

All the animals got along well, and only one horse got a bit flustered with water crossings and ditches. But the rest of us waited patiently as that gal got things handled, and even the one rider who has been quite worried about how her green young horse would do in a group (with a Mule!) was quite pleased to find that a herd helps make a happy horse.

This is Tobe's favorite food of all time.
Arundo donax, giant cane, which was a vital building material in olden times and is a fine fodder for mules.

But today, he had to stroll on by.
There would be carrots and apples in the trailer for the ride home, so no snacking on the trail.

Then back on the valley floor we started to see the remnants of the buildings that were part of the large community that once lived here. The stones in the ground are a culvert that brought water down to the Mission. It runs quite a distance from catchbasins above.

The culverts run into and then back out of this large cistern.
And this smaller one may have been part of the vats used for tanning hides with oak galls.
I've always thought that this building was a baking oven, but it might just as easily have been a kiln.
And this pillar, standing like a Stonehenge orthostat, is a complete mystery to me.
And for now I'll leave it that way.

And then it was time for Tobe & I to bid everyone a fond farewell, with thanks for making my birthday wish come true, that I had a lovely group of riders to share a happy trail with.

We parted with promises to Meetup again soon.

"Since there is nothing so well worth having as friends, never lose a chance to make them."
------   Francesco Guicciardini
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Saturday, November 18, 2017

2017/11/18 Buena Vista Trail in Montecito with LPTR & MeetUp

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 
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