Saturday, May 26, 2018

2018/5/26 Oso to Oso

To begin the Memorial Day weekend Tobe Mule and I invited Mosca the Horse Fly and her intrepid owner Jamie to go for a stroll up into the Upper Oso Canyon. This area has been closed to vehicular traffic since last fall, so it was a land that time forgot. All told we rode just shy of 9 miles in 4.2 hours, ascended to 1,279' altitude, and were very lucky to be away from holiday crowds in a beautiful landscape.
 Going up into the mountains
from Santa Barbara I could see a lot of cloud cover, always a welcome sight for a trail riding day. Once over the top of the Camino Cielo the valley beyond was indeed under a good cloud layer.
The trailhead for today was Rancho Oso, where for a nominal fee we can park our tow vehicles and trailers and then head out on the many trails. It has 310 acres directly adjacent to the Los Padres National Forest so it is a hospitable place to begin our journey.

Leaving the staging area, we go up the eccentrically named BathTub Trail, and chart a course that will take us behind the campsites and over to the river crossing.

The thing about the trails up here is that the drought over the past 7 years has taken a very heavy toll on the ancient oaks. Everywhere you look, and often ON the trail, dead limbs litter the ground.

This is a nice example of mule ear navigation.

The left ear is listening to me, the right ear is scanning the trail ahead.

Not that there was much to watch out for, but Mr Mule is ever wary.

A few years ago Tobe and I came cross an entirely naked man hiking along this trail with a little fluffy white dog.

He picked it up and shielded his privates from my view as I rode past.

I didn't forget it, and I think Tobe hasn't either.

We rise above prejudice. We know it is a mule trail also.

Then we had to thread our way through the campground, filled with all manner of tents, families, children, frantic dogs......

and with NO cell reception they were all in the Real World.

Our goal was to cross the Santa Ynez River at the ONE crossing that is still safe for horses and mules. We USED to be able to ford the river at numerous crossings, but an injunction by a local environmentalist group has prohibited the routine cutting of willows in the river and as a result it is so silted up it acts like quicksand and equines become mired in it.

So we went to the Arroyo Burro crossing.
Tobe was NOT eager to cross it.

After a few minutes of refusals and backing up, we let Miss Mosca and Mister Tobe confer about the situation.

Tobe has been known to refuse routes that I cannot convince him are safe, but persistence and insistence eventually win the day.

In this case the water HAD to be crossed, and Jamie and I were patient yet firm.

 And of course in mid-stream I had to ask my beast of burden to stand, cooling his heels, while I took what I instantly knew would be the shot of the day.

THEN, if you refer back to the map, next is where I made an error. We turned left to walk along the other side of the river, and then spent the next hour on a fine stroll on what I presumed was the other side of the river.

Forgetting that the river goes underground and resurfaces, and in fact the only way to get up to the Lower Oso and Upper Oso campgrounds was to follow the Arroyo Burro Road.

So we doubled back.

Fortunately my trail companion is of a like mind with me, it is about the journey not the destination.

So we returned to the river crossing, climbed up to the road level,  and started down Paradise Road, which was magically only being traversed by a few whizzing bicyclists.
If there had been cars full of beer-guzzling Memorial Day partiers heading back to the popular Red Rock swimmin' hole we would never have dared to walk on it.
Once at the mouth of the canyon we were aiming to ride we could head up gentle trails that crossed and re-crossed the creek.

Another lesson in mule ear interpretation.

Airplane position is indicative of contentedly strolling along.

But then when we got to the Upper Oso Campground it was eerily deserted, and this drain pipe under the road was completely filled with silt mud.

Worse yet, these two picnic tables had been washed down the debris flow and were no longer accessible, nor was there a campsite here any longer.

It did have a feel of Zombie Apocalypse, all these campsites which in past years on this weekend would have been filled with families taking a break for the 3 day weekend.

No water in the stock tank, and piles of broken water pipes and corral panels lying in the weeds.

All the bathrooms shuttered, no water.

Apparently the Government has no money to do the repairs necessary to get water back running here, and so no plans to return it to public access.

This lichen-covered rock stood near one of the abandoned campsites.

It was here before the campers, it will abide.

Coming back down the valley we passed the three houses that cluster in the oaks.

This beautiful old cabin has a roof fallen in and walls collapsing, but the water tower and outhouse behind still look serviceable.

Then we stopped to chat with Elvia, whose husband built this cabin. They have not been here since last September but came back just for a few nostalgic days, walking in.
We reminisced about the time in 2011 when I led a group of Forest Service employees and Back Country HorseMen up this canyon all the way to 19 Oaks, far beyond where we went today. Two of the riders fell off the trail into the canyon below, and an 80 year old man on his mule Ruth and I on Tobe loped back down the trail to get help. We stopped at Elvia's home and she and her husband had just been given a SAT phone weeks before, so we called in the rescue helicopter.
It was a lovely coincidence that I happened to come up the canyon and see her when she was visiting her home.

But then it was time to head home.

The wind was picking up, making the trees dance and refreshing the animals.

So we retraced our tracks, and congratulated ourselves on a day well spent in nature.

And will I ride this trail again in time to see this yucca in full bloom?

I think I will.

The spire is rising from it, slowly reaching to the sun, and soon the clusters of creamy flowers will appear and their scent will fill the air.

The time of nature moves slowly and I am content to move at the pace of a gaited mule.

"Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better."

-- Albert Einstein


Friday, May 11, 2018

2018/5/11 Live Oak MeetUp Ramble

The day dawned foggy and there looked to be a chance of rain, but knowing that summer heat will soon be upon us we were not deterred from the plan to MeetUp and ride out from Live Oak Camp. The group I rode with did 5 miles in 2 hours, and two of the number were more ambitious and headed off and stayed out for a third hour.

I loaded up Tobe mule and headed up the pass, climbing into dense fog. This curve normally gives a vista of the beautiful valley behind the coastal range, but today it was pea soup.

But Live Oak Camp was not drizzling, just a cooling fog resting above us.

So we all tacked up, mounted up, and set off.
The Santa Ynez river bed has a brief section we needed to wade through, but the masses of rounded stones give evidence to the eons of water drainage that have passed through this valley.
A beautiful sight to look back at the mountains we crossed to get here and see them wreathed in fog, yet we are in a bubble of perfect riding weather.
This slope has always been a favorite of mine, because once I was privileged to watch a bobcat bouncing through the flowers hunting mice. Today the mustard was in full bloom, but we saw no inhabitants.

Almost at the top I stopped to attempt a panoramic. Dang mule flopped his left year and doubled it!
It is from this vantage point that we always get our first glimpse of Lake Cachuma.
Because our route was going to be inland from the lakeshore, this is the only place where we can look at the lake and enjoy it on the horizon.

The trees we are traveling through are known as red oak,

and this gash in a recently cut trunk clearly shows why.

Whether clinging to a hillside or standing sentinel in a flat plateau,
the Live Oak is the most important flora here.

And wherever we ride in this magnificent preserve there are always mountain vistas on the horizon
that hint at what could be explored.

And of course all credit for being my legs and stalwart companion goes to my Kentucky Mule Tobe.
Today he made friends with Danessa, a little Peruvian Paso mare, and they enjoyed keeping up a lively stepping gait together.
But that potential romance was nipped in the bud when her owner and another rider decided they had more wanderlust than the rest of us, and so 2 left for parts unknown and 4 headed back to the trailers.
Back across the valley, that has the feel of the velde, as if a giraffe might be nibbling a tree just out of sight, or a pride of lions be resting beneath a tree.
But nothing more than exotic than cows crossed our path.
Then it was time to descend the chalk hill and head down to the river level, pleased to see the river still flowing in this area near the Camp.
And there are our rigs, safe and sound, waiting to ferry us back to civilization.
And through a splat of welcome rain we drove back to the real world lives we escape when adventuring in this welcoming place.

"The world is full of magic things,
patienty waiting for our senses to grow sharper."
-- W.B. Yeats

####### FIN ### Pat Fish #####