A panoramic view looking down across the Arroyo Conejo Open Space.
The lovely Santa Rosa Valley beckoned a half dozen members of the Equestrian Trails Corral 22
to climb the ridges and enjoy the views.
In 4 hours we traveled 8.5 miles, conquering some very steep trails and enjoying perfect riding weather.
We started out in the huge equestrian parking lot, where a $4 fee allows all day parking with direct access to the trail system.
The first immediate obstacle was a water crossing that required negotiating a steep sand bank ..........
and many of the animals,
including the intrepid Mosca the thoroughbred and sensible Tobe Mule,
were quite unwilling.
Far more elegant to walk across the sturdy nearby bridge and hit the trail.
Many of the trails leading up into the wild area are jeep accessible, and made for easy going.
We had an interesting assortment of animals included, and several humans who had never been to this trail before.
Almost immediately we started to encounter the Hill Canyon Wastewater Treatment Wetlands. This is an award-winning system of streams and ponds that are part of a massive sewage treatment plant.
Coming from Santa Barbara,
where the several-year drought has effectively dried up any streams in the frontcountry trails,
being able to cross water is a challenge that Tobe Mule had to learn to remember being comfortable with.
Let's just say his sense of self-preservation was put to the test.
All the animals surely were confused by the effluent aroma as we passed numerous waste processing buildings.
What was the merest unpleasant whif to humans must have been a massive poop assault to them.
While we were still in the lower parts of the canyon it was nice to enjoy the shade of trees. Because soon we were going to climb above.
The hillsides are burnt brown, and everywhere possible there are houses crowded right up to their bases. But the city has chosen to leave a large percentage as recreational open space, a great gift to equestrians and hikers and bikers.
The mountains rising above the civilized and cultivated plains give a timeless sense of escaping the Southern California of cities and freeways just a few miles away.
Looking in all directions we could observe the intense urban encroachment, but up on top on the trails we were explorers in a restful emptiness.
This is what most people's trail photos look like, the back end of the other riders. You will notice I make a point of giving the LongEar perspective.
Very few flowers were blooming,
but this exuberant patch of opuntia cactus was covered with nopal fruit.
A wary rider watches for them, because while Mr Mule will always make sure his legs don't brush against the spines he might make a slight miscalculation about the position of my legs.
Here is the Good Samaritan award for the day. This guy was on his third ride on his new Belgian mule, a most excellent sturdy fellow, and getting along great. But his gal pal decided her horse wasn't doing well and dismounted and led it for many miles, causing everyone on the ride to proceed at her walking pace. Eventually this courteous knight offered her his mule, and he walked her horse.
That is a true Cowboy.
Then we got to the top of the waterfall, accessed by a steep and challenging path well fenced to prevent falls but still not wide enough for a hiker and a rider to pass, so fortunately there were very few people in the park and we were able to ride down to the bottom of this canyon unhindered.
If you greatly enlarge this photo by clicking on it you'll be able to see the ant-like people at the bottom pool (just left of center) enjoying a fine Saturday in the woods.
We were happy just to clamber down the narrow track and reach the bottom safely.
Then we stopped in a shady glen for lunch,
and Tobe ate this suggestive carrot.
Jamie and I shared sandwiches and tangerines, and who knew Tobe likes citrus. Always learning something new about that lad.
Below the wildland recreational area was another set of massive buildings processing the waste of all the nearby communities and then discharging it into this wetland system, to percolate into the water table and all the way to the sea.
The truly unique and challenging part of this ride is the constant crossing and re-crossing of water. Every animal had plenty of opportunities to get over any hesitations. Sometimes a horse would balk and refuse, but once every other animal was across.... the herd instinct would give them the courage to join with their compadres.
Finally it was the home stretch, between the beautiful rock formations and back to the vehicles and a drive back to civilization.
And time for me to strip off my geisha girl sunblock until the next time Tobe Mule and I hit the trail.
“We lead our lives like water flowing down a hill, going more or
less in one direction until we splash into something that forces us to
find a new course.”
Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha
Me, I splashed into a mule.