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