Saturday, December 5, 2020

2020/12/5 Pre-Covid-LockDown Lost In The Dunes Expedition

The Covid LockDown was looming for tomorrow, forbidding all unnecessary travel, so it was time to make the point that exploring the natural world on equines is absolutely necessary for mental health!

We started at the end of Grand Avenue in Grover Beach, where a very large dirt lot gives us room for parking our rigs. On the map that's the top of the blue trail line. We tracked South through the part of the dunes that is filled with plant life, then along a levee out to the edge of the major dunes, then back on the beach to return.


Eleven riders total, some of the usual regulars and others attracted by the MeetUp invitation. Everyone was riding a competent animal, all the riders were pleased to be on a new trail together.

Leaving the parking lot takes us directly into the botanical back-of-the-dunes zone, filled with ice plant and native brush.

Clearly marked NOT a camping area.

But almost immediately we saw that a large swath of the plant life had recently burned.

And the explanation was that homeless people come and camp and set the area on fire with their cooking and warming fires.

Volunteer rangers patrol, looking for illegal campers, but the vagrants are a recurrent problem.

The unburned areas on the other side of the trail show the wonderful diversity of plants that manage to survive in this area of salt mists and scarce water.

Anchoring the habitat and providing a buffer from the winds for the smaller plants are mighty Monterey pines. They are scraggly and clearly struggle to grow in this seaside zone, but as the dominant tree they define the character of the landscape.

Next our path led us down onto the beach, which was filled as always with automobiles, dune buggies, and people who drive down to set up campsites and tents.

Personally I don't see the attraction of driving onto the beach, but clearly it is a cherished local tradition. Tobe Mule takes the presence of vehicles in stride, but he is adamant that no mule needs to ever dip his toes in the churning surf.

Yesterday there was an extreme high tide and rip tides, so this lake of water up on the beach was a leftover from that.

Tobe Mule and I enjoyed being able to take a stroll on the beach, his ears flopping contentedly as we followed our friends.

Then we turned inland, toward the famous Guadelupe-Nipomo Dunes. In 1923 Cecil B. DeMille filmed his movie The Ten Commandments here. After they were done, the sets and props were simply covered with sand, so any time we ride here we always are on the lookout for a Sphinx rising from the dunes.
In 2017 this Sphinx head surfaced and is now displayed in a local museum.
The trail led us to a levee between some sort of water treatment plant and the dunes.

The leaching water creates an unexpected lush forest, with sink hole ponds along the trail and vines growing up into the trees.

The canopy closed over us as we went down this tunnel, and I continued my Patty Poppyseed new botanical sabotage habit of dispersing California poppy seeds in areas where I think they may take hold and flourish. I look forward to returning in subsequent Springs to see if I spot any blooming.

But for today, after the purely California beach riding, this was like dipping into the kind of forest my pals who live and ride in the SouthEast send me photos of.

Thankfully, we don't have their midges and skeeters!

Then up, onto the dunes again, and through a trail overgrown with grasses and masses of iceplant.
Every so often the trail would give glimpses of the major dunes beyond

And while we tracked through the brush we got closer and closer to the dunes that so easily served as a stand-in for Arabian and Egyptian deserts for cinema.

 And under the chemtrail cross there they were, the dunes stretching off with the tracks left by other explorers marking the way.
But did we follow a sensible trail? Oh NO! With trust in our trail boss we bumbled forward into the sands, and thus proceeded onto a stretch of the trail that I was utterly unable to document because I was holding on for dear life to my Magnificent Mule as he made his way through sand in which he seemed to be sinking several feet with each step.

There were animal prints in the sand, so clearly this was a route others had followed, but it got quite scary as we wallowed along trying to get back to the beach. 

Not as if we were LOST, because the beach was "just over that ridge" but we were stuck, with no trail leading us there.

We hung around while our trail guide reconnoitered a trail, and we could see her with her fearless Arabian horse going up and down the sand embankments.

He was clearly in his element, his ancestors were bred for centuries for adventures in environments such as this.

Finally she came back with a way out.

Thankfully, we came back out onto the beach. 

Not to worry about us exceeding the speed limit, mule speed is 2.2mph and because we had a lively group of horses we were averaging 2.8mph.

And then we proceeded to weave our way down the beach through all the vehicular obstacles, back to our starting point.

Back to the rigs, and after a sociable snack, back to the highway and down coast 100 miles back to Santa Barbara. Another adventure in sharing a mutual enthusiasm for the equine mode of transportation, with friends old and new.

" meet the
spirit that dwells within the land,

 under its sky, in its air, in its
valleys, and on its rises, in its fields, in its waters and its trees--

a mute friend, judge, and inspirer.” 

Joseph Conrad, LORD JIM


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