Sunday, January 17, 2021

2021/1/17 Nipomo Perambulation


Looking from the Nipomo Mesa to the agricultural fields below.

The middle of January, when equestrians in other parts of the world are slogging through snow.... it was a 86º day in Nipomo, hot and bright and just right for a tour of the Mesa and Western edge of the community.
For the first time ever we had an equal compliment of mules and horses for a ride. We staged out of a local equestrian facility and headed out, following our Pico Tour guide.

Nipomo is a very newly developed area. Within the memory of the people I ride with there ALL of the land now gridded up into estates and ranches was eucalyptus forest.

Many of the roads are still dirt, so it has a distinctly rural feel and is decidedly equine friendly.

It was HOT, so we savored being able to walk in the shade of the massive tall eucalyptus trees that still line the roads.

On previous rides here we have tracked through the planned community called Trilogy, but I was pleased that today our guide had a different plan for us.

Like the homes of country folk everywhere, the ranches were full of barking dogs and signposted to prevent access. NO ANIMALES!

We walked to the end of the street and suddenly we were in the old days, the one part of the Mesa that has not been developed.


Looking out to the West, across the agricultural grid the sand dunes and the sea are visible.


While looking to the left, to the South-East, the regular patterning of the crops stretch off towards Santa Maria and the mountains behind.

Our guide Stormy has logged literally thousands of miles on this elevated patch of scrub grass on her trusty Arabian horse Pico. 

She led us onto trails that were barely visible, with the avowed purpose of re-establishing them before they were lost. 

Despite the numerous gopher holes in the sand we did our best to stomp them clear.

There is a strong equestrian community here, and a covenant with the developers of the golf course and housing developments, that a percentage of the land must be set aside for trails connecting all parts of the acreage.

With the nation in turmoil politically it was a pleasure to see this property on the mesa flying Old Glory. I wanted to pose people next to it but the dogs behind the fence were so frantic it seemed best just to shuffle on past.

There are trails all through the Mesa, all soft sand that has a zillion gopher warrens beneath. So progress was slow, punctuated with yelps when an animal stepped in a deep hole and the rider was surprised.

Looking in towards the buildings the attempts at landscaping and erosion control were visible. 

Many of the eucalyptus are a century old, and are being removed and pines put in their place. 

But the Mesa's grass is eternal.

Out across the white plastic covering growing crops the white sand of the dunes and the blue of the sea are just a few miles away.

But I found myself marveling at the organized grid pattern that fills the entire valley with intensive patches of individual crops. Refer back to the map at the beginning of this blog, to see the regularity.

When we got to the end of the Mesa we turned inland, and walked along the edge of the developed areas.

We stopped in the shade to give the creatures a rest. Tobe Mule is always a good sport, wherever I trailer him to he is willing to be my legs and take me to see what there is to see.

Here, perhaps we are looking at the sort of Planned Community that may become more popular in the future. 

Trails for bicycles and walking paralleling ones for equestrian use.

On old idea whose time may come again.

Parked in this field it was interesting to see a large number of Langstroth bee hives. They may be resting up here, before taking to the road to pollinate crops throughout the annual cyclical seasons.
But these are the paths that really define the town, old growth eucalyptus bordering streets, with trails strewn with a carpet of their fragrant leaves.

In a civilized acknowledgement that poo happens, the walking/cycling paths are marked with the presence of doggie bag stations with rubbish bins below. 

We did see one old guy struggling along in the heat on one of these asphalt strips, and I encouraged him to go adopt a dog at the shelter. On a hot day like today the poor thing would need protective booties on its feet! But he'd have a pal for his wanderings.

In the midst of a drought these peeler cores at intervals in the trails are just interesting obstacles for the equines to step over, but in a rainy year they'd help stop erosion.

Finally it was time to turn back towards our staging spot, so we went back out onto the Mesa. The afternoon sun now slanting differently onto the fields gave them a much different look.

And the wind began to pick up, a nice breeze to cool off the sweaty mule who had well earned his bunch of carrots waiting back at the trailer.

Another day, another place to see, another adventure made possible by the cooperation of human and mule.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to."
"I don't much care where –"
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go.”


##### PAT FISH #####

## FIN ## 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

2021/1/10 A Short Stroll at Live Oak Camp


We didn't need adventure, we weren't looking for thrills and accomplishment. We just wanted a short stroll through landscape. The best antidote for the anxieties of civilization.
I invited the MeetUp to go for an easy stroll over to the edge of the Rancho San Fernando Rey and down the fence line to the bluff overlooking the golf course on 154. 
But with the world in turmoil we were not granted an entirely placid day.

Unfortunately our beloved equestrian playground is under siege. A couple of weeks ago it was announced, with no public hearing or consideration, that as of 1/1/21 Live Oak would now be open to hikers. And worse, on 6/1/21 the trails would open to bicyclists. This is the ONLY entirely equestrian trail system in the county, every other park area can be hiked and almost all can be biked. Ever since the County started managing this place for the Bureau of Land Management it has been exclusively for horse and mule riders, for which we either buy day or annual permits.
Suddenly our peaceful refuge faces a potentially massive change.
The equestrian community has gathered together to push back, with legal representation, and stop this revision to access. So the proposed change has been put on hold, for now. When we arrived today there was a sign at the locked gate stating that it was not YET open to hikers.
But then also next to the entrance to the trails were two new signs with the rules of use.
Just as we started to go through into the trail system we saw 5 hikers, equipped with euro hiking poles, heading for the gate.

Oh Hell No. 

Tobe Mule and I went over to them and made it very clear that they were not allowed. They argued, but I was on a 1200lb animal who actually likes to chase pit bulls, so he gave them a steely mule gaze as I explained that we were not going to let them proceed. Meanwhile Jamie was behind me with the Ranger on the line explaining the situation and the people wisely retreated. They walked half way back down the staging area and stood, as if waiting for us to leave so they could sneak through after us.

The Rangers later told me that they had parked illegally on the other side of the 154, presumably dashed across through traffic, and then walked all the way in.... all to avoid the $10 day use fee. Then they must have jumped over the locked gate. If they had gone to get a day permit they would have been told no hikers allowed.

After that kerfluffle we left them to be dealt with by the Rangers and headed out.

The first part of this trail is always fording the Santa Ynez River. Unfortunately we have only had 2" of rain since March of last year, so the river is underground and will remain so until we get enough rainfall to get it filled with runoff. A La Niña winter means nice dry days for trail riding, but the vegetation is suffering.
Most of the trails on this part of the property are accessible by emergency vehicles, so when riding in a group it is most pleasant to walk stirrup-to-stirrup and have conversations while the animals enjoy the rhythm of walking in step.

Once up on the mesa we could enjoy looking East across the Rancho San Fernando Rey, the largest remaining part of the Mexican land grant Rancho San Marcos. This field is usually dotted with cattle, sometimes horses, often deer.

This land is being worked much as it was 100 years ago, with a light touch.

The flat mesa is framed by the soft mountains in the distance of the Los Padres National Forest.

After spending the week indoors most of the time, working on my computer, dealing with graphic art and Photoshop, being able to come out here and enjoy the peace and quiet of long-distance views is quite restorative. 

The idea of allowing hikers who will bring off-leash dogs is anathema to us. To say nothing of mountain bikers careening around the trails at high speed.

Yes, riding mules and horses is an eccentric activity, but for those of us who enthusiastically engage in this recreation we have a great passion to share our lives with our splendid 4-legged pals.

The rainstorm last week apparently filled this little wallow, from which the first two riders let their horses drink. 

Tobe Mule declines water that cows may have mucked about in, he can wait until he gets home to get a drink. 

In the Wagon Train days of the Western Expansion, mules outlasted every other animal, chiefly because of their stamina and ability to go longer without water. It was said if you had oxen pulling your wagon, you ate them when they died. If you started out with horses you left them dead at the side of the road. If you started with mules, you got to your destination.

And if California was your destination, you would have encountered landscapes like this one.

And trees like this mighty oak, with amazing bark.

It was so pretty I decided to take today's souvenir photos next to it.

Here I am on Tobe Mule

Jamie on Mosca

Bunnie on Gretzky

And Shayna on Winston

So we mosied our way to the end of the bluff overlooking the golf course and Hwy 154, then turned around to return to the staging area.

As we got set up to share a convivial lunch we saw a group of equestrians heading out with frantic off leash dogs trailing them. In a spirit of conservatorship, we called across to them that of course dogs are not allowed, never have been. They called back "Thanks!" and went on their way. Those dogs harassing the resident animals are inappropriate, and spooking horses being ridden can have tragic consequences.

Then as we finished lunch, the final indignity. Two people we know and like showed up with two hikers following their horses. They thought they'd been quite clever to convince the Rangers that they were going to take turns riding the horses with the two other people, when they had no intention of doing that. They just wanted to sneak hikers in, one of whom had a tiny infant strapped to his chest. I simply couldn't imagine him riding with that baby on board.

We seem to be at a crux of political upheaval, with the response to the pandemic bringing about new onerous restrictions to personal behavior. And I can't help but notice that breaking the rules, rules that are a social contract, may be in some way a cussed response to the generalized perceived loss of personal freedoms.

Muttering to myself "Not my circus, not my monkeys" I packed up Tobe Mule and headed back down the mountain, and at one of the obligatory turn-outs necessary to allow the speeders to whiz past I snapped this shot of the afternoon sun on the Channel Islands and the sea. 

Another day in paradise. 


"Through the sunset of hope,

Like the shapes of a dream,

What paradise islands of glory gleam." 

- Percy Bysshe Shelley

##### PAT FISH #####


Saturday, January 2, 2021

2021/1/2 La Purisima Año Nuevo


The first ride of what we all fervently hope will be a good New Year. This is looking West from the La Purisima Mission grounds toward Lompoc and the coastal mountains beyond.
A short ride, a gathering of the MeetUp, not making any mileage goal,  just for the symbolism of the good intention to ride frequently in this 2021 year and starting it off right away.

Six lady riders, two mares, four geldings, five horses, one mule,      no agenda, no worries.

Paying to park, I had made a point of asking what the State Park rules are here about horse and mule poo in the staging area. The helpful kiosk attendant said it was the State Park rule that it is OK to leave any poo in the horse parking area, but they want us to pick it up if it is in the day-use vehicle lot. Understandable.  

But we always abide by the LNT: Leave no Trace protocol, to keep from giving non-riders something to step in and complain about.

So off we went onto the trail, deep sand and chaparral. Because we got intense winter rains just a few days ago this place was chosen for the sandy ground. Trails in the frontcountry mountains might still be boggy clay, but La Purisima has reliably quick drainage and is always passable.
Tobe really outdid himself on last weekend's ride to Gaviota Peak, so we really wanted just a stroll. He started out a bit stiff, but hey, so did I.
Once we got off the lower area where the Mission buildings are located we started to see the expanse of acres the Mission still has within its holdings.
And the trails were quite full of hikers and people with baby strollers and bicycles and dogs. These two lads leashed up their springer pup and chihuahua when they saw us coming, we always appreciate good trail etiquette. 
This lovely cactus on the side of the trail presented an opportune backdrop for the archival portraits.
Jamie on Mosca
Maggie on Woody

Pat on Tobe

Susan on Teddy

Deborah on Carbon

And although Elizabeth on Maize started the ride with us she decided we were going too slow, so she wasn't with us for a portrait.

There is a short stretch of trail just off the main central valley that is lined with ancient oaks and follows the 200 year old stone aqueduct system that brought water down to the crops grown in the Mission valley.
The oaks are so timeless, they were here when the Mission padres gathered up as many of the surrounding Chumash Indians as they could and organized them to farm and create an approximation of Spanish civilization.
I see photos of people riding in other parts of the world right now and they are already slogging through deep snow on their equines. Here, in the Land of Climate, the only hint of the season are the deciduous trees in Fall colors.
The eternal views here are the streams of Spanish moss hanging in the oaks. They can be quite spooky on a windy day, but today it was crisp and warm and still, just right for the Mule Trail.

A trail which sometimes presents obstacles. This nitwit let her pit bull strain on the leash and get within 2 feet of Mosca. Typically these people say something like "My pittie just loves horses!" I explain that mules don't love dogs and they'd best take responsibility for keeping their K9 out of the kicking range..

As the afternoon light started to fade we followed the road back to the parking area.

Where we saw this totally James Bond sports car, 

now THAT is some horsepower!

Once back in the lot Tobe helped himself to his post-ride bucket of carrots while the humans ate their lunches. 

Then it was time to get back to the real world an hour south, after our brief interlude walking in the woods.

And here for those who recently accused the MeetUp of leaving poo at a trailhead..... is proof that we left our parking area as clean as we found it. As we always do. Good citizens all.

Onward into 2021.

My thanks to all the people who choose to join me on these MeetUp rides, without whom I would not be able to have the MuleTrail adventures I do so enjoy.

A New Year beckons !!!

“For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning."
T.S. Eliot 


##### PAT FISH #####