Sunday, February 28, 2021

2021/2/28 Nostalgia for the Live Oak Trails we are in danger of losing


This blog is meant to be a testimony to the pleasure of four-legged exploration in the front country trails of our marvelous region. But now access to the best of the local trail systems, the ONLY exclusively equestrian area, is being "modified" to become multi-use. I drew the logo above to publicize the effort to stop this change.
That tiny red area is all we have that is exclusively equestrian. We are not greedy, we just don't want the trails, which have been set aside for us since Lake Cachuma was first created in 1953, to be ruined by hikers, with off leash dogs, and bicycle riders careening at high speed down the trails.

Today the MeetUp had 9 riders and we took a leisurely stroll in the beautiful weather. We traveled through a variety of riparian and chaparral zones, as the map shows, both wooded and open spaces.

Truthfully we were on the trail 3 hours, because it was nice to stop, give the animals a rest, and appreciate the views.

HOWEVER the day did not start out all that well.

As I entered the equestrian parking area I immediately saw a group of people with a large German Shepherd walking through the grass. Not only hikers (currently still forbidden) but with a dog (always verboten.) 

I told them it was illegal to be hiking there, and they said they had special permission, that they were training a Search and Rescue dog.

Of course I called the Rangers, who said they knew nothing about these people, and came out to talk to them. Eventually they were told to use the upper Campground area and not the trails or the equestrian area. 

Then the Ranger told me that hiker access has been put off until May, and encouraged me to continue to lobby against opening up the trails. The Rangers don't want the extra work that conflicts will bring, and I also spoke with the Camp Host who was in a tizzy about having to add picking up trash to his care taking duties. Currently you can ride for hours here and NEVER see any trash. The Host told me the total amount of trash he currently picks up will be 3-4 water bottles per YEAR, ones that may have fallen unnoticed out of a saddle bag.

So, we parked and I began greeting my pals in the MeetUp and we all saddled up. But then just as we started for the trail head

we saw this woman with two little kids heading out on the trail. We called to her, saying it was illegal, and again, of course, she said she was special and had permission from the Rangers.

And here we go, calling the Rangers to come back again.

She took the kids down to the Santa Ynez River at the crossing, where they proceeded to squeal and splash about.

Not really safe with a large number of horses coming through.

And she was adamant that she was special, the Rangers would let her stay.

This is exactly what we fear will be our every riding experience here if multi-use is enacted.

Not my circus, not my monkeys. We rode on.

But, having called in the troops, I turned around to watch the drama unfold.

The standoff was loud enough for me to overhear. She claimed that because her husband was "on a trail ride here" she had permission to also be on the trails. 

Uh, no.

Meanwhile the group was waiting for me up the trail, so it was time to move along.

All the MeetUp rides are a loose confederation of individuals, and I am not a bossy Trail Boss. I only ask that everyone do what they can to help everyone be safe on the trail, and be courteous in the Cowboy Way.

Once we cleared the first hill I turned Tobe to look back at the rigs, and was pleased to see the Rangers were firmly escorting the woman back out, and we hoped she would have a nice afternoon at their trailer waiting for her husband to get back from his ride.

But it is with a sigh that I document these encounters. What has been half a century of trails dedicated for exclusive equestrian use may very soon be like every other trail system, where people stop riding because they no longer feel safe.

But for now, it was a beautiful day and Lake Cachuma was shimmering on the horizon.

Having the lake to navigate around on the many trails adds so much pleasure, and our gentle explorations leave nothing but hoof prints.

Many of the trails here are former ranch roads, kept open for emergency vehicles should there be a need to rescue someone on the property. 

There are single-track rocky spans, but frankly when Tobe Mule is picking his way through them, or down a steep slope, I'm not taking pictures.

In sections like this I continued my new botanical whim, tossing California poppy seeds into the scruffy margins of the trails. If we get some more rain and the seeds have a chance to sprout before being found by ground squirrels, I look forward to riding here in Springs to come and seeing poppies blooming where they have not been before.

SO many of the oaks are dead now, and the sides of the trails are filled with their fallen limbs.

When I started riding here this tree had a whole section to the left that I had to go around to photograph the lake from this vantage point. Oaks have a way of "sacrificing" limbs to preserve the whole. We see it everywhere here.

Another view, another shimmer on the horizon.

There are fences that prevent us actually going to the edge of the lake, which is at best tenuous anyway since the margins recede in drought times leaving expanses of mud.

I think what I like best is the feeling that after so many indoor days spent typing away at a computer or working doing tattoos at my studio THIS awaits. The horizon, the sense of landscape untraveled, that my marvelous four legged gives me access to.

Funny thing about riding a mule or horse, how relaxing it is while at the same time you are always vigilant and alert. Obviously the equine is doing the hard work, and it is amazing that they do it so willingly.

Here we are looking toward home, at the seaside, on the other side of the coastal mountain range. But for just these few hours we are in country.

This mud flat used to be a finger of the lake, back a decade or more ago when I began to ride here. And with rainfall it will fill again.

But it was time to turn back, so we retraced our steps across the flat land.

Here we were almost at lake level, catching glimpses of boats and the pontoons that section off the shallows.

One last look out to the inland mountain ranges, trails for more ambitious days.

And the pleasure of crossing the river and cooling the animals' feet before we all enjoy a lunch together under the oaks in the parking area.

We vow to do what we can to preserve the dreamlike quality of these trails.

### PAT FISH ###

Sunday, February 21, 2021

2021/2/21 The Franklin Trail in Carpinteria


Pat Fish and Tobe Mule 
up in the foothills behind Carpinteria on the Franklin Trail
Yep, a short ride. 
I tapped out and asked my companions to turn around after we had experienced only a short distance on this trail. My goal with this blog is always to make everyone wish THEY had a mule, and could go have these experiences also..... but today this trail scared me.
It didn't scare my brave equestrian enablers as much, but they agreed to turn around to help me. 
In fact the day had started out wonky, I just couldn't get mounted up on Tobe, my right leg isn't working so well these days. But Jamie (in the pink) suggested mounting on the off side, which Tobe thought was fine, and huzzah! I was up and ready. 
Bunnie (in the hat) has been a fearless rider who has ridden the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada TWICE, so as we set off she led on.

From the street parking that is designated on the Franklin Trail website we entered into the "trail" which turned out to be a heavily trafficked 2-way bicycle thoroughfare. I would hardly call this an equestrian friendly trail by any means. Ahead in the distance you see a man restraining a tiny boxer puppy way too young to have had all its shots for public adventuring. At least it was leashed.

At the end of this bicycle highway we came to the 192 and crossed over it onto the edge of Carpinteria High School, which is currently not in session. If I'd known I would have utilized their parking lot, which was filled with cars, presumably belonging to people hiking and biking on the trail ahead of us.
The trail here is fenced on each side with chainlink, and so narrow that passing anyone is quite a squeeze if you are on the back of an equine.

So the trail continues along the back side of the high school, and on the other side what smelled like a marijuana production facility. It is a big controversy now how much the odor pervades the city, from these greenhouses formerly dedicated to orchids and cut flowers. They say there are more acres of marijuana under cultivation in Santa Barbara County than all of the famous Emerald Triangle up in Humboldt County.

The trail takes a turn and edges past the sport fields of the High School and avocado ranches on the other side. The pathway is an elevated berm with a steep drop on one side, nice and level and well maintained.

The creek that runs down through Franklin Canyon is shady, with lush tempting grass the equines want to snack on, and riparian trees showing that water subsurface is supporting their growth.

The trail is multiply signposted, and at this corner we followed along green plastic sheathed fencing to a blind turn. Knowing how many bicycles use this trail such corners are always a concern, since mountain bikers tend to enjoy fast downhill runs and coming up quick on a horse or mule can be problematic.

Here is the fencing, and greenhouses that still had signage for orchids but we could not tell what was inside them. Strange whirring and ventilating wooshes were audible, and Tobe is a brave fellow but he was paying attention to the sounds.

Finally the trail headed UP, and the mountains appeared ahead of us. But in stark contrast to the smooth flat trail by the high school, this one was extremely eroded and rutted. Gullies carved by rainfall have hollowed out the trail, leaving sections of stones and holes, and there has been no effort to place runoff mitigation boards or treads in the trail.

After crossing a few nicely sturdy bridges we started up the actual mountain trail. At this point it became obvious that the trail is being maintained for bike riders and hikers, and decidedly NOT for someone on a 16hh mule. My head is 10 feet plus in the air when mounted and I was very glad of my helmet as I proceeded to bash through branches. Even my companions on smaller horses were calling out "low bridge" as a warning as they shimmied under limbs.

And then there were the other folks on the trails. Looking up the mountain we could see them, dozens of them, crawling ant like in their bright colored clothing. Or hurtling down at speed on bikes. To their credit, I will say that all of the dozens of people, maybe 100, were very pleasant and stood off to the side of the trail to let us pass and leashed and restrained their dogs. And the bike riders were pleasant people also. But there were so many of them!

The mountains are beautiful,and the exposed rocks lovely. But I had had it with dodging around branches and people and bikes. I was pretty much done. My hair was full of twigs, hopefully not ticks, and Tobe who is a very surefooted fellow was stumbling on the rutted trail.

At this point the trail started to be a series of tight switch backs, and I expressed a preference for continuing to a point where we could get a good look at the ocean and landscape below and then please could we turn around. If we could come here on a weekday, fine, but I am of the opinion that as popular as it is with the Carpinterians out for a healthy hike it is best left to them. Sharing the trail is fine in concept, but not so nice in actuality.

So there it is, the view. With the Channel Islands shimmering on the horizon, what we came for.

But looking closely, the acres of greenhouses are a huge percentage of the land. This is a prime avocado growing area, and the marijuana people moved in on them when international commerce made it cheaper to ship in cut flowers from South America and orchids from Asia.

So back down we came, Jamie leading now on Mosca, past the mystery greenhouses. People complain a lot about the "stench of skunk" in Carp, but if these were marijuana we did not catch a whiff.

Back down through the creek area, lush, and so cool after the trek up into the chaparral with its thorny bushes and rocky trail.  

Back to the trail alongside the high school...
And a last nod to the feathered headdress Indian mascot of the high school..... how long before they come for him, eh? The war bonnet was worn by the American Plains Indians, never the local Chumash, so this poor Chief is losing out both on historical accuracy and cultural appropriation.

So, that's the story of our brief exploration of the Franklin Trail. I think I highly recommend it for 2-legged exploration, and applaud the people who worked so hard for so many years to carve right-of-ways out from the various private landholdings. 

But as for me and mine, we will stick to trails where we don't have to anticipate a jostling for space on a narrow trail around every corner, and have to bend down onto the saddle and still be scraped by branches. 

"May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous,    leading to the most amazing view."

-Louis L'Amour

  ### PAT FISH ###

##### FIN #####