As we tacked up we saw a loose black lab running wild through the parking area, and a suspicious car drove in and then through the parking field at very high speed, kicking up dust. They left, and I couldn't help but think they left because there were so many people by the rigs. Every other trail head has vandalism problems. We worry that now Live Oak will also.
Entering the trail through the locked gate we now must pass by the cars of hikers parked right up next to the fence. People were slamming car doors, opening trunks, and then there is the outhouse, with a door whose abrupt opening is enough to spook any horse. Plus the smell.
We asked weeks ago that the outhouse be moved to a location not adjacent the trail.
But our efforts to try to preserve exclusively equestrian access here are a source of aggravation and stress, and it was time to let them drop away, and let the experience of being out in nature soothe us and take us to a better state of being.
First step: fording the Santa Ynez River, which has gone back underground here as the drought continues.
It was interesting to see that the trail that goes out onto the upper plateau and borders the Rancho San Fernando Rey was signposted "closed to protect sensitive habitat."
I suspect this was set up in negotiation with the Ranch and the Parks staff, to prevent trespassing. Which has never been a problem in the decades equestrians have ridden here.
I had heard that new "Cattle Grazing - Keep Gate Closed" signs on the access gates had spooked a horse last week.
Harumph, I said, no sign would trouble Tobe Mule!
So we walked walked confidently over to open the gates for the group, a cowboy skill we take pride in.
And amazingly enough Tobe was NOT at all happy about the sign.
It was more than just something new, it is painted in reflective paint and also I suspect might have been recently manufactured, because he sniffed it a lot before being willing to do the necessary pivots to put me into position to open the gate up.
He's a wary beast when necessary.
But like the humans he is mostly relaxed and enjoying the opportunity to spend time in good company. He especially likes his pal Mosca the Horse Fly, who is quite the personality.
And yes, that is a Mule-i-corn horn on his forehead.
I thought that since today would be the first time we would be encountering hikers on the trails I would lighten the mood a bit by dressing him up as a Mulicorn.
We did pass a few hikers and welcomed them to the trail system, but since they don't know squat about trail etiquette I stopped and gave a pep talk to the walkers. Poor guys, they tried to look like they wanted to be good trail citizens but they just kept gawking at the long-eared Mulicorn.
At the top of that stretch of trail is the first overlook where you can see Cachuma Lake.
I often pose my companions here for souvenir photographs, but today the real display were the fabulous cloud formations.
For a place with the name Live Oak, the sad truth is that at least a fourth of the magnificent old growth oaks are dead or dying.
The artistic combination of the cotton puff clouds, watercolor distant mountains, pastel plateaus and sharp focus front trail make for such a pleasing tableau, and as Mr Mule takes us through the various areas at his 2.2mph amble we see the light and shadow play across the landscape.
Myself, I always want to live on the Edge of the Continent.
And having this body of water as part of the trail system adds so much to the pleasure of the day.
The bark on the oaks is reptilian, ancient, fascinating.
And hopefully the bag of carrots made up for the annoyance of wearing a unicorn horn all day.
He does take it all in stride, mules have an innate sense of dignity not easily disturbed by costuming.