where Hwy 1 northbound splits off from Hwy 101.
As the story goes, Las Cruces ("The Crosses") got its name in the early
1790s when a group of Franciscans from Mission Santa Inés
placed crosses on a cluster of Chumash graves there.
I had originally wanted to try the trails by starting at the ocean and tracking up, but was told by the head of the Trails Council that they were impassible to equines.
Rather than challenge Mr Mule to prove a point we parked at the Vista del Mar Union School lot and accessed the Las Cruces Fire Road Trail. This led us to the Hollister Ridge Fire Road Trail, in a big loop and then back to the Ortega Trail.
We did not explore the actual Adobe. In 1833, Miguel Cordero, a retired soldier from the Presidio of Santa Barbara, built an adobe home at Las Cruces. In 1835 he applied for a land grant, and in 1837 Governor Juan B. Alvarado granted him over 8,000 acres: Rancho Las Cruces. What is now part of the Gaviota State Park.
The old Hwy 1 bridge was at the end of the parking lot, dating from 1909.
But that was not our goal. We wanted to climb up into the mountains, rise above the everyday.
To be so close to all the rushing cars as we set off was a perfect counterpoint to the quiet and stillness we were seeking in the forest.
With only the sound of hooves on dirt we began to climb.
The informative kiosk seemed to be at a crossroads, and I suggested we take the higher option on the right.
Later as we looped around to return we would emerge from the trail that here leads off to the left.
There were a lot of monitoring devices, electronics, anonymous signs of human manipulation.
We needed to get higher.
In our entire 3 hours we saw only 3 other parties of humans, all on foot. What a resource, but what a lot of effort to reach it by shank's mare.
Many of the oaks had huge gashes bright red where branches had been torn off.
Many piles of branches on the sides of the fire roads were evidence of the effort expended to maintain access to this area.
Because we really didn't know where we were going, it was a delightful surprise every time the terrain changed and we could once again see across the landscape to the play of maritime fog.
Jamie and Woodie struck a pose looking like an apparition of the Ghost Rider in the Sky.
Or the Pale Rider of the Apocalypse.
I'll stick with my chocolate brown Rocky Mountain Mule.
Never shows the dirt, never loses his cool, always up for an adventure, brave willing and ready.
I do get the sense that he humors me.
He is my best legs.
Tobe Mule is not at all the same sort of personality as Marcos the Andalusian Azteca.
But out on the trail they are compadres.
Spanish moss hanging from the oaks has such a timeless beauty, still moment.
And moving through the landscape at the sensible mule speed of 2.2 mph allows for the slow appreciation of the details of the terrain and flora.
Signs warned that it was bear and mountain lion territory, but we encountered only birds.
These bilingual signs were everywhere, evidence that the land has some sort of petroleum activity underground.
Woody is a pretty old guy, but he's game for the trail, and Jamie makes sure he gets out often enough to keep in shape.
Nevertheless, like Tobe he enjoys a chance to catch his breath when we take a break.
Sometimes the composition of natural details is just so pleasing, the mixture of textures and colors so sublime.
And on trails like this you just never know what may be around the next bend, and won't ever be exactly this way again should you return.
The play of life and death,
an old oak stump delicately festooned with poison oak,
the textures and colors such a gift for the senses.
Of course to Tobe Mule, a more earthy sort of fellow, he evaluates the culinary possibilities more than the aesthetic.
The trails are nicely signposted, not that we knew where any of the trails went....
but when we got to this point I recognized the Ortega Trail as the one that led off from the kiosk, so that seemed to say that it was our route back out to where we had entered at the Las Cruces Trailhead.
So off we went, starting to descend again.
And then suddenly I saw a stretch of trail and a pipeline that I remembered from riding out here ten+ years ago.
And if I remember it I know Tobe does. Mules forget nothing.
But NOT so grand as this buffet lunch for Tobe Mule.
His favorite snack of all, Arundo donax, a bamboo-like grass he finds irresistible.
With a sprinkling of Toxicodendron diversilobum, poison oak, for garnish.
But then it was time to move on,
across this deadfall,
no hindrance for a sure-footed mule.
Tobe giving a signal to proceed straight ahead.
Way out there on a snag in a field,
two birds observing us pass by.
This old tree has lost a massive section and is quite hollowed out, but looked in otherwise vibrant life.
Oaks are able to "sacrifice" limbs to support the life of the whole.
And in this case possibly also can provide a cosy home for someone.
On we went
and the sun started to break through and dissipate the fog.
Rather quickly we got back onto the Ortega Trail, and I started seeing things I remembered from a decade ago when I was last here, like this ravine-spanning pipeline.
The funny thing about rough trails is that in photos they never look so bad. But that jumble of stones and what looks like a stream bed is actually the trail.
Tobe is ready and takes it slow and steady and I appreciate his efforts.
As a final coda, I thought to take photos of the equines to compare their tack.
Colin Dangaard. For starters mules have flat backs, so it is required to have both the breast collar and the butt straps known as britchen, lest the saddle slip fore or aft on hills. We also use two cinches, to span his prodigious girth. There is no horn, instead the area has a loop of leather called a monkey grip. The stirrups have tapaderos on the front, and the whole getup is tastefully embellished with crocodile hide. But the best part, I think, are the poleys that look rather like dinner plates affixed in front of and behind my thighs. They give me great security because your legs are quite locked in and any unannounced spin will not cause an unplanned dismount.
"The body roams the mountains, and the spirit is set free."
Hsu Hsia-Ko, 17th century
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