Sunday, May 26, 2024

2024/5/26 Gaviota Pass Las Cruces Cruise

The beautiful mountains that rise above the Gaviota Pass, where coastal Hwy 101 and Hwy 1 split apart, 35 miles North of Santa Barbara. Thousands drive through every day, and a lucky few stop and take the time to explore the trails.
Under a cloudy sky four riders from the MeetUp saddled up to do a short ride. It is a perfect time of year to move across the landscape at 2mph, observing all the wildflowers blooming in succession.
Past the school is a parking lot for rigs, and then the road has this gate blocking vehicular entry. The Park Rangers use it for access, and a special step-over opening on the left allows equine access. Jamie Buse and Mosca wait on the other side, eager to get going. There is a glimpse of Hwy 101 on the left, the first part of the trail parallels it.
A kiosk at the side of the trail shows the choice: to bear right and continue on the main Las Cruces trail, straight up to the ridge, or turn left and go down the Ortega trail, a challenging traverse.

Because both humans and their mounts are still legging up after a lazy rainy winter, we opted to take what is essentially a jeep trail.

No rock scrambling today.

Then two of the riders decided they needed to go fast and took off.

Tobe Mule and Mosca Thoroughbred were just fine taking the slow lane. 

We think the experience of the wild is best savored at a slower pace, remarking on the views and the plant life.

Periodically the trail opens up to plateaus with lovely views of the mountains, and as we climbed the grasses and flowers were at different stages of seasonal development.
Looking across this valley from the ridge you can see another part of the trail system that winds down into the valley between.

We started to see groups of hikers, mostly Mexican families out for a walk on a holiday.

Mosca was not at all happy when one sun-conscious woman came toward us under a large black umbrella, but thankfully she was savvy enough to unfurl it as she approached.

No bicycles, no dogs, just some nice humans whose children got to pet Tobe's nose and add an animal encounter to their day's adventure.

About this time we see the two other people we thought we'd ride with coming back toward us on the trail. 

This is Diana Osberg on Tango. Savvy observers may recognize the Rocky Mountain horse coloring that Tobe Mule shares, his mother having been of that breed.

And this is Diana's niece Alexa Kemalyan, riding Blue the Quarter Horse.

They were rarin' to go and apparently had scampered up the route on the ridge all the way to the ocean view and then were coming back. 

Lucky thing life is full of trails and we can choose the speed at which we travel, and what experiences we are having.

We soon got to this high point where we could see out to sea. Unfortunately, the maritime haze that keeps Santa Barbara such a garden spot was obscuring the islands, and we could only just glimpse one of the offshore oil rigs.
If you REALLY squint at the big photo you might be able to see the blip that is the oil drilling platform Harmony.

There are many oil platforms in the Channel, huge when you are near them but just a twinkle of lights in the night from shore.
But we are far above, looking down into the exclusive enclave known as Hollister Ranch. You can see one of the estates on the ridge line to the right. Hollister Ranch is a 14,400-acre gated residential community amidst a working cattle ranch. Click the link to see parcels for sale.
Right about now Tobe and I were slowing down, we'd been out an hour and I called it. So we went to the top of this path and then turned around.
On the way back down Jamie pointed out this rock formation that channels water down into the canyons below. In the rainy season it has a significant waterfall.

Now that I've seen it a goal is set to return in the winter to see it in full flow.

Just like seeing plants at different seasons, the landscape as a whole has details and features to reveal on multiple visits.

But for now, we head slowly back down the hill. At some places the trail is eroded by water, in other parts the grass that has been mowed down makes for a slippery surface. But I can count on my mule to take very careful steps and get us back to our starting point safely.



##### <")%><  #######

Mule Trail Blog by Pat Fish



Sunday, May 12, 2024

2024/5/12 Baron Ranch Revisited for Mothers' Day

The coastline clouded under the cover of typical May Gray weather, we opted to return to ride the Baron Ranch on the Gaviota Coast, 25 miles West of Santa Barbara in Central California.
The last time we rode this canyon (blog HERE) was just before the disastrous Alisal fire in the Fall of 2021. The Arroyo Quemada Trail has now been reopened after years of restoration. The 1,083 acre ranch is owned and managed by the Santa Barbara County Public Works Department, and the Trails Council has worked very hard to build trails from Hwy 101 all the way up to the ridgeline Camino Cielo. However, we were surprised that the trail we rode before was closed off, leaving us to adventure onto a new path.
Just the two of us this time, Jamie on Woody the white quarter horse paint and Pat on Tobe the Rocky Mountain mule.

Still standing sentinel at the parking area is this sign showing how far down the devastating fire burned. In many places it actually jumped Hwy 101 and burned to the ocean on the other side.

Looking North from the parking area, the beautiful and largely undeveloped Gaviota Coast.

Another melted sign,

and a view over to the southbound bridge where the 101 spans the canyon just above the beach.

Just to the right of the entrance gates is this little kiosk, with information about the flora and fauna.

We saw several groups of hikers parking, and knew we'd catch up to them later on the trail.

The first plant we saw was this magnificent manzanita, reduced to a tumbleweed by the fire and still standing sentinel just off the road.

Woody may be an elderly gentleman but he's game for the trail, and appreciates getting out of his paddock on a fine day.


Tobe Mule is always up for the challenge of trekking forth to see landscapes and views, but he forgets nothing, so surely he was as surprised as we were when the trail was not at all what we expected.

First we come to the bridge, taking us into the canyon.

This winter's massive rainstorms are still draining into the creek, and made a pretty sight from the bridge.

But next we come to this map, which sends us off to the left. 

This is very odd, since we are coming up the automobile-wide path that we had continued on last time, a clear ranch access road that tracked along the creek.

Now the trail goes up into the hillside.

Tobe and I walked over to the closed gate to see if we could find an explanation for the wider road being closed off.

But unfortunately all it tells us is that there is no public access beyond that point and no hunting allowed. 

If you click on the 2021 blog link you will see the lovely interesting path we previously followed, through old orchards and past a mysterious building.

Obediently we headed off to the left, up onto the hillside.

The signage gave us no other option.

The hill was densely planted with avocado trees, and clearly this orchard dates back to the days of the working ranch. 

This avocado tree was fully skeletonized in the fire, but is making a remarkable come-back.

I thought it was curious to see how the new growth is hugging the central trunk, and new branches will follow.

Some places where the trail seemed to diverge were roped off, and very much overgrown.

The full palate of colors so soothing to the eye.

Because I am a Scot I take particular pleasure in seeing the stands of thistles growing, the national flower of Scotland.

Tobe likes to eat them, so even though he is not supposed to eat on the trail I had to stop and let him snack.

Just across the canyon we could hear the sound of dogs barking, and you see Tobe's right ear is listening to this unusual warning alert.
I often like to remark that Tobe's eyesight is ten times better than mine. It took me a while to be able to see the sheep grazing on that burned off area, with white Anatolian Shepherd dogs guarding them.


And then down in the canyon bottom we could see the transport trailer that must have brought the ruminants to clear away unwanted vegetation.

But we continued on our way on the trail, which was gently sloping upward and getting thinner and less well maintained.

Stands of hardy opuntia cactus started to appear between large swaths of blooming yellow mustard.

But the trail was now increasingly crossed by little run-off fissures, with slightly unstable sides and of varying depth. It would be exaggerating to call any of them a chasm, but Mr Mule started to get worried. We walked through a dozen of them willingly, but finally we came to one he Would NOT Cross. 

I did my best to encourage him, with nice words then spurs, then the popper on the end of my romel reins, but he was having none of it. And out of nowhere comes the voice of a nearby observing hiker saying the word "Stubborn." Well, Hell. Truth is the mules have a heightened sense of self-preservation, and I have learned that arguments with mules about what they consider dangerous sometimes don't end well.

There are no photos of that adventure-derailing obstacle, I was riding two-handed.

And next thing you know we are turned around and riding downhill and an uneventful trail ride is always a gift.

Back down we went, Woody leading the way back across the bridge.

And one last look at the stream.


And since Tobe has done all the work on this little adventure, when we came across a stand of his favorite wild grass Arundo donax it was appropriate to let him stand and snack before we headed out.

Even if he did make it a rather short ride.

Back at the trailers, humans tucked into sandwiches and equines had carrots and hay.

Tobe on the alert watching for traffic in the parking area, showing off his seasonal signature chocolate dapple coloring. 

Soon he will shed off his winter coat and be in his glossy darker summer look.

Woody having his hay and probably contemplating how much he will enjoy a bath when he gets home, and a good roll in the dirt to take him from white to palomino.

And a good time was had by all, and only ONE tick hitchhiked back home with me.


"Real poetry doesn't say anything, it just ticks off the possibilities. Opens all doors. You can walk through any one that suits you."

-- Jim Morrison


mule blog by Pat Fish 

### FIN ###