Mule Trail Ride at the Vandenberg Space Force Base
By Pat Fish
2022/5/14 Vandenberg Saddle Club Poker Ride & BBQ
What an opportunity! Tobe Mule and I were so excited to have the chance to ride on the grounds of the Vandenberg Space Force Base.
Obviously a privilege and an honor, to penetrate into the high security zone and see this nearby and yet forbidden territory!
The exclusive equestrian facility on the base, limited to the active duty military and their dependents, was permitted to hold a fund-raiser that had a huge response.
Following the instructions we passed the base entrance, then followed along a long road that eventually went to dirt, and then out of nowhere a woman pulled up next to me and ascertained my destination from the mule trailer I was towing and said to follow her in.
Once there we picked up our maps, and the score sheet on which our poker hands would be tallied. I know nothing about poker, and left before the winning hands were announced, so I am guessing I didn't win anything. We won by being allowed to ride here!
I heard it said there were over 60 rigs, and possibly 80 riders, all of whom rode out on their own whim with friends. I was fortunate that my pals Jamie & Mosca, and Kim & Kitty, signed up to come also. Here Tobe & I are ready to go, and we see Mosca switching her tail impatiently at Jamie as if that would speed up the tacking up process.
So once we were all mounted up it was time to follow the pink ribbons and see what we would see.
The trail was nicely marked, and groups were spaced so far apart, that we had a good sense of adventure trying to keep on the alert for the glimpse of pink that led us forward.
We started at the Saddle Club, the top center, and did a big clockwise loop.
As usual when Tobe sets the pace we went 2.2 mph. There were a lot of hills and ups and downs and we soldiered on through distracting grass and brambly thickets.
From the first hill we were able to look back and see some of the rigs splayed out across the big open field at the side of the Saddle Club.
And then, when we gazed out across that hill, what did we see?
What the heck? I'm sure with Tobe's acute eyesight he could see these numerous mysterious buildings quite clearly, but we were both at a loss to guess their purpose.
Looking in another direction, everything seemed like innocent coastal sage scrubland. But wait......
Once more looking out across the Saddle Club, now from a higher vantage point, what the heck are those flattened domes on the horizon?
Now I'm getting my money's worth, my tax dollars hard at work funding the Military Industrial Complex to build these very Space Age structures. What could they be?
No time to stop and puzzle, my trail pals were kicking up dust and Tobe Mule and I must needs follow, toward yet another set of domes on a ridge.
Are we being observed in mighty telescopes, can they see me from that distance taking innocuous photographs of top secret horizon lines?....or are they scanning the stars and thinking about loftier pursuits?
We had enough to do making sure we were following the pink.
Here you see an example of the high-viz plastic tape that was attached with clothes pins to the trail at intervals guaranteed to help keep us on track.
It occurs to me that horses are dichromats and therefore see a reduced number of colors compared to humans, who are trichromats.
So, Tobe can't see those pink ribbons at all. They are just a moving flutter to him. By contrast if in a parade we need to step over yellow painted stripes in a street he is very wary and steps carefully over or around them. If the marker ribbons were yellow he could follow them.
And the hot pink TRAIL UP sign doesn't impress him at all.
But what a treat..... when we DID follow the TRAIL UP we got our first really clear view of the swoop of the coastline. What looks like islands off the coast was a fog bank that hovered on the horizon.
Of course, I was under the wishful misapprehension that we were going to be riding on the beach here. And that tiny speck of white way out there might be the launching pad, and you just never know when Ol' Elon might be thrusting something up!?! In fact, just yesterday:
On May 13th 2022 there was a successful SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket Starlink launch that delivered 53 Starlink satellites into orbit to deliver high-speed internet service in rural and remote communities.This was the fourth SpaceX launch from Vandenberg this year. And yes, the photo of Tobe watching it at the front of the blog is a Photoshop trick. Don't believe everything you see!
Topping another ridge we were closer just barely to the mysterious complex of buildings.
What could they be doing up there? I know, "I could tell you but then I'd have to..."
Truth be told, if they want to spend my tax dollars on looking at the planets and shooting rockets into space, I say better that than bombing people.
Meanwhile down here on Planet Earth, Tobe and I are meandering through oak forests and exploring a new place. A perfect Saturday.
But oh, oh, we came to the first poker ride stop. You pull a card out of a bucket and they mark it on your page, and you hope for a high hand.
I'm more interested in the old oaks and the way they grow in twisted patterns. In marked contrast to the places we usually ride, the oaks here were very healthy, very few dying. A pleasure to see.
The animals care most about the plant life too, but with edible intent.
Sometimes you just have to let the creatures snack. They are, after all, doing all the work of this expedition.
So we found a shady place with some nice grass and let them take a break, giving the humans a chance to drink water also.
And then it was up another hill.
From the top of which we could once again look back at the Saddle Club and appreciate what a very extensive facility it is.
And with those mystery round buildings again on the horizon I thought it would be a nice place to take souvenir portraits for my companions. Jamie and Mosca
and Kim and Miss Kitty
and there we are, Tobe and I, traversing landscape as is our wont.
And once again
is this an innocent agricultural water tower, or the entrance to a labyrinth of underground surveillance facilities?
Another card draw for the poker hand.
And then in the midst of the plateau of bushes suddenly we came across a large electrical power station.
After that the trail turned and we moved in what seemed like an up-coast direction, through a forest of pines.
Where I saw this bizarre stump. A tree that had actually been four trees growing as one was sawed off to ground level.
And this broken tree in a stand of eucalyptus bordering an access road had the most astonishingly red interior where the tree must have been snapped by a high wind.
But out there on the horizon, just to the right of the bush in the center of Tobe's ears
Can that be the Atlas Launch Pad?
Why oh why didn't I think to bring my binoculars? Some spy I'd make.
One more card to draw, and a chat with some nice ladies and then we were turning toward home base.
They were sitting in the shade across from this junk pile, which didn't even look like military surplus.
But we had to keep going, the chicken BBQ was calling.
Then I heard what I thought was a very angry bird chirping. Maybe a territorial jay..... but no, it was too regular. As we approached this set of equipment inside a fence it got louder and louder, and Jamie opined that it was a squirrel deterrent. It certainly was robotic.
Then we wandered apparently WAY TOO CLOSE and this alarm system started to make mule deterrent noises that were very effective.
I sort of expected a voice to come out of a loudspeaker with the military equivalent of "YOU ARE TOO CLOSE TO THE VEHICLE" but we didn't stick around to see how long before a human would appear.
If you ask me these downed power lines were the danger, and we went way around them. Only to stumble into what seemed like a very dangerous area indeed....
And in the middle of this very dangerous field was a storm drain access
Which of course started me thinking again about subterranean facilities, fall out shelters, who knows what the heck goes on underground out here.
And then we passed this large area that looked as if it had once been a cemented parking lot, or perhaps roof....... another mystery! Above my pay grade!
But then it was time to trail on in to the club...
and get one last card draw for the Poker
and join the other riders for chicken and beans and palaver.
We came, we explored, we saw, we had a fine day.
And it is with gratitude that we left this very special place.