Birthday Mule Ride at Live Oak

Birthday Mule Ride at Live Oak title=
Birthday Mule Ride at Live Oak
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By Pat Fish

What better way could there be for me to celebrate turning 66 than a long trail ride at Cachuma Lake with friends. My birthday goal was to ride 10 miles, and we exceeded it! 

We convened as usual at the old favorite Live Oak Camp, on a perfect crisp Fall day.

Even just turning the MuleMobile off Hwy 154 into the Camp grounds the leaves of deciduous trees turning bright Fall colors announced the season. 

But I had a special plan. In the spirit of Johnny Appleseed, I brought along a pound of the very bright orange Eschscholzia californica, the fabulous California Poppy, our state flower. 

In my new self-appointed role as Patti Poppyseed, I determined to scatter the seeds of this prolific annual across our trail, in a place where I have never seen them blooming. And when I return in subsequent Springs, I fully expect to see them well established and know it is my work come to fruition.

But first as always we must begin the ride by fording the mighty Santa Ynez River. Because we have not yet had any rain this Fall, in what is projected to be a dry La Niña winter, there is no water at the crossing now. What water there is runs deep underneath until significant enough runoff will turn this back into a real river heading down to the lake.

When we get some altitude the lake glimmers off on the horizon,

and we climb up until we are above the familiar land forms that are the signposts for the frontcountry.

On trails that are wide enough for service vehicles we head toward the lake and the deeper trails.

There are so many choices of trails that it is possible to ride here frequently and always discover new views.

While the charro contingent sped on ahead, Tobe Mule got a chance to walk alongside his friend Mosca the feisty Thoroughbred. But perhaps he is miffed that it is apparent she only has eyes for Marcos the Andalusian.

The further we go, the more memory serves to fill in the trail ahead, and the conversation turns to "This is where we saw those bear prints..." or other invisible memory markers of rides past.

This is the perfect terrain for my poppy seed dispersal. They like to grow in "disturbed areas" such as roadsides, so as we strolled along I randomly flung pinches over into the dirt and dry grass. I can only hope that they will work their way down into cracks in the earth, avoid bugs and birds, and lie there awaiting the rain that will bring them to life and start a new cycle of growth here.

Every so often we see buzzards circling overhead, reminding us that we are indeed in wild country and something may lie dead nearby. Another cycle of life.

There are herds of wild "Bucking Horses" out in the fields, but this aged mare standing all alone looked like she'd been dumped out here to fend for herself.

Her spine was very high, showing her age, and she'd have a hard time getting enough nutrition grazing on just this parched grass. But perhaps her former owners thought it was the best they could do for her.

Across the valley was one of the bands of horses

too far to tell, but it might be a band of geldings. At this time of year if the mares are foaling they are kept over at the Lone Star Ranch on 154 to protect them from mountain lions. When the colts are old enough they return them to these pastures.

Tobe and the other animals always see so much better than we humans do, so especially when we cross the grass plain they are on high alert for the horse, deer, or cattle.

But it was time to make a decision about what trail to take, and I encouraged my pals to accompany on the big loop that would be a ten mile ride, one I have not done in a decade. So we turned away from the lake and started up into the nearby forest.

One of the most amazing things about this area is how very close to civilization it is, being only half an hour above Santa Barbara, but also how it marks the edge of civilization. Looking East there is simply no one home.

And traveling at mule speed, 2.2mph, allows for contemplation of space and time.

Everywhere we went, I just couldn't believe I never thought of broadcasting poppy seeds before. The landscape cries out for that adornment.

But for now, Fall foliage will have to do.

The trail turned, and now we were in something that can properly be called a forest, oak woodland. The oaks are so old their presence always makes passers by humble. They've seen generations pass beneath their branches.

This is my favorite artsy photo of the day. No Photoshopping, a natural impressionist painting of glowing red poison oak in a clearing in the woods.

Then turning another corner the land levels off for a small valley.

And this strange fallen log that looked like a crocodile or a space ship.

One last big open valley with a finger of the lake stretching up into it

and then one last climb before we headed back to lake level.

It would be lovely enough to ride the woods, but this man-made jewel of a lake is so refreshing, it makes the rides here all the more special.

So as the afternoon sun started to cast long shadows we turned back toward the staging area,

finally descending down the chalk hill to the riverbed below.


I asked my companions to pose for their portraits in close up with their animals, not mounted as I usually do.

Jamie and Mosca and Sparky

Noe and Marcos

Arturo and Golondrina


Rodrigo and Relámpago

Lisa and Shameless

Nancy and Jugeton. 




And there they all are, the people who made my birthday dream come true. It has been well over two years since I have ridden ten miles, and it is a mighty personal victory that I have come back from serious injury to accomplish this goal.

I encourage everyone to overcome the challenges that 2020 has beset us with, to look forward to 2021 with courage and positive thoughts.

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SBCactus Dec 07, 2020 02:08 PM
Birthday Mule Ride at Live Oak

Inspiring! Thanks for sharing your Birthday ride with Tobe & friends. Sure hope you can return in early spring (depending on when our rain begins). Happy Birthday!

a-1607386586 Dec 07, 2020 04:16 PM
Birthday Mule Ride at Live Oak

I did a 2 week stint at Rancho Oso back in the 70's and I love that view out there - thanks for the pics. Is there any company that offers trail rides back there? I know El Capitan Ranch does it from their locale, another great on, but I'd really like to do basically what you did.

winter Dec 07, 2020 04:28 PM
Birthday Mule Ride at Live Oak

Thanks, for making my day with your great story and photos.....wonderful !
We need to remember, nature is so close by.

a-1607392775 Dec 07, 2020 05:59 PM
Birthday Mule Ride at Live Oak

I tried to plant CA poppies in the late 90's along my dog walks in Carpinteria. None took. But you should see my yard! a ghost of barn owl back and arms.

PBmama Dec 08, 2020 08:17 AM
Birthday Mule Ride at Live Oak

Let’s all do our rain dances and hopefully you will post some pictures of the poppies. Nice story and pics. Thanks

SBJeweler Dec 08, 2020 09:57 AM
Birthday Mule Ride at Live Oak

Years ago I rode back there, starting at Live Oak Camp with my friend Jo Couch. She is no longer with us, but your story brought back the happy memory of exploring; hearing a rattler's warning from a log by the trail, feeling the cool dappled shade after the soft hot wind with the smell of oat grass, the happy rythmic sound of hoof falls in the gritty sand of the trails and the stories of past rides and horses loved.
Thank you for sharing the beautiful birthday celebration. I've ridden muleback and it's a wonderful way to go. Your friends look like good ones. Keep them close.

Lucky 777 Dec 08, 2020 09:57 AM
Birthday Mule Ride at Live Oak

* There are no commercial trail ride companies that take people out to Live Oak, as far as I know, but for local rides on rental horses (or mules) I recommend Los Padres Outfitters. Anyone who has their own animal is welcome to join us>>

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