By Pat Fish
Time for a visit to a slower pace of life. Up to Foxen Canyon in Los Olivos, to the Brown Ranch where cows amble and coyotes howl, between the more civilized neighboring acres of famous vineyards.
We did a scenic 6 mile loop, mostly sticking to the ridges of the canyons, so lucky that the Santa Ynez Valley Riders are friends with the ranch owner and allowed to traipse about on this very private place. Time slows to the strolling speed of horses and mules.
To orient where we were, the triangular brownish mountain on the center of the horizon is Grass Mountain, directly above where Michael Jackson had his famous Neverland Ranch. Now, that’s a landmark!
As usual I arrived early, since TobeMule needs extensive tacking up that takes extra time. Our host Mr Brown came over to say howdy and revealed to me the astonishing information that his father owned a famous racing mule named Ruby and he was the jockey!
Tobe and I approve!
Then Mrs Brown and their ranch tenant the local veterinarian Ingrid Wolf came over while doing their morning constitutional with their dogs.
When I came here with the SYVR several years ago this lot was filled with horse trailers and we had 40+ people out on the trails. But nowadays clubs can barely rustle up a posse for rides, even on places as special as this.
Tobe usually declines water on adventures, but his pal Mosca always takes an opportunity to splash around even if she doesn’t need or want a drink.
So we headed out with just the five of us riders, to explore around on the ranch roads and look for the views we know await us.
Lance Brown declined to accompany us. He says he spent enough decades in the saddle, he’s pretty well done with it.
Having never worked cattle or anything else from my mule, all my time spent aboard him is purely for the pleasure of seeing landscape I could not get myself to on my two legs.
Four legs good!
First thing we saw were these curious elevated tanks, mysterious ranch equipment.
And then right on cue, cattle lounging in the shade.
It was a fascinating assortment, at least one a white Brahma but I am not bovine savvy enough to identify any other breeds.
Tobe and I agreed he had horns and looked ready to rumble. No need for a bullfight, even if this was a cow. We didn’t inquire after her pronouns. Neither did we slow down for a visual inspection of parts.
Well, actually, we did slow down enough that our riding companions sped on up the trail.
We don’t mind. I never want to ride alone, but by “riding drag” Tobe and I get the best of both, solitude on the trail and safety in numbers.
Soon we started to get to the top of a ridge where we could look down at cultivated areas below. The regularity of wine grapes seen through the skeleton of an oak tree still hung with Spanish moss.
What a feast for the eyes after a week of intense tattooing!
In all directions, beautiful nature and long vistas.
The chaparral woodland in an unbroken progress to the horizon.
The family we were riding with also stopped to take commemorative photos.
And I got a nice one of my stalwart pal Jamie on her feisty Mosca the HorseFly.
As can be seen from the map above, we just kept climbing on ridges, revealing new long views. This is straight West toward the Vandenburg Space Force Base and the Pacific Ocean on the horizon.
At this point there was a trail off to the right that Tobe kept telling me was the way to go. He and I have ridden here twice before, and he never forgets anything.
So we followed the trail boss even though we disagreed.
Does it all look the same? I was actually happy that there was a trail boss other than me taking responsibility for the route.
But there is nothing like a mule who is becoming exasperated that his non-verbal suggestions about which trail we should be on is being ignored.
He kept looking at me and then looking at the trail on the other slope, like a dog staring at your dinner dish trying to get a treat.
Then we headed down into a little shady valley that they referred to later as “that place where we saw the wild pigs that time.”
Which was, in fact, a little ravine with water and oaks, a nice change of pace.
But that didn’t last long, and we emerged to climb a track that had us surrounded by an unkindness of ravens.
Eerie to have them soaring and swooping and cawing around us, yet I did not identify if there was a particular carcass they were waiting to scavenge.
Then suddenly we were on the property border, looking over at the cultivated tidy land of the wine vineyard adjacent.
The Los Olivos District is a designated American Viticultural Area situated in Santa Barbara County, California, approximately 30 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. There are 12 bonded wineries and 47 commercial vineyards with 1120 acres under vine.
But when we turn back toward our starting point we are in a field of wildflowers: California poppies, tidy tips and farewell to spring.
Back across a pasture, through a gate and back to the rigs where animals and humans can have a lunch under the shady oaks before we return to civilization.
Grateful to our gracious hosts for a day spent in their little corner of heaven.
And THEN off we go to join the 101 freeway, which is already in progress.