Cuclillo de Tierra Trail at Mission La Purisima

By Pat Fish

Once again the weather calls us up North to Mission La Purisima, often reliably cooler and overcast making for pleasant rides. This view is looking out over the Lompoc Valley from the Cuclillo de Tierra Trail, which translates to “Ground Cuckoo” which mystifies me. Perhaps that refers to California quail, which ARE plentiful here.

As we are still catering to my mule’s healing hind hoof, today’s route was a circular one, primarily following a dirt road on the Western plateau of the Mission property that circumscribes a large loop. 

First stop, a portrait of each rider with the Mission Padre sign:

What a treat that Woody the quarterhorse/paint was brought out of retirement for an easy stroll, to the delight of C C Beaudette-Wellman. CC cares for many elderly horses who can no longer be ridden, and Woody did his best to prove he was NOT that old quite yet! Bring on the horse cookies and he will have stamina !

Mosca the Appendix Thoroughbred is always ready to go, and Jamie Buse is up to the challenge of keeping her on course. She usually gives the impression she’d rather run the trail and we can catch up with her later, but this is a team effort.

Miss Kitty is the nice quarterhorse girl who genuinely seems pleased to be invited along and does her best to be no trouble at all for Kim Farro. Sometimes she spooks at nothing! But she’s got the team to protect her so she regains her composure quickly.

And of course there’s TobeMule and Pat Fish, so pleased to have compadres on the adventure. No competition here, just a nice walk with peasant friends and landscape to see and horizons to gaze upon. The absolute antidote and opposite of the daily job of tattooing indoors under bright lights. The relaxation of passage through nature, at 2.2mph.

First up on the day’s obstacle course, an employee on a very loud machine was scraping the trails.

We waved and he waved back…. finally he stopped long enough for us to go past and then scurry off on the trail he was also heading down.

To reach our intended route we needed to get to the central loop, then go West up an access road. 

That meant going past the first buildings and then to the main trail.

We do not have the option of going through the historic buildings. We obey the rules! Although, as I must always insist, Tobe is not a horse. 

The California State Parks website says “The only California mission not organized around a quadrangle, Mission La Purísima was built in a linear fashion. The mission leaders choose the linear layout to avoid flooding patterns and because the mission leaders felt the docile Chumash did not need to be contained within the typical fortress like quadrangle.”

I am forbidden access while astride, so I cannot document that part of the property. But Googling provides this historic perspective:

The original site of La Misión de la Purísima Concepción de la Santísima Virgen María, (or The Mission of the Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary) was established in 1787 by the Franciscan order a few miles SouthWest, but it was destroyed in the earthquake of 1812.

There are only a few rubble walls left of the original site, and the Mission as we know it was immediately rebuilt in the new location.

It is now part of the California State Parks system, and is the only example in California of a complete Spanish Catholic mission complex. Well worth a field trip!

People in foot can duck inside the adobe buildings and see recreations of their uses.

This building is labeled as the Blacksmith’s workshop.

All we on equines care about is that some eager tourist’s child doesn’t come plunging out of the doorway at high speed.

We can choose to go left or right to get onto the main central road. This is the one favored by walkers and people with baby strollers and bicyclists.

My current favorite plant is the lace lichen, which makes such beautiful canopies in the trees.

And details like weathered fences over a creek bed are around every corner.

Some bridges might not be sturdy enough for equine use, we’ll take their word for it.

We turned up the road to the Mesa plateau and uh oh, Tobe alerted that the dreaded trail scraper was coming up behind us. The rest of the property was utterly silent but the growling of the tractor was evidence of pursuit.

We tucked into the grounds of some historic buildings, some labeled as employee housing, and let it grind past. No equine likes anything in pursuit, but if we turn and observe it go by there is no problem.

One of the buildings had this mountain lion warning sign posted. 

Years ago I was riding here and Tobe kept sniffing the ground like a tracking hound, and acting concerned. After my ride I was told by a park employee that there had been numerous mountain lion sightings that week.

But we were not worried. As much as these ladies like to chatter I have no doubt that we’d never come upon a puma unawares. They’d definitely hear us coming.

The trail system is nicely marked, but I confess that, as always, I rely on my and Tobe’s sense of direction and only care about the map afterwards, to show where we have been.

The Cuclillo de Tierra Trail seemed to have been the whole loop we rode.

We did make one wrong turn, and went up a side trail (visible as a spur off the track in the map) where we came to a water trough. Too slimy for Tobe’s taste.

But on a hot summer day it might have been more welcomed. That error in route DID bring us to this wonderful view:

With the agricultural fields in the near valley and the coastal mountains in the distance.

We backtracked to the main trail and passed by many healthy stands of opuntia cactus covered in fruit.

And on the sides of the road the trees had wonderful displays of lace lichen.

I always wish for scratch-and-sniff, so that people looking at these pictures could be enveloped in the scents of coastal sage brush scrub. They will just need to go for a hike!

The reward is both the near detail and the far perspective. This view shows the water treatment plant below, which we often follow a trail on the edge of.

I wasn’t quick enough to snap the bunny that hopped across the trail right here…

Nor was I fast enough to capture the family of quail running across here.

We often hear quail more than we see them. They chatter in the bushes, discussing us as we go by. Then sometimes they burst forth and scurry in a line across the road ahead of us.

As we come around the Western side of the park boundary we look out onto more agricultural fields. Years ago they were open fields, now there are significantly more hoop houses. It is an open discussion whether they are marijuana cultivation, a far more lucrative crop than tomatoes, but I confess I merely speculate.

TobeMule senses that we have taken a turn back toward our starting point, and begins to get a bit of spring in his step. Everyone who has ever rented a horse has experienced this phenomenon. When they know they are on their way back to a rest and carrots they get a second wind.

As we cut across the Mesa’s edge we are above Hwy 246, and suddenly the Real World returns. The sound of hot rods, sirens, and motorcycles comes up the hill to us and we are shook out of our quiet revery.

We had enjoyed riding on a Friday because we saw no bicycle riders. But of course, there had to be one. I was following at a distance, and Tobe alerted that a bike rider was on the loop trail down below. The man encountered  the horse ladies first and got into a bit of a shouting match with them as he came on at top speed and did not have any respect for the rules, which give equines right of way. Courtesy, please. But I didn’t know there had been a verbal dust up, I just saw him standing, waiting, and when I went by I gave him sweet as pie thanks for having good etiquette and letting Tobe and I pass by safely. Telling him how grateful we are that the animals are not spooked. Later, when I heard the whole story, I felt like a Southern Belle who can kill you with complimentary kindness.

We had a good laugh about it.

And then we descended back to the parking area to strip the tack off the creatures and leave them to their lunch while we had ours at the picnic table.

And another trail explored becomes a memory, commemorated and shared in these blogs.

“You should always be taking pictures, 
if not with a camera then with your mind. 
Memories you capture on purpose 
are always more vivid than the ones you pick up by accident.” 
― Isaac Marion


Written by Lucky 777

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