By Pat Fish
Looking West from an observation point on Los Flores Ranch, to the seacoast under a marine layer of fog near Santa Maria.
Consisting of 1,778 acres (nearly 2.8 square miles), the Los Flores Ranch Park property lies about eight miles south of Santa Maria in the Solomon Hills. Directly adjacent Hwy 101, we started at a staging area just off the highway and did a long loop.
My pal had given me a list of trails to take for a nice ride, but we opted to ramble, knowing whichever way we went we could easily navigate back to the starting point.
Leaving the staging area we began by tracking South along Hwy 101. Tobe Mule started the day by being cranky, it has been 3 weeks since our last ride as we avoided the heat wave and he was not happy about being asked to get back to work. And Marcos was his bad role model and was quite feisty, rearing up on his hind legs to indicate his displeasure, so we had an adventurous beginning to what would end up being a calm day. Never can tell with critters.
Basically the ranch is uncultivated grassland, and here it is in the summer burnt dry season.
We were very fortunate that we had it all to ourselves, with the exception of a handful of bicycle riders.
The plan was to avoid the July 4th crush in the city, and we succeeded.
As you head up the canyons, areas of green trees and chaparral growth appear, hugging the parts where the water flows down.
We didn’t see a single cow, although a few dung patties here and there testified to their presence.
This is certainly cow country.
Tobe and I were slow, so this is the usual view. When most people post trail photos the butts of their companions’ horses fill every shot. You will notice I try to avoid that repetitive view, although it IS my trail experience.
Looking to the distance are the Solomon Hills, and the higher you climb on the trails the more it is obvious that this property has never been civilized for anything except running cattle.
On the ridge crest there is a service road, but most of the rest are skinny trails often with drop offs to canyons far below.
Today the riding crew was Kim on Miss Kitty, Noe on Marcos, Jamie on Mosca, and Tobe Mule and I. A small group and we were glad of it, relaxing and easy to track our way.
And which path will we chose? The trail, or the road?
That also meant a chance for riding through old oak trees instead of the endless grass.
I have ridden here twice before, but I definitely do not know the trails. So we did end up at one dead end and had to turn around. No bother, it was just a way to spend a fine day in nature.
THIS is the California I love to ride through, the old growth oaks and the scent of the sage.
And once they settled into their jobs the animals enjoyed their time too, out in nature instead of waiting around the ranch for something to do.
As always when riding these coastal valleys, the slopes facing the sea get the burden of the salt in the mist and are more likely to be mostly grasses. Once on the lee side the oaks grow.
And for the hundreds of years it takes these slow growing ancestors to establish and thrive, they have seen drought conditions come and go.
But oh, the mortality! The remnant pelvic girdle of some unfortunate bovine on the side of the trail.
We most definitely were not following a map, but I thought I’d document the trail signs I did see.
Poor Tobe, when he slows down to snatch grass snacks on the trail, much to my annoyance, the trail companions get far ahead.
And if there is one thing a herd animal does NOT like is to see his pals disappear around a bend up ahead.
Noe and Marcos are residents where Tobe Mule and his girlfriend Ruth Mule live, so whenever we ride with them Tobe is quite at ease, like he is with family.
Even though Marcos is a hot-blooded 3/4 Andalusian stallion, and probably doesn’t have much to say to a Rocky gelding mule.
Jamie and Mosca are our most regular riding companions.
Mosca is a racing thoroughbred, and she does tell us she would rather cover these trails at top speed and always be in front, if you please, winning the race.
Tobe is quite happy to let her be the winner.
Kim and Miss Kitty usually ride in arenas at a boarding facility. We are quite happy to have them join us for rides and Kitty is learning that there is a fascinating world to be explored outside the arena fences.
And Tobe and I couldn’t do it without our compadres, who make it all such a pleasure.
It is especially nice to ride with people who don’t particularly care which trail we take. We just want to be out there in nature for a while.
There is no way to photograph how the trails there feel. How what looks like a gentle grassy slope in a photo is really a steep drop off down to a canyon far below.
And having had some “adventures” in the past that led to injuries, some parts of this seemingly innocuous trail gave me some inner turmoil.
But this is Independence Day. A day to be brave.
So I concentrate on the 3D view, watching the light and shadows play across the grass.
The sameness surrenders to an eye for detail.
At the northern end of our route we looked down on an irrigated vineyard, so tidy it almost looked like a golf course.
And then we were back at the level of the 101, and headed back toward the starting point.
At the lower elevations the grass and plants are greener, and the animals pick up the pace as they know we are almost done.
This scrap metal always looks to me like space debris fallen to Earth. It might have once been a trough for the animals, but now it is “art.”
One last trail, tracking a creek bed along the 101.
A creek that has been here eons before the highway, and laid the trail it follows.
And finally we see our rigs parked by the hay shelter, where shade and a picnic table at which to eat our lunch at await us.
Every ride where no one gets hurt is a victory, and for Independence Day we exercised our liberty and our eccentricity and went exploring in good company on good steeds.