By Pat Fish
An opportunity to follow a cool and shady trail on Mothers’ Day, through the white oaks in the acres surrounding Rancho Oso, a Thousand Trails Resort on the Santa Ynez River above Santa Barbara.
We seem to have tracked the shape of Africa as we rambled across the Arroyo Burro trails.
Not a long ride, but a pleasant one.
We did not have too much of a plan, just to be above the city and in nature.
Leading directly out of the paddock area the trail is well used by people who board their animals here and the many locals who come up to access the trails.
Because the land is technically part of the Los Padres National Forest no chainsaws can be used.
So if a tree falls across the trail a work-around must be created, instead of cutting a passageway through the trunk.
This leads to a lot of detours.
Heading up toward Camino Cielo the trail is cut very deep into the dirt. In some places walking in the ditch it was so deep the bottoms of my stirrups touched the sides.
In places like this the shade under the trees and the sounds of birds is quite transporting. We move through it at mule speed, and observe the tiny spring flowers blooming and the hear the rustle of small creatures getting out of our way.
When the trees open out into grassland we can see the Edison lines on the upper horizon, evidence of civilization in a place where there is minimal cell phone reception. Every so often all our phones will start to ping in unison as we happen upon a part where the phones pick up a signal and download messages.
For me, I like best passing through the oaks, feeling like I am back in time and voyaging across landscape in another part of the world. As we head into summer the green is still with us, not yet the high fire season.
Today my companions were Cookie on Morgan, Jamie on Mosca, and C.C. on Woodie. Cookie boards her horse there, so she was our informed guide.
We passed the entrance to the White Oaks Camp of the Santa Barbara Trail Riders.
All I know is it is exclusive and online it says they are a non-profit with 95 members.
And NO girls allowed in that club.
Well heck, we’ve got the MeetUp with 421 members and we like everybody.
So we headed back down toward the river. Tobe and I often mosey along this far back, it is the best of worlds. We have the safety of being with friends, but the sensual experience of being out alone. Plus if I want to sing silly cowboy songs to Mr Mule no one laughs at the lyrics.
This very strangely formed rock placed on a boulder seemed like a signpost, but for what I will never know.
It qualifies as found art.
Here the trail meandered back and forth, sometimes dropping with very rocky sections, causing what the mule guys would call a “pucker factor.”
But if the horses ahead of me can manage, I must not fear, for yea I go forth on a mule.
Then it was time to ford the Santa Ynez River. At this time of year, not much rain and going into summer, it is only inches deep and not very wide.
Of course the animals like the opportunity to get a drink, and cool their hooves in the water, and have a snack of the reeds. On the other side Morgan is not quite sure what looks edible.
Tobe Mule would always rather snack on water plants than have a drink, so he appreciates the time-out.
We passed on heading up into the canyons, where we usually opt to go, because today we just wanted a short ramble. So we walked up the dry riverbed and angled back toward the staging area.
Walking up toward the barn we saw a massive amount of piled up deadfall branches. A combination of trees dying in the drought and not being able to burn campfires.
And the last sight on this trail, the string horses waiting patiently for the little buckaroos to load up and get ready to go out for a pony ride.
That was certainly my introduction to equines, half a century ago, but then it was in the mountains of Pasadena, California. How much more splendid these landscapes here, how very lucky I am to have the ability to explore them.