Mountain Trails at Midland School with SYVR
By Pat Fish
Tobe Mule and I ventured up and over to the Santa Ynez Valley, where a bright sunny day awaited on which to explore the trails on the 2,860 acre property of the Midland School.
Joining 5 other members of the Santa Ynez Valley Riders, we followed a trail along Figueroa Mountain Road and headed up toward Grass Mountain.
These trails are open to the equestrian and hiking public by reservation, and used by students at the private school for training in cross-country running.
The school is a college prep institution for the children of the elite. Students can participate in horseback riding as well as growing food in a 10 acre garden, in addition to "innovative experiential learning." Their Latin motto translates to "THE STRENGTH OF POWER." More info can be found at www.midland-school.org
The season is turning, and spring green still remains in the landscape as we set out for our path upwards.
On the first part of the trail we walked through lovely oak meadows, with the scent of sage in the chaparral community around us.
And always above us rose Grass Mountain, silhouetted against the sky. At this time of year there should have been a poppy display on the slopes, as there currently are in other parts of the Southern California mountains. But the lack of rain or some other factor has apparently stopped this year's bloom.
This is a photo I took in March 2016, on a similar trail ride when the poppies were splendid.
The trails are maintained by the Santa Barbara Trails Council that I am proud to do volunteer work for, and we are grateful for their hard work keeping up the trails. I do wordsmithing, editing documents, while others are out with shovel and saw. All helping in the way we can to improve access for the public to the precious beauty of our area trails.
Sometimes that can mean blocking off a dangerous section of the trails and carving out another path. With the drought taking a hard toll on the oak trees this is a constant effort.
We saw a LOT of hikers on the trails, and without exception they were cheerful healthy people who looked like they were having a fine day walking in the woods.
I can't help but feel they secretly harbored a bit of envy when meeting the mighty Tobe Mule and seeing how easily I ascended the slopes on his back. He does all the work.
This man and his dog get my high praise for perfect trail etiquette. Many people have to be asked to pull their dog off the trail when a horse or mule is passing by. But he had his lovely companion trained to sit off trail facing away, so as not to meet the eye of the oncoming equine and appear a threat or challenge.
Good dog! Good owner!
As we ascended in elevation we could see the magnificent views of the horizon that the back country affords.
And looking down we could see the easy trail through the valley floor that we had started with, before we began our ascent on the more difficult trails.
And narrow it did!
But never a problem for the sure footed Kentucky mule. Sometimes a bit unnerving when he seemed wider than the trail, so that my foot appeared to dangle out over the edge and drop-off, but as we say "Worry is a poor counselor" and has no place on a trail ride. You must place faith in your equine.
Ascending above landmarks, switch backs and steep climbs, they are long miles.
And then thankfully the trails hit a plateau of sorts, and we walked through lush grassy meadows open to the sky.
Easier traveling, perhaps even a chance to let the animals have a snack and rest before continuing.
And although we were not so ambitious as to attempt the actual ascent of Grass Mountain, its presence on the upper horizon was always an inspiration.
As are the companions on their variety of animals with whom we share the trail.
Turning in the other direction we could see all the way out to the Pacific Ocean.
My guess is from that vantage point we were looking due West, across the Vandenberg Air Force Base, now renamed the Vandenberg Space Force Base.
But forgetting the tensions of world war politics, we continued on our way. Indulging in that most precious age-old method of transportation: an equine excursion.
Until, that is, we came across this downed tree that completely blocked the trail.
We made our way around it by descending a steep slope, and I have reported it to the trail angels of the SBTC to have the situation assessed and dealt with. The tree may be cut through, or a new trail created. They will know what to do.
From this point the trail continued to slope downward, and many times crossed over a stream. Water, such a welcome sight.
Presently the animals got a spring in their steps and picked up the pace, as they all recognized that we were not far from the staging area. Tobe Mule knows well that means the end of his day's work, a pile of carrots, and a ride home.
My thanks for him and his four good legs that take me where my insufficient two cannot get me, and for the organizations and people that make my riding safer.