Mule Trail Ride: Gaviota Pass Las Cruces Cruise

Gaviota Pass Las Cruces Cruise (Courtesy)

The beautiful mountains that rise above the Gaviota Pass, where coastal Hwy 101 and Hwy 1 split apart, 35 miles North of Santa Barbara. Thousands drive through every day, and a lucky few stop and take the time to explore the trails.

Under a cloudy sky four riders from the MeetUp saddled up to do a short ride. It is a perfect time of year to move across the landscape at 2mph, observing all the wildflowers blooming in succession.

Past the school is a parking lot for rigs, and then the road has this gate blocking vehicular entry. The Park Rangers use it for access, and a special step-over opening on the left allows equine access. Jamie Buse and Mosca wait on the other side, eager to get going. There is a glimpse of Hwy 101 on the left, the first part of the trail parallels it.

A kiosk at the side of the trail shows the choice: to bear right and continue on the main Las Cruces trail, straight up to the ridge, or turn left and go down the Ortega trail, a challenging traverse.

Because both humans and their mounts are still legging up after a lazy rainy winter, we opted to take what is essentially a jeep trail.

No rock scrambling today.

Then two of the riders decided they needed to go fast and took off.

Tobe Mule and Mosca Thoroughbred were just fine taking the slow lane.

We think the experience of the wild is best savored at a slower pace, remarking on the views and the plant life.

Periodically the trail opens up to plateaus with lovely views of the mountains, and as we climbed the grasses and flowers were at different stages of seasonal development.

Looking across this valley from the ridge you can see another part of the trail system that winds down into the valley between.

We started to see groups of hikers, mostly Mexican families out for a walk on a holiday.

Mosca was not at all happy when one sun-conscious woman came toward us under a large black umbrella, but thankfully she was savvy enough to unfurl it as she approached.

No bicycles, no dogs, just some nice humans whose children got to pet Tobe’s nose and add an animal encounter to their day’s adventure.

About this time we see the two other people we thought we’d ride with coming back toward us on the trail.

This is Diana Osberg on Tango. Savvy observers may recognize the Rocky Mountain horse coloring that Tobe Mule shares, his mother having been of that breed.

And this is Diana’s niece Alexa Kemalyan, riding Blue the Quarter Horse.

They were rarin’ to go and apparently had scampered up the route on the ridge all the way to the ocean view and then were coming back.

Lucky thing life is full of trails and we can choose the speed at which we travel, and what experiences we are having.

We soon got to this high point where we could see out to sea. Unfortunately, the maritime haze that keeps Santa Barbara such a garden spot was obscuring the islands, and we could only just glimpse one of the offshore oil rigs.

If you REALLY squint at the big photo you might be able to see the blip that is the oil drilling platform Harmony.

There are many oil platforms in the Channel, huge when you are near them but just a twinkle of lights in the night from shore.

But we are far above, looking down into the exclusive enclave known as Hollister Ranch. You can see one of the estates on the ridge line to the right. Hollister Ranch is a 14,400-acre gated residential community amidst a working cattle ranch. Click the link to see parcels for sale.

Right about now Tobe and I were slowing down, we’d been out an hour and I called it. So we went to the top of this path and then turned around.

On the way back down Jamie pointed out this rock formation that channels water down into the canyons below. In the rainy season it has a significant waterfall.

Now that I’ve seen it a goal is set to return in the winter to see it in full flow.

Just like seeing plants at different seasons, the landscape as a whole has details and features to reveal on multiple visits.

But for now, we head slowly back down the hill. At some places the trail is eroded by water, in other parts the grass that has been mowed down makes for a slippery surface. But I can count on my mule to take very careful steps and get us back to our starting point safely.


Written by Lucky 777

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