Mule Trail Ride: Gaviota Peak
By Pat Fish
Knowing it would be the last ride of 2020, I opted to invite friends to climb to a high nearby peak for some timeless perspective. There's nothing quite like looking out at landscape to reset the mind.
It was a hard-won view. 3 miles straight up and then a 3 mile descent. Even with my 4WD mule doing all the work it was exhausting, and I doff my helmet to the hikers doing it on their own two feet.
The trailhead is at Las Cruces, where Hwy 1 splits off from 101 towards Lompoc just North of the Gaviota tunnel. It is most popular as a hike to the Gaviota Hot Springs, and there are usually cars in the lot every day.
For the token fee of $2 we parked our equine transportation and got ready to rise up. I had last ridden this 8 years ago, but reading a description by a local writer of a hike here got me curious to see how the trail looked now.
Immediately the destination was visible above us, the Peak.
So we headed off on the access road that is actually the Northern end of the Camino Cielo. I have friends who brag of having driven all the way from Santa Barbara on it in their wild youthful days, one assuring me that she was the driver while the boys sat on the roof of the Camaro with their shotguns aiming at lizards and ground squirrels.
When I attempted to take the Trespass Trail in 2012 we bashed through overgrown chaparral and then finally turned around. So this week I asked the journalist hiker for a current assessment of its viability for equines, and he said he didn't think even a mule could make it through. So on the strength of that advice we kept to the main trail, and went up and up the switchbacks.
Living in a place with so few markers for the seasons, it is refreshing to go to a place with lots of deciduous trees and see their Fall foliage. And always there is the Peak above us, reminding us just how far we have still to go.
Regrettably this wet spot in the trail was as close as we got to the famous Gaviota Hot Springs. We saw no signage for it, and in my faulty memory the path to it was on the East side of the trail, so we went past this. Then on the way back we were all tired out and we were losing light, so we strode through the mud and left it to the hikers.
Once we were a fair distance above the freeway level we could see Hwy 1 going away, with the Las Cruces school on its left in this picture, directly above Tobe's left ear.
Then it was up and up, looking out over ranches and the essential Central California landscape of open fields and sentinel oaks.
On my mule rides I celebrate the astonishing wealth of nature available to the citizens of this county, so nearby, with so very few humans out experiencing it.
With the MeetUp rides I get the best of it, both the time alone with with Tobe mule quietly going up the trail, observing, and the safety of riding with friends. Sometimes the animals get testy, or fret, and having a little herd traveling together makes the adventure less potentially eventful.
The sky was filled with mare's tail clouds, cirrus uncinus, wisping over us. And on the nearby hills we can see tempting trails, beckoning us to explore them.
This locked gate would be the end of any dreams of vehicular travel on this road. We easily slipped around it on the sides.
A palate of textures and colors and distance at play. In dry grassy spots such as this I continued my Patty Poppyseed amusement, scattering handfulls of Eschscholzia californica, California poppy, in areas where it has previously not yet grown. If only a few seeds get enough water this winter to take hold they will begin to transform the trail, and in future years I will know my botanical prank gave them their start.
We are not given to know the number of our days.
Make the best of them.
At which point we ran into friends Arturo and his son Rodrigo coming up the trail,. They had been invited to join us but had to finish a job first and so came late. We left them to finish their ascent, with gale warnings, and continued down.
To live in the crowded city, concerned about viral exposure and pandemic precautions, requires this antidote. Half an hour away and 2,000 feet up in the air, the world is peaceful and still.
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Jan 02, 2021 01:29 PM
Looks like a good time had by all! Thanks for the armchair tour.
Jan 03, 2021 08:42 AM
Enjoyable read - thank you.
Jan 03, 2021 11:08 AM
I love reading your mule ride adventures! How wonderful! I drove to the area where you started your last one (near Live Oak Camp) but it looked like a prepaid fee was needed to park. I went on Paradise Road instead which was beautiful. Yes, we live in glorious country! How lucky you and Tobe are to enjoy it together.
Jan 03, 2021 02:19 PM
Glad your getting out and enjoying your mules, keep the reports coming.. I'm sure your one of the responsible equine owners that sweeps your pet waist off the trail.