By Pat Fish
2021/4/25 MeetUp Conquers the Live Oak Chalk Hill Summit
The weather threatened rain, but we did not let it stop us! We rode!
Today I got a wild hair to ride a trail I have not gone on in a decade. My companion riders agreed to attempt the summit of the Chalk Hill.
On the map that is the trail from the midpoint where 3 trails converge, up and over to the meadow close to the lake. From there we went out the plateau to the fenced edge, then returned.The day started with the open gate.
For decades the gate was always locked, and every time we’d ride we’d get the access code from the Rangers. Now the gate will be open all day, and the cherished security we felt protected our equipment is gone.
As we tacked up we saw a loose black lab running wild through the parking area, and a suspicious car drove in and then through the parking field at very high speed, kicking up dust. They left, and I couldn’t help but think they left because there were so many people by the rigs. Every other trail head has vandalism problems. We worry that now Live Oak will also.
We can only hope that the new kiosk adequately informs the new hikers of the best practices for them to follow to co-exist with the equestrians on the trail.
Entering the trail through the locked gate we now must pass by the cars of hikers parked right up next to the fence. People were slamming car doors, opening trunks, and then there is the outhouse, with a door whose abrupt opening is enough to spook any horse. Plus the smell.
We asked weeks ago that the outhouse be moved to a location not adjacent the trail.
But our efforts to try to preserve exclusively equestrian access here are a source of aggravation and stress, and it was time to let them drop away, and let the experience of being out in nature soothe us and take us to a better state of being.
First step: fording the Santa Ynez River, which has gone back underground here as the drought continues.
There was a prediction of a 30% chance of rain, and one MeetUp member did back out. But the sky above us was filled with dramatic cloud formations and the opportunity to get out and have a day on the trail with friends was just too good to miss.
It was interesting to see that the trail that goes out onto the upper plateau and borders the Rancho San Fernando Rey was signposted “closed to protect sensitive habitat.”
I suspect this was set up in negotiation with the Ranch and the Parks staff, to prevent trespassing. Which has never been a problem in the decades equestrians have ridden here.
I had heard that new “Cattle Grazing – Keep Gate Closed” signs on the access gates had spooked a horse last week.
Harumph, I said, no sign would trouble Tobe Mule!
So we walked walked confidently over to open the gates for the group, a cowboy skill we take pride in.
And amazingly enough Tobe was NOT at all happy about the sign.
It was more than just something new, it is painted in reflective paint and also I suspect might have been recently manufactured, because he sniffed it a lot before being willing to do the necessary pivots to put me into position to open the gate up.
He’s a wary beast when necessary.
But like the humans he is mostly relaxed and enjoying the opportunity to spend time in good company. He especially likes his pal Mosca the Horse Fly, who is quite the personality.
And yes, that is a Mule-i-corn horn on his forehead.
I thought that since today would be the first time we would be encountering hikers on the trails I would lighten the mood a bit by dressing him up as a Mulicorn.
We did pass a few hikers and welcomed them to the trail system, but since they don’t know squat about trail etiquette I stopped and gave a pep talk to the walkers. Poor guys, they tried to look like they wanted to be good trail citizens but they just kept gawking at the long-eared Mulicorn.
At the top of that stretch of trail is the first overlook where you can see Cachuma Lake.
I often pose my companions here for souvenir photographs, but today the real display were the fabulous cloud formations.
The weather was rolling in off the sea, tumbling over the coastal mountain range as we watched. And I got the inspiration right here to climb that mountain peak directly above Tobe’s ears.
There it is again on the left, with the lake straight ahead. Tobe humors me, he knows which places I like to stop for a Photo Op and he patiently swivels around until his ears are lined up just so.
Because that mountain is made of chalk the trails stand out gleaming white. And I couldn’t resist, seeing them there inspired in me an urge to go to the top…there is always an itch on every trail ride to do something different.
Looking inland the view stretches to infinity. Coming from the dense city, how wonderful to be able to be here in 40 minutes and see a vista where there is no one home all the way to the horizon. The politicians want lovely Santa Barbara to build skyscraper housing to accommodate the expected future population, but SO much of California is wild, with just a few cows on the land.
So we got to the bottom of the trail that would lead us up, I proposed the route, and everyone was game. I try not to be too bossy of a trail boss, then again we didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves in for.
Looking to the West from the summit we could look down on the Santa Ynez River snaking down to Lake Cachuma. Then we started back down the trails which immediately became incredibly steep, so much so that I was riding with my head over Tobe’s tail on the incline and saying thanks for my good Kentucky Mule, who did his best Grand Canyon descent. And wouldn’t you know it, when we got to the bottom of the worst steep stretch there was a handsome cowboy and his gal watching us. His horse took one look at the Mulicorn and got a bit snorty, so we passed on by and left them to climb it.
The trail drops down into a grass plateau, where we often see the bucking horses grazing.
For a place with the name Live Oak, the sad truth is that at least a fourth of the magnificent old growth oaks are dead or dying.
The artistic combination of the cotton puff clouds, watercolor distant mountains, pastel plateaus and sharp focus front trail make for such a pleasing tableau, and as Mr Mule takes us through the various areas at his 2.2mph amble we see the light and shadow play across the landscape.
Myself, I always want to live on the Edge of the Continent.
And having this body of water as part of the trail system adds so much to the pleasure of the day.
Finally we saw some of the bucking horses, who live a wild life out here on a grazing lease. Some are brood mares, some would be pulled off the land for the rodeo season and sent out to provide lively rides at rodeos around the country. With rodeos largely cancelled this last year they got a vacation.
The bark on the oaks is reptilian, ancient, fascinating.
At the Eastern edge of the trail I snapped some shots of my companions.
But first an obstacle course, the shale hill that is a rocky road indeed and drops off just as precipitously on the left into a deep canyon.
And here we are almost back to the starting point. The peak we climbed is directly ahead in this photo, and it is with a sense of accomplishment and a trail well ridden that we look up to that height and know we attained it.
The humans broke out their lunches and we had just enough time to eat before the rain started and our day was done
Tobe Mule got his bag of hay.
And hopefully the bag of carrots made up for the annoyance of wearing a unicorn horn all day.