Mule Trail to Los Flores Ranch
By Pat Fish
Looking West from the Solomon Hills toward the Pacific Ocean across Santa Maria and Orcutt.
The map gives a sense for the topography, dry grassland well suited to ambling cattle.
The staging area is directly adjacent Highway 101, convenient for all. The ranch welcomes equestrians, hikers and bicycle riders, although this day we only saw a few hikers with whom we shared this lovely recreational open space.
Covering 1,778 acres (nearly 2.8 square miles), the property lies about eight miles south of Santa Maria in the Solomon Hills in Northern Santa Barbara County.
We had not planned to have a guide, only a whim to reverse the trail we took last time we rode here and see if we liked it better in that direction
But our pal Stormy who is a volunteer Trail Marshall at the Ranch turned up with her Arabian Pico, and so we knew we were in good hands.
Or hooves, as the case may be.
As soon as you turn away from the 101 the sense of time begins to shift. and this is, after all, a main goal of trail riding. To slip back into a time when travel was done at 2.2mph, not freeway hustle.
The entire property is crisscrossed with trails. Some may have been made by cattle, others are being laid out now to accommodate multi-use recreation.
We slowly wend our way along.
The line up shifts, the animal personalities find their own levels. And the humans can bask in the 3D landscape where light and shadows shift as we pass through.
I tend to walk with Tobe toward the back, letting anyone with a horse that wants to go fast be up front. I also want him to be far enough behind any other animal that he can clearly see the trail condition, and avoid any potential pitfalls. The trails are often undermined by ground squirrel holes.
My trusty mule can see and avoid most, but this week he stepped on a place that had a hole underneath the surface that collapsed, and he pitched forward onto his knees. It was on a single-track trail with a steep drop-off, and there we were, both of us praying. I was forward on his neck, and he gave a mighty shove and stood back up, putting me back into the vertical.
The POLEYS on the Australian saddle, the plates that lock my thigh in front and behind, KEPT ME SEATED. I won't speculate on the grim possibility that in my previous saddles I would not have fared so well. Hooray for the Aussie style, and for Colin Dangaard custom designed saddles!
Assuring the people behind us that we were just fine, Tobe and I sashayed our way to the top of the lookout hill. Lawnmower/trail whacker in the way? No problem. We stay ON the trail as we are asked to, except when an obstacle requires a diversion.
And what a view it was! So very much worth the climb up to see all the way out to the Pacific Ocean to the West, skimming over the Solomon Hills and over Orcutt, across Santa Maria to the sea. Pico and Tobe agree!
Of course it was just the right place to take a photo of the whole group. Now, if you were doing math, you see why there were ten riders, ten horses, and one mule. One cowboy ponied an older horse who has a medical condition and can't be ridden far but still wants to come along. Now, the question is: "If I'm on Tobe Mule taking this photo, how am I over there on the right?" Magic!
Next we took a bee line down an old oil company access road to the East, and passed these power towers.
Traveling across that road gave us our first views of the Santa Maria valley below, looking out to the East and the mountains on the horizon.
From there we could see the trails and roads winding through the Eastern side of the property, dotted with oaks and much greener than the sun and wind seared side that faces the West.
I was pretty hot by now, even in my SPF sunscreen and protective clothing, so dipping down into the trees looked very attractive.
And soon there we were, wending our way through the oaks and intermittently seeing the agricultural fields stretching out beneath us.
A pleasure for human and beast alike to stand in cooling shade for brief respite before carrying on.
Then we turned a corner and there was Noe on Marcos, cool in the shade of a little half-built kiosk. And Woody trying to gt a little shade on the edge. There are plans to add kiosks like this throughout the property, with benches so hikers can take a load off.
Any exploring in the acreage is a combination of these old oil roads and trails. The roads gave been graveled to give better traction, but they get baking hot and are not as pleasant as the little pathways through the trees.
While watching out for squirrel holes in the trail there is still time for apophenia, a fine Greek word that means seeing patterns in random data. With fluffy clouds above and the steady clip-clop of hooves on dirt, nice to escape the politics of the day.
But all too soon our time out in the landscape was drawing to an end. Way off in the distance is the straight line of the 101, and the white roofs of the barn where all our rigs are parked.
Another pleasant day, and despite my thrilling moment that could have gone awry no one did fall off. Another Mule Trail walk in the Central California that evokes the past as present. A step outside of the indoor life to experience a different way of thinking.
Aug 22, 2021 01:26 PM
I can hear your voice narrating, is if a book on tape with pictures!Do you have a Greek word for that