By Pat Fish
Looking out toward Lake Cachuma from the trail.
A bright and breezy classic Southern California day, six members of the MeetUp headed out from the Live Oak Camp to enjoy a stroll on our animals. Almost 8 miles in almost 4 hours, moving at the usual 2.2mph Mule Speed.
We entered at the equestrian gate, always a nice chance for showing off how nicely a horse can pivot to allow the rider to reach down and unlock it and then push it open.
The first steps onto the trail are always great. My two legs don’t work so well after an injury, but out here I have 4 very capable legs quite willing to carry me to adventure.
I feel blessed.
At this point, as we approach the river, we can start to contemplate the choices for which trail we will choose today.
But we cannot know what we will see.
There is very little water in the Santa Ynez River at this crossing, and on the other side the documentary film maker Dawn was positioned to capture us fording it.
All 4″ of it.
Almost immediately we heard the extremely close thrumming of a helicopter directly overhead. It is VERY tiny in that photo.
Thankfully all of the animals remained calm as it buzzed back and forth over us, and we stayed still and waited for it to leave.
Someone said they could see well enough to tell it was a Police or Sheriff helicopter, but I couldn’t tell.
The day was shaping up to be a driver-training movie. What would we see next?
One thing about riding trails repeatedly is that you remember things you have seen on previous rides. leading to nicknames for trails and spots.
Once we surprised a mule deer buck near this spot, and because equines have memories like elephants I can tell Tobe Mule always scans the bushes to see if he is there again.
And then, another aerial display. This time a small airplane circling over and over above us.
We couldn’t tell if they were joy riding, or looking for someone or something. We joked that perhaps it was the Board of Supervisors taking a tour of the Live Oak Trails and hoped it would inspire them to keep our pristine playground exclusively equine-access.
But we’ll never know.
We held the animals still and waited and finally they buzzed away like a very loud lazy fly.
At the second gate Tobe and I rested a bit in the shade before going through.
Always fair to let the animals catch their breath, and this time of year go ahead and eat some grass.
Tobe is very good at opening gates.
Once upon a time many years ago I hit my knee on a metal gate like this, so ever since I have trained him to open it up, walk half way through, and stop. That way I can make sure neither of my knees are going to hit. Then we move through.
I always like the variety of animals who come on these rides. All different colors, breeds, and personalities.
And the riders are all as unique as their animals.
But then, another helicopter! Most unusual.
It is VERY seldom that we have anything flying overhead here.
But next we got to the view spot, where we first get views of the lake. And it was time for portraits.
Then it was time to feast our eyes on the horizon. After so much time spent indoors, working and taking care of the every-day, to have a chance so very nearby to be out where the wild things are.
And when I see this photo the soundtrack of a Spaghetti Western is playing in my head.
For the first time this year the wildflowers have started to bloom, so I attempted to document as many as I could while still mounted with only an iPhone camera.
Hummingbird Sage, Salvia spathacea
Common Goldfields, Lasthenia californica
Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja affinis
Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja affinis
Purple Nightshade, Solanum xanti
Time to head out across the main plateau near the lake level…
But…. what the heck…. another plane?
Very tiny in this photo
These people circled the entire plateau over and over, it looked like someone doing practice going down low and then back up…
And again we stopped to watch this unusual display.
Finally they landed on a private ranch on the other side of the lake.
It wouldn’t be right to talk about the plants here without at least one portrait of the fine oak tree specimens. Many of them were showing recently lopped limbs, and of course many have died in recent drought years, but ones like these stand seemingly eternal.
Anywhere on and off the trails the ground squirrels’ underground tunnel systems abound.
And thankfully there are a lot of predator raptors to keep their numbers in check.
I am guessing this is a kind of eagle.
And that was quite enough overhead activity for one day.
So it was time to turn around and head back. This picnic bench has seen decades of use and needs replacement now, to encourage relaxation at this idyllic viewpoint.
We opted to take the Chalk Hill back down, a rather steep and strenuous route that lops a mile off the return but requires a steady steed and a balanced rider. The river channel below is largely dry, and the Live Oak Campgrounds are on the raised area to the right.
Jamie insisted that all the animals wanted to go in and cool off in the river
Einstein was lively as ever and splashed about
Pico who actually ran some extra miles today, living up to his Arabian heritage, was happy to hydrate
And then we were back at the rigs and ready to untack the animals and sit together for a nice lunch.
We especially welcome our newest pal, CC who is an equestrienne who rescues horses and then rescues troubled children with the horses. She borrowed Woody for today’s ride and he took great care to be very well behaved.
The photographer Dawn was still around, and asked us each to speak a bit for a video she is putting together about Live Oak and what we love about it. We were all happy to give testimony!
Another day on the trail, good friends, good animals, good times.