Oh, what a beautiful morning as we started out on the trail at Rancho Oso. Oh, what a beautiful day. The weather was perfect for horseback riding (in the low 70s F), and the sun cast a bright golden haze on the landscape. It revealed a tapestry of autumn browns, copper and shades of green, peppered with the gray stones of a dry riverbed.
Dust rose like smoke from the horses’ hooves. A light breeze filled our nostrils with the sweet fragrance of wild herbs and grasses that inhabit the valley floor. My horse, Chili, snapped off some wild fennel to munch on and released a heavenly fragrance that made me smile. I was glad to be back in the Santa Ynez Mountains again.
Rancho Oso, a Thousand Trails property, is a guest ranch and resort in the Santa Ynez Mountains near Santa Barbara, California. The ranch conducts daily trail rides (reservations advised), and offers horse camping (bring your own horse), cabins and trailers, covered wagons that sleep 4 on cots, a Tipi that sleeps 4, and RV camping. There are BBQ grills and picnic tables at all campsites and corrals at the “river” sites for your horses. Amenities for campers include two pools (one of them heated), a campground store, mini-golf, sport courts, satellite TV and a game room in the Family Lodge, satellite TV and a pool table in the Adult Lodge, free WiFi, hiking trails, a meeting room, a chapel, a laundry, RV storage and horseshoe pits.
I’ve had the pleasure of riding at Rancho Oso on several day-trips with Dusty’s Riders, one of the non-profit organizations I devote my time to, both as a program volunteer and a board member. This was my second overnight horseback riding trip at Rancho Oso with Dusty’s Riders and the wonderful teenagers from the Variety Boys and Girls Club. Last year, we did our first overnight outing with the Variety kids at Rancho Oso. Several of the teens returned this year, along with some newcomers.
By mid-Saturday afternoon, the beautiful weather changed as the wind came sweeping down the mountain into the valley. It brought with it a chill for which some of our kids were not prepared, and the wind persisted until well after dark. Because of drought conditions, we were not able to build a wood fire in the fire pit, by order of Los Padres National Forest.
We cooked our dinner of chili, hotdogs and s’mores over a charcoal grill and sat around the darkened fire pit to play Mad Libs. Although the wind died down, it was chilly, so we retired early to bed in our covered wagons.
I went to sleep almost immediately and slept soundly until a nearby horse began to whinny around 5:00 Sunday morning. It was a sweet reminder that I was in horse country. The whinnies inspired the roosters at the barn to pick up on the cue. They chimed in with their own pleasant welcome to a new day.
Sunday morning, we gals had an 8:30 trail ride lined up, so the whole group enjoyed an early breakfast in the beautiful little Stone Lodge where Charlie Chaplin used to entertain his fellow silent movie stars on the weekends. We had French toast, bacon and some very potent coffee that did the trick in waking up us adults.
Soon, we were back on the trail in the crisp autumn air with a crystal blue sky above us. A cloud bank crept slowly over the mountain and spilled over the top like a waterfall. In a pasture, Longhorn steers that laid in the shade of trees the day before were now on their feet. They followed us along the pasture fence as we passed by, curious about our horses.
A calf bucked and mewed at one of the steers. It pawed the dry earth and lowered its head like Toro in a challenge to the adult, who didn’t take this young one seriously. In a couple of years, this behavior would evoke a different response, but for now, it was cute and made us humans laugh.
After we returned from our ride, the boys and their male chaperones went out on the trail. Then we all met for lunch at the chuck wagon. We were hungry after a morning out on the trail, and the old fashioned cheeseburgers and homemade fries were satisfying.
Later, we brought leftover hotdog buns and raw vegetables from our Saturday night dinner down to the barn to feed Bob, the enormous pig, and his three goat companions.
Rancho Oso is near Santa Barbara wine country, world renowned for some extraordinary wines. It’s the perfect place for a weekend getaway for horseback riding, camping and to make the rounds at some of the local wineries. Since the ranch is set deep in the mountains at the end of a narrow, winding road with a steep drop-off on one side, it’s a good idea to have a designated driver, so the roads remain… Happy Trails.