Camel Camping Index  The Sierra Madre Adventure   Pine Mountain

Camel wings
This adventure didn't quite go as planned in more way than one. It had been a very dry year and I was unable to take off until mid November, I knew there wouldn't be much grass or water in the mountains for the animals.
Heading up a seldom used narrow dirt road that winds its way to the top of the mountain, my rig broke down. I was stuck there four days blocking the road. I have to admit it was very quite and peaceful as I made the best of it.


I called my friends at the Forest Service to see what could be worked out about hauling food into the backcountry ahead of time for the animals, and also see what they were up too. They had a group heading up to the Sierra Madre Mountains where there are some of the most gorgeous views, fantastic potreros (High mountain valleys), and rock formations along with ancient Chumash Indian rock art. I made arrangements to meet them up there and help pack some of their gear if needed,


There's a lot of wonderers ancient history scattered throughout this gorgeous area that's teaming with wildlife because of the abundant springs and grassy potreros. I had only been out here a few times before. The last time was quite a few years back for the first release of California Condors into this area. Back then I had been a volunteer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service helping with the first two releases of this magnificent species, the largest land bird in North America with its 9 foot wing span, is truly something to marvel at when soaring by.

I was excited to get up there to do some exploring and help out the forest service at the same time. Playing in the rain I had taken three weeks off, gone to a camel training school and workshop during my first week. We got some light rain over the first two days there, which just added to the beauty of this scenic camel ranch with the clouds hanging down low over the surrounding mountain tops. It was a lot of fun meeting all of the different people there who were also interested in camels, and of course the camel's themselves were just fantastic. It was fun watching the camels playing in the rain, it seems like they can always find something to entertain themselves with. When I returned home I found out we'd gotten over 7inches of rain while I had been away, but now the weather was just gorgeous. The temperature was up in that eighties and everything was drying out nicely. I spent two days getting ready, packing and buying last minute items. I checked to see if the Forest Service personnel had arrived on the ridge, but no one seemed to know, so I decided to go for it anyway. Whether they were there are not, I was sure to have a lot of fun and enjoyment either way.

It's about an 80 mile drive through the mountains to get there. I got a late start heading out; after all I'm on vacation. No sense hurrying things! You could not have asked for a more beautiful day after such a large storm had past through. The air was fresh and clear, the warmth of sun was blazing down on the mountains creating the perfect day to be starting out on such a fantastic trip, everywhere you looked there were views to behold that lighten your soul to almost an spiritual existence. The last part of the drive is slow along a rough and windy road, going through the beautiful Santa Barbara canyon to a locked gate. I had permission from the Forest Service to go through the gate, where it becomes a seldom used, one lane steep dirt road meandering out of the lower canyons before reaching the top of the Sierra Madre Mountains. Halfway up this steep and narrow road in the middle of nowhere, my truck broke down, gears grinding. It looked like I would be spending the night here so I unloaded my horses, Creek, Sespe and Gobi, my camel. I saddled up my stallion, Creek, and headed up this scenic canyon fallowing the old road bed to the top as the sun was slowly sinking on the horizon. I figured when I got to the top I could use my cell phone to make some calls for help. I also have a Forest Service radio and a satellite phone for emergencies, but this wasn't that big of an emergency and I wanted to do some riding anyway, so off I went.

When I got near the top there was a Forest Service vehicle with three men heading down. I explained to them my situation and told them if I could get my vehicle to coast back about 200 ft. I could get it to a wide spot in the road where they could get around it. Gobi was sticking his head in their windows, checking out their truck and trying to make some new friends, leave it to Gobi to find some new friends even out in the middle of nowhere like this. When they took off down the road I thought for sure Gobi was going to take off chasing them, he does so much like to chase trucks. I was calling him trying to get his attention and he did stay put this time. I trotted my horse off after them to meet them down below. When I got there, I tied my horses and Gobi up to some brush near by and hopped in the truck.

While they pushed we got it rolling backwards, but I over corrected the steering and did not make it back far enough before coming to a halt. So I was still stuck in the middle of the road, luckily there was an alternate way out for them. They turned around heading out, even though it was a long ways to go, but what choice did they have? They told me just a short ways past where we had met near the top of the ridge there was a good spring with plenty of water for the stock. Gobi drinking bottle water It was getting late into the evening and magnificent shadows were slowly creeping across the canyon's walls as the last amber rays from the sun were slowly sinking below the horizon. It would soon be dark and I only had brought about 10 gallons of water for emergencies like this, but did not want to use it up until absolutely necessary. I hopped back on Creek and we headed back up the old road bed hunting for that spring, Sespe and Gobi were following along. I have to admit they were in high spirits being out of the trailer and running around having some fun at last. I made it back to the top around twilight as the full moon took over to light our way, we found an old campground but were unable to find the spring. It was now getting too dark to see much anyhow so we headed back down to our new camp, riding along on this gorgeous moonlit night.

Arriving back at the truck I set up camp and got settled in to make the best of it; everyone was given food and water. I was wishing I could've gotten my truck out of the road. Then I could have put packs on my animals and continued my trip, worrying about the truck sometime later. I have to admit it was a gorgeous night with a full moon and mild weather, almost everything you could wish for on a splendid camping trip like this one should have been. Anyway I figured I would make the best of the situation. It could have been a whole lot worse.

I tied Creek up to the stock trailer for the night and let Sespe and Gobi roam around free. Gobi sleeping next to truck Gobi likes my truck so much that he spent the night eating and sleeping beside it. I stayed up late into the night sitting next to him and giving them all a little extra attention. All in all it was a very beautiful night and I did thoroughly enjoy it, being up in the high mountains admiring the sheer beauty of the stars with dazzling rays of moonlight piercing through the night's thin mountain air along with the solitary peacefulness of this vast wilderness is truly something to behold. The next morning was simply gorgeous as the sun slowly raised over the horizon brings on a new day of adventure for all to enjoy, after the animals were fed some hay; we were headed up the old road bed again looking for that lost spring with its life giving waters that we so badly needed. Without water we would truly be in bad shape, some needed to be found soon. About of the way up I looked around and Gobi was gone, apparently he had headed back down to the truck which didn't worry me too much because during the night he had broken open a bag of alfalfa pellets. I knew we would find him at his favorite truck when I got back, so I continued riding up the mountain along numerous switchbacks gaining altitude quickly.

Looking back down the switchbacks I saw Gobi running back up the road and then he vanished behind the hill coming out from the other side about a minute later. I rode Creek to the edge of the road yelling and waved my arms so Gobi would see us, then he vanished behind another hill as I sat there watching. The next view I had of him, he had turned around and was running back the opposite direction, I started screaming and waving my arms again getting Creek to move back and forth along the edge of the road trying to get his attention. Just as he was beginning to go back behind a hill he stopped and either saw us or heard me. He turned around and started running back towards us again, disappeared behind a hill and then reappeared nearby, just one switchback below; I started riding in that direction to meet up with him before he decided to turn around again. He was so very happy to see us, we continued on our way to the top of the ridge where I spent some time on the cell phone making a few calls letting people know I was just fine and in no big hurry to get out of here. Luckily we were able to find the spring this time. We were only about 100 yd. away from it that night before, but it had been just too dark to find without knowing the exact location.

We spent some time doing a little riding around and exploring near the spring. Creek was looking at something off to his side, as I followed his gaze I saw that we had scared a bobcat from out of the brush. We sat there watching as the bobcat worked its way up the hill running out into the vast open spaces from one pile of brush to the next. As we got further up the hill a deer bolted out of the brush, we kept riding along watching; as the beautiful deer manifestly went leaping away jumping over the tall brush finally vanishing out of view around another knoll. From the recent storm there were all kinds of interesting animal tracks covering this remote area that were left behind in the dry up mud.

After spending a nice long time here letting everyone take their fill of water and having some fun we headed back to our broken truck camp, fed the animals some more hay, had lunch and just took it easy around camp for awhile enjoying the beautiful sunny day on this fine winters day. Gobi kept getting his pack saddle out of the back of the truck and playing with it. He would pull everything out of it, then just lay there with it in front of him looking as happy as could be. It often amazes me the funny things a camel can find to entertain themselves with.

Ridding by a amber tree That evening we rode 3 miles down to another spring at the bottom of the road to get water for the animals, and they were very happy to have it. Along the way we quickly dropped down in elevation. In the lower canyons the trees had turned golden with the changing of the season; they were slowly loosing their leaves creating a golden carpet along the forest floor. As we rode, the light crunching of dry leaves under the animal's feet sounded a beautiful rhythm. It was so stunning there we just had to stop for awhile to take in the incredible sights and sounds of this ever changing forest. We got close to another huge bobcat and watched as it took it's time scurrying off into the brush. I was thinking what a beautiful sight to see as I'm riding along through the golden valley with its scenic rock outcroppings, up in the fresh mountain air. How could life be any sweeter than this?

Golden leaves on the forest floor At the spring I gave everyone plenty of time to rest and drink their fill before heading back to camp. Three miles each way, twice a day, multiplied up to riding 12 miles a day just for water. But I'm not complaining, there are new marvels to behold each time we head out into this remote and sometimes unforgiving wilderness where numerous creatures roam the hidden trails scurrying under the brush seldom seen by a man. The lucky few that will partake in this type of adventure are often rewarded for there time and effort with the magnificence spender of seeing sights and wonders in their natural beauty that may never be seen again.

Back at camp I had plenty of bottled water for myself, more than I needed so Gobi was helping me empty them. He thoroughly enjoys drinking bottled water, you just hand him an open bottle and he will do the rest, yeah I think he is a little spoiled.

This night Gobi decided to sleep with me next to the tent, in fact he was so close to it his knees were almost inside the front door, Gobi next to the tent He was happy lying there most of the night chewing his cud. I had the entrance open so I could easily keep an eye on the animals and also enjoy my beautiful moonlit surroundings. One of the times during the night when I awakened, I was trying to figure something out. Had I dreamed it or was it just my imagination? I've would have sworn I had been getting hit in the head by a camel's tail; I finally convinced myself I was just imagining it. During the night Gobi stole the pillow from under my head and I grabbed it back, scolding him not to take my pillow again. After a very peaceful night of listening to Gobi chewing his cud it looked like we were in for another spectacular day, I climbed out of my tent and there were camel droppings at the entrance of it. Well that told me that I had not been imagining getting hit in the head by Gobi's tail. I'm glad I was sleeping up off the ground on a cot.

With the coming of another stunning day we got an early morning's start heading to the upper spring. Topping the ridge I made a few more phone calls and was told by my friends at the Forest Service that they were looking at helping me out on either Sunday or Tuesday. Staying until Tuesday sounded good to me, but when you're expecting this much of help from friends, any time they want will be just fine.

I figured today would be a good day to go on a long ride, it might be the last time we had to enjoy ourselves, and boy did we go on a long ride; at least 20 miles that day. After we left the spring we followed the ridge top along some gorgeous potreros, we had beautiful views out across the valleys all the way out to the snow-topped Sierra Mountains, there was a cool light breeze coming over the mountain tops keeping the warmth of the sun under control while keeping the air so clear the visibility was almost unlimited.

Going through one of the wide potreros we came across an old horse drawn wagon that had fallen apart many years ago. The axles, wheels and everything were laying there where they had fallen so long ago. I rode by looking down at it while admiring the workmanship that must have gone into it, thinking about the people and the livelihood they must have had living up here so many years past. The heavy rain storm from a few days earlier and the warm sun shining down, had brought l ife-giving moisture at long last to this parched land after such a long dry summer, and the ground was starting to come alive with the new season. There was a tint of greenery starting to sprout in the rolling potreros.

In a few more weeks it would truly be something to behold if the snow of winter would hold off long enough. The skies were a rich deep blue with a light streaking of wind-swapped clouds high in the heavens. It was truly a marvelous day to be on a mountain ride along this old dirt road, winding along the top of the Sierra Madre Mountain range.

At the old cattle camp We made it to an old cattle camp by mid-day where there was an old run down whether beaten cabin with the old wood pilling off of its sides, it had an old windmill, and some old cattle corrals, along with other interesting things to check out. It reminded me of an old Australian cattle station out in the middle of nowhere with its barren surroundings. We spent some time there relaxing and enjoying ourselves. A few miles further up is Painted Rock Camp where we had been planning on staying, and near by it is Lion Canyon with its rugged rock formations towering up like pillars into the sky, this is where the Condors had been released and one of the areas I had hoped to explore, with some luck I had hoped to view a few of these magnificent birds soaring by overhead. Unfortunately it would have to wait until another day.

The long ride back seemed to take forever; it was well after dark and we had been riding along in the glorious moonlight enjoying our nighttime surroundings for a good hour before making it back to camp. Creek was all wet from the long hard ride so after brushing him down, I covered him up with his blanket to keep him form getting cold in the night air.

The next morning after everyone had breakfast we were headed down again to the lower spring for water, and boy were we sore. I was sore and I could tell the animals were sore from their slow pace. We had gotten of the way to the spring when I notice Gobi had disappeared again. I turned the horses around and headed back looking for him. I think he made it back to the truck, when finding no one there he had turned around and started back towards us. He was about of the way back down the road when I found him. We turned around again and got started back to the spring, this time Gobi followed without any problem. Near the spring we ran into two groups of quail hunters and they were very impressed with Gobi. I told them about all of the quail I had seen up at the top and then the hunters and I headed our separate ways.

We kicked back around camp most of the day taking it easy and enjoying the fine weather and each others company. I went for a short hike below camp, Gobi tagged along eagerly following me as I checked out the deer and small bear tracks that were imprinted into the soft moist earth. They had almost came into our camp before discovering we were there. It seems that we were camping on a very busy thoroughfare, creating an inconvenience for the wildlife who had to find alternate ways around us. I'm just glad that baby bear didn't come cutting through our camp bringing its mommy along with it. I had a similar thing like that happened once before, and that kind of excitement I can live without.

That evening we headed to the upper spring to get water and Gobi didn't want to come. I tied his lead rope to Creek's saddle but he would not budge, he was being very stubborn. I think he wanted to rest up some more from yesterday's ride, so I let him stay at camp. When I got about 2 miles up the road I could see him from one of the switchbacks down at the trailer eating alfalfa pellets out of the back of the truck, I think he was also trying to get into the bottled water.

Back at the truck We had another very pleasant night and when I awoke just before sun up, the moon had dropped below the mountains turning it into a starlit night with countless stars brilliantly shining in their full glory. I looked up in the thin mountain air, seeing a ceiling of stars covering the sky from horizon to horizon. It looked like you could reach up and touch a ceiling made out of starlight. It was truly spectacular with their light giving off a magical view for us to behold on a night that will not soon be forgoten. I watched as the break of day slowly brought its early glimmer of light to this new morning while some cloud vapor hang low in the valley. Illuminated by the sun's amber rays the cloud vapor quickly burned off and brought on the start of a new and beautiful day.

I had gotten up early this morning to break down camp; I had to meet the forest service down at the gate by 10:30 AM. They were going to have somebody watch my animals while two vehicles drove the ridge road, one coming from each direction to get my truck (separated from my trailer) and then hall my trailer back down the road to load up the animals. I had high lined Creek down by the gate between two trees so he could walk around while Sespe and Gobi roamed around free. I had gotten there ahead of schedule and started cleaning up the broken glass around the area making it safer for Gobi and everyone else. I had been at it for awhile, Gobi was roaming around having fun when he decided to go over and check out an SUV parked near the gate. Now this vehicle had nice big side view mirrors on it that any camel would be proud to play with, wrapping their mouths around them, thinking they must be camel toys. I scolded Gobi telling him to leave them alone. We both understand each other very well; he knew to go find something else to amuse himself with. I hooked up a 50 foot long line to a small tree so I could tie him up to keep him out of trouble while I was gone.

When we got the trucks and my trailer back down to the gate, Gobi just couldn't pass up the chance to check out these nice trucks. He stuck his head inside of one of them finding someone's lunch and stealing an apple, everyone got a good laugh out of it (except maybe the one missing his apple). One of the Forest Service personnel grabbed Gobi's halter and tried to lead him away, which I thought was interesting. Gobi planted his feet and was going nowhere with this stranger!

From there they drove us all the way back home. I can tell you one thing; it sure is nice to be able to turn on a faucet and get fresh water, especially taking a hot shower.

Roger and Gobi