we headed in crossing the shallow Manzana River over
a dozen times, Gobi was having fun
picking up speed and splashing his way across to
the far side. He's always finding some way to have fun!
The valley we were traveling along lies
in the Los Padres National Forest, San Rafael Wilderness,
just north of Santa Barbara, California. In the
lowlands, which are extremely rich in flora and fauna,
there are giant old oak trees, small pines, with sycamore,
and cottonwood trees growing down along the river. The whole
area is abundant in wildlife.
Song birds were singing
their sweet summer songs high in the tree tops as we rode
beneath them. Larger birds soared high overhead
following the ridges and enormous bluffs towering deep
into blue sky, as great puffy clouds lazily floated by.
This was the first time Gobi had a rigid packsaddle
on his back along with big plastic box panniers. It
was a learning experience for him getting used to the
width protruding from his sides. Creek, the horse I
was riding, sure got a big surprise the first few times
Gobi tried to pass us and got rear-ended by one of those
We set up a base camp where the Manzana and Sisquoc
Rivers come together, near an old school house that
was built over a hundred
years ago when homesteaders
tried to start up a small community in these remote
and fertile valleys.
Constructed in 1893, the schoolhouse
served a community of about 200 people who lived on 20
homesteads along the river. After a long drought, farms
failed, and in 1902 the school closed. In this astonishing
region where few explorers go now days, things are starting
to pick up again as more people discover its hidden
secrets and rugged beauty!
From our base camp, we went adventuring out on long day
rides, exploring the upper meadows where stunted black
oak trees grow with long strands of Spanish moss dangling
from their branches, surrounded by a full color spectrum
of wild flowers with tall lush grass growing everywhere.
Along these upper meadows one sees stunning views of the
Sisquoc River down below. Looking far off towards its
upper reaches, the haze slowly hides the distant mountains
in a translucent blanket of gray. Riding through this
area makes me think of some mystical, enchanted land that
you only find in your deepest dreams. While riding along
I’m thinking how magnificent this would look
on a warm summer’s night with the brightness of
a full moon glistening off the surroundings all around us.
in the back of one of these blossoming meadows and deeply
hidden out of view, we came across an old cabin with walls
that had fallen away many years ago. It had been a very
small cabin, and there were many old artifacts lying around
the site as we rode by. Gobi found the site most interesting
and wanted to spend a little more time exploring everything,
while my zebra, Dandy, and my packhorse, Sespe, enjoyed
themselves eating the flowers and tall lush grass.
As we left the highland dropping back down to the river,
the trail was covered in some of the most beautiful blue
and purple flowers with a few yellow ones scattered
about to finish off the array of colors, making it all so perfect.
We followed an old river trail going downstream through
wooded grasslands, crossing the river numerous times as
we looked for old homestead sites that dotted this backcountry
in the late 1800’s. We came across a few sites hidden
deep within the shade of immense oak trees. Root cellars
had been dug back into the hill sides lined
with rocks, scattered about were portions of
old cast iron stoves, along with parts of wagon wheels,
and other relics.
In one of the grand old oak trees we
found tools that had been hung long ago. As the years
passed by the bark had slowly grown over them, half burying
them beneath it. In another place we found a wagon that
had been left to fall apart with age; all of the parts
were lying in perfect order where they had fallen so many
After exploring the old river trail, we found an upper
trail and started heading back towards camp at a leisurely
pace through more of the high meadows. I was marveling
at the extraordinary views while the animals enjoyed filling
their bellies on the sweet lush grass and wild oats waving in the strong
When we returned to camp, a Boy Scout troop
had set up their camp by the creek below. They got a big
thrill seeing a camel going through camp with a zebra following.
Gobi now had some
new friends to play with and the scouts enjoyed making
friends with him. They had their pictures taken with him,
sat down using him as a back rest, and just had an extremely
fun time being around him. When I turned Gobi loose,
he would take a shortcut down the steep hill to their
camp and hang out eating the sweet grass while enjoying
the night slowly took over the day we settled into camp.
The animals were in a 5-acre, heavily wooded meadow,
and I had set up camp just outside the fence line under
a giant old oak tree. Gobi was pacing the fence next
to camp wanting to be with me. The horses were out in
the far back of the meadow where the grasses are tallest,
and Dandy was doing her usual thing, staying between
Gobi and the horses while trying to keep an eye on all of
As the gorgeous night wore on, a cougar started screaming
from the far side of the meadow, far too close for
comfort. I lay there in my tent hearing the horse’s
hoofs come running across the ground to the safety
of my camp. I quickly got up to check on things as
the cougar continued screaming.
okay; my main concern was Gobi’s safety. I knew
he would be the most vulnerable to a cougar attack,
but after I got up and turned on some LED camp lights
(lighting up the meadow near camp) Gobi settled down,
lying by the fence 10 feet from my tent. The cougar
finally quit its screaming and I headed back to sleep.
A few hours must have passed, and around midnight
the cougar started screaming again. Only this time
it sounded even closer, if that was possible. I looked
out the tent and Gobi was still lying there. So I
settled back into my sleeping bag lying there listening.
Time slowly passed by and the cougar had not let up.
Finally, after listening for over an hour, I went
out to check on things. Gobi had wandered off,
I grabbed two flashlights along with my two shot 38 special Derringer
and headed out looking for everyone. They were in
the far back of the meadow, nearest to where the screaming
was coming from. Apparently they had gotten used to
the screaming and had become curious, so decided
to check it out.
I would have fired off a few shots into the air attempting
to scare the big cat away, but with the Boy Scout troop
camping nearby, I didn’t think it would be wise
firing shots at 1:00am in the morning.
After shining my flashlights
for a long time into the heavily wooded area above camp
where the frightening screams of the cougar were coming
from, the screaming finally quieted down and went away.
The next day brought on some light summer showers,
so we hung around camp most of the day. I had set up
some tarps trying to keep dry. Gobi was out with me
and he thought it was an excellent idea setting up the
tarps, although I had him on a long line keeping him
out of my camp. That didn’t stop this smart camel.
He turned around backing up, stretching out his long
neck, and lay down in the middle of camp.
I untied the
line from his halter so he would be more comfortable,
and then I sat back to read a good book. Now this big
spoiled camel is lying under the tarp with me to keep
dry and decides to get a little closer by scooting over
on his front knees, just about putting his head in my
lap; so I stuck my feet under his neck keeping them
warm. With his long hair, it worked quite nicely.
When the rain stopped, Gobi and I went out for some pleasant
hikes exploring around camp. I threw his lead rope over
his humps and we took turns following each other around.
When he started going somewhere that I did not want to go, I
would call and he would come right back. We had a lot
of fun following each other around; it was a lot of fun
finding out where and what he wanted to do. When we got
about a quarter mile from camp Gobi wanted head back.
He didn’t want to go too far from the rest of his
made this our base camp for 7 days, exploring in different
directions before breaking camp and heading up to Happy
Hunting Grounds camp where we set up our next base camp.
On our way out, back up the Manzana River there is
this gorgeous old homestead that John Cody now owns.
The gate was open so we stopped by to pay him a visit.
I tied Creek to the hitching post while the rest of
the animals roamed about enjoying themselves.
Sespe ended up lying down next to Creek in the peaceful
shade of some trees while Dandy explored everything
in sight. Gobi spent most of his time around the cabin
and workshop studio.
John is a well known artist who
works with rock, so when I saw Gobi heading into his
shop I thought, "this is not good." But
John said, “Don’t worry about it; there’s
nothing in there he can break.” With those
large pannier boxs on his sides I was still worried.
Gobi came over and was hanging out with us by the
cabin, but when he headed towards an open door thinking
to go inside, I had to cut him off and close the door.
Then he went around and found another open door and
I quickly shut that too. I’m not sure if he
would have fit through with the panniers on, but I
was not willing to find out.
John, his wife and their little toddler had a very
fun time being around Gobi and Dandy and I was invited
to come back anytime. John is a pleasant, down-to-earth
type of guy with a wealth of information and stories
about the local history in this region We made
it out without Gobi doing any damage and headed back
up the trail.
Roger and Gobi