Camel Camping Index  The Great Camel Camping Adventure   Camel Camping Part II

Camel wings
Manzana & Sisquoc Rivers, Part-1 The Great Camel Camping Adventure: On this wilderness trip you will have the time of your life as we go exploring in search of the old homesteads deeply hidden in remote canyons.
So come along as we go traversing through flourishing low-land meadows that are abundant in wildlife and stunning wild flowers. Pack up your camel, and make sure too bring your zebra along too!


On this backcountry adventure the wild flowers and vegetation were simply amazing. Their colorful brilliance is something you truly needed to see. I had never seen such a display of wild flowers in all of my years of traversing through this rugged backcountry!

As I passed through the lush canyons and fields, the grass was over four feet tall in some places and almost hiding my animals in its gorgeous green blades. It was swaying in the stiff summer breeze with sunlight shimmering off its shinny blades making it look like ocean waves rolling across the vast green fields. Sitting high upon my horse I watched it gently rolling across the land for a long time before moving on.


Gobi and Dandy in a lush field

As 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 panniers!!!

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 Gobi at the Manzana School house 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.

Gobi and Dandy under a tree with moss Far off 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 years back.

Gobi and Dandy in a field of flowers 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 breeze.

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 their company.

As 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 her buddies.

Gobi and Dandy at night 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.

Everything looked 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.

Gobi along the river 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 buddies.

We 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.

Gobi at Cody's cabin 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