There are two things that I enjoy getting up really early for: antiquing and trail rides on horseback. This morning I was up before the sun. I was so excited because today Red and I were riding to Eagle Rock! I could hardly sleep last night because of the anticipation.
I stepped out in to the cool morning air and in the dark I read the thermometer on my porch: 44 degrees! That's a bit cool for a spring day, but perfect for a long trail ride. My cup of tea and I drove to the ranch to get ready. We fed, groomed and loaded our horses up into the trailer and we were off just after sunrise. I was so thankful that Red, being a former show horse, loads into a trailer with ease. He's such a good boy.
It was an hour and a half drive to the trail head. I was very lucky to be a passenger for once. I reveled in the treat of getting to look out the window of the truck so that I could take in every moment and every sight. We passed through two Indian Reservations. There was a nice looking Indian Jewelry store on the La Jolla Indian Reservation, but of course it was not a jewelry day and it was too early for shopping. We also passed Lake Henshaw which has had such a low water level for years due to the drought. It has been so low for so long that there were trees that looked about 10 years old that grew were the lake once was. Now those trees were half underwater! I am so thankful for the abundant winter rainstorms that we enjoyed this winter.
On the drive I loved seeing all of the foliage so green, fresh and clean from our rainy winter. Oh how Mother earth here in Cali needed that water! She had become a wrinkled old woman with parched and cracked skin. Now she is lush, green and full of youth and life again. She is wearing her best spring flowers right now.
Here is a typical house on the reservation:
After passing through the last Indian reservation we arrived at the staging spot. We saddled up and I had packed a small lunch and water for Red and I. I currently ride in an English dressage saddle, so I have a special saddle pad with big velcro pockets because my saddle has no rings or ties for saddle bags. It was our first trail ride with this pad. I packed apples, carrots, water and granola bars for the both of us. I did not want to risk a meat sandwich being that it would be kept against a warm horse body for 3 hours for lunch.
We headed out and after Red nearly jumping a very high cross-bar gate (to keep motorcycles out) we were on our way!
I have to say that it could not have been a more perfect day for this ride. The sun was out and warming the cool air with big fluffy white clouds that cooled us down with their refreshing shade just as the sun felt too warm. There was water in the creeks that looked cold and fresh. It was great way for us to water our horses. We climbed up and up into the hills through narrow trails and sharp switch-backs that had steep drops into canyons. I have to admit that there were a couple of times that I was afraid to look down. There were so many colorful wildflowers. One of my favorites were the "Baby Blue Eyes". One thing about Southern California is that the wildflowers grow right in there with the cactus, The wild lilacs and yuccas were blooming sometimes on the same hillside. I love the natural mixture of textures and colors.
There was a crisp, sweet spring breeze that felt like it was blowing all of my stress away and taking it off into the wind. I kept taking long deep breaths of the fresh country air letting the stress go as I listened to the heartbeat of the horses hooves and the wind making it's way through the oak tree leaves just as we made out down through the hillside.
When we got to the top of the highest hill the view was breathtaking. It was a vast valley meadow filled with wildflowers and tall grasses. The breeze was stronger in this valley and the grasses waved and rippled in the wind like water flowing in a river. Breath deep, self. It felt so cleansing! Red was taking it all in as well. He was quite the sightseer and had a lively walk which put us at the 2nd place in front of the posse of 11 horses and riders. We rode down the hill and into the valley. Oh, how I wanted to let Red canter across that flower field! I wanted to remove my riding helmet and feel the wind in my hair and just let him run as fast as he wanted to. I could tell that he was thinking the same thing because he asked if we could run. We could not do it though because you just don't take off running with a large group of riders. We'll save that fantasy for next time.
We climbed 2 more hills and crossed two more valleys before we came to the last trail of the climb to Eagle Rock. I was getting pretty excited because I had heard for years about this natural rock formation that looks exactly like an eagle. I could not wait to see it. The last meadow that we crossed as we climbed to the rock had wild California poppies peppered throughout the meadow. They where huge flowers and grew in single plants, not in groups like they usually do. They typically will blanket an entire hillside. These looked like someone had placed hundreds of poppy bouquets all over the meadow. I felt like we were riding through a scene in The Wizard of Oz.
That's when I saw my first glance of the rock. It was kind of from the side, but I could see the bird's head. As we rode up along side of the rock we saw other people! Hikers. Now, this was a 2 1/2 hour ride on horseback. They told us that it was a 4 hour hike. The worst part of that would be 4 hours to hike back in the hot sun. I was very thankful for Red.
We came round to the front of the rock and I was stunned! I felt humbled by the beauty that nature had created. This was the largest natural totem ever and it is one of the most powerful symbols of The United States of America. I was in awe of this thing. This rock made me think of a story about Zuni animal fetishes I was told years ago. You can read about that HERE.
We all lined our horses up and asked a group of young adults to take our photo. I looked up to see that they were ALL taking our picture! These guys and gals had never touched a horse before so some of our riders with calm, cool and collected horses decided to act as ambassadors for horseback riding. Not only did they let the hikers pet their horses, but they let them sit on their horses for photos. I wonder how many of these photos are Facebook profile images tonight. One of the young men asked what to do if the horse tried to take off with him. The owner assured him that her horse would never do that...and I'm over here thinking, I'm the one with THAT horse. Red and I just stayed back and watched these hikers take a peek into the world of horses. I was not taking any chances. After a fun time making new friends it was time to start back.
We had picked out a grove of trees in a cow pasture for lunch. Yes, we had lunch in a cow pasture with cow chips and all! So, we dismounted and had our lunches in the shade with our horses. My fruit and carrots survived well. The new pocket saddle pad, an Amazon score is a big hit with me! It was lovely relaxing our legs in the wildflowers and grasses while the horses munched on those wild grasses.
Then it was time to head back. Now here's the problem: Red is an Arabian, but he's a Polish Arabian. He's not one of those compact little horses as he stands 15.3 hands tall. As for me, I am only 5'2" tall. He's too tall for me. I have to use a mounting block or a fence to mount him. Out on trail, there are no mounting blocks and there was no fence to be found. I had to find the next best thing; a big rock. I led Red over yonder to find said rock. Once I found a suitable one, I had to hope that Red would stand next to it. You see, horses don't automatically just do whatever you tell them to do. They are suspicious of everything and this particular rock looked really shady. You have to school and train and practice stuff. This was cold turkey, just do it. I climbed up on that rock and he was having no part of that sketchy thing. I walked him around it several times and when he got close enough I asked him to stand and I jumped! I did not know if I was going to make it, but I did! Right into the saddle I landed. Whew! I started hootin' and hollarin" without thinking. Everyone cheered for me when they realized what I did. I felt quite victorious!
We then headed out on our 2 1/2 hour ride back. Once again I took deep breaths of clean, fresh country air. I could hear meadowlarks in the meadow. There was no traffic, no airplanes, no man-made city noise. Just nature, clean clear honest nature. I cannot think of a better way to experience a place like this than with good friends and my best partner, Red.
As we drove down the mountain, back to the city and back to the stress I brought with me a piece of Eagle rock deep in my heart. The peace of the meadow, the cleansing breeze that blew my troubles away and the wonder of the huge eagle fetish rock will stay with me for a long time. I looked at the lake and the humble homes of the Luiseno Indians on the reservation and yearned for a simpler life. I thought about how incredible it would be to ride Red out to the meadow and spend the day painting the scenery. It's been so long since I picked up a paintbrush. I looked at the cows in the field that curiously inspected the people that had stopped to take photos of them. I noticed a beautiful rock garden on one of the reservations where someone had carefully stacked rocks and placed them in beautiful patterns. There were sparkling glass bottles mixed in with the rock stacks that made the yard look like a three dimensional mosaic. There was a gate made of twigs that had glass placed throughout that glistened in the sunshine. I wonder what it would be like to have time to create such a garden. I decided that I want one.
Then the cellphone in my pocket got a strong signal again and the buzzing started; the text messages where loading and the emails started to flood my phone. Back to my reality, but I will never, ever forget this magical day. I'll keep it with me and when things get crazy, I will close my eyes and take a deep breath and remember that wonderful place.
And just maybe one day, I'll have a rock garden of my own in which to take a fresh breath and escape to a moment of simple honest nature. ❤️