I would like to share my experiences when visiting the Live Oak Trails.
While first walking the trails, I was struck by the grandeur of the scenery, far away from sounds of human activity. I imagined myself to be immersed in an unblemished California landscape during the age of the ranchos and vaqueros. Magnificent valley oaks graced the potreros, leaving space for sweeping panoramas of nearby mountain ranges. From the top of Chalk Hill, I had a 360-degree view starting with the Santa Ynez Range to the south, the San Rafael to the north, the Santa Ynez River watershed to the east, while in the west were the blue-green waters of Lake Cachuma.
Even though it was late in the season during a dry year I saw a wide variety of wildflowers along the way. Among the flora were California wild rose, Chinese houses, Clarkia, clustered tarweed, coast morning glory, datura, hummingbird and purple sages, Indian milkweed and paintbrush, larkspur, mariposa lily, monkey flower, purple nightshade, yerba santa, vetch, winecup Clarkia, western vervain, yarrow, and yucca. There were even a few fairy lanterns and an owl’s clover. Frequently the sides of the trail were decorated by hundreds of lavender Clarkia bottae blossoms. As contrasted to other Santa Barbara County trails, there were few noxious weeds.
Fauna was also evident. Most abundant were ground squirrels, but I also saw butterflies, deer, and a couple of snakes. Flying overhead were red-tailed hawks, swallows, and turkey vultures. Lower down were acorn woodpeckers, magpies, a western bluebird, quail, and wild turkeys with their chicks scurrying behind. Amazingly, I saw a speckled brown/white bird about the size of a robin hovering at a height of about 10 feet. It then dove to the ground, grabbed something and flew into a tree — perhaps a juvenile kite.
A herd of nine horses appeared ahead on a potrero and came trotting up to inspect me. Later, as I climbed out of an oak woodland, I heard a faint sound on the trail behind me and turned to see a small group of yearling steers. They approached me curiously, seemingly unfamiliar with humans on foot. One of the features I liked the most was the near absence of fencing.
In Santa Barbara County it is rare these days to be amidst open spaces without agriculture developments. While the land is being lightly grazed and has a few unimproved roads it still gives the appearance of a gentle wilderness.
I understand that the Live Oak Trails were opened to foot traffic on a pilot basis on April 15, 2021, after allowing only equestrians for three decades, who have used it responsibly. At the present time only walkers and riders are permitted with bicycles and dogs prohibited. In my opinion, that policy should remain in effect for the indefinite future. That way the public would be more likely to continue to experience this unblemished landscape that wise land use managers have bestowed upon us.