In August, I revisited a favorite place of my early endurance riding “career” – Rimrock Ranch. The 40-acre ranch is owned by longtime friends and fellow endurance riders Jeff Herten and Debby Lyon. Many of you may know them in a Tevis-related way. Both serve on the WSTF board, and Jeff is a member of the Haggin Cup Committee. We became good friends when I lived in San Luis Obispo, where I went to college. I rode hundreds of miles with Debby during that time. We all belonged to a group of riders aptly named the Longriders. Back then, we carried the original Easyboot in our saddle packs in case we lost a shoe, as all our horses were shod.
Jeff and Debby relaxing at a Willie Nelson concert at the famous Pozo Saloon near their Rimrock Ranch.
Anyway, introductions aside, lets get back to Rimrock. The ranch is located east of the little town of Santa Margarita in San Luis Obispo County. It’s a 20-minute drive on a narrow ribbon of road to get to it, all the time surrounded by vast rolling pastureland and the Los Padres National Forest. The ranch itself is modest in appearance, but it has all the necessary infrastructure that horse people require - great fencing, large pastures, run-in sheds, a barn and an arena. It is where Jeff and Debby’s retired endurance horses go to live out their lives. That alone makes it a special place. It’s what lies beyond the ranch that is so spectacular—some of the most rugged and challenging riding terrain a true endurance rider could wish for. And no end to it.
A place to contemplate, overlooking Rimrock Ranch.
The ranch backs up to Las Padres and is nestled at the base of the Santa Lucia Mountain ridge. Jeff’s first order of business when he acquired the property was to put in a trail to the top. Within a month, they had a rudimentary trail (read "scary trail") in place to get to the top. This became the Rimrock Trail. Construction of the trail was a cooperative effort between some really tough people: Debby and Jeff, Mike and Marilyn Rehorn, Jim Hurley, Jon Priest, Lauren Jefferson, Patty Hawes, and Sandy and Bill Obermeyer. You may recognize some of those names. The trail has been improved upon over the years and is well maintained, but it is still incredibly challenging.
I’ve ridden this trail numerous times, and never without looking at it in amazement that these hardy people cut the trail on foot with pics and axes, and chainsaws to clear the dense chaparral. It’s a hair-raising trail to ride - definitely NOT for the inexperienced or timid rider. The trail exits the back of Rimrock Ranch and then climbs steadily without reprieve. The elevation at the trailhead is 1550 feet. It climbs 3.1 miles to the top of Hi Mountain, where the Hi Mountain Lookout is perched, at 3198 feet. The trail itself is 2.6 miles, after which it connects with the road to the lookout. From there, a rider can go in any direction – forever.
Hi Mountain Lookout is a special place in its own right. It sits at the crest of the Santa Lucia Mountains. It's is a retired USFS fire lookout that has been brought back to life as a research station for the reintroduced California Condor. It overlooks an historic condor nesting site, which is designated a critical habitat for the rare birds. Check out www.condorlookout.org for more information about the lookout. It's really something to be riding out there and have the shadow of one of these giant birds pass over you.
This was my first visit back to Rimrock Ranch in 15 years. It felt good to be back. My trip wouldn't be complete without a trek up the trail. I didn’t have a horse with me, and so I put on my hiking boots and started up the trail. My hike brought back a lot of great memories. As I looked down, I saw something new. Among various animal tracks were those of horses in Easyboots. Some things never change, and some things do.