Cowboy California

Beyond it's rugged surf-line, and swaying palms - beyond the glitz and glamour of the entertainment industry, there lies another California . . .

Once upon a time, I lived a dream of California, where moonlit cliffs stood tall and proud against the pounding surf . . .

 . . . where sun-kissed beaches dissolved into colorful waves of sea lavender and ice plant.  I was a child of the sixties, and saw the world through eager eyes.

For a summer and a half in the mid '70s, we were board-short and boogie-board Californians, never traveling more than a few miles from the shoreline.

I loved everything that coastal California had to offer: the picnics, smokey bonfires and free concerts on the beach, the house parties in the Hollywood Hills, and the dance clubs on the Sunset Strip.  It was intoxicating!

My California experience ended abruptly, when my family moved back to the rust belt, and reality.

Twenty years later, the opportunity to join the beautiful people in the land of the sun, again presented itself, and my husband and I gleefully seized it.  I felt destined to live the California dream.

But, I was no longer the foot-loose, wide-eyed teen I'd once been, arriving on the sandy soil south of Santa Barbara with three adolescent daughters, a barn full of horses, and a laundry-list of must-haves.

The real estate agent we'd hired, proved well worth her hefty, west-coast commission when she took me directly to a heavenly slice of old California, the Santa Rosa Valley.   Located twelve miles from the coast, exactly half-way between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, the Santa Rosa Valley was one of the last remaining bastions of the original, cowboy-California.  I fell in love, with this other California.

The California rancheros, the grittier, less idealized, real-life, alter-egos of Hollywood's singing cowboys, divided the land between the high mountain desert, and the coast, into ranchos, where they grazed cattle, and grew what food they needed to sustain themselves, their cowboys, and their livestock.

There were no briny waves to lick the sun-baked land of the rancheros, and the only palm trees, were artificially sustained.  Still, there was a remarkable and distinctive beauty to the inland peaks and valleys of old California, where groves of scrubby California live-oaks, and silver-trunked sycamores, flourished in grassy meadows and sandy washes.

Unlike coastal California, where there's little fluctuation between daytime and evening temperatures, the inland valleys are hot and dry during the day, cool and moist at night.

The pungent fragrance of the night jasmine, and the spicy scents of the desert sage, rosemary, and mesquite, are enhanced by the resulting evening dew.

Far from the din of the city, or roar of the ocean, the only sound to penetrate the silence of the inland nights, are the mournful cries of the coyotes, and their unfortunate prey.

We made ourselves at-home in the valley, once the working ranch and playground of cowboy-film star, Gordon MacRae, whose humble hacienda still stood at the valley's end. Children in the valley, learned to ride horses rather than skate boards, roamed bridle paths rather than the malls on weekends, and spent free-time after school tending their 4-H projects.

Within five years, development further to our east, threatened the integrity of our sweetly, sleepy little valley, as the gently winding country road that traversed it's length, was widened to accommodate the increased desert population.

The livestock crossings and bridle paths that intersected the roadway, were eliminated, as speed limits were raised.

Today, there's very little left of cowboy-California.  The clamor for subdivided land, gobbled up most of the inland ranchos, pushing the rancheros further into the desert.  But, for those still seeking evidence of its existence, it can be found, carefully hidden and fiercely protected by those that love it, the way that I do. 

The costal photos above, were taken in La Jolla and Del Mar.  The inland photos were taken at Hell Hole Canyon and Valley Center.  All photos were taken by Mrs. Green Jeans, 2011.

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