With horses in tow, we approached the headquarters for Santa Rita Ranch and noticed the evidence of its ranching history. We joined a handful of riders privately invited to explore this ranching landscape. At the time, the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo was in the process of protecting it forever.
My friend Beverly and I met up with the rest of the crew which included Kaila Dettman, Executive Director of the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo. We discussed our route with Kaila. Ranch roads provide accessibility to various parts of the 1,715- acre property. Of course we wanted to ride past the 33-acre lake and get up on the Santa Lucia ridge to peer over to Morro Bay. Yet, there was so much more in store.
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Santa Rita Ranch Landscape Exploration
The lake is just around the bend from the ranching headquarters. We marveled at a variety of birds enjoying the peaceful water. We learned that it is one of the largest bodies of water in the surrounding region. This lake feeds the Salinas reservoir and is a critical local water resource.
A pair of double-crested cormorants balancing on the edge of an abandoned row boat stood with their backs to us ready to take flight if the need arose. Our first water crossing came just as we passed the lake and led to our first accent.
Oak Tree Forest Gives Way to Lake View
The ranch road took us up then dropped us down to lake side before heading up a steeper incline towards the ridge. A lovely tree canopy draped over us and beside us as we trekked through the oak tree forest dotted with the occasional sycamore. We emerged on the opposite side of the lake with a view back to where we first encountered the lovely lake setting.
First Views from the Ridge
As we climbed up towards the ridge line our first view was looking north towards Paso Robles. Layers of undulating hills decorated with oak tree cluster forests echoed throughout the view. Paso Robles wine and ranching country at its finest.
Spread before us to the south was the continuation of the Santa Lucia ridge line. This view was shortly followed by our first glimpse of Morro Rock. The ever-changing view of Morro Rock becomes a constant while traversing along the ridge heading south. We stopped and marveled at the view several times.
So Many Trees on Santa Rita Ranch
There are so many beautiful trees on the Santa Rita Ranch such as oak tree forest clusters, sycamore trees interspersed and lone oak outcrops. The rolling hills and valleys provide a rich ecosystem for a variety of plants, wildlife and cattle. One can see here how important this property is for the continuation and preservation of the wildlife corridor.
Decent Back to the Lake
Our travels turned us back down the valley towards the lake again. Turning away from ridge line views we encountered more stunning tree forests with surrounding and over the head canopies.
Emerging from tree forests were views of stately lone oaks giving off an aura of strength and stability.
Santa Rita Ranch – Ranching for Generations
As we explored this beautiful ranching landscape we came across smatterings of cattle groups. This is still a working cattle ranch and will continue to be. Presently the land is leased to a family member who grew up ranching here. He knows the terrain and understands how special the setting is. Ranching reduces fire risk and supports the local economy. The Land Conservancy plans include preserving the cattle ranching for the future. This is a nod to ranchers recognizing them as ecosystem stewards who use grazing animals to restore watersheds and habitats, creating more resilient communities.
Cattle ranching has been part of California’s economic and cultural fabric since the establishment of the first Spanish mission more than 300 years ago. Under Spanish and Mexican rule, the territory was parceled into large land grant ranchos, some of which still remain intact and operated by descendants of the original grantee.
Land Conservancy Purchases the Santa Rita Ranch
An excerpt from the press release about the purchase reads: “On December 29, 2020, this 1,715-acre property was purchased. It is now permanently protected by The Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County (LCSLO), a non-profit land trust.
The property is now permanently protected through LCSLO’s ownership. The organization will maintain the property as a wildlife preserve, sustainable working cattle ranch, and future nature education center. LCSLO will continue to lease the land to a rancher who grew up on the property and has run cattle there for many years. This partnership is in alignment with LCSLO’s mission to support local agriculture and will ensure the ranch remains sustainably grazed. There is no public access to the property at this time.”
“The Santa Rita Ranch is a beautiful place full of wildlife, stunning vistas, abundant water, and charismatic oak trees,” says Kaila Dettman, Executive Director of LCSLO. “Ferns grow on the slopes among the bay laurel and madrone, and cattle happily graze its fields. The moment we set foot on this land we knew it was special, and we are so excited to share the news that we have protected it forever. I am forever grateful to all our supporters who made this possible.”
Future Equestrian Use of Santa Rita Ranch
When asked for her view of equestrian use of this property Kaila responded, “We will spend the next two to three years conducting resource surveys (wildlife, plants, other sensitive resources), and gathering feedback from our supporters, partners, and user groups before deciding on future uses.”
She then continued, “We have not decided what level of public use will be suitable at the Santa Rita Ranch. We’re not expecting to open it to unlimited daily access. That said, if we do eventually create some kind of invitation or limited reservation system for access, we will welcome and include equestrians. The property is beautiful and highly suited to horseback riding. It has an extensive network of small ranch roads that meander through its dense bay laurel forests, and climb its oak studded rolling hills. Ideas we have discussed that seem feasible in the future include hosting equestrian groups who organize special events/group rides, and hosting regular docent-guided riding tours.”
Lunch on Deck Overlooking the Lake
The newest home on the property overlooks the lake. After our ride we gathered for lunch on the deck and got a tour of the home. Kaila envisions turning this home into the education center. We all thoroughly enjoyed our day riding the beautiful ranching landscape of the Santa Rita Ranch.
Donate to the Santa Rita Ranch
The Santa Rita Ranch site sits at the top of Highway 46 West between the Pacific Ocean and Templeton. Join in the support the Santa Rita Ranch. Individuals and businesses can make tax deductible charitable online donations on The Land Conservancy’s website at www.LCSLO.org . Or one can call Kaila Dettman, Executive Director, at 805-544-9096.
Photo credit: Sharon Jantzen Photos
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Wow! What an amazing ranch. Glad they are preserving its natural beauty.
Beautiful description of a special place. Surely you’ll be in the know when equestrian access is allowed, and we can look forward to it!