Facing your fears


Two amazing things happened a few weeks ago when my husband, Jerry, and I stayed at Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort, three miles south of Solvang in the Santa Ynez Valley.

He ate asparagus and I rode a horse.

To appreciate these accomplishments, you have to understand his relationship with vegetables and mine with horses. You can count on one hand the vegetables that appeal to Jerry and they don’t include anything that starts with an A. So kudos to Executive Chef Pascal Godé.

As for the horses … some years ago (let’s just say in the last millennium) I was thrown by a horse. He then lost his balance and fell over backwards on top of me. The result: several broken bones and internal injuries and a year in recovery. So horses are not my favorite animal, but I wanted to see some of Alisal’s 10,000 acres of backcountry, and that was going to take a horse.

The wranglers promised me a sluggish, obedient horse, and Jesse proved to be just that during our 90-minute ride. (I was thankful not to get my husband’s horse, Rambo.) The hot weather probably slowed our horses even further, so I didn’t complain. Despite the drought and dusty trail, the foothills were still green, and our trail guide Dustin Mackie gave an excellent narration, answered all our questions, and was kind enough not complain about our slow pace.

We carefully picked our way up and down the hillsides, from which the view was gorgeous and tranquil. Despite the drought, the rolling hills and mountains were still somewhat green. The private lake was an unreal turquoise, and expansive meadows provided a place where hundreds of cattle could lunch on imported hay. We met an eight-point buck on the trail, and he seemed not bothered at all. After staring us down for a few moments, he unhurriedly loped off over a rise. In all, this part of the Santa Ynez Valley probably looks much as it did during the 19th century when vaqueros rode the hills.

Alisal Ranch is aptly named; it’s a Chumash Indian word meaning “groves of sycamore trees.” Huge old sycamores are clustered all over the property, providing refuge for humans and animals alike, and there are plenty of the latter. The ranch has an animal rescue area, a petting zoo and a pair of miniature horses on the premises near the corral that nearly 80 horses call home. And late one afternoon, we were directed away from a wooded gully that was occupied by a well-hidden bobcat.

There is no lack of things to do for both grownups and kids at Alisal, but one reason many visitors return is the staff. Guests say they are remembered from year to year. Tom and Cheryl Huse of La Jolla said that arriving at Alisal is like coming home. They visit several times a year because of the family-like environment and the relative isolation. (There are no phones or television, but Wi-Fi is available).

And if you have a favorite dish, Executive Chef Pascal Godé is glad to make it for you. We enjoyed a perfectly grilled Scottish Salmon and prime rib — and oh yes, that asparagus. The kitchen staff is more than happy to accommodate special dietary needs.

Solvang is about a five-minute drive from Alisal, so it’s easy to buzz into town, or catch a ride for a wine tour.

For more info and special packages:  HYPERLINK “http://www.alisal.com” www.alisal.com, or call (800) 4-ALISAL (425- 4725). For info on Santa Ynez Valley: HYPERLINK “http://www.VisitSYV.com”http://www.VisitSYV.com.

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