[Ed 10/16/16 10:03 PM PT: Some minor changes made for factual accuracy]
Over the last year, I've really gotten out of the hiking habit. Sometimes I can't even believe that I used to hike once a week, even sometimes several times a week.
These days, as I'm battling fatigue, chronic pain, medications, and the occasional residual depressive slump, it can be hard enough for me to walk downstairs and out the front door.
But my desire to see and experience new things generally trumps my aching bones or my sapped energy, so if something is really appealing, I'll strap my hiking boots back on and hobble as best I can.
And that's exactly what I did when I had the opportunity to hike with goats at Angeles Crest Creamery in the Antelope Valley.
I'd been following the creamery for a while, dating back to its last iteration as Mariposa Creamery in Altadena, just north of Pasadena. At the time, the goats were living at the historic Zane Grey Estate, and I was trying to figure out a way to go visit them...and the landmark.
But now, the herd of goats have moved out to the country, free from complaining neighbors and with lots of space to roam.
The property is at the edge of Angeles National Forest and the Devil's Punchbowl Natural Area, where badlands desert meets the mountains, the temperatures are cooler, and the resources are rich.
And the timing was perfect, towards the end of April, to meet the new babies—like Sonora, who let me hold her in my arms and nuzzled my face.
There's also Ice Cream, with the billygoat beard...
...and a whole cast of characters of floppy-eared, sweet-faced, tender nibbling creatures of the cloven hoof.
And they seemed just as excited to see us as we were to see them.
The hike started off with a gentle stampede through the gate...
...but the goats soon became waylaid, distracted by the snacking opportunities that were immediately available to them, and resisting the call to actually hike anywhere to find something to eat.
The kids didn't know any better, and followed our human lead...
...but the adults scattered and hesitated, waiting for their usual leader, Apple, to set off ahead.
But that day, Apple wasn't feeling well, and hung back. And nothing we did to urge the rest of the goats would convince them to break up the herd.
That is, except for the babies—who'd been sustained mostly on milk up to this point, but had enough of a sense of adventure to break away and try something new.
It's actually not very easy to lead a herd when you're only four people. You need more of a critical mass of walkers all moving in the same direction in order for the goats to bother following.
But Gloria, the owner of Angeles Crest Creamery, is using these public hikes as an opportunity to learn—and practice—shepherding the goats. It's a whole other style of ranching, and more sustainable than, say, cattle (which were actually imported into the U.S. and never native here).
There are a few landmarks along the hike, including a sag pond—confirming its proximity to the San Andreas Fault.
Gloria says their little lake isn't very deep—but then again, she doesn't know how far down the water is coming up from (since it's not feed by any natural above-ground water source like a creek or a river).
The kids seem to like it there, at the lakeside rest stop...
...where there's plenty to eat, see, and sniff.
But, after a short break, it's time to move onwards and upwards...
...along what looks like an old Jeep trail...
...to their favorite bushes for snacking.
Angeles Crest Creamery isn't a full-time commercial endeavor for its proprietor, who has a day job...
...but she does use the milk from the goats to make cheese and to teach cheese-making classes.
She and her ranching partner also working with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to figure out how to use the land sustainably...
....and forage what they can, like the native miner's lettuce that was historically eaten by folks during the Gold Rush to prevent scurvy. Now, Gloria uses it as a salad green—which apparently goes great with chèvre.
My lunch, however, was a chicken tamale I bought for $1.50 from a woman selling them out of the back of a van in the parking lot of a local gas station.
The goats partook of yet another bush for their midday meal.
So we didn't have the entire herd, but I was absolutely tickled that my "Hike with Goats" excursion turned into hiking with baby goats.
We got to experience the acreage with new eyes, just as they did.
And those babies would never be the same as they were on that Saturday afternoon—not the next Saturday, or any Saturdays after.
When we descended the hill back down to the red barn, there they were—the rest of the herd, waiting for us patiently by the gate, snacking away at whatever bales of grass or alfalfa had been piled up there and had probably distracted them on the way out.
We could hear them bleating the whole time, but not out of sadness or despair. It sounded like they were having a grand ol' time down there on their own.
And when we returned, it sounded like they were happy to see us again.
Photo Essay: Facing Our Faults