Astride a loping horse in a deep canyon soaked with late fall twilight, the only sounds are hooves squelching in thick mud and a hidden stream rushing beneath rich, green brush.
No homes are in sight.
No growling engines pierce nature's muffled embrace.
Tangled waves of blackberry bushes heavy with unpicked fruit cascade down steep hillsides, reinforcing the remoteness of the narrow trail.
Then the snorting horse lurches up a rocky slope; through rain-scrubbed skies the crystal clear Los Angeles skyline zooms into unexpected focus, snow-capped mountains glistening in the background.
This is the Palos Verdes Peninsula as relatively few have seen it, far in atmosphere if not in yards from car-clogged Palos Verdes Drive North. "It's kind of like a little vacation," said Cindy Southgate, who grew up on The Hill and now lives in Rancho Palos Verdes. "It's like another world. Who knew this was here?"
This is the world of Jim Moore, owner-operator of Rolling Hills Estates-based Cowboy Boot Camp.
It is the only company on The Hill to offer rides to the general public on the 27 miles of trails that wind through Rancho Palos Verdes, Rolling Hills Estates and Rolling Hills (Palos Verdes Estates bans horses).
"I started out doing trail rides for friends, " said Moore, who grew up on a 1,500-acre Kentucky farm but never rode horses until he moved to Los Angeles. "I started getting more and more phone calls then realized, hey, wait a minute, there's no one else doing this, because a lot of people were coming to me and saying, "We want to ride, but we can't get a horse in the area. No one will take us on the trails."
Moore will, for rates that start at $60 per hour. At the other end of the spectrum, those looking for something special can order a $1,200 ride for four with a chef-prepared gourmet meal.
Each season brings a different perspective or, for that matter, each time of day. sunset rides are also available. The ride have been offered for a little over a year.
Since then, they've hosted a German businessman visiting Los Angeles who wet aside two days to devote to a cowboy experience and rode from the hills to the ocean.
A young man from Burbank who proposed to his girlfriend of five years during a romantic sunset ride to a spot in Portuguese Bend overlooking the ocean, complete with seafood dinner and champagne (she said yes).
And locals like the Southgates. They both grew up on The Hill, were married in Palos Verdes Estates' Neighborhood Church and yet remained blissfully unaware of the trail network until recently. Now the pair are regular riders, recently marking 19 years of marriage with a celebratory horseback ride.
The ocean views, the relative isolation and the relaxing gait of horses that know the trails better than they do keep them coming back. "I like riding, but I want to make sure I'm in a safe environment," Cindy Southgate said. "It's just so relaxing." There's something about coming over the rise of a hill on horseback, greeted by the glistening ocean below.
Simultaneously instilling an intoxication sense of adventure and discovery with relaxation, trail riding can win over even the most hardened - or dispassionate - soul.