Black bear and bald eagles at Santa Margarita Ranch


Jody Langford couldn’t believe his eyes earlier this week when he spotted and photographed a large black bear on the Santa Margarita Ranch.

“I’ve lived in North County all my life, and I’ve seen a lot of bears, but never one this big,” he said.

So what brought this beautiful bear out of the woods on a brilliant fall day? Turns out, it’s the same thing that brings so many tourists to the local wine region!

“As the fruit ripens during the harvest season, the bears come down from the adjacent Santa Lucia Mountains to get their fill of premium wine grapes from our estate Margarita Vineyard,” said Karl Wittstrom, co-owner of Margarita Adventures zipline tours and Ancient Peaks Winery, which are both based at Santa Margarita Ranch. “Our vineyard is sustainably farmed. Part of sustainability is sharing, and we are happy to share. As we say, ‘Promote sustainability—feed the bear!’”

Langford—an employee of Ancient Peaks Winery and a seasoned photographer—took the best photos he could with a handheld telephoto lens.

“I didn’t have my tripod setup with me, and I was bumping along in my truck, so they’re not perfect,” he said, noting that the bear kept its distance from the ziplines and ranch workers.

Margarita Adventures features six distinct ziplines spanning more than 7,500 combined feet. Along the way, guides share details of the ranch’s native wildlife, sustainable winegrowing practices and role as part of California’s famed Mission Trail. Margarita Adventures also offers seasonal kayak tours at Santa Margarita Lake and wildlife “Hummer” tours at Santa Margarita Ranch.

Bald Eagles are frequently sighted on the wildlife tours, and Langford has captured photos of those as well.

“Our zipline tours focus on thrill and adventure, but there’s a passionate educational component along the way,” Wittstrom said. “It’s an opportunity to get out into nature, learn about our environment and value our native wildlife.”