Day 2. We are loaded up and even the horses seem excited to be working another day. Just before leaving the Lodge, Ida called to say Boulder Animal Control had called her, saying some people had reported cows grazing on their septic field. The number of animals and location made it a pretty sure bet it was the missing-in-action cows we were looking for. We met her at the same spot, loaded our horses into her trailer and headed for the mini division they seemed to have found.
Today, it was only Ida, Bill, Elisa and me. The others had gone to a Halloween party the night before and didn’t want anything to do with collecting cattle. I think it made it easier, because we had meshed into a pretty good team and didn’t have to watch out for the non-riders. Also, the horses seemed much more at ease, now knowing what was expected of them. Audubon seemed to like the company, Washoe had calmed down around the cows and the other two just wanted a job to do.
When we got to the little division up behind Jamestown, there was a young girl waiting for us, maybe 10-12 years old. She had been “keeping an eye on the cows” and told Ida exactly how many and what colors they were. Later, Ida laughed in delight at all the information. Obviously the girl felt she had a very important job to do, and left quite happy. Bill and I rode at the edge of a small lake while Elisa and Ida followed the girl’s directions to locate the cows. They drove them back toward us and we soon met up and headed them homeward. Again, we headed right into the thickest part of the forest, as it was the most direct route back to their pasture, which was between us and the trailer. According to Ida, cows don’t like to follow roads and it’s much too difficult keeping them out of the fencing on either side. After the previous day’s experience, we agreed. As we came to fencing between pastures, the cows would just push through any loose area they came to and we would have to find a way to get the horses through. Ranger won’t go anywhere near a fence that looks like wire, so that meant dismantling one completely! We also had to keep a close eye out for rolled wire on the ground, where old fences had been taken down, but the wire was just left lying around. Again, the cattle didn’t care, but horses don’t like getting tangled.
Once we got the cows back to their regular pasture, they seemed to remember their way on back to the trailer loading area, so all we had to do was follow and keep them moving. They were getting pretty tired by this time and wanted to stop a lot. This day went very smoothly and it only took two hours to get the job done. We were almost sad that it was over; it was such a great ride time. It also ended our riding for the season. The following week I had my shoulder X-rayed due to the fall I had taken while on vacation. No fractures, but the doc said stay off the horses until it was healed, as a safety against re-injury. Bummer! What a great way to end the season, though, with a dream come true.
This is like one of our mini-dreams: moving cattle as a real job, not just in a pen or for practice. Ida, the person we get our hay from, and who winters our horses, had called and asked us if we would like to help her move some of their cattle from the summer pasture. She needed to take them to the main ranch to separate the calves from the mom cows, and her helpers were quickly disappearing because it was Halloween weekend. It was only a week after getting back from our Fall riding vacation and our horses were in good shape and now fully rested from all the travel. We JUMPED at the chance! We were to meet her over on one of the county roads bordering their lease pasture off Hwy 72 on Saturday morning.
Day One. The day was promising to be good weather-wise; a little overcast and cool, but no wind and very comfortable with just a light jacket. We pulled up ahead of Ida and spent a little time getting reacquainted with her horses. We had leased them from her 4 years earlier to operate a small livery, and had let our horses run with hers every winter since then, so it was like greeting old friends. When Ida arrived, she had her younger sister and two of her sister’s friends with her. The two guys were from Norway. One of them said he could ride and one had never really been on a horse before, and Ida’s sister was a rider (grown up around horses, but didn’t spend much time with them lately). Since we were not experienced cattle movers, we were feeling sorry for Ida that she had ended up with such slouches for a crew. We knew she could move the cattle by herself, but she had told us it would be easier if she had people to help keep the odd ones from darting off into the trees. As soon as we started to ride we understood what she meant. We were travelling in very thick aspen groves on mountainous terrain, so just the trees themselves would cause barriers to moving cattle in a bunch.
We all got mounted and headed out to look for the cows. Bill was on Ranger, Elisa (from the Ghost Ranch) had Washoe and I was on Jesse. We stayed at the back of the group so our horses could get accustomed to riding with strange riders. Jesse, in particular, likes to be at the back until she “reads” the other horses in a group. Ida had Audubon, a mare she is training for cattle work; her sister was riding Peanut; the inexperienced guy was on Paint - a marvelous moving paint that we had used as a kid’s horse; and the other guy was on Brownie. Brownie likes to really move out and his rider liked to trot all the time, so they were quite a pair, only Paint and rider had problems trying to keep up. Paint’s rider had a death grip on the reins and saddle horn, and poor Paint could only think to stay with his buddy Brownie. We lost sight of them a lot and I wasn’t sure they were going to stay mounted, but they managed.
After leaving the trail, we covered a lot of varied terrain, weaving in and out of brush, crossing ditches and gullies and navigating the deadfall that accumulates in the forest areas. All of the horses handled the terrain well, as good ranch horses will. I kept wondering how our horses would react when we reached the cattle. Jesse was the only one who had any experience at all, and that had been four years earlier when I had taken her to a Mark Rashid clinic as a 3 year-old and we had spent some time learning a little about the etiquette of moving cattle in ranch work. She hadn’t been near cows since. We were also beginning to wonder if we would see cattle. Where were they?
They were supposed to be in a pasture a couple of miles away. Someone forgot to tell the cows that, because they weren’t there. After riding along several trails and through several fences, we came to some really nice high pasture areas…but no cows. We split into two groups: Bill, Elisa and I checked one direction; Ida and crew took the other area, meeting back in the pasture about ½ hour later. More than two hours of riding and still no sign of cows. By this time, the non-riding guy had enough and had tied his horse to a fence and parked his body on some soft grass. (Later he said that being a cowboy was getting crossed off his list of things to do in life.) We took a short rest to discuss options, and split into groups again. Ida sent us along a fence line and they headed through some trees. We were to meet back at one of the roads leading into this area. When we got there we found Ida but the other three had disappeared. Ida had looked for them and decided they had probably headed back to the truck and trailer, tired of riding. Ida had seen some cow tracks going down one of the roads while she was looking for the other riders, so Ida, Bill, Elisa and I kept together, watching for tracks and getting further and further away from the trailer. We finally came across some promising sign and followed it to the river. Sure enough, there were some of the cow-calf pairs, getting their mid-day drink-in some of the thickest brush I’ve seen on the other side of the river.
We crossed the river and had a devil of a time convincing the cows to get out of the deadfall and re-cross the river! Once we got the cows moving, they took off at a run and we had to slide down the river bank to keep up with them. My right stirrup caught a dead aspen and uprooted it, causing the top of the tree to fall right across Jesse and me. Thankfully my cowboy hat took most of the impact, getting knocked off in the process, but my bulldozer of a horse managed to stomp the tree down and I came away with only a bump in the middle of the forehead as a battle wound. Bill graciously retrieved my hat from the river and we were off after cows again. Ida and Elisa had kept them moving along the river. When we caught up, we got them turned toward the road and headed back. After doing a head count, we discovered we had only found about half, but at least we had complete pairs. I guess sometimes that doesn’t happen. The decision was made to get this bunch loaded and headed for home pastures.
We followed the dirt road for quite a ways then had to turn them into the trees and take them back through the pasture where they were supposed to have been, and back through all the aspen groves and deadfall. By this time Jesse and Ranger had figured out their jobs and were thoroughly enjoying themselves, keeping the cows moving. Jesse took to it like an old hand, remembering her lessons, I guess. We were pushing from the back and I hardly had to give her any guidance. When I did, it was feather light, and just enough to weave into spaces big enough for the both of us. I learned that cows will go through anything! I was sure proud of how she worked the cows. Ranger and Bill covered one side, closer to the road since Ranger prefers to not be in such close territory. Ida was covering the other side and Elisa was chasing down anything that went astray, mostly because Washoe was being a goof when he got too close to the cows. He was soooo excited he wasn’t paying attention to his cues. I was sure glad it was Elisa on him instead of me. Audubon was goofy at times, too, mostly because she’s used to working alone and she would sometimes get excited at the other horses and not pay attention to the trees. Audubon is a large horse and poor Ida was getting hit by more branches than the rest of us. Our shorter Mustangs are handy in the mountains when going cross-country!
When we got to one of the roads to cross, we ran into Hal, Ida’s brother, looking for us to tell us the others were back at the truck. Hal had brought up another trailer to help haul the cows back. While we were talking to Hal, some of the cows had pushed through a barb wire fence and were scattering in the trees. We had to take down part of the fence to get the horses through and the idiot cows had just pushed their way through a loose wire, ignoring the barbs. No wonder they get called stupid. We quickly got them bunched back up and got them back to the trailer in short order. Ida and Hal got them loaded like pros and we called it a day. Ida said we would look for the rest the next day. We had spent 4 ½ hours horseback in very rough stuff and we were all tired, but it was a great day.
October 22, Day 11
Well, time to head for home. We woke up early and gathered everything up; pulled out at 8:00 am. The weather is fair but we’ve been warned that we are headed into a winter storm in Colorado. Sure enough, shortly after crossing the Colorado border, the temperature dropped to 29 degrees. By the time we crossed over LaVeta pass, halfway between Alamosa and Wallsenberg, we were in snow, but there was only a short portion of the road that was slightly snow covered. The new snow on all the trees is sure pretty. I do like winter when I am inside a nice warm truck.
We made good time getting home, with no more bad weather. In fact, by the time we reached Denver it was sunny and warm. We seem to have missed the storm and gladly head home, leaving I-25. We are on the homestretch, less than ½ hour from home, and happy to be arriving early, in the daylight, when the truck suddenly dies. Just like that! It had balked slightly a couple of times on the trip and we had already decided to send it to the shop to get the fuel jets checked out, but nothing to warn us its computer was going to shut everything down. We happened to be at the base of the St. Vrain Canyon in front of the Hall Ranch Open Space. In fact, this is right across the road from where we usually board our horses for the winter. Bill could get the truck to run for short spells, but it’s obvious we can’t pull the trailer and horses up the steep canyon, so he parked the rig on the road leading to the old homestead of the Hall family.
About that time, one of our neighbors from Allenspark stopped and asked if we need help. He graciously drove me back into Lyons so I have cell phone reception; I leave Ida Hall a message to tell her she has acquired three more horses and call AAA Road Assistance for a tow. He then took me back to our rig and Bill and I got the horses settled in the open corral at the ranch. Only about 10 minutes later the tow truck shows up. Our Ford F350 flatbed is getting towed in by another, older Ford F350 just like it, named “Ole Horse”. The driver had been in the business for over 30 years so he called himself the old driver with his old horse. He suggested a good diesel shop in Longmont and off we went. He then asked us if we could get a ride somewhere and we talked about calling our daughter, Nelle, who teaches in Longmont. We had just mentioned this to the driver when my cell phone rang, and guess who? Nelle was just checking to see if we were near home yet, and even better luck, she was still in Longmont, even though it was well past her usual departure time. To top it off, she was only ½ mile from the shop, because she had made a wrong turn leaving her meeting. She met us at the truck shop and we packed some stuff in her car and headed for home – again. If there is ever such a thing as a perfect breakdown, this was it.
Only it gets better. On our way home, Ida called to say she got the message and she offered her truck the next day to take the horses and our trailer the rest of the way home! The end of the story? We still don’t know what happened to the truck. The shop called the next day to say they couldn’t find anything wrong, we picked it up and have had no more problems. I can only surmise we weren’t supposed to be in the canyon with a loaded horse trailer that night.
October 21, Day 10 We wake up excited, remembering we were going to be part of a “photo shoot” for the upcoming newer version of the Ghost Ranch’s website and brochure. We had been asked to participate in the riding portion and had been told to wear our finest in cowboy duds. OK, by now most of our clothing has seen better days on this trip, but you can hide a lot under chaps and a good hat. We started riding about mid-morning and finally hooked up with the photographer as he finished some of the early morning desert shots. He directed us to a location he had picked out on one of the creeks, and we did lots of riding up and down ditch banks in the Fall foliage and in the water following the creek. The colors of the trees were fantastic; the pictures should be phenomenal. Then he had us just play around trotting and standing in the alfalfa field in the center of the compound of cabins so he could get shots of the red cliffs and mountains in the background. We can hardly wait for the first of the year, when the new website appears.
When the photographer was done with us, we headed out for another long day of exploring. Elisa took us on the longest of the hiking trails, which curled way up above a huge box canyon. We made it to the last camp site and then explored even further on a “lost” trail. This trail was a longer version of our “goat trail” back home. Again, I was thankful we had really great horses under us. Ranger and Bill did have a minor spill on the way down. The trail just gave way under them on one of the steeper portions, but although Ranger went to his knees, he kept his head and climbed his way back onto the trail. Bill managed to stay on top of him. You just can’t beat a Mustang in the wild!
October 20: Day 8
We went to bed early last night, so we could get an early start on the road today. It’s time to head back towards Colorado. Today we will be back at Ghost Ranch, NM for a couple of nights. We goofed around cleaning up camp and forgot about the hour time change, so it’s 9:00 am NM time when we get started. We were thinking it would take us about 10 hrs. to get there.
Pulled into Ghost Ranch about 8:00 pm; losing one hour going eastward, we did have a 10-hour trip. As we pulled into the gate of the Ranch, Sophie dog sat up and took notice, immediately going to the window to put her nose out for a smell. It was obvious she knew where we were; she got very excited as she really likes to play with her friend, Buford. I wondered if the horses did a sniff and remember also, since it seemed like that from the motion of the horse trailer. They certainly knew where to head when they got out of the trailer this time, and promptly walked to “their” corral. Ranger even softly nickered to the old mare.
October 19: Day 7 It’s a beautiful Sunday morning, maybe around 70 degrees at 7:00 am, no clouds in the sky. We have just finished breakfast (huevos rancheros) and decide to go for a longer ride while it is cool enough for the horses. We get saddled up and decide on a route. We will leave the equine camping area on Ford Canyon trail and connect to a couple others to make about 10 miles, hopefully. Three hours seemed long enough in the desert heat and no prospect of water for the horses. It’s warm but we still opt for full riding gear: long sleeved shirts, gloves, chaps and hats. There are lots of pokey things in the desert!
The trail is rocky, dry and wandering through the different cacti. We could identify most but found a couple we didn’t know. Bill was talking about “jumping cholla” maybe being the fuzzy looking one similar to the walking stick cholla. A little later that question was answered. Jesse and I were leading, Bill and Ranger had Washoe in tow when Bill looked down and saw a hitchhiker on his chaps. He laughed and said, “I just barely touched that bush on the way by,” but he had two furry balls of very prickly cactus attached to the bottom of his leather chaps. Knowing better than to touch it, he also wisely chose not to knock it off with the end of his lead rope. The night before our son had warned us about touching these, so Bill tried slapping it off with the end of his leather rein. Bad idea. One of them promptly jumped from the rein to the back of his glove, a spine actually going through the Velcro strap and into his skin. After a couple of words of power the real tool came out: the Leatherman! Fortunately, all horses stood quietly while Bill painstakingly detached the furry ball, spine by spine, from his wrist, then the other one from his chap. Boy, were we careful the rest of the ride when we crossed fields of those things.
Two miles into the ride we passed a sign that warned of treacherous and steep terrain ahead; not recommended for bicyclists or horses. Since we were riding experienced and agile trail horses, we decided to see how far we could go. Shortly after, the trail indeed did get much steeper and narrower, but not anything our horses couldn’t easily handle. We passed mile marker 3 and then it did get pretty tough. We continued on; the horses were so good. They took everything in stride. Don’t let anyone tell you it is a waste of your time to spend the necessary training time with your horses. The proof is in the pudding, as they say. We were in a steep, tight spot in the trail. Jesse had stepped over a boulder in the trail, but Ranger, being shorter, was having difficulty, so Bill stepped off, but Washoe went around him and got in front, so I stepped off Jesse and left her ground tied to a large rock, walked back and got Washoe, so Ranger had space to move. Got everybody re-mounted and moving again, but when we looked at our watches, we had been gone 1 ½ hrs. We decided it would be better to turn around and take one of the shorter trails than to chance longer time and no water. Our horses were sweating pretty heavily from their warm Colo. weather coats; it’s probably hitting 90 degrees by now. The next slightly wider spot in the trail, we pivoted and headed back. Really nice having horses that can turn on their own radius so you don’t have to leave the trail.
The horses very neatly traversed all the steep, tough stuff we had come up and we picked up the Waddell trail back at mile marker 3, then switched over to the Willow Creek trail to take us back to the equine area. We passed several hikers, and let several hikers pass us on these trails. Took a lot of razzing about the third horse, wondering if he was in training. Bill told them he was the spare tire. That got some laughs. We got back to camp without incident and met a bicyclist from Spokane, WA, who wanted to take a picture of us while still mounted. Ranger would rather have had water, but he stood pretty good in front of the water tank. We did about 9 miles on this ride by combining three trails.
The horses were very hot and sweaty so we decided to cool them with water from the horse tank. At first, they didn’t want buckets of water dumped on them, then they decided it felt pretty good. They certainly looked better without the black sweat marks all over them. They decided a good roll would finish the job, but found that the pea gravel in the parking area was not much fun, so they only rolled over once or twice instead of their customary 4-6 times. We decided everybody deserved a good rest in the shade, so spent the rest of the afternoon napping and reading, waiting on Daniel and crew to show up later. Part way through the afternoon, the horses said something was out and about in the bushes, so we watched and got to see a javalina cross the driveway into the area. They had spotted several deer for us already; apparently we parked pretty close to the game trail they used to get to the water tank. This is what vacation is all about, right?
About 5:00 pm Daniel, Dalena, Taylor and Austin showed up and we heated some chili beans and cooked hot dogs on skewers over the propane stove. Bill found a couple of scorpions at the base of the water tank and showed the kids. Fortunately, they were already dead; probably drowned at the water outlet. Daniel walked a little way into the desert with me to show me some trees I didn’t know. Then we sat around visiting and watching a pretty sunset until time for the park to close at 8:00 pm.
October 18: Day 6
It’s another bright, sunny day and boy would a shower feel great. We aren’t used to the heat and it has been between 80 and 90 since getting into AZ. We decide to walk to the shower house, and what a wonderful surprise. It’s a beautiful brick structure, all tiled inside, bright and clean. It’s divided into two sections, for men and women, each with several very large shower stalls and obviously low-flow shower heads, but with plenty of pressure and the water was hot.
Now it’s time to head for White Tanks Regional Park outside Phoenix, AZ (http://www.maricopa.gov/parks/white_tank/). This is just about 10 minutes from our son Daniel’s house in Surprise, so it makes a great place to camp with the horses, since they have an equine camping area. We pull out at 7:30 am, and reach the outskirts of Phoenix about 10:00 am. The next half hour is a little hairy because we end up in some major busy street traffic after leaving the highway, and it’s hot. Fortunately it’s only a half hour and the horses handled the heat well. They are really wonderful travelers.
We check in at the park. The park ranger tells us he’s worked there over 1 ½ yrs. and nobody had camped there with their horses, so the sheriff will probably stop and check on us being in the park after hours. They actually lock up this park at night and reopen at 6:00 am. He directs us to the equine camping area and we pick the spot near a tree for shade and a picnic table. Bill backs the trailer in perpendicular to the tree and makes a really nice shady spot for the corral. We setup camp, using our PVC pipe panels for the horses. Bill had cut enough pipe for a couple more panels, so with 6 of them, it’s really pretty good space for 3 if they behave. We ran a hot wire around the top and between the lower bars so Jesse wouldn’t pick up the corral and move it. The whole setup works really well, and it folds up like an accordion to hang on the side of the trailer.
OK, the corral is good until a horse touches the hot wire. Ranger hit it first and wouldn’t leave the middle of the corral because if you go near the fence something bites you. So you have to bite the others so you get the center to yourself. Then Washoe touches it reaching for a leaf and jumps, touches it again and jumps again, then stands there staring at the leaf. Jesse just watches from her little corner by the trailer and thinks the guys are pretty stupid to not figure this out.
If you get bored you can play with the handle on the water tub, according to Washoe, or you can pick it up and drop it to make the water splash to cool your face, according to Jesse, or you can just hang out in the middle of the corral and nap, according to Ranger, slightly bug-eyed, biting at anybody trying to get him closer to the edge. Bill finally takes him out and ties him to the tree in the shade. However, the next day he discovered the tree bites, too. It was a very prickly desert “Russian olive” type and he scratched his nose trying to rub on it. He didn’t seem to hold a grudge against the tree, though, like the fence. I guess it was easier to figure out than a wire.
We call the kids to let them know we have arrived and come on over. They can’t get there until later so we nap and read until it cools off a little and decide to go for a short ride. We saddle up Ranger and Jesse and get ready to mount when the sheriff does pull up. He’s a really nice guy with an interest in horses, having grown up with them in NM. We spend about ½ hr. talking to him and getting all kinds of information about other places to come back to ride next time. He tells us to be careful of mountain lions. The deer population has gone from about 900 to about 400 over the last year because the lion population has grown so much. Bill thinks we could have had a job if we wanted it! By the time we got started we only got to ride an hour, so we could be back before the kids came, but it was a nice easy intro for the horses to the type of trails we would be on.
The kids showed up about 7:00 pm and brought dinner with them. They had made a chicken, rice and broccoli casserole and garlic bread, so we didn’t have to cook…and iced tea. It was great having something cold to drink after warm water the last couple of days. We spend the rest of the evening gabbing, watching deer, and watching a huge ¾ Halloween-type moon come up over Phoenix. A great way to end the evening.
October 17: Day 5
We’ve left Bucky’s about 7:30 am, after telling Andrea and their son, Jake, good-bye on their way to school. We are headed for Catalina State Park, 10 miles north of Tucson, AZ. We heard about this park from Carol Crisp (email@example.com) who helped write “Riding Colorado”, books about riding the different trail networks in Colorado. She had stopped at the Lodge, looking for the Allenspark Trailhead a couple of weeks before we headed out. She said she and her husband wintered in Tucson so I asked about trails there and she told us about this park. She said it had really good horse camping facilities and one of the best trails she knew. I looked it up online and it did look nice, and was priced right.
We found the Park about 10:30 am and it was a really nice area. We paid $15 dollars and the horse area had 8 pipe corrals with running water, a manure disposal area complete with wheelbarrow and fork, and a newly built, concrete and solar outhouse. In the car camping area next door, they had a shower house with lots of hot water.
We got there and didn’t see any designated camp sites, so we parked and talked to the only other camper there, who was parked right next to the pipe corrals. He said they were packing up to leave and we could have their spot if we didn’t mind waiting for about an hour. What great luck. We put the horses in one of the spare corrals and talked with the couple while they packed up. They gave us lots of information about the area; they had been there 4 days. They lived in southern AZ, but were retired so they came up to the park a lot during the week when nobody was around. They were leaving because it was going to get busy according to them. She rode her horse and he rode his mountain bike. Quite a combination.
They had two dogs with them and a really nice horse trailer with full living quarters. He had made a dog run to fit under the awning from aluminum rails and orange snow fencing. The panels were even lighter than our PVC pipe panels. He could lift them to the top of the horse trailer with ease. Then they rolled up their outdoor carpet, tucked it into the trailer, loaded horse and bike and pulled out. We hadpulled into the slot and started unloading when several other vehicles started pulling in; some to camp and some to day-ride. We took the corral with the shade tree since we were willing to put all 3 horses in the same pen. I couldn’t believe how everyone thought they had to have one pen per horse, even the ones showing up with 2 horses in the same trailer! This meant some people had to leave their horses tied to their trailer.
Four different trailers showed up that turned out to be women friends camping and riding together for the weekend. One of them said she had gotten up at 2:00 am to leave by 3:30 with her husband to get dropped off here. It took them 8 hrs from their home in southern CA. He dropped her, the trailer and 2 horses off and headed for a men’s retreat in Socorro, NM. She said it was her first time at this camp; she usually stayed at a Paso Fino Ranch north of there, while he was at the retreat. Later her friends showed up. While she was waiting on her friends to setup, a trainer pulled up with 4 horses and a partner rider. They threw 2 of the horses into the 2 corrals next to ours and I thought we were going to have issues. The horses were really big Hanoverians and one was not particularly well behaved. Luckily they put her farthest away, but she was obviously a dominant mare and sensed Jesse right away, if the squealing and pawing meant anything. Then the two trainers just got on the other two horses and rode off, not saying when they would be back.
By that time we were settled and decided to go for a ride. We found the 50 Year Trail we had heard about and headed out. Bill and Ranger were towing Jesse and I was on Washoe. Jess was still pretty wound up about the other mare, and although she was behaving well, I didn’t want to chance another spill on my sore shoulder. All the horses took to the trail nicely and things were going smoothly until Ranger saw his first Saguaro cactus. Good heavens, what is that? It was a really big one, maybe 30 ft. tall, right at the edge of the trail, looking kind of like a very large man with his arms in the air. Bill said they looked a little too organic and threatening. We all figured it would not be a good thing to touch. Ranger was so interested in the Saguaro he almost backed into a cholla. I was laughing; Bill didn’t think it was so funny, being confronted by cactus from front and back, with everything in between covered with sharp rocks and prickly things that do not make for good unscheduled landings. Ranger did collect himself with dignity, snort at “the thing”, and continue on the path giving it as much space as possible. He got pretty good with them but preferred they be at a distance.
I had forgotten the map back at the trailer, so we just guessed at trail crossings and had lots of fun, knowing the horses could get us back if needed. We finally turned around and headed back since we didn’t know how to navigate the loop trail we had intended. By the time we got back, the “trainers” had packed up all their horses and disappeared, leaving dirty corrals behind. I just don’t get how they can be in the business of horses and be so rude as to not clean up after their horses. The other riders said it happened all the time. Maybe because it’s so hot, they figure manure dries up and blows away fast. It seems to be a desert thing.
We dug out the propane stove and had steak for dinner, finishing the evening off by setting up our own theater in the back of the horse trailer. After all the day riders left, we spread out into the pen next to ours, so the horses could at least roll or lay down for the night. They seem to really enjoy the hay cubes we have been feeding them on the trip. We watched/slept through MIB II and had a really good night’s sleep.
October 16: Day 4 We’ve been robbed!!! Well, OK, maybe vandalized would be a better way to put it. Bill walked down to the truck to pull it up to the corral for loading and found…5 donkeys happily munching all the bales of hay they had pulled off the back of our flatbed PU. They were sure they had found the mother lode of gold with our travel hay. There was one really large donkey that could have easily passed as a large mule. I suspect he was the gang leader in getting the bales off the truck. All you can do in a situation like this is laugh! (The ranch was gracious enough to replace the hay.)
Today we were to drive to Catalina State Park, outside of Tucson, AZ. We figured somewhere between 8 – 9 travel hours. When we crossed into AZ, we realized that our later start (donkeys) was going to cause us to get into the State Park well after dark. We decided to crash in on some good friends in Wilcox, AZ to spend the night. It wasn’t much shorter distance, being close to Tombstone, but we knew the roads and knew they would have an open corral for the horses. We called them and got a warm welcome, a nice home cooked meal and, indeed, a large pen for the horses. Bucky is actually the horse person that got us started in horses and we had a great time catching up on gossip.
Bucky and Andrea have 25 riding horses and hold the only commercial permits to ride the Chiricuahua Trails and the Cochise National Monument. They had bred four of their favorite mares last year, and our only regret was not getting to see this year’s foal crop, born in March. They had just separated them and taken them to a neighboring ranch for weaning a couple days before we got there.
October 15: Day 3 It’s another beautiful morning. Although it’s still in the low 30’s, rumor has it that the high will be close to 60. We decided this is ride day, so we fixed a big hot breakfast so Mike can join us before work. The rest of the time he will be staying somewhere else, house-sitting for the directors while they are on a 2 week vacation.
About 10:00 am, we saddled up and head cross country, looking for a trail to a cabin that Elisa has heard about. We pass an old log house that was built for “City Slickers” when it was filmed on the Ranch. It certainly looked like the house in the movie. The colors are beautiful with the trees in full swing of fall; lots of gold and red trees standing out against the red cliffs and blue sky.
As we come over a rise, riding through the scrub, Buford launches himself toward us from one of the bushes at the side of the trail. Jesse, who has been looking for reason to romp, hopped about 6 feet to the side. (This is the new trick she’s been perfecting this summer.) I had just recovered a stirrup from a couple of her crow hops, and you guessed it. This time I didn’t stay aboard, landing on some hard rock and smashing my bad hip and sore shoulder…again. One of these vacations, I’m going to get to ride without being sore from a spill. The bruise on the hip was gone in about 5 days and wasn’t much problem except for sleeping the first night. The shoulder is going to take longer. (It's a month later and I'm still in a sling and swathe from my spill. Thanks a lot Jesse!)Poor Bill is going to be pulling and throwing two heavy saddles for the next few days.
We spend 3 more hours covering a lot of space and looking for the trail, finally finding a really steep slide hill that I didn’t really feel like negotiating with a hurt shoulder, especially since we didn’t know if the gate we were looking for was in this particular ravine or not. We backtracked a ways and then just did some exploring. The canyons and ravines were beautiful…and challenging. Sure glad we ride surefooted mountain goats. There aren’t many horses I would trust on the stuff we were traversing. We stopped for a short lunch and headed home. The horses certainly earned their roll in the dirt when we unsaddled.
October 14: Day 2 We woke up to rain, fog and 28 degrees! Wasn’t it supposed to be warmer here? We just poked around and chatted with Elisa…and fixed a killer breakfast from leftovers we had brought. Mid-morning the fog lifted and the rain subsided, so we wandered outside, closed off some gates and let the horses have a larger space to romp in. Wow, did they take advantage of that. Even though it was slightly muddy and slick, they had a great time bucking, racing and chasing each other through the three corrals. I don’t think Elisa could believe how wild they got as soon as they had some space. She decided it had been a really good idea to let them out for a while before saddling up. We never longe our horses before riding. In fact, only one of them even knows what a longe line is, but we do give them plenty of time to blow off steam if they’ve been cooped up awhile (like in a trailer for 11 hours the day before).
In the early afternoon, the sun came out and we headed out for a short ride. Elisa led us off across the desert to show us the Ranch’s one hour trail ride – with a lot of extras thrown in. We spent about 2 hours out going up and down gullies and trotting across a great high meadow. Elisa spent a lot of time on Washoe’s movement skills, moving him in different circles, doing a lot of transitions from walk, trot, canter, and especially stopping skills. A lot of time was spent on getting a willing backup and much better stopping. Now if we can just keep him tuned into this. I got a really nice, long running walk out of Jesse; she kept up with Washoe’s canter with no problem. We finished the ride with the regular “painted desert” route the guests get to take.
We spent the evening chatting with Mike, the housemate. He works for Ghost Ranch as an on-call maintenance guy while he’s finishing classes in adobe building. It was fun learning more about adobe construction and fantasizing about how to use it around the Ranch.
October 13: Day 1 Yeah! Vacation has finally gotten here and boy, are we ready to head out. We finished packing up this morning with about 1 ½ inches of snow still on the ground, but lots of sunshine and in the low 30’s. The horses had gotten an early breakfast and hay bags were in the trailer. They seemed happy to get to be on the road again, also. We hadn’t planned on leaving too early because we wanted to get into Ghost Ranch, NM (http://www.ghostranch.org/) about 6:00 pm so we could unload while still light, but not beat Elisa there by too much. She was at a seminar in Santa Fe for the day.
Typical for the start of a trip, though, we discovered we had forgotten the fence charger, but we were already almost out of the canyon, so decided to stop at Murdoch’s and see if they had a reasonably priced one, since we were planning on buying another just for trips. They did have one in stock and we left with a new fencer. Now to fuel up out on the highway and be on our way. We had a very nice day of travel; good roads and no storms, with the temp going up to the low 70’s along the way. Everything was going well until a PU pulled up next to us just before Colo. Springs and said our trailer door was open. It had popped open on Tel and I on our previous trip, too. We pulled over and strapped the door shut, very thankful none of our good tack had blown out and caused problems for other drivers. That turned out to be the adventure of the day.
We pulled into Ghost Ranch an hour late, 7:00 pm, and Elisa had gotten back early, so she met us at the entrance to her drive with just enough light left to walk the horses to a little pen just across the driveway from her house. Jesse was so anxious to get out of the trailer, she broke her lead rope backing out. I don’t usually tie her in the trailer as she loads last on voice command, but Bill had loaded her and tied her. When we undid the butt chain she thought she could just back out, so she did and just popped her lead rope in two. We decided she would be the first loaded for a few times so she could get a review of waiting in the trailer. We pulled out whatever we needed for the night, took in the grocery boxes to stash in the fridge, and parked the truck and trailer in a field down the way.
There is a very old mare (supposed to be 37) that lives at the Ranch and roams at will. She’s almost blind, has rickets, and looks pretty decrepit. She sure came to life when she thought she was going to have to share her space with the young punk! She’s a grulla like Ranger and he took a shine to her. They spent lots of time nosing over the fence. She was not particularly fond of Washoe; guess he was too young. I think Jesse was a take-it-or-leave-it; nothing to bother about. They took turns all night swinging between squealing and snuggling their butts together at the corner where the pens met. It made for interesting sleeping, because the coyotes would sing, then the old mare, who was very hoarse by this time, would squeal.