We mount up, check the time – 11:00 a.m. – and head across the road to the trailhead (how handy is that?). It starts out winding around a big meadow, soon coming to some low lying bushes in bright hues of red and orange. What a great time to be riding! Bill is ponying Washoe with Ranger and I am leading out on Jesse, the fearless, when I glance down to my right and notice a small White Tail buck lying at the edge of the bushes, less than 15 ft. from us.
I quietly point it out to Bill, stop Jesse, and we both reach for our cameras. As we are taking pictures, we notice a doe lying deeper in the bushes another six ft. ahead. They posed so beautifully for us – for about four pictures, then they were done. They both hopped up and skittered away. And yes, the fearless and her two buddies did a super jump to their left, not quite dislodging either of us, and stood staring at the empty spot. I guess they were all so excited about being OUT of the trailer and on a trail, they sort of ‘forgot’ about wild life. You can bet they were very attentive on the rest of the ride!
A short time later, Bill whopped Ranger up along side his neck, saying, “Why didn’t you see that rattlesnake coiled by the trail?” Rattlesnake?! Jesse likes snakes, so she wouldn’t have cared, but for Ranger to walk right by a buzzing snake – do you think his hearing is starting to go? I’ve wondered about it before. He told Beel it was a ‘hay jumper’ he heard. About that time the batteries were dying in my camera so it would only stay on for a short time, so Bill and I traded cameras as I had the job of photographer.
We started following the ‘orange’ trail, which circles around the circumference of the park.
“Description: Two sections of the trail system, referred to as the Horsethief Canyon trails, connect the Rockin' K Trails to the Prairie Trails. The orange Horsethief Canyon Trail is one of the more difficult trails in the trail system. It has three relatively easy water crossings, but the trail is narrow in spots and goes in and out of rocky canyons. The blue Horsethief Canyon Trail is short and easy but has three water crossings that can present a challenge. These crossings can be very deep.”
Because of the above description, posted on their website, we thought we would switch to the ‘blue’ trail where they intersected, not wanting to do all 31 miles of trail.
We soon left the brush part and started upward toward the rocky canyons. These weren’t as bad as anticipated (not quite like ‘our’ rocky parts) and the horses maneuvered them well, still showing no signs of foot soreness, however Washoe had to ‘play’ at making them more difficult.
They were beginning to sweat a bit, though, due to the warmer temps and they were delighted to see the first of the shallow crossings that had water in it. The first two were dry due to the recent drought conditions the whole county seemed to experience.
After a good drink, they marched onward and upward to some interesting beaver ponds.
The colors were remarkable. I had no idea Kansas was this pretty in the fall; we were in total awe of all the flaming red bushes and orange trees. Soon we got to where the two trails joined for a bit, then we left on the blue trail when it veered off – and then another water crossing.
This was one of the ‘deep’ ones listed in the description. It’s a drought; how deep can it really be? Ranger sensed the difference and hesitated at the edge. Just to be on the safe side, Bill handed Washoe off to me and since Jesse likes water and Washoe has lost his fear of water, the two grays stepped smartly past Ranger and kept going, even though the water was very quickly more than knee deep. Jesse started pawing the water and thinking she was about to do a roll to cool down, I urged her forward and the water level was soon up to MY knees (well over the top of my boots). We were approaching the far bank and just as I was thinking of pulling my feet up to my saddle horn, the water suddenly receded and we stepped out onto dry bank.
Yeah, my horses passed the test of deep water!!!! I turned in my saddle, expecting to see Bill and Ranger emerging from the water. No Bill, no Ranger. The last I had seen of them was just a glimpse of Bill with his hand in the air, holding my camera, and looking like he was going to leap off Ranger at an odd slant. That was when Jesse started pawing and my attention returned to her. Soon Bill’s hat appears out of the water, followed by Ranger’s head. When Bill stood on the creek bottom the water was about 3.5 feet deep with sand and muck. When the water level had reached Ranger’s chest, he had started lunging (porpoise-ing, as Bill calls it), which caused a bigger wake that he thought was chasing him. When his feet came down in the muck, he slipped and sort of ‘jumped’ toward Bill – and they both went under! They both managed to wade out, thanks to the use of some ‘words of power’ and a true look of embarrassment on Ranger’s face. After the shock, all I could do was laugh, until Bill said my camera was buried in the muck and he was NOT going after it. Imagine: saving his cell phone instead of my camera! The best he could say was that he’d had a really great picture of me and the grays in the deepest part, showing the wake and everything.
|Notice the water mark on Washoe's back side - and Bill's water stained hat.|
After wringing himself out and getting back on Ranger (very difficult when his clothes and chaps probably weighed more than he did), he realized his hat was now permanently water damaged. I just think it looks ‘broken in’. It was good that it was a warm day, but there was a brisk breeze so Bill opted to continue the ride, thinking he would dry out pretty quickly. Personally, I think he just didn’t want to try re-crossing the stream just yet.
We climbed out of that canyon and ended up at a fence to the Prairie Trails, that had a really odd gate to maneuver. I handed Washoe back to Bill and had Jesse do her gate opening thing. It was a six foot gate on good hinges with a long, thin bar at a slant that ‘latched’ into a slot on the fence post. The top was bent and just the right height for someone on horseback to pull up on and let the gate swing open. That part was easy. It was a bit more challenging once you were on the other side to get the gate in the right position to push the latch back into its slot. After a couple of tries, Jesse seemed to know what was needed and leaned into the gate to hold it in place so I could lean over it and push down on the rod. Done.
We were now truly on the prairie and the breeze had picked up. After a couple of miles, Bill was getting chilled and we had somehow lost our map along the way (in the water?), so we turned back and Bill got to try his hand at the gate. He got it first try, but he only had to lean over and pull the rod up from the ‘wrong’ side, although he did it with Washoe in tow, so they did well.
As we topped the ridge we got a nice view of the end of Kanopolis Lake.
All of you thinking we are headed back towards the water? Right. I can guaranty you it was in the back of our minds as we approached the same water crossing. At least we now know how deep it is and how warm the water is; nothing like our lakes and rivers at home that log in at around 40*.
This time Bill wanted to take Washoe with him, thinking it would give Ranger confidence to tow another horse that liked the water. It seemed to work; I rode ahead so Ranger could see Jesse.
When Jesse started pawing as the water hit her knees, I let her be to see what she would do. She was just testing the depth of the water, because when she found a ‘shelf’ she stepped up on it and the water level stayed below my boot. I should know by now to trust my horse.
In this picture you see how much deeper the water is on Washoe, who is taller than Ranger by a whole hand. Last time we crossed, that is where Jesse and I were. Ranger and Bill were a little farther over and Ranger must have caught that small slope and it caused him to slip.
This time Ranger kept moving that direction and stayed in shallower water; Washoe chose to hit the deep stuff.
This was a very successful crossing and you can see the trust Ranger has in Bill to just step right back into the water without a fuss. Happy horse and rider!
It wasn’t much farther to the next water crossing and by this time Washoe had decided water was play time, immediately getting his feet tangled in his lead rope.
Bill turned loose of the lead and Washoe spent a couple minutes untangling himself, then splashing around like a kid.
He finally came to my side when I called him and was rewarded with grass, even if it meant I had to dismount to grab his soggy rope.
Now Ranger has to cross alone and ends up in a deep spot. Is that a death grip Bill has on the reins and horn?
Veering to the left helped Ranger before, so he tries it again.
He starts hurrying and oops – there’s that wake again.
He doesn’t panic though, and Bill gets him to shallower ground.
Congratulations Big Guy. You have truly been initiated to deep water and succeeded!
The rest of the ride can only be described as anticlimactic, even though we saw many more beautiful sights … and some strange ones, like the arrows they used in a few places to show direction. This one says “2 miles to Rockin’ K, and has a blue ribbon, so we figured we weren’t lost yet. When we came out on open flats again, Jesse wanted to get moving, setting a brisk running walk pace. The others kept pace, proving what more oxygen to breathe can do for you.
Almost back and …
....one wet but happy cowboy.
Ah! Home Sweet Home
Twelve miles and four hours later equals: wet horses.