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Hand's Pass

Wrapping it up: Days 24-28, The Blue River to Eagar, AZ

This post will conclude the documentation of the horse pack trip Dad and I did from April 11 through May 8, 2015 from the US/Mexico border to Eagar, Arizona. The trip was 355.2 miles, according to my DeLorme InReach Explorer GPS, and spanned 28 days. This post covers Days 24 through 28.

When we left it at the end of the last post, it was somewhere around 3:00am Sunday night and I awoke to the sound of a whinney off in the distance, up the canyon a ways, where five of our horses had wandered during the night as they grazed, leaving the Queen Bee, Lizzy, staked at the edge of our camp.

The next sound I heard was the rumble of thundering hooves, as the whole herd came at a full gallop toward camp. I don’t think Dad even woke up, but I was curled up in the fetal position in my mummy-style sleeping bag expecting to be trampled at any moment. Well, the horses galloped into camp, but luckily, as they did Sunday afternoon, they stayed to the trail and passed by us about 30 feet away. Whew! They immediately settled down to their grazing again and all was well. I went right back to sleep.

Down in the Blue

Down in the Blue

We broke camp the following morning, as usual. I decided to ride Lizzy, as her back was doing much better, and pack Daisy and Ranger. Daisy’s saddle sores had gotten pretty bad, so we put the salve on her and put a pack saddle on her with no packs. We just rolled up the manty canvasses and tied them to the saddle. Ranger had a light pack as well, because we were down to the last of our feed. We divided the rest of the gear and supplies evenly among the three pack animals that were carrying a load, and all three were fairly light. Clancy was doing a bit better, so he was going to be walking, rather than riding.

Black was doing better. His swelling had gone down quite a bit and he was moving better. The bute had been helping. We gave him his morning dose and by the time we got started he was doing better. Dad was riding Jimbo, so Black had a light pack on.

The travel was pretty good, as we were able to follow the designated trail much of the day, however, since the USFS and BLM have removed livestock, for the most part, in the Wilderness area, the trails are quickly disappearing. Cattle no longer move through the areas, cowboys no longer use the trails, fires have swept through some areas, and so they are simply disappearing. Trails that have been in existence for hundreds of years are now just gone. It’s rather sad.

Anyway, for much of the day we simply made our own way, but it wasn’t too bad. The Blue was running low and there was plenty of open ground in the riverbed and surrounding benches to allow us to pass through most areas with no problem. At one point we spied a couple of caves up on a sidehill. I just had to explore them (my brain still thinks I’m 15), so Dad took a break and the horses grazed while I took a look.  They were deep enough to make a small room, but I found no buried treasures.

The weather was a bit wet, broken clouds, sprinkling just enough to get things wet in the morning. Later in the day we could see clouds building south of us. Eventually, those clouds began to build in our direction, so we were watching for a storm.

We expected to be able to find adequate grass for our horses down in the Blue riverbed, but surprisingly we found very little. We saw a few head of cattle, but they were very wild, obviously holdovers from many years back. Still, the grass in the area was grazed low. Apparently the elk herds are strong in that area. Whenever we found any quantity of grass at all, we stopped to let the horses get a few mouthfuls.

We passed the HU-Bar ranch about mid-morning. We were back into familiar territory, as Dad had been down in that area in the past. About lunchtime we found a patch of grass and decided to let the horses graze while we ate lunch. We also pulled out our slickers, as the sky started to spit a bit of rain.

Just as we were about to wrap up our lunch break, a couple cowboys with their dogs showed up. They were hunting stray cattle. Back in the old days, this would have been known as “rustling”, but what they were doing was removing lost cattle from areas where they had been restricted by the USFS. These were cattle that had once belonged to some local rancher, but that he wasn’t claiming, in order to avoid being fined by the USFS. So, these locals would go out and find the strays, then take them to market. At today’s prices, it brings in a little extra to keep their families fed or spare change in the pockets. It wasn’t easy work, because those cows we saw were wilder than deer!

The cowboys hadn’t brought their slickers along, so as the drops started falling, they headed out at a pretty quick pace. That worked out pretty well for us, because they were familiar with the actual trail. On our way forward, we simply followed their tracks, which likely saved us a couple hours by the time we covered the next six miles or so to the Blue Road. As it turned out, we got enough rain to get everything wet, but no downpour. We heard some thunder back down the canyon, but none close enough to be of concern.

We hit the Blue Road about 4:30pm. We had made about 16 miles, but figured we needed to make another eight miles to make it to our stopover place at Blue. We contacted Dick Goodman by text to let him know where we were and when to expect us and about two miles farther along he and his wife, Jean, showed up in their pickup. Clancy was about done-in and I was carrying him on my saddle as much as I could (the strain on my back was quite painful). We put Clancy in Dick’s pickup and they took him on to the house for us. Although he was in pain, he left us barking and howling to let us know he didn’t want to go. Dick returned a bit later and went ahead of us, opening all the gates as we approached. That was a big help, as getting on and off the horses this late in the day was a chore.

We finally arrived at Dick’s place, where he had made arrangements for us to use a corral, around 8:15pm, long after dark. We unpacked the horses, fed and brushed them, then headed for Dick’s house. We were beat. Our horses had fared well, but were tired as well. We had made 26 miles on the day, in just short of 12 hours of riding.

Dick had an RV he let us stay in. It was nice to get a shower and rest in a bed that night.  Dick and Jean treated us to baked beans and hamburgers. The following day, Tuesday, was wet and rainy. We decided to stay the day. It was a good break for us all after a 26-mile day on Monday. Mom and my sister visited and brought a lemon pie. We had a fine dinner that evening.

During the day on Tuesday we were able to talk to a couple fellows who know the Blue Wilderness area very well. Our plan was to ride Grant Creek Trail from the Blue River, near Dick’s place, to the top near Hannagan Meadow. We’ve made that ride several times before and know it to be a beautiful and pleasant ride. The advice we got, however, was to abandon that idea, as the trail system had received no maintenance in the past several years, and fires and disuse had made most of them impassable by horse. It was a tough decision, but in the end we decided to ride the Red Hills Road to the top. We figured we were about fifty miles from Eagar, by the route we would ride and that it would take us about three days.

Ranger's lump on his back

Ranger’s lump on his back

We also decided to leave Lizzy and Daisy. Lizzy’s back was sore again and the lump on her back had swollen overnight. She also had several rub sores on her shoulders and rump from the straps of the pack saddle. Daisy’s saddle sores had gotten worse as well, and, quite frankly, we were tired of her mare-ish antics. Even after all this time, she was disruptive to our string. Neither horse was of much use to us and there was enough grass available now that we did not need to haul feed, so we called my brother-in-law to come pick them up. My mother took Clancy home with her. We also sorted out some items of gear we wouldn’t need and left them with Dick. He’d bring them up to us in Eagar later. We ended up with only two pack animals, using paniers, rather than Decker-style packing. We found our process of packing and getting ready to move went much faster and easier.

So, for the last three days of the trip, it was just Dad and me, three horses, and one goofy mule.

On Wednesday morning, after an excellent breakfast provided by the Goodmans, we packed up and headed up Blue Road. About two miles up, we came to Red Hills Road, which we took and started the climb up out of the Blue. We ascended more than 4,500 feet in a matter of twelve miles. It was a fairly easy day on Dad and me, but was tough on the horses.

Once on top, at an elevation of over 9,000 feet, the land levels out a bit. There was plenty of grass and we stopped several times to graze the horses. In the late afternoon we stopped near US 191 at a set of corrals used by the USFS. Although there was plenty of grass, we had made previous arrangements with a friend to leave a bale of hay there at the corrals. We released the horses into the corrals and fed them. It was still fairly early in the day, around 5:00pm, so we had time to gather firewood and make a nice campfire. We enjoyed the evening sitting around the fire talking about our trip and our plans going forward. We made 14 miles and climbed over 4,500 feet. Our camp was at about 8,090 feet elevation.

Camp at the corrals on Highway 191

Camp at the corrals on Highway 191

Our original plan had been to use this first leg of the trip as a “shake-out” that would let us know how well we had prepared and whether we had the right horses and gear to continue. If the answer was yes, we would continue on to the second leg of the trip, to Panguitch, Utah. We made the decision several days earlier that we would stop at Eagar this year. Our gear proved to be good, although we had taken quite a bit of gear that we never used, but we found pretty early on that two of our horses were not the right animals for a trip of this kind. In particular, Daisy was a horse we wished we hadn’t brought from the very first day. Lizzy, on the other hand, was a good horse on the trail, but she has a very fine coat of hair that doesn’t offer sufficient protection to her from abrasion. She gets a rub sore wherever a strap rubs her. Additionally, as she lost weight, the saddle put pressure on her spine, which caused the lump on her back. I have seen this on other Fox Trotters, and even Ranger was somewhat affected the same way late in the ride. She just wasn’t the right horse for a ride like this. We decided the wisest course for us was to stop at Eagar, learn from our experience, and plan to make the second leg, from Eagar to Panguitch, the following year.

We passed a pleasant evening. We watched a herd of elk pass near our camp. We slept well and were well rested the following day, Day 27. Packing up and getting rolling was a much quicker and easier process, as I said before, with just four animals. We were up and moving before 8:30am.

We stayed mostly to USFS roads, passing by Springdale and seeing a few houses here and there. We traveled at a very good pace and made good time. I was riding Ranger during the morning, but he kept walking with a short-strided and choppy gait, which worked on my back and made things quite painful for me. Before lunchtime I switched my saddle to Jimbo and rode him the rest of the day. I like riding Jimbo. He has the best training of all our horses and is very pleasant to ride. Later that evening I found Ranger had two loose shoes, which I tightened. I think his sore back contributed to his choppy stride. He is normally very smooth to ride.

Camp near Big Lake off USFS 24

Camp near Big Lake off USFS 24

Again, this day, traveling by USFS roads, we found that the topo maps provided with my DeLorme InReach Explorer, were grossly inaccurate. We found mislabeled roads and roads shown on the map that were nonexistent, as well as roads on the ground that did not show on the maps. That was a very frustrating thing. We found during this trip that our good old-fashioned paper maps were indispensable. Between the three – GPS, electronic topos, and the paper topo maps – we did ok.

We made camp that night about 3 miles or so west of Big Lake, near a stock pond. It was a pleasant spot with good grass. We were lucky to get it, as a couple pickups and motorcycles stopped by looking for a campsite that evening. It was a cold night, at about 8,500 feet elevation. We had made 19.6 miles.

Ice from our bed cover

Ice from our bed cover

In the middle of the night we had an unexpected shower. I jumped up and spent the next few minutes running around in the cold rain in my underwear trying to cover everything up. It was nice to jump back in the sack and cover up. The following morning we had small puddles of ice on top of the top cover of our bed.

The next morning, Day 28, Friday, May 8, 2015, was a nice day, with broken clouds and just a hint of a breeze. At 8,500 feet, though, that doesn’t make for a warm day. We slept-in a bit and didn’t roll out of our bags until 6:00am. We were packed and rolling by 9:15am. We were thinking that if we made good time and didn’t make any navigation mistakes, we might reach Eagar that day. It would be a long day, however, and we had no desire to push things like we did down on the Blue. We considered that we might need to make camp short of Eagar and finish on Saturday.

Out on top, White Mountains

Out on top, White Mountains

We passed through some beautiful country, with which we were already familiar. Dad and I love that area, up in the tops of the White Mountains. The Wallow Fire of 2011 blackened much of the area, but not all. We passed through some burned areas, but for the most part it was green and nice. We passed a very pleasant day. As we passed the Black River, we filled our canteens and watered the horses. We gave them a break to graze on the grass, which was abundant here.

We did, in fact, make very good time on the dirt roads and we were coming down Water Canyon, above Eagar in the late afternoon. As we came into town on the south side, about a quarter mile from where our trailer had been dropped off for us Black started limping. By the time we got to the edge of town he was limping badly, so Dad dismounted and waited with the horses while I went on to the trailer and came back for him.

Wouldn’t you know, that by the time I got back to pick up Dad, he had lost Honey the mule. Honey, recognizing the area, since she had been kept for a while near where we were, and seeing her buddy, Jimbo riding away from her, she pulled away and ran off, still packed with our gear. It took us a while to finally locate her. A local fellow found her wandering around and corralled her. With Honey in the back of the trailer with the horses, we drove the four miles or so to the pasture and home.

I have to admit that the end of the trip was somewhat anticlimactic, but we were glad to be home. We made 22.4 miles today, arriving at Eagar at 6:30pm. Total travel mileage was 355.2 miles in 28 total days, 21 travel days.

Black was back to normal after a few days of rest, as were the rest of the horses. Only Jimbo and Honey arrived at the destination without a single mark on them. The others all had their bumps, bruises, and scrapes. After all the headaches and problems he gave us during the first few days of the trip, Jimbo turned out to be the most solid, capable, and reliable horse of the bunch. We were lucky to have him along. Daisy’s saddle sores have since healed up, leaving only the white telltale marks, but her disposition hasn’t changed any. I still want to spit on the ground every time I think about her. Lizzy is still my favorite trail horse, but she won’t be coming this year, due to her propensity for rub sores. We’re keeping her at Eagar as a backup, just in case. Dad’s Little Black will be with us this year. He and Dad are a package deal.

On the Trail

On the Trail

There was one day on the ride last year, during which I had thoughts of regret at dragging my dad out into this difficult and somewhat dangerous endeavor. Thoughts that it was my selfish desire to drag him along and I shouldn’t have done it. I thought, “What in the world am I doing out here with my 81 year-old dad?”

Two months ago, Dad and I were out for a ride south of Moab, Utah, tuning up for this year’s ride. As we walked along side-by-side on the horses, I mentioned those thoughts and feelings to him, expressing to him that I was having doubts about our plans for this year’s ride from Eagar to Panguitch. Last year’s ride was 355 miles in 28 days. My figuring has this year’s ride estimated at about 620 miles and 42 days on the trail (not counting rest days). Dad looked at me with a wry grin and told me not to worry. He hadn’t had even one minute’s regret during that ride last year. The thought hadn’t even entered his mind.

That was all the confirmation I needed.

So, Dad’s 82nd Birthday is Monday, May 23, 2016. We will be mounting up on Tuesday to head for his hometown, Panguitch, Utah, planning to ride into town just in time to ride in their Pioneer’s Day Parade on July 23. His high school class will be holding their 64th class reunion that week as well. A fine homecoming for Dad.

I’m glad we can do this. It’s quite a thing.

Bar-M Ranch, northeast of Douglas, AZ

Bar-M Ranch, northeast of Douglas, AZ



Days 10-15, Crossing the Desert to Safford

On Day 9, Sunday April 19, Dad and I had spent the day in camp at the mouth of Whitetail Canyon. Feeling refreshed, both in body and spirit, and the horses and Clancy being well rested from a day of rest, we were ready for the trip across the desert to Safford, Arizona.  Joshua Jensen and Al Smith, our capable guides through the Chiricahuas, had left us with a new supply of 200 pounds of Equidyne pelletized alfalfa for the passage across the desert. The saddle sores that had been starting to show on Daisy’s back were healing up after four days of being ponied bareback. We were in good shape. Our only concern now was being able to find water. We had about 80 miles across some very flat, dry desert country before we reached our next destination, Joshua’s place in Safford.

We had a good morning and it looked like for the first time we would be able to make an early start. Just as we were getting ready to mount, a fellow wanders into camp and we get to chatting. It was interesting conversation. The fellow was a local conservationist and birdwatcher. I neglected to take down his name and have forgotten it. It was he who had made the rock cairns we tried to follow on Saturday. Anyway, we talked too long and didn’t make it out of camp again until about 9:30am.

I was riding Lizzy, and, as usual, she set a pretty good pace for us. We left the mountains and joined Nolan Road and headed north, keeping just off the road to avoid vehicular traffic. Our goal was to reach San Simon, where we would cross under I-10 and find a place to make camp.

Somewhere along the route between Whitetail Canyon and San Simon on Nolan Road, we passed the 100-mile mark of our trip.

About half way to San Simon we found a water hole where we took a break and let the horses graze on some nice grass we found there, while Dad and I ate our lunch. For the entire trip our lunches consisted of a few bites of beef jerky, a Cliff Bar, raisins, and a bit of trail mix. We seldom stopped for lunch, usually eating a little at a time as we rode. As small as our lunches were, it was sufficient and we fared well. We were definitely hungry by the time we made camp in the evenings, though.

Dinner and Supper!

Dinner and Supper!

Our breakfasts and suppers consisted of dehydrated meals, made from ingredients mixed and matched from a food storage kit we bought from Walmart for the purpose. We had a variety of vegetable soup, creamed potato soup, corn chowder, and various combinations of those. Breakfasts included dehydrated eggs, the occasional packet of oatmeal, potato shreds, and some bacon bits. We cooked everything over a single coleman burner on a small propane can. Quite frankly, I don’t remember well what we ate most of the time. I’m sorry to say that some of the food wasn’t all that appetizing. Dad and I lost quite a bit of weight on the trip. I think the thing we missed most, in our suppers and breakfasts, was the fact that the dehydrated food kit included absolutely no meat! The imitation meat was also imitation tasty.

By nightfall, after 22.6 miles on the day, we made San Simon. We stopped by a ranch house, and finding nobody home, we helped ourselves to a spigot to water our horses and fill our canteens. We met a good friend of the rancher the following day, who happened to stop by for some friendly conversation, so we passed on our thanks for the use of the water spigot.

Finding no good place for a camp, we pulled off into a thicket that offered some concealment from the locals and made a dry camp. It was dusty, dirty, and full of thorny brush. We hit the hay early and departed early as well. Josh and Al stopped by in the morning on their way through town and helped us get loaded up and started. We then went back to the ranch where we watered the evening before and watered our stock. On our way back into town we ran into the fellow I mentioned above, Ron Mahan, who was able to give us some good directions for getting us into a wash, the San Pedro River, and under I-10 without having to concern ourselves with road traffic.

A nice pond in the desert

A nice pond in the desert

On this day we headed up the San Pedro River bed (otherwise known as a dry wash), which ran generally in our direction. We stuck to that for several miles, but knew we needed to find water for the horses. We struck a road heading east-west that Mr. Mahan had told us about. We followed it west about a mile and found two or three houses and a very nice pond. The pond had bass and panfish in good numbers. I suspect the locals had stocked the pond for their own fishing and eating pleasure. Strangely enough, our horses weren’t very thirsty. We left there and got back into our wash and continued northward.

As we were passing through a part of the wash that was thick with brush, I heard a muffled grunting and looked around to see what it was, knowing the area was prime for Javelina. I spotted a little pig no larger than a small puppy rooting and playing in the grass. We tried to get a picture of it, but the darn thing was so well camouflaged that when we saw the pictures we couldn’t find the little Javelina in it! The mother was nearby, so we let them be. An angry javelina is nothing to mess with. We moved on.

Shortly thereafter the wash became rather problematic to follow. It became deep, to where we could no locate ourselves with regard to the mountains and we could not see to find the next waterhole we were aiming for. It was also so choked with mesquite that it was tough, and painful, to get through in places. We climbed up out of the wash and began to head overland on higher ground.  Once on top, we spotted in the distance what looked like a cottonwood tree, which often indicates a well or water hole, so we headed that way.  It was, in fact, a cattle watering tank, but it hadn’t been maintained in a few years. It was choked with algae and moss. The horses drank from it, but not deeply. They didn’t like it.

Camp at Butte Well

Camp at Butte Well

By nightfall, we had again traveled about 18 miles. We camped that night at Butte Well, located just about a half-mile east of Orange Butte. There was a decent water trough for the horses, but nothing for us. Again, the water was full of green algae. At this camp we had to watch for cactus, because there was a low-growing species of prickly pear that you really had to watch out for. This area was very dry, with few trees even tall enough to tie the horses to. Again, not a very hospitable camp. This day, Clancy’s feet got pretty sore and I ended up with him on my saddle for several miles. The mileage we were making was getting to him. I ended up with him on my saddle quite a bit over the following few days. That night I checked his paws and found a mesquite thorn about 3/8″ long stuck all the way up in one pad.

The following morning I attempted to filter some of the water from the trough, with my Katadyn gravity-feed water filter, to fill our canteens. Lesson learned: Don’t try to filter filthy water! The algae plugged my filter before I had gotten a quart of drinkable water. That was a problem, since we didn’t have a spare filter. That meant we had no means of replenishing our drinking water until we reached Safford, another 40 or so miles farther along the trail. Well, we could have boiled water in a pinch, but that takes propane and time.

No, he's not dead.

No, he’s not dead.

We got back on the trail the following morning and followed a two-track ranch road westward. About five miles farther along we came to a solar-powered well with running water. We were able to fill our canteens, but the water tasted salty. The horses were fine with it, though. We ended up doing a lot of cross-country bushwhacking that day. It was a long one.  Around lunch time we located another waterhole that was apparently privately owned. There were a few improvements around it, such as a pathway and a small picnic area. We watered there then went a mile or so farther on, where we found some good grass. We let the horses graze for about an hour, while Dad and I ate lunch and rested.

We crossed the San Simon Fan area that day, which is a stretch where the government build low spreader dams to spread out the rain runoff to control erosion and spread the water over a wider area to benefit the local ecology. What it did, however, was to spread very fine silt over a very large area. Here’s a video that shows the area. It took us several hours to cross it. Here’s a video.

We made camp at Bailey Well that night, after having made a total of 21.2 miles. We had hoped to make Tanque, but would have arrived long after dark and we were completely bushed. We were tired!

Bailey Well was another solar-powered well, but we arrived after the sun was setting behind Mount Graham, so we obtained no water for our canteens. Horses were watered well, though. We ran out of drinking water the following morning, having just enough to make a breakfast.

The next day, Day 14, Friday , April 24, we headed north on a dirt road. Safford was about 20 miles away, so we hoped to make it all the way. We made Tanque around noon. We were lucky enough to find it a running well, so we were able to fill our canteens. The water tasted a bit better than the water we got from the previous well.

We followed dirt roads the rest of the way to Josh’s place, which was lucky for us, because it got us through the numerous cholla forests in the area. The cholla was flowering, so it was quite beautiful, but cholla is a true hazard for one traveling by horse. It is also commonly called “jumping cactus” because it grows in clumps, little balls of spines, that break off and stick when one brushes up against them. The plants propagate in this way, so the cactus grows in patches, or forests, as the case may be. We passed by several “cholla forests”.

Josh's place

Josh’s place

We made Josh’s place late that afternoon, after a day of 20.8 miles. It was good to release the horses into a corral and feed them hay. Josh and his family were not home for the weekend, but left us the use of the house. He also left us the use of his pickup, so we headed into town immediately after tending the horses, to look for a water filter for my Katadyne filter. No such luck, so I contacted Outfitter’s Supply in Columbia Falls, Montana, from whom I purchased the filter, and they overnight expressed two filters to me.

That evening, Josh’s neighbors, the Bodines, brought us a home-cooked meal of wild turkey. Their 14 year-old boy, Evan, had killed the turkey during the spring hunt. Jessica Bodine cooked it up with dumplings. It was heavenly!

The best part of the evening, though, were the showers at the end of the day! In order to not abuse the hospitality shown by Josh and his wife, Dad and I made our beds in the garage. We really didn’t want to get their house filthy. We availed ourselves, however, of their washer and dryer. It was wonderful to feel clean and have clean clothing again.

Dad on our mustang, Jimbo

Dad on our mustang, Jimbo

On Saturday morning, the Bodines brought us a very tasty breakfast, Al came to put shoes on our mule, Honey. After he arrived, we headed for town to buy shoes and some other supplies. While we were driving around town, Al took us for a drive to sort of scout out a route past Safford. We located a power line that offered a decent route. While we were scouting, another of those little helps from heaven happened. We met Clay Gomez, who owns a ranch through which that power line runs. He owns the only gate in the fence for many miles. He was very cordial and gave us permission to pass through his gate. When we arrived there later that evening, he had left the gate unlocked for us.

Me on Lizzy, with our string

Me on Ranger, with our string

By the time we arrived in Safford, we had traveled about 170 miles.  Our mule, Honey, had been barefoot all that way. She started getting tender on Wednesday, so we had Al put shoes on her. We also re-stocked with the last of the Equidyne feed we had stashed with Josh before we started the trip. Our Katadyne filters arrived via UPS by 9:30am. Amazing! We got ourselves packed up and hit the road about 11:30am.  We followed the power line route, as planned, and made good time. We passed through several fences, but none was locked. We ended up making it about 19.8 miles that afternoon and made camp on the Gila River, just north of a small town named San Jose.

The following day was Sunday, our rest day. We had a nice camp, with water, grass, a place to tie our horses, and a nice spot for our bedding. It was a good day to pass the Sabbath. We needed it, as the mileage we made over the past few days was starting to show on the horses. They needed a rest. So did Clancy. So did we.

Stay tuned for days 16 and 17 later this week, and some trail stories you are sure to enjoy.





Ride to Swinging Bridge, along the San Rafael River, southern Utah

Two weeks ago I was invited along with Jon Tanner and Casey & Erin Johnson to head down to the San Rafael River for a ride. The area we went to is commonly known as Swinging Bridge, named for the old wooden suspension bridge that used to carry the road traffic across the bridge. I thought crossing that bridge might be a good training exercise for my horses. We will have to cross a swinging bridge in the bottom of the Grand Canyon at the end of June on our big pack trip and I sure would hate to get there and have the horses balk.

The route from the Utah Valley (Orem/Provo/Spanish Fork) area is to take US Route 6 to Price, then State Route 10 about 29 miles south to USFS 401 (also known as Green River Cutoff Road), which is a well-maintained dirt road, just north of Castle Dale. If you hit Castle Dale, you missed the turnoff. Turn left (east) on USFS 401 and follow it about 16 miles, to USFS 332 (also known as Buckhorn Draw Road). You will pass two major intersections and USFS 332 on the north side before you get to the 332 on the south side, so just make sure you stay on 401 until you see the sign for USFS 332 on the south side of 401. Take USFS 332 south about 10 or so miles further, until you pass the old bridge over the San Rafael River. There is designated (primitive) camping in that area, but you can go on another 1/2 mile and make a right (west) and go about 3/4 of a mile and you will find another designated camp area with a half-decent corral.

At the equine camp area near Swinging Bridge

At the equine camp area near Swinging Bridge

There is no water at the camp area and no facilities. The river is easy to access and close enough to water horses.

The trailhead leads directly off from there, westward, up the “Little Grand Canyon”. It’s best to go with someone who’s been there before, because in some places the trail has seen insufficient use to be clearly marked and it is not maintained. Some parts of this trail are pretty spooky for horses and riders unused to the rough country, however a decent trail horse can negotiate even the toughest parts safely. I personally do not recommend this trail for people and horses that have not done a bit of back country riding. It is not a “walk in the park,” so to speak. The trail we rode goes up the canyon a ways, then turns off into a side canyon to the south that dead-ends at Virgin Spring. The spring is a pool of clear, cool water larger than your average swimming pool. A nice place for lunch.

Virgin Spring

Virgin Spring

You can also continue to follow the river and main canyon on northwesterly, on up to Fuller Bottoms. I’m told it’s about another eight or so miles. It would be a great ride if you had someone to pick you up on the other end.

Just a note about the trail: There is quicksand in the river bottom and in some other places where water occasionally stands. Be careful and pay attention to your horse. Many of them have a sense about quicksand and can keep you and themselves out of a world of trouble. Stay to areas where other animals cross, such as cows, horses, and mules.

We rode in on Saturday morning with our group along with a group of mule riders. We crossed paths with a number of hikers and backpackers, so be aware and please be courteous. Leashes are not required on dogs. It is an excellent trail on which to have your canine trail companions along along.

Reno in his first packing training experience

Reno in his first packing training experience

On this particular trail, I decided to train my new young gelding to pack. He’d never had a packsaddle on, as far as I know, and I’m sure he’d never before encountered hard paniers. I put my newly acquired TrailMax bear-resistant hard paniers on him and dropped a 40# sack of feed in each side. When we started down the trail we were dead last in the group – on purpose. We had us a pretty good little rodeo there for a few minutes as Reno and Ranger got used to the sounds and feel of the hard paniers. After about a quarter mile they began to settle down enough for me to handle them. Reno, scared of the paniers and experiencing packing for the first time, kept wanting to come up alongside me. I was afraid he would end up pushing Ranger and me off the trail and down the mountainside. After a few good whacks on the nose with his lead rope he finally recognized the wisdom in staying back and following behind.

The easy part of the trail

The easy part of the trail

The trail turned out to be an excellent training experience for my pack horse, however, had I known beforehand what we faced, I wouldn’t have packed him or ponied him along. We passed through willow thickets, standing rocks, narrow trails on cliff faces, river crossings, very steep ascents and descents, and even quicksand in the river bottom. By the time we finished our ride for the day, about 16 miles in and out, he had learned about walking around things, rather than trying to bull through everything. One thing is sure, he proved to be a very sound and level-headed horse. Even when he got “pinched” between a couple rocks, after trying to get through a couple times, he stood still while I unbuckled straps on one side, so I could lift the panier over a rock. As I did so, he calmly walked on forward to get through, then allowed me to re-rig the panier. I was very pleased with him.

Due to the fact that I had one hand on the reins controlling Ranger, and one hand on the lead rope handling Reno, I was unable to get more than just a few photos and no video at all. Sorry. I’ll get some next time.

All-in-all, it was a great ride and one I plan to do again.

Thinking about the big ride…

The upcoming ride has been much on my mind these past several weeks. Only three weeks left to get everything ready, and stuff is piling up.

My truck is just about back to premium condition. Still have one oil leak to get fixed. I’ll take it back in after next week, when I can spare it for a few days. Otherwise, it’s running well and I’m quite pleased. I’ll have four new tires put on it next week as well. I’ve put over $10,000 into it in the past year, most in the past month. I had the engine rebuilt, new injectors installed, new A/C system installed, new upgraded steering package, new tires, new parking brakes…sheesh!

Just about have the truck and trailer back into shape

Just about have the truck and trailer back into shape

Additionally, I have blown four rear tires on my trailer in the past year, two of them brand new tires. I decided this week to take it in to a shop and have it checked out. Turns out the rear axle is bent.  Not enough to cause abnormal tire wear, but enough to overheat the tires when loaded heavily. They’re replacing it today with torsion half-axles. That should fix the tire issue. Blowing a tire with a fully loaded trailer while driving down the freeway at 70+ miles per hour is a melancholy situation. Another $1700 spent, but at least I won’t be having to buy tires every other time I load up and haul.

Reno, in training with our hard paniers

Reno, in training with our hard paniers

I’ve only had to spend about $1500 this year for gear, though, which has helped. Most of my gear was purchased last year. As you have probably read in my past posts, this year we decided to try a set of hard paniers, so I bought a set of bear-resistant paniers from Outfitter Supply. That was a major purchase. Outside that most of my purchases were smaller items that needed replacing from last year’s ride.

I still need to buy our food and horse feed. I’m talking to a couple places regarding sponsorships or at least a discount on these items. I can use all the help I can get.

Time is flying by. I’m already into scramble mode. May 16, my departure date from Utah, is coming up fast!

Stay Tuned for more!



Me, Ranger, and Reno, south of Moab, Utah

Thirty days until I head south to AZ to start the second leg…

I’m sitting here at midnight and can’t seem to get my mind to slow down. I have a thousand thoughts running through my head about the upcoming adventure. There’s a lot to be done in the next thirty days.

Today I received the last piece of horse gear I’m going to buy for the trip. I bought, through Outfitter Supply, a Five Star 1″ wool felt saddle pad with a spine relief cut-out. I like the look of it and have high hopes it will save my Fox Trotter’s back when he starts losing weight during the trip. On the first leg last year, both my Fox Trotters lost weight in the latter part of the trip, causing their spine to contact the underside of the saddle. They both got a sore spot that turned to a calcium deposit from pressure on their spine from the saddle cantle area late in the trip. Hopefully, this saddle pad with the spine relief will alleviate that problem.

I have had a pretty tough schedule this past month, earning money to finance the trip and trying to get in some good rides to start “legging-up” my horses, as well as getting my truck and trailer into road-worthy shape. On the way home from my trip with Dad to Moab a few weeks ago, I blew the engine in my truck. I just got it back this evening with a rebuilt engine, new A/C system, and new injectors. Hopefully it’s ready to go. I actually got it back over a week ago, but it had an oil leak, then on the way home from the trip to Swinging Bridge last week the radiator fan stopped working and I nearly ruined my new engine. I took it back to my mechanic, who got everything squared away and I got it back this evening, hopefully for good.

In the next month I will need to accomplish the following, while keeping up my work and other duties as well:

  • Buy 4 new tires for my pickup
  • Get horses shod
  • Get health inspections on the horses for their travel to Arizona
  • Pay ahead on my DeLorme Explorer account (my GPS unit)
  • Contact news outlets regarding our pack trip
  • Purchase horse and people feed for the trip
  • Get the trailer brakes adjusted and bearings repacked and check front axle
  • Put pockets on Dad’s chinks
  • Make a rifle scabbard
  • Finish documenting the first leg of the trip on the blog!!!
  • Replace latigo and billets on my saddle
  • Replace saddle string on my saddle
  • Check on my hotel reservations in Panguitch
  • Get our trip support arranged arranged for

Yep. Lots to get done.

I’m going to do my best to get the rest of last year’s ride fully documented on the blog before we start the second leg on May 23 this year, so stay tuned.

Received a new gadget for the pack trip today…

A couple weeks ago, I was searching the Internet for any new developments with regard to electricity production that would work for our pack trip. As you might recall, I bought two solar panels for the trip last year, which worked very well, except on days in which we were riding in the trees and when there was significant cloud cover. There were a few days in which all my battery-powered tools were useless. I missed getting some pretty good photos because of that. Also, if batteries were discharged at the end of the day, the appliance was useless until the next time I could get sunlight to charge with.

So, I was looking for some way to charge things at night, or in the evening. I came across this handy little portable generator that uses heat from a camp stove burner to generate enough electricity to charge one item fairly quickly.

Mini O, by Ajirangi

Mini O, by Ajirangi

It is called the Mini O, made by Ajirangi, Inc. I purchased mine through Amazon and it shipped from Korea, where it is manufactured. I found the price to be very reasonable price at $85.00 (compare to a regular laptop plug-in charger from Apple for $80). Shipping was a very reasonable $5.49, and the item arrived in good condition, very well packed, in about two weeks (received it today).

The specifications indicate 5W, 5V/1Amp (max), which should charge a cell phone or my GPS unit in a reasonable amount of time to at least a functional level. I am curious as to just how long it will take to charge my iphone 6 from dead to 100%. It will certainly take some propane. I don’t expect to have to use this thing every night, but it will certainly be handy for those few nights when we really need it.

Siliconized rubber upper

Siliconized rubber upper

The unit has a machined aluminum base with a collapsible upper body of heat resistant siliconized rubber. The upper body is made to extend upward, forming a container into which water is placed. The unit is then placed on a propane burner. As the water heats, electricity is generated and transferred to the electronic device to be charged via a USB cable.

Compact, about the size of a good hamburger

Compact, about the size of a good hamburger

When not in service, the unit folds compactly into a size comparable to a decent hamburger. A durable, padded vinyl case with a zipper closure is included.

As an unexpected and unadvertised bonus, I received an LED lamp that can run off the charger. The lamp has its own cord and switch, as well as a small hanger, so that it can be hung from a tent pole or hung from a tree branch…as long as it is a pretty low branch. The cord is only about five feet long.

5V LED lamp included

5V LED lamp included

I looked at several other designs that use similar technology, such as one unit that uses a metal tongue that extends into a flame or over a burner and can be used while cooking on the burner. However the other units were obviously made for backpackers, very lightweight, and I was concerned about its durability when packed and unpacked daily into/out of paniers among other gear on a long horse pack trip. The fact that the Mini O has no framework or moving parts, and the fact that it packs away into a very compact and tough container, won me over. It just looks like it could survive a long horse pack trip.

We’ll see how it works in the field in the next several weeks. I’ll give a full report on it then.

Day Five!

As we left it last week, Dad and I had made camp on a small knoll about two miles west of Texas Canyon Road, Chiricahua National Monument, Arizona, on the fourth night of the first leg of our Mexico-to-Canada horse pack trip.

The fifth day began as all the others did, with us waking up about 5:15am. We rolled out of bed, took care of our morning oblations, fed the horses, and Dad started cooking while I started breaking camp.  As usual, I set my solar panels up to catch as much sun as possible while we packed up for departure, in order to have battery for the cameras and GPS.

We had all the horses loaded up and ready to move by 9:00. As Dad was mounting Jimbo, he lost his balance and fell pretty hard. He shook it off and I held Jimbo while he got in the saddle. Dad got lined out with his pack animals and I went to bridle and mount Ranger. I got up into the saddle and was trying to get Lizzy and “that stupid mare” lined out when I just happened to notice something on the ground underfoot of my horses. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a smart-phone. I jumped off and picked it up, amazed that the horses hadn’t stepped on it. Of course, it was Dad’s phone, which had slipped out of his pocket when he went down. It was lucky I found it, and luckier that it hadn’t been smashed by a horse’s hoof. It was just another lucky break for us…or maybe it was another one of those little helps from above. We had a number of those kinds of things happen for us.

Scenery along Rucker Canyon Road

Scenery along Rucker Canyon Road

We were on the trail by 9:15am. We had a short uphill to climb, but after that we were moving pretty much downhill toward Texas Canyon Road. We hit the road before noon and headed north toward the North Fork of Rucker Canyon, following the dirt road.

Shortly after we hit Texas Canyon Road, we had our first near tragic wreck of the trip.

I had dismounted to open a gate to bypass a cattle guard. Before dismounting, I tied Lizzy’s lead rope to my saddle horn with a clove hitch, so I could lead Ranger through the gate with the pack horses following. This was a metal gate, rather than a barbed wire “gap”, like we normally ran into. I unchained the gate and opened it toward us, rather than away, without thinking. I swung it wide, then led Ranger through. As I led him through the gate, it swung back and caught Lizzy at the shoulder, right in front of her pack saddle, pinching her between the gate and gate post. Ranger, then, feeling the tug behind him, began pulling hard against the pressure. I finally saw what was happening and had started to pull Ranger back, when Lizzy began pulling back as well. Between the two of us pulling, Ranger’s front end came off the ground and he fell sideways to his left, toward the cattle guard. When he fell, his front left foreleg went into the cattle guard to above the knee, with his right front folded under him.

Scrape on Ranger's front left from the cattle guard

Scrape on Ranger’s front left from the cattle guard

I was still pulling back on Ranger’s lead rope, now from directly behind him, while Lizzy, still pinched in the gate, pulled from his left side. I held tight, fearing that if the lead rope, or saddle horn, or cincha, or anything else, were to break, Ranger would lunge forward and end up with all four legs into the cattle guard.

Suddenly, with both Lizzy and me pulling and Ranger struggling, he again started coming over backward, causing his left front leg to pull straight up and out of the cattle guard. Rather than falling over backward, though, he stood up on his hind legs and walked backward, relieving the pressure on Lizzy.

Then, as suddenly as it all started, it was over.

After calming the horses, I checked Ranger over carefully, and found he had scraped some hide off his front left foreleg, but there were no serious injuries. He could easily have broken his leg. Lizzy was uninjured.

Once again, thank you, Lord.

Lesson learned: Always open gates away from you!

Eating Beanie-Weenies with a wooden spoon

Eating Beanie-Weenies with a wooden spoon

Somewhere along the road, we stopped to give the horses a rest and took our lunch. Our usual lunch was beef jerky and a Cliff Bar, but on this day we had Beanie-weenies. With our eating utensils neatly packed away on a pack horse, we took the opportunity to engage in one of our very own Henrie family traditions: we made wooden spoons and ate our beanie-weenies with them. That tradition dates back to my very first mountain trail ride with Dad, while I was in high school. My brother and I were on a hunt trip with Dad in the Blue Wilderness Area in Arizona. We were riding our horses up out of the Blue on the Red Hills Trail (the trail, not the road). When we stopped for lunch, we had a can of Van Camp’s Pork and Beans, but nothing to eat it with. Dad used his pocket knife to open the can, then carved us a wooden spoon. Thus began the tradition. No Henrie can truly say he’s been wilderness camping until he/she has eaten beans with a hand-carved wooden spoon.

We arrived at our day’s destination about 3:00pm, after 13.6 miles, making exactly 50 miles from our starting point five days earlier. We picked out a campsite with plenty of grass and picketed the horses. There was a small corral in which we allowed Jimbo and Honey to graze. We set up our camp and relaxed awhile before our new riding companions arrived.

Camp at North Fork of Rucker Canyon

Camp at North Fork of Rucker Canyon

Josh Jensen and Al Smith arrived just an hour or so later with their mules. They were both pretty excited to be able to participate with us on this part of the ride.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, several months before, during the planning of our route, I advertised that anybody who wanted to ride with us for a portion of the trip was welcome to join us. Joshua answered the call and we began planning out the route through the Chiricahuas together. Lucky for us he and Al came along. Joshua happens to be a member of the US Border Patrol Mounted Patrol for the Safford District. Al Smith is his good friend, whom we invited to join us as well. Between the two of them, they know the trails in the Chiricahuas. Some of those trails have suffered from several major fires in recent years. Many of the trails are impassable, and some have disappeared entirely. Without the help of Joshua and Al, we never would have found our way through those mountains. Joshua was also able to track any USBP activities in the area and steer us clear of any drug trafficking and illegal alien groups passing through the area.

Additionally, with Joshua’s help, we were able to stage horse feed resupply points, without which we would have been helpless, as there was precious little grass in the Arizona desert areas we passed through between the border and Safford. We had left twelve bags of feed at Joshua’s house in Safford before the trip, which made for three feed resupply stops. We fed the last of the feed we had packed from the US/Mexico border that evening and the following morning. Joshua brought eight bags of feed in his truck. The plan was for us to load four bags to get us through the mountains. We would get the remaining four bags when we got to his truck as we emerged from the mountains, where he and Al were to leave us. We would resupply again at his house in Safford when we arrived there, packing out the last of the feed, which would get us into the higher elevations, where we expected to find sufficient grazing for the horses.

Joshua brought us something else that evening. As a “thank you” for us letting him and Al join us for the ride, he cooked up T-bone steaks, potatoes and cheese, and fetuchini, with brownies for desert. All cooked over an open fire (except the brownies), it was fabulous. Much better than the dehydrated meals we had been living on.

My journal for the day makes a couple comments I thought I would provide in their entirety:

[Begin journal comment]

As of today we have made 50 miles exactly.

Dad rode Jimbo today. Jimbo got a little excited a couple times, but Dad rode him out and after that Jimbo did great. He’s a good horse. Strong, sound, not a mean bone in him, and sure-footed. He’s doing better with his skittishness every day.



Ranger and Lizzy did well today. I sure enjoy Ranger. He and I are really bonding. I enjoy riding Lizzy, but Ranger is starting to act like I’m his herd leader. Even when he gets excited and runs off, he always returns and comes to me. I think he and I are going to enjoy a lot of miles together.

Daisy has a saddle sore coming up. We plan to pony her bareback for the next several days. We’ll leave her pack saddle in Joshua’s trailer and he’ll get it back to us on our rest day, Sunday.

[End journal comment]

Daisy's saddle sore starting

Daisy’s saddle sore starting

That evening, while tending the horses, I noticed that Daisy was developing a saddle sore high on her withers. We decided to let her go bareback for several days to let it heal up before it got worse. Due to the location of the sore, it was at this point that we began to think we were over-padding our pack saddles, which may have been what caused Daisy’s saddle sore. The following day we stopped using the extra saddle pad under my Phillips Formfitter pack saddles and happily discovered that our problems of the packsaddles moving and slipping on the horses ceased completely. After that day I don’t believe we ever had to stop to adjust another pack saddle for the rest of the trip.

Lesson learned: Don’t over-pad the Phillips Formfitter pack saddles. Our 3/4″ wool felt and canvas pack saddle pads was sufficient protection and using only those kept our packsaddles from moving around on the horse’s back.

Here are a couple short videos from Day Five I made on Texas Canyon Road.

Day six coming up next. Stay tuned.


Day Four

To review a bit from my last entry about the first leg of our Mexico-to-Canada horse pack trip last year, we left off with the end of Day Three and Dad and I camped in Half Moon Valley, just outside the Chiricahua National Monument.

The XPG Ultralight measures 20"X72"

The XPG Ultralight measures 20″X72″

After a good night’s rest, the cloudy weather having cleared up, we arose early. That was the first night we had a chance to try out our Cabela’s XPG Ultralight Extreme Performance Gear air mattresses under actual pack trip conditions. I have to say, they performed quite well and gave us a decent night’s sleep throughout the trip.  Still, they aren’t “Grandma’s Feather Bed”.  As we were sleeping out under the stars most nights, the daylight would wake us pretty early and there just wasn’t much sense or enticement for laying in bed any longer.

As became our habit, we fed the horses first-thing, then Dad started breakfast. Our cooking was done on a propane single-burner Coleman pack stove. This proved to be perfect for our needs and will be what we take for the remainder of our adventure. It is a very simple device, compact, and almost indestructible. We would heat water, in an aluminum pot, dump in the ingredients, let simmer until fully hydrated, then put on water for drinks while we began to eat. Didn’t take long to have a meal ready, eaten, and done with.

We had quite the menu. We had purchased a box of dehydrated home food storage meals from Walmart. The food was all self-contained in #10 cans, purported to be about 75 meals, which we broke up into separate freezer bags, so as to be able to pack it more easily.  We added some instant oatmeal and a couple dehydrated meals we had left over from previous trips, and the meal package included a couple luxury items, such as freeze-dried beef and strawberries.  So, our meal choices appeared, at first blush, to be quite varied and ample. However, we went through the varied part pretty quickly and ended up with three main meals: dehydrated vegetable stew, creamed corn, and hash browns and powdered eggs…or any mixture of these items to try to break up the monotony a bit. Our lunches were generally a bit of beef jerky and a Cliff bar. By the time we finished the trip, we had each lost about 20 pounds and were starved for some real food.

Breakfast on this day consisted of powdered eggs and hash browns, with a little freeze-dried beef pieces tossed in, with some hot chocolate and/or hot apple cider to drink. It wasn’t bad for a camp breakfast.

Breaking camp on Day Four

Breaking camp on Day Four

While Dad did the cooking, I set out my solar panels to charge batteries, started gathering up our gear, and packing manties. As I detailed in another post, this was a tedious and work-intensive operation. Every morning we had to sort our gear into about eight different piles, four for the manties, and four for the paniers. The paniers proved to be much easier, because we could actually store most of the gear in the paniers, so stuff we used during camp time was generally placed back in the same panier after we were done with it, so packing the paniers was a matter of putting the last several items in them. However, with the manties, we used the tarps for ground sheets and bed covers, so every evening the manties were completely undone, had to be reconfigured for balance, and repacked every morning.

Once they were packed, we used a pack scale to make sure they were within a couple pounds of each other. If they weren’t, we would have to unpack two of them to reconfigure them to proper weight, then do it again. Even though I became pretty good at it during the trip, and got faster at it, it was never something I looked forward to. Besides being time and effort consuming, I found tying up the manties really wore on my bare hands. The first few days my hands ached at night to the point I had a hard time going to sleep. After a week I began to develop calluses and tougher skin and it didn’t bother me so bad.

Ranger, my 16-hand Missouri Fox Trotter

Ranger, my 16-hand Missouri Fox Trotter

JImbo, my "free" mustang.

JImbo, my “free” mustang.

At some point during the packing, I stopped for breakfast, then continued packing. By the time I got the manties ready, Dad had the paniers packed and we got the pack animals loaded, the packs tied on and covered, and got started saddling the saddle horses. On this day I rode my big Fox Trotter paint, Ranger. Dad rode our mustang, Jimbo. We got out of camp and on our way about 9:15am, which was about average for us.

Several miles up the trail, we came to a point at which the map showed that Half Moon Valley trail turned almost directly westerly for a couple miles, then back northeast to join with another trail that then ran northeast for a ways to join Texas Canyon Road. We could see by the GPS and USGS maps that we could also turn north up High Lonesome canyon and go cross-country for about 1.5-2 miles and join another trail that would take us to Texas Canyon road, saving us about 4-5 miles. At four miles per hour average speed, you can see the shorter route made sense. Turned out to be a rough couple of miles. At the end of this post are links to three videos I shot during that short bushwhacking session. They are long and unedited, but shows the country we went through.

During this trip there were several things that happened that I firmly believe were providential. Dad and I both got the feeling, starting right with our planning and preparations, that we had help from the “other side” on a number of occasions. We seemed to have at least one such occurrence everyday of the trip. Being religious ourselves, it was easy to believe that we had a few of our forefathers riding along with us, cheering and helping us along the way. It was almost as if the Good Lord was rooting for us, two of the least of his children, trying to connect to our pioneer past. On this particular day, two of those things happened.

Filling canteens in the creek at High Lonesome Canyon

Filling canteens in the creek at High Lonesome Canyon

Filling canteens with a pump filter

Filling canteens with a pump filter

As we arrived at the cutoff we had decided to take up High Lonesome canyon, we found a clear, running stream there and took the opportunity to fill our canteens. We used Dad’s pump filter, which is a pretty slow operation for four two-quart canteens. While we were pumping water, I allowed Ranger, my 16-hand paint Fox Trotter, who was my saddle horse for the day, to wander and graze, along with Honey the mule. The rest of the stock we tied. Ranger, being the wanderer he is, tried to cross under the neck and leadrope of Dad’s little gelding, who was a pack horse for the day. They got tangled up and began to struggle. The branch Little Black was tied to broke, spooking both horses, and off they went, galloping over the hills in the distance. I could see all sorts of stuff trailing along behind Ranger and I was already thinking of all my expensive gear in his saddle bags and on his saddle, including my new binocs, my GoPro camera, my solar panels, an axe, camp saw… I just shook my head. Luckily, our spooky mustang, Jimbo, was Dad’s saddle horse for the day, and was tied (we had learned at least that much). I grabbed him up, jumped into the saddle and headed off to see if I could find the horses, which were long out of sight.

I hadn’t gone more than 50 yards, when I heard Ranger whinnie. I watched for a minute and located both Black and Honey, standing together several hundred yards up a hillside, in a little hollow. About the time I located them, I saw Ranger coming out of the trees heading back toward me. He approached at a hard trot, with my axe dragging behind, banging between his rear legs. I could only cringe as I envisioned the damage to his legs.

Ranger trotted up to me with a half-panicked expression (if horses really have those) on his mug that said, “Help me! I’m hung up!” I dismounted from Jimbo and caught Ranger’s lead rope and prepared for what I would find. I was astonished to find that when Ranger and Black got tangled up and started struggling, my axe, which had been hung on the saddle through a two-inch brass ring tied into the front saddle string, had gotten snagged in Black’s pack rigging. When Ranger tore loose, the saddle string broke, dropping the axe, which then became tangled in the bridle, which was hanging on the saddle horn. The bridle came loose, but remained suspended from the horn by the reins. The reins were long enough that the axe, tangled in the bridle, dragged the ground right between his hind legs. With all Ranger’s galloping around in sheer panic, the axe remained hung up in the bridle, banging around between Ranger’s hind legs, and the reins remained intact. The heavy leather axe cover had remained in place all that time and the rubber handle prevented any bruises or cuts to Ranger’s legs. My saddle bags were still in place, as was my camera and solar panels, which were tied behind the saddle.  In the end, the only item I lost from Ranger’s panicked breakaway was half of a saddle string. Even the brass ring was still on the axe. What a relief. After leading him back to where Dad was finishing up with the canteens, I went after Black and Honey. They waited patiently for me and came without a problem. I checked them over and it appeared we had lost nothing from their packs.

Thank you, Lord.

It wasn’t until that night that I discovered my heavy Carhart coat, that was stashed in a panier on Honey, was missing. Oh well. I’m sure it will be well received and used by whoever finds it. Interestingly, or maybe providentially, at a camp a couple days later, we found an insulated vest someone had left, which got me through some pretty cold mornings and evenings as we crossed through the Chiricahuas.

The second thing for which I credit providential intervention happened while we were traversing from Half Moon Valley trail up through High Lonesome canyon. I’ll let the videos speak for themselves, as far as describing the country. Although one cannot get the true perspective of the angles and steepness of the hillsides we were traversing, at least you can see the country. I decided to try my chest mount for the GoPro camera for the first time. I had no opportunity to try it previous to that point, so I had no idea how it would turn out. Turned out I mounted the camera improperly and it was nearly disastrous for me.

After passing through some extremely difficult and steep terrain for over a mile, we stopped to rest the animals. I looked down to turn off my camera and it wasn’t there. Here we were in the first week of our Mexico-to-Canada horse pack trip and I had lost our video camera, in which I had invested over $1,000. I can’t express how upset I was with myself. As I thought back over the trail, I quickly realized that my chance of going back over our trail and finding it was about one-in-a-million. I couldn’t figure out, for the life of me, how the camera had come off the mount. I was pretty down-in-the-mouth, as they say.

Heading toward Texas Canyon Road after passing through High Lonesome

Heading toward Texas Canyon Road after passing through High Lonesome

I looked all around myself, the saddle, and the surrounding area, then dismounted. I was standing my my horse telling Dad I had lost the camera, when I heard a “plop”. I looked down and there was the camera at my feet. How it got there I did not know, but I sent up a prayer of gratitude right then. After we finished the ride and I had a chance to actually view the video recording, I discovered what had happened. I had improperly installed the camera on the chest mount, missing the hole with the mounting bolt, so that the camera was only held in the mount by friction. Just before we stopped for rest, the camera hit the saddle horn, as I leaned under a branch while going uphill. The camera fell off the mount and ended up falling between my canteen and the horse, where it became lodged, and hidden, until I dismounted and moved the canteen. You will see all that happen in the videos.

Thank you, Lord.

We only made 9.4 miles that day, having passed through some very tough terrain and steep elevation changes, as we made our way toward Texas Canyon Road.  The sun was setting when we picked out a decent campsite on a small knoll, about two or three miles west of Texas Canyon Road. We passed a pond about a quarter-mile before stopping, so the horses were well-watered. The fourth video below is one I made at that campsite as we cared for the horses and made camp (it was posted on a previous blog post as well). It was a very long and tough day for us, despite the low mileage recorded for the day.

We enjoyed a restful evening under the stars on a clear, cold night on a small knoll in the middle of nowhere. Ahhh! That’s what it’s all about!

Stay tuned for Day 5 and next week.

Some questions from a buddy…

I recently received an email from a friend who posed several questions to me about our pack trip gear and some other things. As I typed out my responses I realized this information might be useful to others. I decided to post it as a blog post (he requested his name not be used). I reconfigured the email to take less space here on the blog.

On 01/25/2016 4:46 pm, [my friend] wrote:


 Your blogs are great and I enjoy every one — many thanks. Kinda curious about your mustang plan, whether you’re calling upon WWMR in Loa or whether there’s time for you to buy one from the feds and soft break. That sounds tough given your 7/4 deadline, but I kind of suspect you’d prefer to DIY.

 I’ve been following your gear notes carefully. Here’s something that might interest you: Cavalry Bed Rolls by Ellis Canvas Tents out of Durango, CO.

Their concept looks good, but I think the system can be simplified and improved. First, the foam mattress adds unnecessary bulk. A Therm-A-Rest offers as much or more padding but weighs less and goes flatter. Second, it would pair nicely with a simple wool surplus military blanket with sheet. This combo would roll up smaller than the foam and sleeping bag getup, and sleep comfy, too. Throw it open in the morning to air out while you’re eating and packing, then zip, roll as a unit, and lash on. Good for a variety of climates right down to cold.

Given any thought to your brand for your Eager acres/ranch?

[end of email]

Thanks for the email and the compliments on the blog posts. I’ll try to post at least one per week until I get through the “pack trip chronicles” and hope I can keep people interested.

I’ll answer your questions in order.

I made the decision last year that at least one of my Missouri Fox Trotters was not going to make the rest of the trip. My mare, Lizzy, got a lot of rub sores from the pack saddle rigging, due to her long-strided, swinging walk. Additionally, both my Fox Trotters began to lose significant weight on their backs toward the end of the trip, making their already prominent spines stand out even more, which caused both to get sore-backed and raised a calcium deposit on their backs. You can see it in the photo gallery below on Ranger.

 The only horse that came out of the first leg of the trip unscathed was Jimbo, my mustang.

Ranger, my "free" mustang.

Ranger, my “free” mustang.

That being the case, I decided that I would look around for mustangs to replace my Fox Trotters. At length I decided to take Ranger with us on the second leg of the trip and just replace Lizzy. So, I’m looking for one mustang. I have spoken with West Taylor, who is helping me watch for a good one. 

Yes, I would prefer to be able to pick one out from the BLM pens and break and train it myself, but I just don’t have the time to do it. Not only that, but I just don’t bounce as well as I used to, so I’m not excited about having to break a bucker at this time in my life. Training is another matter. I can do that…if I have time. There are plenty around that have been saddle broke and are being sold cheap (in fact, Jimbo was given to us free) by folks who thought they could handle a green mustang, but have since changed their minds, so I’m watching for a good one. Jimbo turned out not only to come to us without price, but in turn, has turned out to be priceless to us. He’s a good, solid, reliable horse. That’s just what I need when we start down into the Grand Canyon.

What I can’t afford is to have an unpredictable horse that might, at some unsuspecting moment, buck either myself or my dad off. There is simply no leeway for that. So, that’s why I have been talking to West Taylor. I don’t have time to be breaking a new mustang and he’s pretty good at what he does, exceptional, in fact.

So, we’ll see what happens. Fact is, I’m short one horse right now.

Your suggestions for the gear are all good. Those bedrolls do seem very convenient. We have looked at them, but at length decided to go the way we’ve always done. That is simply laying out a ground sheet, tossing our bedrolls on top, and using a canvas tarp over top of the beds. Here’s why: We use one of the canvas tarps that go over our horse’s packs as a ground sheet and another to cover us. The canvas is waterproof when in contact with water, but breathes, which keeps our sleeping bags dry (a plastic tarp causes moisture to gather from your own body moisture and makes a wet sleeping bag). We use air mattresses that create almost no bulk when packed and yet allow us to sleep much more comfortably than the roll-up foam mattresses. Foam is a better insulator than air, but our air mattresses are so thin that it’s not an issue.

Additionally, we don’t have to have a canvas bedroll that would just be one more piece of canvas to pack around, adding extra bulk and weight. We try to make as many gear items do at least double-duty as possible. The “cowboy bedroll” as they are called, can only do one thing, protect your bedding.

Our beds, airing out in the morning.

Our beds, airing out in the morning.

For those who are wondering, the canvas we use for our pack covers and bed ground and top sheets are 15-20 oz tight-weave canvas that has been treated with a waterproofer. The brown canvas tarps sold by Tractor Supply are excellent for this use. They breathe when dry, but when dampened, as with dew or rain, the weave tightens and becomes waterproof, but still breathes. It can wick water through if something is touching it, but that’s normally not a big issue. We have found that once the weave tightens up, the canvas stiffens and we can simply kick up under it and it will form sort of a dome over our sleeping bags, running the water off and keeping us dry. We just have to make sure the top sheet is wider than the ground sheet, so that water running off the top sheet runs onto the ground and not onto the ground sheet and under our beds. If we are expecting rain we also normally put up a plastic rainfly to protect us from the bulk of the rain water. This system has served us very well for many years. We have always preferred sleeping out, rather than in a tent.

As for the idea of using the cowboy bedroll with a simple wool army blanket and a sheet, that would be fine for summer at lower-to-mid elevations, but I found out last year that it can get mighty cold at 9,000+ feet, even in mid-summer. While we realize that the old cowboys often did with a lot less than that, you can bet every one of them would have jumped at the chance to trade their wool blanket for my sleeping bag on a cold night! I took my light summer bag last year to save on bulk and nearly froze when we were at elevation in the Chiricahuas. One night our canteens froze before we went to bed and I was nearly froze solid before morning! I Had to trade out my light bag for my heavy bag once we got to Dick’s place on the Blue River. I was much more comfortable after that.

WTR logo

WTR logo

Last question was about a brand for my place in Eagar, AZ. Yes, been thinking about it. My daughter Amy designed one a while back. I still haven’t decided. She designed a pretty nice logo, as well, which I plan to put on my horse trailer as soon as I get time/money to refurbish it. She also made me a few T-shirt transfers with the logo on it. I guess I should make a few T-shirts for the trip!

Thanks for your questions. Maybe this information will help someone else along the way in their packing experience.

Boss Ranch, heading toward Half Moon Valley

Days Two and Three

For the next installment of our travel log of the first leg of our Mexico-to-Canada trip, I’ll cover days two and three. We had originally planned to take rest days on Sundays and one weekday. As things turned out, we were behind schedule from the start, so we eliminated the weekday rest, but our Sundays were spent in rest, relaxation, and thanksgiving.

This first Sunday of our trip was particularly restful, not only for us, but for Clancy and the horses as well. It allowed us all to recoup our strength and recover from muscle soreness of the first day’s exertions. We hadn’t intended to stay Sunday at the Bar-M Ranch, but when we woke up on Sunday morning, it was raining outside. We were glad for the blessing of having been able to spend a restful night in beds in the Bar-M bunkhouse.

Shortly after Dad and I got out of bed, Jesus dropped by with breakfast for us, compliments of Araceli. It just doesn’t get any better than that for a 3,000-mile horse pack trip! We asked Jesus if we could stay over another night. He acted like he was surprised we would even ask and replied that of course we could stay.

Dad relaxing at the Bar-M

Dad relaxing at the Bar-M

Dad and I spent the day just relaxing. We held a short religious service, to thank the Lord for having blessed us to be able to make this trip as father and son, and to ask for his continued help and blessing. Clancy spent most of his day just laying at my feet. He was pretty sore and tired from yesterday’s mileage. The pads on his feet weren’t as tough as they might be, since most of his life prior to the trip had been spent in places with grass and mud, rather than rocks and cactus.

We learned from Jesus that the ranch was owned by a family named Keifer or Cafer. It comprises over 40 sections of deeded land. The family also owns several other ranches in Arizona and New Mexico. We were appreciative of the generosity of the ranch in allowing us to cross their land, using their facilities, and staying in their bunkhouse. This stop, after our first day of the trip, was truly a blessing to us. It made a lot of difference to us going forward. Without that day of rest, I’m not sure Clancy would have been able to make the rest of the trip. The generosity and warmth shown us by Araceli and Jesus was truly a breath of fresh air in our day and age, here in the United States.

Bar-M Ranch, northeast of Douglas, AZ

Bar-M Ranch, northeast of Douglas, AZ

By the end of the day, the weather cleared up. The horses looked good and Clancy had recovered and didn’t appear to be sore anymore. That evening Jesus dropped by and brought some cookies for us. He passed on Araceli’s goodbyes and told us he and she both would be leaving early in the morning. Araceli had to head back into Douglas for work and he would be heading to another ranch to look after about 800 yearling calves that required some work. We said our goodbyes and settled-in for another restful evening.

The following is from my journal for Day Three (Monday) of our trip. I was already starting to lose track of time, as my journal has the date as Tuesday, April 13. I wrote the entry on the morning of Tuesday, April 14, 2015:

04/13/15   Tuesday   Half Moon Valley, Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona

Leaving the Bar-M ranch

Leaving the Bar-M ranch

We made 16.5 miles yesterday. No major mishaps. Horses are getting settled-in and becoming trail-wise. We passed through some tough country with the ground covered with volcanic rock and thickets of mesquite and catclaw. We were very glad to have good, heavy chaps.

We made the 4-5 miles to highway 80 around 2pm and were trying to find our way through the fence, when Jesus drove by on his way back to the Bar-M. He stopped and talked a bit and let us know we had missed the only open (unlocked) gate for several miles (actually we had hit the fence line probably a quarter mile east of the gate and turned the wrong direction. He told us there was no other open gate heading west for many miles). We decided to lower the fence where we were and travel along the highway shoulder to Rucker Canyon Road. It was providential that Jesus met us there, because farther along, the fence had been rebuilt and we would have had a tough time with it. [Jesus had another ranch hand with him and they helped us lower the fence and stood on the wires while we got the horses across.

Traveling alongside I-80, just west of Boss Ranch Road

Traveling alongside I-80, just west of Boss Ranch Road

At that point the fence was quite old and the wires were loose. We simply unclipped the ties with our fence tools, lowered the wires, had Jesus and his hand stand on the wires while we crossed, then retied the fence wires to the posts, leaving it in better condition than before. About a half mile further on, the fence had been newly rebuilt and the wires were “high and tight” and would have been nearly impossible for us to cross it. We passed several gates along the way, but they were all we padlocked.]

We crossed the fence, said our goodbyes to Jesus and headed on. A bit later we had to re-set the pack saddle on Daisy. While doing that, Jimbo spooked and ran off, with Ranger tied in tow, and Daisy and Lizzy following (we were left standing by the fence with Black and Honey). It looked bad for us, but they stopped about 100 yards away and [when I approached them] Ranger came to me. I got them all caught up and we walked back to where Dad was. We got everything settled and went on. That was the only mishap we had yesterday.

Jimbo is getting more confident and trusting and less skittish every day. He’s going to be a great trail horse.

Joel Tanner and Cody Winn, USBP Agents at Boss Ranch Road

Joel Tanner and Cody Winn, USBP Agents at Boss Ranch Road

A couple miles along, we came upon Boss Ranch Road. We found an unlocked gate there, so we decided to cross teh highway. It was a good decision. Just after we closed the gate, two USBP agents, pulling a horse trailer, stopped to talk. One was Joel Tanner, whom we met at the border (he was one of the two who stopped by our camp on Day One), and the other was Cody Winn. Cody was able to give us some instruction on the best trail for us to get up into Rucker Canyon. We took his advice and ended up in Half Moon Valley to camp.

We passed Boss Ranch and got permission to cross his range. He wasn’t happy about it at first, but warmed up to us after a few minutes (he was concerned about our stock transmitting disease to his stock. After I assured him we had current health certificates and were not from the area, he relaxed a bit and gave us permission to pass).

Clancy kept up well and showed no foot soreness. I put booties on him as we left the ranch, but they seemed to bother him, so I removed them. Turned out he never needed them. Once we got camp set up and laid our beds out, Clancy settled down right between us and never moved again the rest of the night.

Camp at Half Moon Valley

Camp at Half Moon Valley

Dad slept like a log, but I had a lump right under my back that made it hard to sleep. I decided that I’ll take my heavier sleeping bag once we get to Eagar. I didn’t get cold, but cool enough to keep me awake at times.

All the horses are well. No sore feet, no sore backs. Our gear is performing well. The DeLorme Explorer is posting to our website as it should.

My Phillips Formfitter pack saddles are doing well, but you really have to make sure the manties are packed well and are exactly the same weight and loaded exactly the same way, or the saddle will turn. We had to re-set Daisy’s saddle, packed with 100 pounds of feed each side, four times yesterday. It turned on her three times. Luckily, she was calm and did not react. We also had to re-set Ranger’s, packed with 50 pounds of feed each side twice, but his didn’t turn, just started leaning. I don’t think that would be such a problem if the saddle bars were fixed, rather than able to swivel. However, the value is in that they can adjust to the horse’s back – so they fit about any conformation – and they move as the horse moves. We have had no sore backs even with heavy loads. (Note: we found later that the Phillips Formfitter saddles were turning due to the extra saddle pad we had put under them. Once we removed the extra pad, they stopped moving on the horses’ back. The problem was not the saddles, but that we had over-padded them.)

My solar panels set out to charge my iphone

My solar panels set out to charge my iphone

The GoalZero solar chargers work well. We have been setting them up to charge in the mornings. I have been afraid to mount them on the pack horses for fear of losing or breaking them (our original thought was to mount them on top of the packs on the pack horses, so that they were charging our gear throughout the day, but we had been passing through some pretty dense thickets and it seemed unwise to try it).

I have been using the GoPro Hero 4 Silver camera to record portions of our ride, but have only used the hand-held extension (selfy staff) as a mount. I don’t see the value in mounting it on my head or chest, because we wouldn’t get anything but what’s ahead of me and nothing of ourselves or pack train. I have resisted the temptation to mount it on a pack saddle for the same reason as the solar panels. maybe later on, when we are better settled on the trail.

Had some cell coverage yesterday. Joshua [Jensen] said he and Al [Smith] will meet us Wednesday, rather than Tuesday, so he can get better prepared. That will give us a rest day tomorrow. Today I think we will only need to make about ten miles or less, so it shouldn’t be a tough day. Hope not, anyway.

Day Four coming up.

(End of journal entry)

Again, I had lost track of the days. This was written on the morning of Tuesday, April 14. Joshua and Al met us in Rucker Canyon the following evening.

Just for interest, those of you who are readers of Louis L’Amour western novels (as my dad and I are) will recognize some of the names of places we passed through during this portion of the trip from the novel, High Lonesome. We camped in Half Moon Valley on Monday night and passed through High Lonesome Canyon the following day, drawing water for our canteens from the creek that flows through it. You’ll see some videos of that area with my next post.

I failed to mention a couple things that happened during that day that were significant to us. The route from the Bar-M to I-80 was cross-country. There was no road that went the direction we needed. We just headed out across the low, rolling hills. Being ranch land, fences are a fact of life. Most of the fences we came across were old enough that we were able to find places where they were down, where we crossed. One fence we crossed under in a dry creek bed, where we were able to lift the wires high enough for the horses to pass under. Others we took down, passed over, then repaired the fence. We took with us fencing tools and several bags of fence clips. We always made sure to leave the fence in better condition than we found it in. Each time we had to cross a fence it cost us 15-20 minutes and brought with it the risk of the horses getting tangled up with each other and in the fence. It also meant Dad and I had to dismount and remount, tie the horses, keep them from getting tangled up, and work on the fence. Being a couple old farts, that was significant additional labor to us, what with our heavy chaps and all. Crossing fences was a real headache.

I mentioned that we passed through thickets of mesquite and catclaw. Catclaw is commonly known as “wait-a-minute” bush. It grows about four to six feet tall and is covered in thorns that look exactly like cat claws. The horses’ coat offers some protection for them, but even they try to avoid the stuff. For us, the thorns grab, then break off in the skin, which then gets infected like a sliver. We were both very grateful for our heavy batwing chaps. The mesquite thickets are just as bad, except that they grow much taller than the catclaw. The mesquites had needle-sharp thorns about two inches long. I even had a couple of these penetrate my chaps. We saved some of these for tooth picks. Pushing our way through some of these thickets, too large to go around,  was tough work. We stayed to stream beds (called “washes” to westerners) as much as we could, when they headed the right direction, but even that was tough going.

Here’s a short video of the area south of I-80. Here’s one of the area north of I-80 , on Boss Ranch Road, heading into the Chiricahuas.

Most of the land down there where we were crossing is volcanic. Even where the land is relatively flat, it is very tough on the horses, due to the fist-sized volcanic rocks that cover the ground. It wasn’t so bad once we got into the Chiricahuas, but we were lucky to get past those first two days of travel without laming a horse.

Stay tuned for more.