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.
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.
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!
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.
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]
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.