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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.