Saturday, August 29, 2009

Desert Storm

Saturday August 29 2009

Evening: a storm comes to the desert. Heavy blue clouds over the northwest flats. Thunder rumbles. A gray veil descends over the Owyhee mountains - rain is falling, working its way down Pickett Creek. Sun rays pierce the clouds, tinting them gold to the west and an eye-aching steel blue to the north.

The lightning flashes, so bright it eclipses the golden light. The thunder booms. I'm out walking in it. It's too beautiful not to. I'm not afraid this time... but then I'm not riding a horse in it, and I am sticking to the drainage, not up on the flats.

The rain arrives from up the canyon. Gentle at first, then big desert drops. It kicks up millions of miniature dust storms. It wets, then quickly soaks my hair, my shoulders, runs down my back, pours down my face. The rain releases the sharp incense of the desert - the sage, the rabbit brush, greasewood, the sand.

Lightning whirls in the sky, a bolt making a circle above the northwest bluffs. Two circles. Thunder chases the bolts around. I stare transfixed, pelted by rain, dripping now, like the desert. I'm part of the desert, looking skyward, soaking up the rain.

The heavy rain keeps on moving down Bates Creek, cleansing everything in its wake, taking the lightning storm with it. It finishes up with little sprinkles, just like it started.

The storm leaves in its wake the colorful sunset, storm clouds and rainbow: the visual orchestral finale of another Owyhee summer storm.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Owyhee: Wind Caves Trail

Thursday August 29 2009

Riding in the desert invariably makes you think of water: either you crave it, or you can imagine craving it; and you can always see the artistic handiwork and the results of great forces behind water - scare as it may be - after it has been there.

After reading Craig Childs' The Secret Knowledge of Water, I've never looked at the desert the same way again.

It was another day of exploring the Owyhee desert, another day of wandering about, and wondering about the secrets of water in the desert.

Three weeks ago some heavy summer rains in the Owyhee desert brought some flash floods through some drainages around here, and scoured some of the washes and canyons, uprooting sagebush and even some trees, and ironing out this particular wash that we rode up into a smooth, firm, sand highway.

Side washes left miniature alluvial fans that poured into the big wash. New rocks and roots were exposed; patterns were still left in the now-dry sand from swirling water, gouging water, pools of water. Channels of water - forces of weight and gravity and whimsy - sculpted extra-miniature carvings in the sand: shelves, bluffs, gorges, hills, cliffs, grooves - mirroring the desert landscape all around. One deep, winding wash revealed a 4-foot high shelf over a mini-amphitheatre - an awesome waterfall during the rains - now dry, waiting for the next gully washer.

Over the eons, water and wind have carved some of the rock/sandstone/rhyolite (I am coming back in one of my other lives as a geologist!) into Wind Caves or Gnome Homes... use your imagination.

At another place, water has tunneled a route through the rhyolite rocks to make a high-walled canyon. Right now it's overgrown with weeds - which naturally sprung up from the heavy rains a few weeks ago. Jose was obsessed with the tall clover-grasses (in another life, I'm coming back as a botanist!) - eating his way along as we bulled our way through the mile or two of narrow canyon. We crossed running water in the creek in some places; the water disappeared in other spots - and consequently, the weeds weren't so obnoxious there.

If you drove by this desert on the highway, you'd think it was mostly flat with a few hills. You wouldn't have a clue how much is out here.

Maybe it's a good thing to keep these treasures a secret, keep these secret places hidden except for special occasions.

Come ride the 5-day Owyhee Canyonlands in September-October, or the 2-day Hallowed Weenies ride October 31-November 1, and maybe we'll show you the Wind Caves trail and some of the secrets of the desert.

More photos from this ride at

Dudley Speaks

Friday August 28 2009

Dudley would like to issue the following statement from the Owyhee Spa Jail where he's currently incarcerated:

"I would like to apologize for causing such a ruckus (again).

I apologize for scaring some of you from Owyhee County (the "Owyhee Thief" and all) and the upcoming Owyhee Canyonlands endurance ride.

I can understand how my latest escape and escapades led some of you to think there is a thief loose in Owyhee County.

Truly, this is blasphemy. It is slander. I am not a thief. I am hungry.

Therefore I can not help it that a saddle got stuck to my foot (I mean - who makes stirrup sizes just slightly smaller than my front foot, honestly!) while I was following my nose for apple-flavored horse treats after I escaped. I mean - who the heck left treats in the saddlebag anyway??? Oh - wait - I was apologizing.

I meant to say, I really am sorry for all the trouble I got into and caused. (But dang, that alfalfa and those treats sure were good!)

Because of my Good Behavior and Signs of Remorse (I have that look perfected! See above picture), I got released from the smaller Round Pen Jail and put back in the Big Pen Jail. Of course I went straight back to the spot in the fence where I escaped Thursday night and started to let myself out again. I got a nasty shock this time. Are you happy? Don't you feel sorry for me?

If any of you feel, like me, that I have suffered enough by being banished to jail, and put behind an electrocuted fence, and if you feel sorry enough for poor little me (I am little, really, just depends on from which angle or through which lens you view me) and all the trouble I have been in and caused, please come turn off my electricity so I can try to escape again without getting shocked, and get out and eat some more alfalfa and treats because I am so hungry (I promise I will try not to drag somebody's saddle around in the dirt and gravel again).

Or, please when you do come to the Owyhee Canyonlands (your goods are safe, I swear... well, unless you leave them out with treats), show me how sorry you feel for me and come give me big hugs and big treats.


Escape Artist Extraordinaire,

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Owyhee Thief

Thursday August 27 2009

Wake up this morning - I feel it - something's wrong. Things are amiss. Run outside.

Tack room door - taken off the hinges. Rug askew, equipment strewn - girth, saddle pad on floor. Saddle missing.

Something else out of place.

A big round brown horse. Outside the tackroom. Indulging where he shouldn't be. With a stirrup - and attached saddle - stuck through his foot.

The thief is Dudley. He escaped from his big pen. I knew it was coming - the night before, he'd ripped the white tape down that made part of his fence. It used to be electrified, but we had to move the electricity to the other pen, because Jose figured out how to step right over his fence. Dudley figured out now he could take down his white tape fence. I tied the tape back up, (Dudley watched me) but it was only a matter of time before Dudley got out.

Which he did last night. He must have first cleaned up all the hay laying out between the tackroom and the penned-up Canadian horses. Then he must have gone into the tackroom (not Dudley's fault - the door's been removed long ago, because it broke off its hinges). The bugger must have gone straight for my saddle, which had treats in the Raven bag. Dudley's got a one-track nose - dictated by his obsessed belly!

He pulled the saddle off its rack, and while opening and emptying the Raven bag of treats (I'll give him credit - he did not rip the bag in any way), somehow got his foot stuck in the stirrup, and left the tackroom dragging the saddle (with attached girth, and breast collar) back outside, where he went back to dining on hay by the Canadians (ooh, we are hoping it wasn't alfalfa, that could mean trouble). That's where he was when I saw him this morning.

I was startled to see him out there, shocked to see him with the stirrup (and therefore saddle) stuck around his foot, shocked that he wasn't panicking. I yelled for help, but Dudley still didn't panic (heck, he'd been wearing and dragging the saddle for a while, what's the big deal?), and Steph came out and worked the stirrup off his foot.

Now Dudley's in jail.

He's in the round pen until we can get the electricity back on his pen.

Not that the Escape Artist Extraordinaire hasn't escaped from the round pen once already, (and from everywhere else) and I'm not convinced electricity will keep him in his big pen... which he's escaped from several times anyway, though through different means than the white tape.

What to do with DUDLEY!

Guess I'll be hotwiring some fence this morning.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Who's Watching the Kid

Tuesday August 25 2009

The setting was just about perfect this evening - sun angle just right, light perfect gold for August - when I heard Finneas whinnying toward up-canyon from his pen. The two visiting Canadian horses were looking up-canyon.

Oh - looked like everything was set up for a Sprint-In - time to run out with my camera!

I was 30 seconds too late - I was halfway out in the yard when Princess skidded to a stop at the pens in a cloud of dust. Here came Stormy after her - dang! I was in the wrong spot, and he was sprinting like a racehorse. Missed him! He came to a stop with Princess in the settling dust.

Wait - where's the baby??

I started walking out into the pasture... nothing! Princess was acting like she never had a baby, but Uncle Stormy was hollering toward the canyon.

Where's the baby!?

Finally, I see a cloud of dust - somebody is coming....

Kazam, running with his tail in the air...

one or two more horses, I didn't even notice, because I was yelling,


Then over the hill she came, last, whinnying, sprinting, long legs spinning like daddy long legs, trying to keep up with her babysitters. Smoky ran through clouds of dust after her uncles, whinnying, Wait for meeeeeee!

She caught up to the whirling pile of snorting horseflesh by the pens, kicked up her heels at somebody, whinnied again, went up and sniffed Dudley and Kazam, then headed straight for mom (who never made a noise) and started nursing.

I guess the uncles took over the babysitting duties today and took the kid out for a spin.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Tevis Epilogue

Monday August 24 2009

Now that the dust of Tevis has settled (haha!) I can sum it up in one word - if that's possible - Amazing. (Well, maybe two words - Amazing, and Dust. : )

There is nothing easy about the Tevis, not from the moment you start at 5:15 AM, until you finish - wherever your finish may be. Every endurance ride has its challenges and difficulties, but the Tevis Cup has 100 miles of it. It's extreme, challenging, relentless, frantic, exhilarating, heart-breaking, exhausting, exasperating, insane, exciting, treacherous.

Yes, the Tevis trail is dangerous. However, though the Tevis has many (many) miles of perilous steep drop-offs and cliffs to ride along, many endurance rides have treacherous trails. You don't even have to have a dangerous trail to have a human or horse accident. You don't have to ride endurance to have a human or horse accident. Heck just being around horses can be dangerous. Anybody who owns a horse knows that even if he is just standing in a padded stall, he can find a way to kill himself. As for humans, just walking out your front door can be dangerous. You can die sitting on your couch. Everybody has to go some way, so you might as well not fret about it, and do what you enjoy doing.

We choose to take our horses on endurance rides, and hopefully, they do get some enjoyment out of it. I know my horse did. We put their lives at risk riding them, asking them to do things... but any horse is at risk, be it the most pampered pet horse or a wild mustang. Every horse has to go some way too, so it may as well be something he enjoys doing or excels at. Most riders tackling something monumental like the Tevis have some sense of what they are doing, and have prepared their horse well.

The death of Ice Joy was a tragedy, but neither his rider Skip Kemerer (over 4000 miles) nor Ice Joy (nearly 3000 miles) were inexperienced. May Ice Joy rest in peace, and may Skip eventually get some peace.

There's no certain winning formula for finishing Tevis. The best horse and rider combination is not guaranteed a silver buckle. (Although, if you study Hal Hall - 32 starts, 26 finishes - and Barbara White - 39 starts, 29 finishes - you'll learn a thing or two.)

And regarding experience on the Tevis trail, I am proof of the following points.

1) Ignorance is not necessarily a bad thing. By being somewhat unenlightened about things, you spend a lot less time worrying about things - which really gets you nowhere anyway.

2) Pre-riding the trail is not necessary for every rider and every horse.

Pre-riding the trail may help you mentally and it may help your horse... or it may not. One person once pre-rode his horse, who wasn't fond of river crossings, over the trail, taking him through the American River where he'd be crossing during Tevis, to get the horse used to it. The water was high, the horse got a little nervous, but they got across. During Tevis, the horse, remembering his previous experience, got uptight during the crossing, and tied up afterwards. Another person this year got lost in the last 4 miles; pre-riding the trail may have helped him not take a wrong turn in the dark. As for pre-riding the cliffs on the California trail... do you really need to do that? I preferred to see them for the first time during Tevis, because they weren't going to change at all, and you just had to keep going anyway.

What Tevis REALLY is all about, IMO, is Luck. Luck plays a part in any outcome with horses, and Tevis Luck plays a huge part in every horse's and rider's result.

It was good luck that the unfamiliar saddle I rode in did not bother my knee at all - or else I'd have had serious problems. It was great luck that this was possibly one of the coolest Tevises on record - or else I would have had really serious problems. It was luck I was riding a horse that had completed Tevis already, who knew the trail and was unintimidated by anything, was fit, and that I got along with. It was luck I was riding with some people who knew the trail. It was luck my horse didn't fall down when he tripped big time that one time in the dark. It was luck we spent just the right amount of time at vet checks. It was luck that we finished with 19 minutes left. It was luck we finished. The Tevis Gods were smiling on me that day and night.

Everything about the ride was absolutely amazing. The trails were amazing. Just the thought of crossing the Sierra Nevadas on a horse, just like so many pioneers did over a hundred years ago, on some of those same trails, with the same views, the same difficulties, was awe inspiring.

The volunteers were unbelievable - there to help you at every vet check/trot by. "Food, water, hold your horse, do anything else for you?" There are 6-800 Tevis volunteers - a statistic that is in itself astounding. Friends were amazing: some showed up to cheer me on, some showed up at different crew spots to help us and other riders.

My Idaho crew and fellow Idaho riders were amazing - I couldn't, of course, have done it without them. I know now I sure don't want to CREW this ride, because it was a very stressful job for them (3 crew, 5 riders) - especially that first vet check at Robinson Flat! I wouldn't have known how fast to ride my borrowed horse; and of course I wouldn't have had a horse to ride in the first place without Nance. Quinn was all ready to go for Tevis, ready to just hop on... which is literally what I did. Got on him for the first time Friday, for 30 minutes, and the second time Saturday for a hundred miles.

And speaking of my horse Quinn: he was utterly amazing. Nance said, "Oh, he'll perk up when the sun goes down." He was never NOT energetic. He got stronger as the day went on; I even had to put gloves back on leaving Francisco's at 68 miles. The power that was coming up from those legs, mile after mile after mile of challenging and demanding trail, was simply astounding.

It deserves to be said again that thanks go out to Tom Noll who cancelled, to Kevin and Julie who absolutely had no doubts (like I did) about me riding and finishing, to my crew Bruce and Chris and Gentry, and fellow riders Nance, Kara, Laura and Chandler; and most of all, thanks to Nance, who just gave me this horse to ride, and to Quinn, who did it all. (Really - I just sat in the saddle.)

Three weeks have passed since the 2009 Tevis Cup. Every night I pull out my silver Tevis buckle (when I can get it away from the Raven) and look at it and think... Did I really ride in the Tevis? Did I really complete it? Still can't believe it.

I don't think I need to ride the Tevis again. I'm not obsessed with it. It took my friend Judy 9 years to want to ride it again, and heck, the oldest finisher was 80, so I have a couple years to go yet before I have to think about trying it again. Besides, I really am proud of my 100% Tevis completion rate. That may well have been 50% Luck, 50% Horse, but nevertheless, it's MY Tevis record.

Then again, I HAVE already been offered a horse for next year...

And then again, there's always new challenges on the endurance trail. Like the Bighorn 100...

Just Like a Good Neighbor

Sunday August 23 2009

...Lost Juniper Ranch is there!

Carol backed out of riding today on new trails so that Connie, Steph and I could go in our 3-horse trailer. It was to be Connie and Finneas' first Field Trip!

Everybody got up early enough and quickly downed enough coffees, and we left at 8 AM. Hauled up Bachman Grade road closer to the Owyhee mountains to our starting point. Unloaded the horses. Saddled up.

Uh Oh.

Three helmets, three bridles, three saddles... two girths. Argh!

Now what - unhitch, Steph drive back to get a girth? It would take over an hour. Got anything in the trailer or truck we could jerry-rig a girth with? While Steph rooted around, Connie - who happened to bring her cell phone, and who happened to get reception - called Carol and Rick next door. ("You talk to her." "No, you talk to her!" "No, here, you talk to her!") The Brands don't only sell trail and endurance horses at their Lost Juniper Ranch, they run a neighbor rescue operation.

Connie left several messages on their busy phone, sounding pitiful and pitiable ("I'm leaving tomorrow, I really want to ride..." - with a chorus of "PLEASE!"s harmonizing in the background).

Connie got Carol on the third try, and Carol was horrified Steph had almost gotten a possibly workable girth she was tightening on Rhett, made of reins, a shipping boot, and latigo strings. Heck, it might work, we were only doing a 3-4 hour ride!

"Wait! We'll be right there with a girth! Need anything else?"

By now the skies were quite overcast (I checked the forecast... only "showers" and not "thunderstorms" predicted, and I was pretty sure those clouds held only rain), light rain was falling all around us, and drops had already started spitting on us too. "Yes, bring some rain jackets!"

The horses got to graze, and 28 minutes later, a fast moving streak of dust was headed our way on the road: Brands to the rescue with girth and raincoats! "I drove 70!" Rick said. (Not through Oreana, of course; our neighbors want us going 25.)

Our heros departed, we saddled up for real this time, left at 11 AM, and headed up a road along the foot of the Owhyees. About three miles of the road was rocky, but the rest was great footing. It was new trail for me too - Day 1 of the June Almosta Bennett Hills ride came this way, but at the time I was whinging about a broken toe and sat it out.

We made a right turn up and into one little canyon I dubbed "Eyeball Canyon" because the raindrops were stinging Jose in the eyeballs and he didn't like it. Steph saw a pig's snout in some of the rock formations. I saw a deer (a real one) and figured there must be cougars up here, because if I were a cougar, this is where I'd hang out. Some of the Juniper trees' branches were bowed from the weight of blue berries (technically, they are cones, not berries). No bears in these mountains, so hopefully something is enjoying them.

We turned away from the mountains and headed for the Browns Creek drainage, and came upon a field of bright sunflowers, their heads up east still waiting for the sun to appear. It was a great place for a picnic stop for the horses, and a picnic for us out of Connie's always-present Goodie Bag. The horses wanted in Connie's Goodie Bag too. The boys got sunflowers in their bridles. Jose was entranced by a bumblebee that was stuck in a tangle of sunflower leaves.

On down the trail, we passed an old cabin and mine on the creek, then a little further passed another old cabin. Back up onto the flats, and we had some good long trots and canters, and a few gallops, heading back for the trailer. The boys had fun. The girls did too.

I love all our trails here, but I just love covering new country, riding over new trails, especially good footing where you can move out. It's all a wonderland, this high desert with its surprise canyons, and the Owyhee Mountains with their hidden creeks and gorges.

Thanks to the rescue by our neighbors, we got to see a little more of it today.

(I think from now on this 20-mile loop trail will be known as the Forgotten Girth trail.)

More photos at Forgotten Girth Trail on

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Anatomy of a Roll

Saturday August 22 2009

The best spot for rolling in Owyhee!