Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Owyhee Fandango Day 2: Substitute Jockey! - Part II
Saturday May 28 2011
We're off to the northeast across the highway for the 25-mile Loop 1, on one of my favorite trails through the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area. We won't go all the way to the river, but this trail is quite scenic anyway. We have a couple of trails around here that we call "Badlands" because they are our Owyhee version of the Badlands of South Dakota.
We plug Batman, with 12-year-old Junior Ben riding, right behind me and Jose. John and Rushcreek Mac are next, followed by Laurel, riding her horse Bluffdale Delight. Laurel and Bluffdale can use an escort, because it's Bluffdale's first 50, and as she is off the racetrack, she thinks she's going to arrive at the racetrack... for 50 miles she thinks this, dancing on her toes any time we stop moving.
We have a good chance of showers today (no thunderstorms forecast! yay!), but while it's cool enough to wear three layers, it's looking like a pretty great spring morning to be out riding.
The trail takes us along the Bates Creek Rim, and to the highway crossing, where the Snake River Amateur Radio Club has a check-in spot. The group uses this annual event for a spring outing - it's a camping party for them, and work practice. They are stationed at basecamp, out vet checks, and various points along the trail, at highway crossings or water tubs, to keep track of riders and times. It is always a great help on the 100 miler on Day 3.
Ben's sharp eyes spot a coyote (uncharacteristically, Jose misses it!) as we turn onto the single track trail leading down into the Badlands. Jose loves trotting along the narrow, winding path that rolls along the sage covered hills. When we slow to a walk, all the horses (except maybe Bluffdale) snatch at the abundant grass all along the way - especially Mac. He is the biggest eater ever. I think it comes from his Rushcreek Ranch horse days - you might have a long day and you might starve - so eat when you can! (Though I'm pretty sure the cowboys don't let their horses eat while they are working.) If ever Mac stops trying to eat on the trail, we'll know something is wrong with him.
Our trail descends and widens out onto the flats, and eventually turns back toward the highway into a deep narrow twisting wash.
Jose is starting to get a little agitated because Batman is hanging right on his butt, and Jose doesn't like it. Batman is young and... well... while he is the kindest horse, he's not the brightest bulb in the socket. (Steph says he has A.D.D.) All he really knows is how to go FAST, but Jose and I are trying to hold the group down to a low roar, because Batman is not that fit to do a fast 50, and Bluffdale doesn't need to go so fast either on her first 50.
But Jose does not like Batman on his butt (and Ben is having a hard time holding him back - it's an excellent learning situation for him! : ), and my mount is pounding along with his head up in the air, his (already swayed) back hollowed, and occasionally he's double barrelling at Batman, without missing a stride. I hear a connection with hooves on flesh a couple of times... but Superhero Batman is not to be denied; he takes the blow and then he's right back on Jose's butt.
Because he's a bit discombobulated with a Big Black Horse on his butt, Jose gets a bit spooky in this wash so I often have to keep two hands on the steering wheel. I'm constantly working at trying to get his head down, and trying to keep him to a slower trot while trying not to pull on him.
But nevertheless the miles fly by, and soon we are back at the highway, zipping back towards home for the hour hold.
Jose and Batman must have worked something out over lunch ("Hey Batman, I'll give you some of my grain if you stay off my butt the next loop." "OK Jose"), because on the second loop, Batman has backed off a bit and Jose relaxes a bit more. (Or, maybe Ben muscled up after the hamburger that his mom made him for lunch.)
25-mile Loop Two is to the southwest, across Hart Creek and dipping down into the Brown's Creek drainage. The skies are a little heavier, but it still doesn't look threatening.
Jose is happily leading the way, more relaxed, his head down, his back more rounded, his trot smooth, no more spooking. He seems to know where we're going - I could almost swear he is following the ribbons tied to the sagebrush.
A herd of young cows sees us coming along the trail and - unlike grown up cows who know better, they run towards us. Maybe they are so lonely for their mamas that any 4-legged beasts will do for company.
We splash our way through Hart Creek (Bluffdale puts her nose in it, but she's not much interested in stopping and standing still long enough to drink); then we turn towards Brown's Creek. Far in the distance we can see where yesterday's trails took us.
Our loop brings us back to Hart Creek and through an old Homestead, where you can still see the leftovers of life there: a root cellar, an old plow, parts of a wagon. I always wonder what life was like for them here.
We climb up out of the Hart Creek drainage by way of a sharp ridge, with a view that goes all the way back to the Boise Mountains 90 miles away. Ahead of us the Owyhee mountains have disappeared in the rain showers that are starting to fall lightly on us - you can call it rain when your helmet starts to drip.
But the showers pass as we keep up our steady trot, turning towards the home canyon for the last couple of miles.
The sun hits Pickett Creek Canyon as we pull into camp - another 50 mile day completed.
Many, many, many! more photos of the 3-day ride are here: