Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Wednesday May 26 2010

A friend once asked me dubiously, when I rhapsodized about Owyhee, "Isn't it desolate?"

Desolate, yes. Big, open, spacious - empty and full. Beautiful.

You could ride for days, weeks, (if you knew where all the gates were) and not see a soul.

You'll see deer, snakes, Ravens, eagles, and maybe pronghorns like I did today. You might see, if you're lucky, bighorn sheep or badgers, or, if you're very lucky, cougars.

You might stumble across an old mine, a nugget of gold (there's still gold in the Owyhees), an arrowhead. You might discover an old rock corral or homestead or dam, a cave with thousands-year-old relics, an old irrigation channel from the gold rush days, an old wagon frame or wheel. You might ride over old wagon wheel grooves on the Oregon trail or you might discover a pioneer's grave. You might drink from a cool spring in a hidden canyon.

The Owyhee mountains are quite small - in height and length and breadth - in the scheme of western mountain ranges - but they preside splendidly over the Owyhee desert. They fill the sky and dance with the storm clouds.

Sometimes it's just you out there and nothing else - and everything else.

The Caves II

Tuesday May 25 2010

I just couldn't help myself - when I hiked back over the Rock Corral trail we'd already marked on horseback last week (I checked to make sure the cows didn't eat all the green ribbons, and I added pink ribbons to the hard-to-see green ones) - I had to climb up to and check out a few of the caves I'd seen.

What is it about holes in the earth that attract us? Caves, mine shafts, tunnels - why the magnetism that makes us want to go up to them and in them, even though they might be kind of... scary or creepy?

For the treasures that could be inside? For the thought of who might have used it before, and how long ago? For the mystery and awesomeness of the motivation that made somebody tunnel into the earth, often - here in the West - by hand? For trying to understand how Mother Nature created the cave?

For me, part of the draw is... cougars. If I were a cougar, I'd be hanging out during the day in a cool cave with a view of the land below me. Of course, I don't particularly want to wake a cougar up from a nap in a cave, nor have I given any thought as to what I'd do if I did find a cougar in a cave... but I haven't found one yet anyway. I just want to see the cave and what's in it. They do scare me a bit - what if one caves in while I'm inside? I won't go too far in a tunnel, and no WAY would I crawl on my belly to get any further into a cave.

This is the first cave I detoured up to.

It was nice and roomy, almost big enough to stand straight up in, and went about 10 feet back. I found no signs of cougars, but I did find some cool nests (rats?),

and lots of obsidian flakes,

though none of them seemed to be worked pieces. Obsidian occurs naturally in this area, though you can also find arrowheads (presumably made about a hundred years ago by Native Americans) if you're lucky.

A canyon wren flew in to check me out as I snooped around.

Another cave - smaller,

but with a nice view.

It was a very protected spot - it had a nice little 'porch' that I had to climb a bit to get to. More obsidian flakes, and a nest inside.

And yet another cave.

Same size as the second one, no obsidian, no nest, no cougars, and another nice view.

Besides caves there were flowers, flowers, and more flowers.

Even wild onion, that tastes like onion.

But don't try the death camas even if it looks a bit like the wild onion.

I almost made that mistake one time.

Steph was marking trail in the area, and said the wildflowers nearer to the Owyhee mountains

are outta control. The lupines are taking over the earth. She also saw the two wildish horses that I'd seen while hiking in March in this area. I didn't see them, but Steph said they were so close to where I was flagging, they were probably watching me.

You'll see the rock corral, the explosion of wildflowers, possibly two half wild horses... and those caves if you do Day 1 (Friday) of the Owyhee Fandango. I just explored the caves that will be on your left past the rock corral. If you decide to tie your horse to a sagebrush and run up and check out the caves on the right, let me know what you find.

More pictures from the day here.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

200 Miles of Trail

Tuesday May 25 2010

It's a community effort, marking 200+ miles of trails for this coming weekend's 3-day Owyhee Fandango endurance ride: friends, neighbors, horses... even the dogs want to help.

Steph's been out on the ATV (and several miles on foot) all day the last several days.

Tom Noll and Carrie Thornburn chose the nastiest day of the entire Owyhee spring to mark the Whiskey Traverse on horseback along the Snake River... Tom mentioned something about frostbite, but that's endurance riders for you!

I went out on an ATV Sunday (slowly, and only on good roads because they scare me!), and then hoofed it a few miles to flag trail. I would have driven to another area and marked more trails on the ATV, but there was this wee little thunderstorm I would have driven into. I may not be able to hear thunder until it's way too close (i.e., right on top of me), but I can see thunder, and there was thunder in those clouds.

Yesterday Carol and I marked part of the Hart Creek Homestead loop with Jose and Suz.

Trail marking from horseback is great for teaching Whoa to those horses that can't stand still. Your horse must learn to stand still, (and brace himself), when you lean waaaay out of your saddle and to the side to reach down and tie a ribbon onto a low sagebrush.

You get on and off a lot, so your horse gets it in his head that it's not all Go Go Go. Now is especially a good time for this kind of training, because the more your horse Whoas, the more grass he can eat. : )

We walked and marked part of the trail on foot where the bushes are so low you'd have to be either much younger, or a contortionist to be able to do it from horseback (which we aren't). This part was all uphill for a mile or two, so we got our exercise for the week.

Smart people would have marked this loop in reverse - walking down the ridge to the creek while tying ribbons, but we had to double check the trail in the correct direction that I'd marked on foot the previous day. Good thing we did because we added a lot more ribbons to make it easier to see.

There is so much grass, particularly cheat grass (some of it starting to turn a pretty magenta), out right now that some of our regular trails are somewhat obscured. Riders may have some problems pulling their horse's heads out of the grass so they'll keep going down the trail.

We got enough rain/snow/sleet last Saturday, and there are enough showers in the forecast (20-30% through the weekend), that the trails are going to stay in fantastic shape - soft and kind but not dusty. The wildflowers are simply outrageous.

The Indian paintbrush

varies between pink, orange, and deep red. Sometimes many shades are growing right next to each other.

There's plenty of water in the creek crossings,

and neighbors Rick and Carol will be putting extra water tanks out.

Steph will be out marking trail all day again today, and I have some marking on foot to do and some trail to rake clear of rocks (just a short stretch!)

We're a bunch of tired puppies, but it will be worth it.

Photos from today's Hart Creek Homestead loop ride can be seen here.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Cold Wind

Saturday May 22 2010 howling! It snowed for 1 1/2 hours this morning. Big fat, wet, gloppy flakes. This, after cold rain and sleet much of the night.

Only a little stuck on the ground, but there's more coming tonight and tomorrow. The Owyhee mountains are hidden behind a wall of white snow clouds.

The Raven was pretty excited about the snow - near the end of May!

But the horses are nowhere to be seen. Steph thinks they all hightailed it back to Arizona.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Mt Adams Endurance Ride: It's Not a Hobby, It's An Addiction

Saturday May 15 2010

It takes a LOT of work to put on a big endurance ride like the Mt Adams 12, 25, 50, 75, and 100 mile endurance rides, 12 and 25 mile Ride N Tie, and Trail Ride. That's all on one day - May 15.

Just ask co-managers Darlene Anderson and Steph Irving. Just ask Terry Ross who started working clearing trails April 16th, (literally, hundreds of trees). Just ask Max Merlich, who spent 5 straight days the week before the ride, helping clear more downed trees (80 trees from just the red loop - and then they had a windstorm that knocked more trees down on the same trails they'd already cleared), and then being Water Boy for the ride. Max drove around with a pile of chainsaws in the back of his truck and used them every day, whether he needed to or not... apparently there were some cool chainsaw log carvings out there : ). Darlene called them her Enduro-Loggers.

And this was by no means the only volunteers who worked hard on this ride, before, during, and after. The community of nearby Trout Lake also helps out with the Mt Adams ride in various capacities, including the Trout Lake Class of 2011 (all 11 of them) who cooked meals one night to raise money for a school trip.

I must also put in a plug here for the Heavenly Grounds Espresso on the corner by the lone gas station - their huckleberry smoothies were TO DIE FOR, and I tried to die several times during the weekend by drinking them.

But all that effort provided a lot of pleasure for the participants - just ask approximately 155 riders and 148 horses who were there. Just ask the two junior riders who finished the 25 miler (Andie, who won the Junior Best Condition award, and 5-year-old Garrett, who finished his first endurance ride and grinned for 3 days straight!). Just ask the junior Clara who rode and finished (and got Junior Best Condition) her first 75 miler. Just ask SHA Ebony Rose, the 19-year-old mare of Dennis Summers', who won the 100 (and got Best Condition). She was mum, but she sure looked like she was enjoying her job, and she certainly made it look effortless.

Oh, there were a few who were probably a bit disappointed, like one gal who had a wreck and ended up in the hospital (she's fine now), or the two gals who either stayed to help her (and consequently was overtime in her ride) or raced back to camp to get help (her horse was consequently lame going back out on trail), or Paul Latiolais whose gaited horse looked excellent all day in the 75 miler - and pulled lame at the finish.

But in total the ride was a galloping success.

The 14th annual Mt Adams ride took place near the foot of Mt Adams, Washington's second highest mountain at 12,281'. The stratovolcano - still considered "potentially active" though the last eruption was over 3500 years ago - is covered by glaciers year round, and climbing it is always a risk because of how quickly it can develop its own severe snowstorms any time of year. There was, in fact, snow over parts of the trail and upper roads (where the water tanks would be going) less than a week before the ride, but they melted away just in time.

Ridecamp was situated in a meadow with a spectacular view of the great white mountain (known as Pahto, or Klickitat, in some Native Americans legends), in the Mt Adams Horse Camp. There are 11 Horse Camps in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in southern Washington, maintained in partnership by the USFS, the Backcountry Horsemen of Washington, Washington State Interagency Committee for outdoor Recreation, and groups like these committed endurance riders.

The ride trails consisted of several loops out of basecamp and several vet checks in basecamp and one or two holds at the out vet check. Different distances rode different loops at different times - how Darlene managed to plan out this spaghetti and the starting times in her head for the ride is amazing. And though a few riders got confused on one part of the trail, the fact that the 3 riders who have a reputation for getting lost (Ernie, Katie, and Mary), didn't get lost on this trail (and Mary was in the dark!) is testimony to it making sense.

Most of the footing was soft packed logging roads and much of the trail was the ups and downs over the foothills below Mt Adams. It was in the 40's in the morning, and warmed up to near 80 during the day - the hottest day most of those horses had seen so far this year - but there were no metabolic issues at all.

The 75 and 100 milers started at 5:30 AM, just light enough to not need glowsticks or headlamps. The 50 milers started at 6 AM. All three distances had a first (different) loop of 12 or 13 miles for their first two loops, so basecamp was busy with vet checks as the 25 milers started at 8 AM. Some of those 25 milers started out of camp at a flat-out sprint, and those 50's and 75's and 100's unlucky enough to be caught by them at the start of the trail out of camp had an exciting shot of adrenaline if they didn't get off the trail soon enough.

Those indomitable Ride N Tiers started at 8:30 AM, and the Trail riders started at 8:45, "or whenever you want!"

As usual here in the Pacific Northwest, a good number of gaiters showed up. In fact there were a great variety of breeds besides the traditional Arabian: Missouri Foxtrotters, Tennessee Walkers, Paso Finos, Pervian Pasos, Friesian, Kentucky Mountain Horse, Thoroughbred, Quarter horse, Mustang, Akhal-teke, Bashkir Curly, and various crosses. It was fun trying to guess what breed the obviously non-Arabian horse was. Nicole Chappel, who finished 6th on the 100, rode a gorgeous half-Friesian, 1/4 Quarter horse, 1/4 Arabian.

The wildlife was varied and enticing too: every evening you could hear the ethereal calls of varied thrushes, and at night saw-whet owls; during the days you could hear pileated woodpeckers and red-breasted nuthatches, and you might see, if you were lucky, a coyote (I did), elk, a bear (Bianca and her horse saw one during the 50-mile ride - her horse thought it was just another Ride N Tie horse tied along the trail), or a cougar on the orange loop on Friday (though this person might not have considered it lucky to see a cougar).

You might also see... things... if you were really tired on one of the longer rides late into the night. Someone saw a 'spotted bunny', someone saw 'morels', someone said 'it was because of the morels you saw a spotted bunny'. 12-year-old Clara was so tired on her last loop of the 75 miler, she saw bugs. Her mom insisted the bugs had gone away when the sun set, but Clara insisted she saw bugs following her.

Clara did her first endurance rides with her mom at last year's 5-day Owyhee Fandango in Idaho in September. She did 2 LDs, then hopped right back on her most adorable Welsh-Arabian-Paint one-blue-eyed pony-with-an-attitude Benjamin (who mom calls "socially retarded") and did a 50. Mom Mary said this Mt Adams 75 was Clara's idea; Clara said it was her mom's idea. Mary has signed up for Tevis this year, so she wanted to do a 75, and ride in the dark. Clara is afraid of the dark. And it was the longest ride she and Benjamin had ever done.

Loop 5 (of 6), Clara had an uncharacteristic, short, breakdown. It was something along the lines of, "WHY am I doing this?" (Something, I assured her the next day, that we have ALL asked at one time or another, while on the back of an endurance horse.) "It lasted about 40 seconds, and then I was okay," she said next morning. She hadn't gotten enough sleep the night before (their friend and crew, Lolly, brought out a sleeping bag for Clara to crawl into at the vet checks), and a long loop in the dark was coming up. Yes, she was scared on that last loop, but at one point she got too tired to care. And, she told her mom, "We did everything you wanted to do - the 75, riding in the dark, and not getting lost!" (You'll see Clara's story - 'The Reluctant Rider' - in the next issue of the Endurance News magazine.)

But even though Clara SAYS she's been a bit reluctant, she said she might like to try a 100 this year. And maybe Tevis next year. I'm not the only rider who idolizes Clara. Another rider told both Clara and Mary next morning: "You're my heroes!"

Every time over the weekend that I saw 5-year-old Garrett and his mom Robin, he was grinning from ear to ear, and cantering his little pony along the trails, with his mom following, "Garrett, wait! Garrett, slow down!" He looked like he was having the best time. He finished his first 25 mile ride with his mom in 5 hours and 15 minutes, still grinning as he came across the finish line, and grinning bashfully as he received his awards and big applause next morning, though I'm not sure he knew why everybody cheered for him.

Captain Calypso won the 75, and Best Condition the next morning. Ernie Shrader says everybody recognizes his eye-catching pinto, but nobody can ever figure out who he is. Ernie and Spotty finished third and got BC at last year's Sunriver 100.

Dennis Summers on SHA Ebony Rose, and Ron Sproat on Lady's Dividend, rode closely or together at the front of the 100 all day, coming in together at the finish after 12 hours and 22 minutes of riding. "Rosie" has been around for 8 seasons and 1900 miles, with 9 hundreds under her girth, and 14 Best Conditions, one of which was this ride. When she trots out, she strides out energetically and she pins her ears with a fierce down-to-business look.

The top 6 finishers on the 50 were within 6 minutes of each other. Katie Glowaksi on DIF Jobster crossed the finish line first, and her horse passed the vet check, but she volunteered to ride manager Darlene the fact that she hadn't stayed at the last vet check for a 15 minute hold - she'd been told it was a pulse down and go. So she'd pulsed down, trotted out and left. She ended up getting only a completion, and that moved Bill Miller and HA Lady Valarrie to first. They also got the BC award, one of 13 Lady Valarrie has gotten over her 3500-mile, 11-season career.

There was an outstanding 85% completion rate over all - and a good group of riders and horses, good challenging trails, almost perfect weather, and excellent fun.

Darlene's new motto (on the ride award Tshirts) is, "It's Not a Hobby, It's An Addiction"

Come and happily, and guilt-freely, fulfill your endurance addiction here next year.

Photos and results at:

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Fandango Flagging

Thursday May 20 2010

We went out to mark some of the trails

for the 3-day Owyhee Fandango ride May 28-30. You'll see some of this if you do Day One.

Holy Moly - it wasn't deer, it was big horn sheep! I've only rarely seen these, and never here - they are usually 2 drainages further east. You'll be real lucky if you see these!

(We also saw a deer, 2 lone pronghorns, a nice brown snake, a red-tailed hawk nest, ravens.)

Picking a trail through the brush,

heading to the Rock Corral.

The flowers are pretty outrageous in the desert right now - lupine, bitterbrush, Indian paintbrush, biscuitroot, buckwheat, daisies, phlox, aster, and others I don't know. The blooming bitterbrush and the lupine smell so sweet.

Mac was a bit frantic on his own, but Rhett is coming now!

Don't want to get off to tie a ribbon here.

Boot malfunction!

We had several boot malfunctions! This was on a steep slope that I almost fell down on while trying to remove the hanging boot - fortunately Mac just stood there and didn't move!

Hart Creek drainage, looking toward the Owyhee mountains.

Coming down into an old homestead.

Steph points the way.

Mac and Rhett have a discussion.

I found a Raven feather!

There's a crazy amount of grass, too.

Back into the home creek after 7 hours of marking trail.

A good day in Owyhee! Come see it at the Owyhee Fandango in southern Idaho end of May.

More photos of the Alder Creek loop here.