Sunday February 18 2007
No wind this morning, a mild 56*, and clouds covering the sunrise for 87 riders. This morning when Gretchen and I were walking Spice and Raffiq to limber them up, we ran into Jane and Scamp, and Jackie and Odyssey. Odyssey! Raffiq stopped in his tracks and whinnied to his buddy. They walked on, and I had to drag Raffiq along after Spice, because he wanted to go with Odyssey.
As Gretchen and I walked to the start, we again ran into Jackie and Jane, and hooked up with them, so Raffiq was one happy camper. We cruised away from base camp across Shadow Valley heading toward the Mescal Range, through more spectacular cactus and Joshua tree forests. The first hour flew by at a steady trot, with just our group of 5 or so, and 4 others in front of us. You’d think you could see forever in the desert, but it’s funny how you can completely lose 90 (or 130) riders in the desert and feel like you are riding along out there.
We started heading up Chevy Canyon on an old pack trail, used by a lost Chinese miner when he went the wrong way a long time ago. As the trail climbed up, the scenery expanded, cool rock formations, winding canyons, juniper forests. We climbed up to Blue Buzzard pass, which gave us a great view of the valley behind us and the Piute Valley before us that we were to cross.
Scamp and Odyssey had gotten far enough in front of us to be lost from sight, and as we headed back down the mountain past some old mines, once we hit the valley, Raffiq was on a mission. He knew Odyssey was somewhere ahead, and he was going to catch up, no matter what my opinion was. We cantered along till we caught up with them.
The trail wound around through more Joshua tree and juniper forests, old mines, and the New Era Mining District – some old mining ruins and shacks, and some inhabitable shacks – reminded us of Darwin, the old mining town in the Panamint mountains we ride through on the Death Valley ride. Climbing back up another pass, we headed back down into the Shadow valley where we came to the lunch stop at Cross Rocks, a popular hiking area.
Raffiq and Spice had been pulling us along, feeling strong, but after an almost an hour of resting and eating, Spice looked a bit uncomfortable. Belly ache? We weren’t sure, so we hung around lunch for another half hour. She seemed fine, so we decided to continue on back to camp about 25 miles away, but taking it slow, walk the whole way if need be.
It was a beautiful day to take it slow and absorb the scenery – cool but not cold, pleasantly breezy but not Windy as Hell like yesterday. Some of the not-so-distant clouds looked a little suspicious – as in, if I were in Bridgeport in the summer, I’d be worried about thunderstorms. But, this was not Bridgeport, and it wasn’t summer, so I wasn’t too worried, though I kept my eyes on them.
We passed a lot of hikers leaving lunch. I’m not sure what they thought of having to step aside (or let us pull over) for some 80 horses, coming at them a few at a time. Heading up onto Cima Dome, we turned past a windmill, sitting lonely and quiet up on the hill. Until, that it, we passed it, then we were attacked by a HORSE-EATING WINDMILL! The four of us heard some strange moaning noise – I thought something had shot past us. Raffiq naturally got goosed in the butt and I grabbed him before he bolted away. We both turned to look at what had attacked us – there was the windmill turning merrily in the breeze. Why it wasn’t turning in the same breeze before we got there, I don’t know. I suspect somebody was actually hiding in some Joshua trees (well, maybe not – try climbing one of those), and when we were passed, they said “Watch this! I’m going to start the windmill turning and scare the horses!” Which is what happened.
Raffiq would stop and stare back at the moaning groaning squealing turning windmill, then he would turn tail and scoot very rapidly along the trail behind Spice, his tail tucked between his legs; then he’d slam on the brakes and turn back to look at the windmill. Which was now suddenly still as it was when we first came to it. Raffiq was then goosed another good two miles down the trail before he settled down.
We traversed Cima Dome, 3 miles of it, before heading back down to the valley and toward camp on some of the same trail we’d ridden yesterday. We let Spice set the pace – walk when she felt like it, trot when she felt like it. The further we went along, the better they both felt, pulling us along.
The last ten miles or so we ended up riding with Julie and Michael Elias from Arizona. The horses were feeling great, Raffiq pulling me along, weaving in and out of the cactus on those trails beside the sandy wash. Back on the sandy road, we were cruising along, when Raffiq was almost attacked by a HORSE EATING DEAD JOSHUA TREE! The laying down Joshua trees always get their attention, and this one literally stopped him in his tracks. Slammed on the brakes and wheeled to his left. I almost kept going, losing my right stirrup, but somehow I stayed on, and Raffiq decided the dead Joshua tree was not actually going to eat him, so we continued on down the last 2 miles to camp.
Our horses crossed the finish line with a half hour left (it was a 55-mile ride today) before another beautiful desert sunset.
Another 50 miles for the Raven!