Saturday February 24 2007
Today, I can proudly say I was an honorary member of the HBFGMs - HuBaFuGuMs – the Hell Bitches and a Few Good Men, a group of endurance riders from the Scottsdale area who meet on Saturdays to ride in the desert.
Not only did I become and get to ride with the HuBaFuGuMs today, but I got to ride with them in COUGAR country!
About 15 or so HuBaFuGuMs showed up with their trailers and horses at Rusty and Kevin’s house, turning it into a mini-ride camp. It was a beautiful cool sunny winter desert morning as Kevin led the long snake of horses on the winding trails through the cactus, headed for Granite Mountain 9 or so miles away. It was all on dirt trails or dirt roads, but we didn’t completely leave civilization till we reached State land near Granite Mountain.
Lots of horse farms on this northeastern edge of Scottsdale. I’ve seen farms of Tennessee Walkers, Missouri Foxtrotters, Arabians, many who sprinted around their paddocks as we rode by. It looked like we were having so much fun they wanted to come on a trail ride with us! I’ve seen big training centers for reining and Western pleasure, and many others I couldn’t identify. Maybe this is the underground equivalent of Kentucky Bluegrass Country in the Desert.
I knew most of the flora and fauna of my summer digs in Bridgeport CA, but here riding through the desert in Arizona, I’m at a loss. I feel I’m kind of missing something, not knowing my native plants and birds. Okay, so I’ve only been here 5 days, but it’s like not being able to speak the native language when you’re in a foreign country. Sure, you can get by, but you’re missing out on a whole different world. I can recognize cholla in general (that’s the cactus you MOST don’t want to get bucked off into, though none are inviting), though there are over 20 species of it, at least 10 of which are here in the Sonoran Desert. They can be a few inches tall to as big as 15 feet tall, and can be ground creepers, shrubs or trees. And very pretty, but wicked.
Just about every plant out here has some form or barb or hook or needle point on it. I can see why cowboys wore full chaps – out here you need them if you don’t want to rip holes in your tights. (Hey, who really knows if the cowboys wore chaps over jeans or tights??) I had to protect my tights with my arms - once you get a hole in your tights, that’s it. My arms will heal!
Everybody knows the tall, distinctive Saguaro cactus (seen in every old desert Western ever filmed) – it’s the state flower of Arizona. They can grow to be 50 feet tall but only grow maybe an inch a year, so the biggest ones with more than 5 arms are estimated to be 200 years old. I did see one ocotillo cactus, and today I learned the green-barked Palo Verde tree and the chuparosa bush.
I also ID’d great-tailed grackles, Gila woodpeckers, and a cactus wren. I’m hoping I get to hear an elf owl while I’m here… they like to nest in the old woodpecker holes in the saguaro cactus, and they ought to be getting ready to nest about now. We saw a dead coyote (poisoned, I expect). You can hear packs of them serenading every night out here.
As we crossed into State land and began winding our way up the mountain, we ran into another small group of riders. One lady asked if we’d seen any cougars yet. What!? My ears perked up. “We’ve seen one the last few mornings out here,” she said. Well, that was it for me, I took my eyes off the trail and kept them focused on the rocks and desert floor looking for cats! My mount Quicksilver was on her own staying on the trails and out of cactus. I’ve seen 4 cougars in my life and I’m over due for another sighting. John was snapping pictures as we rode – I don’t think he caught any cougars lurking on the rocks. But let me know if you see any.
We had a short steep climb to the saddle on Granite Mountain; then we hopped off and led our horses down the rocky slippery gnarly other side. We had to squeeze underneath a saguaro with one of its arms hanging right over the trail. I hoped Quickie wasn’t going to get stabbed on top of her rump, but then, I had to keep my attention focused and my eyes peeled for cougars. When Rusty saw the pictures later, he said “You went under that thing? There was a trail around it!”
Once at the bottom, all the HuBaFuGuMs remounted, and we wound around the backside of the mountain, on trails through boulders and more cactus, while the view across the desert to the Mezatzal Mountains spread out before us. The scenery was marvelous, but alas, no luck today on cougar sightings.
Back off the state land and heading for home, Quickie was getting stronger and faster the further we went. By mile 15 or so, I was getting a pretty darn good workout. Sure glad there was no spooking today, because there really is a lot of cactus out here.
Back home it was hay for the horses and beer and soda and chips on the back porch with the HuBaFuGuMs. Great day to be in a great part of the world and to be a part of a great bunch of people.
Cheers to the HuBaFuGuMs!