Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Ode to Winter 2015

Wednesday January 23 2015

A snot-dripping, eye-watering wind hurls down from a tablecloth cloud hanging over the white Owyhee mountains. I'm leaning into the howling gale as it batters me off the ridge trail I'm hiking. The 'breeze' is 20 to 30 miles an hour, gusting to 40. Those little blasts are knocking me sideways. The wind chill is below 20*. But it's always fun braving the Owyhee winter wind on a hike (not a ride!).

The horses have been huddled behind the hay feeder all day as a windbreak, eating hay to stay warm.

I had just refused to believe the projected El NiƱo predictions of southwest Idaho being drier and warmer than normal. Not fair! It just had to snow and get cold this winter! And my denial has paid off: unexpectedly, the Owyhee mountains are currently at 140% of normal snowfall already. That's great news to a years-long drought that has parched the land in the summer, dried up cricks, and lowered the water table, among other less obvious things.

The latest winter storm we're in the middle of (lasting several days) dumped a load of wet stuff from the Pacific: big wet gloppy snowflakes in just-at-freezing temperatures. Much of it melted, then turned to sleet then rain which melted the snow into gloppy mud, then more wet snow. It's unlike the dry fluffy snow that comes with arctic blasts from the north that evaporates without contributing anything to the earth. This wet stuff means more groundwater soaking in. Not so great for horses standing in mud, but you take what you can get, when you can get it, in the desert.

I'll be gone down south at least a month, but I hope the cold and snow continues up here. But I also hope it saves some more cold, wet action for me for when I get back!

that's Stormy, wearing a snow blanket!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Snow Happy

Thursday December 17 2015

You can see by the picture above that I'm not the only one happy about the snow!

It came all of a sudden yesterday afternoon. One minute it was sunny, the next minute it was snowing, and in 30 minutes the ground was white. Yippee!

I've been turning Dudley out with the herd late mornings - leading them all up past the green gate so they can roam the 200 acres, and calling them back down in the evenings and locking them down at the house on the hay at nights (mostly because of cougar jitters - me, not them).

Some evenings, I can walk out and whistle-yell-whistle-yell, my voice echoing up the canyon if the wind is right, and they'll eventually come down on their own, sometimes sprinting, sometimes strolling. The other day I had to hike all the way up the canyon for them. They very bloody well heard me but gave me the hoof - totally ignored me, and I actually had to drive/chase them all the way back down. 

Yesterday evening in the snowstorm, I wondered if I'd even see the herd. I started hiking up the canyon, not even bothering to holler or whistle because the wind blew the sound right back down my throat.

But miraculously, the herd was already on their way back down. 

I barely caught a glimpse of movement in the sideways-whipping flakes, dark figures making a beeline back home to the hay. Dudley was in front, head down, Orlov trot turned on high, leading the herd on a mission (food!).

Stormy was the trailer. 

It was so snowy and windy, they never saw me, as I merged with sagebrush and rabbitbrush, watching them as they trotted on by.

More snow is supposed to be on the way today.

Dudley and I can only hope!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Big Cat, Big Luck

Friday December 11 2015

While away from Owyhee in Scottsdale, the neighbors emailed: "we came upon a cougar while hiking up the crick!" Their dogs surprised it on a hike and treed it. The cougar wasn't hungry for humans or dogs - though nor did he appear too terribly worried about them - and everybody eventually went their startled way.

I cannot begin to describe how jealous I was. I've had the privilege of seeing 4 cougars in my life - all happened to be within 6 weeks one summer in Washington, and all from a vehicle - but I am always on the lookout for these furtive, majestic animals. (And I did get incredibly lucky seeing both a leopard, and a cheetah in Africa.)

Mind you, I would not be so thrilled anymore if a cougar got one of our horses. Then all bets would be off. But deer are plentiful around here, and that's what they feed on. And cougars are fairly rare around here anyway, though some ranchers and hunters will tell you otherwise, and who knows when they are watching us out on a hike or ride? I once complained to my forest ranger friend in the Sierra Nevadas when he affirmed, yes, there were cougars around there. "But I've never seen any!" I whined. "Oh," he replied, "but they see you!"

Our horses give a pretty good indication when one is near (every couple of months, it seems); the whole herd acts rather nutso for a day or two. Every couple of winters in the snow I stumbled upon evidence of a deer kill, and one night a few years ago, I heard hideous noises that could only have been a cougar taking down a deer, not 30 yards from my doorstep.

So of course the first thing I do the afternoon I get back from Scottsdale is go looking up the crick for the cougar. What are the chances he's still there, 3 days later? Slim to none, likely; he probably left after the encounter with the neighbors and dogs. Almost all the big animals like cougars and black bears I've encountered in the wild have not wanted anything to do with humans, and they run away if they can.  

I creep as silently as possible up the south bank of Bates crick, wind in my favor, but the light, not so much: I'm squinting into the sun, the golden cheatgrass - the color of a cougar - glinting and waving as a roiling sea. I move slowly and carefully, staring into brush, peeking over the bank into the crick bed, searching for a cat lazing on a log or sprawled in the cougar-colored autumn leaves, watching for prints, watching for movement; prowling quietly along (as quietly as a clumsy human can), looking, listening, standing still, hoping… but I wander nearly a mile up-crick and see nothing. 

So I give up and cross the crick to the north bank to head back, still looking, but now looking more for owls. I find pellets and whitewash in a jumble of cottonwoods and vines in the crick, in a place where long-eared owls used to roost during the day, but now they're gone, and the occasional great horned owl will hole up during the day, though I see none today.

As I continue back down-crick, lamenting my luck at having missed a cougar by a couple of days - my eyes suddenly lock on a cougar staring at me, hiding 40 feet away under low branches of a tree right by the creek - oh. my. god.

It is a most unforgettable, thrilling, primal moment in life to unexpectedly come face to face and exchange gazes with such a wild, mysterious and near-mythical creature in nature (particularly one who is thankfully not hungry nor interested in me). It isn't any movement nor eye blinking nor anything from him that catches my eye; I just see him and focus in on him, though it takes a moment to pierce that wall of total disbelief, and though I seriously could have walked right by him had I not been looking for a cougar. (And how many other times might I have walked by one and not seen it!!!!!)

I am frozen, rooted to the earth, my jaw gaping, trying not to scream because I am so thrilled. A dozen words whirl and explode in my head like firecrackers: unreal, big, wild, beautiful, powerful, lucky, stunning, ohmigod. 

All my senses are on fire. Adrenaline rockets my blood to my ears, racing through my body, down to my toes - boom, BOOM, BOOM, shaking my body so hard he must feel the earth throbbing, because he tries to shrink further under the tree branches. He does not want to be noticed. He thinks I might be a threat. Even as he shifts so minutely further under cover and into deeper stillness, I can sense the utter litheness he possesses, and I am grateful he isn't interested in getting further acquainted with me.

I slip off my big jacket, to swing around and make myself big and make lots of noise if he does decide to come at me, but he remains motionless, staring at me with those mesmerizing, unblinking golden eyes, and I stand stock-still, not breathing, staring at him in utter awe, floored at the chance encounter with this creature. We just stare at each other, in wonder and wariness, two opposite worlds miraculously colliding for a magical moment. Nearby there is a deer's ribcage, a hide he's been feeding on.

I have a terrible urge to step closer, but I know he will bolt away. I feel I could stand and stare at him all day, but he does not want to be harassed, and I do not want to harass him. I slip my camera out and get a few pictures, thank Mother Nature for this fabulous gift, give him a gesture of deference, Thank you for this extraordinary encounter, and I move on, leave him alone, still trying not to scream because I am in shock, thrilled I got to see this big cat.
pretty camouflaged, yes?

Saturday, December 5, 2015

We're Not In Idaho Anymore

Saturday December 5 2015

Steph's in Heaven, I'm in Scottsdale. It's totally true for Steph, down south in the warm sunshine in the place of a cold Idaho winter.

Not complaining, mind you. Sure, I'd rather be wallerin' around in the snow and hoar frost, wearing 5 layers of clothes, but this is a nice road trip in a fascinating part of the country. And I'm sure glad I'm not here in the summer!

We got out on the horses today on a little corner of the 100,000 square mile Sonoran desert. Jose and I both enjoyed the scenery. He's spent a winter down here before. 

The Four Peaks of the rugged Mazatzal Mountains and wilderness line the eastern horizon, 

and the alluring Superstition Mountains and wilderness lie to the southeast, with Weaver's Needle poking up in the melee. Legends abound of lost gold (particularly the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine), and a hole that leads down to the lower world. 700-year-old cliff dwellings in the Tonto basin, between the Mazatzals and Superstitions, leave behind an intriguing mystery of a vanished ancient people.   

Jose and his desert reflection

Yep I like to hug trees, but I'm keeping my distance from this saguaro. 

Pretty much anything out here, you don't want to run into or touch, particularly the cholla!

this was a cool old monster. With the right conditions, they can live to be 150-200 years old.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

No Resting on Skinny Laurels

Tuesday November 10 2015

The endurance ride season around here is over till April, and Dudley has really truly trimmed down to normal horse size (!!!), but there's no resting on his skinny laurels. 
It's back to work for the Skinny Dude!

*I* was the one who tried to wimp out on riding this morning… 41* and blowing a tempest, with a nice crisp wind chill of 30*. Of course it's not the cold, but the wind that makes me whine. Dudley has no say in skipping a ride, but Carol could have nixed the idea, but she didn't get my whiney email in time. So, out we went.

Dudley doesn't do so great in the wind. Everything looks scarier, when bushes are whirling around and hiding Wind Monsters beneath them. Even August was a little jumpy on this cold and blustery day.

I was riding Mr Spookypants in the lead up the wash, and he was suspiciously eyeballing every dancing rabbit brush, starting at little brown birds, and he really jumped in fright when we startled a deer out of a nap. 

I brought the camera, to prove we rode on this cold day, and that Skinny Dude is not on winter vacation!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Hot New Sheriff in Town


Tuesday November 3 2015

(You can see he's got a sense of humor, too.)

This Hot New Sheriff Dudley

with his Assistant Deputy Cardinal (it's really The Raven!)

tracked 4 WANTED OutLaws 50 miles across the desert in the Owyhee Hallowed Weenies endurance ride.

He apprehended and deposed two at the vet check. He followed the other two over hills,  down washes, across creeks and through old homesteads, 

till they all ran out of gas after a 50 mile chase. 

The Sheriff turned them in, had a good meal,

then hung up his badge on a job well done.

He's not The Sheriff anymore, but he's still Hot.

See more photos and a story from the last endurance ride of the 2015 season here:

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Prettiest Boy on the Trail

October 14 2015

I'm not making this up. It's true, because photographer Steve Bradley said this, and repeated it, after snapping these shots of Dudley on Day 3's 50-miler of the Owyhee Canyonlands.

We were following Smokey and Jose out on trail and approaching Steve with his camera. Looking into the sun, and seeing something at this spot that she'd never seen before, Smokey couldn't figure out what Steve and his motorcycle were. She froze, so Jose stopped, and Dudley stopped. While Smokey was frozen trying to figure it out, Dudley used the opportunity to gaze with the Look of Eagles at some horses going down the trail in the distance. He wasn't posing on purpose; it just comes naturally.

Such a handsome boy!

Dudley finished the ride, with The Raven, of course. It was his sixth 50-mile completion this year. Go Dude!

And now that he's even slimmer than ever, no matter what veterinarians or equine body scores say, he's just the prettiest boy on the trail!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

What's In A (Trail) Name?

Tuesday October 6 2015

Mankind has named roads and trails since the beginning of time, to indicate where you're coming from and where you're going to, and to give you a kind of invested ownership in a place. Same thing here in Owyhee with the trails we ride. For example:

Tevis Trail
You've all heard of the 100-mile Tevis trail in California, and you've no doubt heard about the steep cliffs and canyons you ride above, and places such as the self-explanatory "Pucker Point" where you don't want your horse to make a mistake and step off the trail. Our Tevis Trail is about 15 yards long, and it's not near as steep or deep as anything on the real Tevis trail, (it's more like a 50 foot slide than a 500 foot drop), but you'd just as soon not slip off there. It's so short, that by the time you start to pucker, you've already traversed it. It's the tame Owyhee version of the Tevis trail. That this very short trail even got a name is because it's one of our main access trails out southeast toward the BLM hinterlands.

Toilet Paper Hill
Obviously, this hill is so-named because someone had to get off to wee, and they dropped their toilet paper. (Yes, they picked it up the next time they rode it.)

Tamara's Hill
"Wow, what did I do to get a hill named after me?" Tamara asked. Well, it's because that hill needed a name, and it was the first trail that Tamara rode when she came out to visit Connie.

If you've ever been to Badlands National Park in South Dakota, you've got an idea of what our Owyhee Badlands trail looks like - only on a much tinier and more modest scale. Lots of water-eroded rivulets coming off these mud-clay hills and tiny hoodoo sculptures. Squint, and use your imagination to make it as big and bad as Badlands National Park.

Blonde Cow Wash
This is a great training sand wash, about 1 1/2 miles long on the upper end. It's so named because we saw - what else - a blonde cow in it once.

Bilbo Baggins Trail/Frodo Baggins Wash
Great names, yes? Bilbo came about, because back then around the time of the Lord of the Rings movies, I was riding a short, compact little horse named Billy, who just reminded me of a little hobbit. That's the thought that popped into my head, as I was riding Billy along this trail. Naturally, this trail with Billy became the Bilbo Baggins Trail. 

There's another nice training wash that branches off Bilbo, which makes a nice loop - so naturally, this became the Frodo Baggins wash.

Antelope Loop
Connie came upon, you guessed it, a little herd of antelope in this nice short little wash/trail.

Lost Juniper Wash
Not only is Lost Juniper Ranch next door, but there's a secret juniper tree in one of the side folds of this wash that only those privy to the information know where to look for it. There's even a Raven nest in this secret juniper tree!

Three Cheese Casserole
Up the Training Wash, down Spring Ranch Road wash, up Blonde Cow wash. If you do all Three Cheeses, it's a strenuous workout. You can also do Two Cheeses, or Two And A Half Cheeses, to make the workout a little easier.

Merri's Trail
I found this short-cut trail to our regular Hart Creek loop, after a new fence cut off our regular access. I actually have cows to thank for making the trail; I just followed the right one that connected. Of course there's also a Steph's Trail, a nice 1 1/2-mile flat trail up on a ridge that is her regular favorite; and a John's Trail, where he discovered a nice back detour around a homestead that keeps us off private property.

Krusty's Trail
Steph's wonderful old Orlov Trotter, in cahoots with my horse Stormy, found, marked, and stomped down this trail down our canyon as an alternate to the regular road.

Bones Trail
This nice shortcut from the BeeHives to the Highway crossing is marked by cow carcass bones.

Around the Block
If you wanted to close your eyes and imagine you were in a big city (although pray tell, why would you do that!), you could walk a big city block around skyscrapers. This 16-mile loop goes up Spring Ranch road to the Owyhee mountains, along the base of them, and back down Bates Creek Road - like going around a biiiiiiig city block.

Hallelujah Trail
Regina discovered this awesome trail for one of her spring rides in the general area of the Snake River. It's a 2-track jeep road along a Badlands rim. That first time we rode it, the skies were blue, flowers were popping out of the desert, and the view to the Owyhee mountains 15 miles away was just awesome. Hallelujah!

AK-47 Trail
Carol and I were sent out to ride and mark this cut-off trail out of Lost Juniper Wash to the BeeHives. As we set off on this trail, some hoodlums were off in the not-too-distance firing off AK-47's, kalashnikovs, M16's, cannons, whateverthehell was in their arsenal. Neither August nor Dudley wanted any part of that! We turned around and rode home, just in case they had high powered scopes and too much beer and thought we looked like moose in the desert.

Dead Cow Baby Loop
This is an 18-mile loop: Bilbo/Antelope Loop/Lost Juniper/AK-47/Beehives/Spring Ranch Road/Blonde Cow/Pickett Creek Canyon. Along Spring Ranch road this spring, as we were doing this hodgepodge loop of trail sections, in a span of riding it 2 days in a row, we came across 3 dead baby cows. Well - what else are you going to call this epic trail? We really did try calling it other names, but Dead Cow Baby Loop defined it best and stuck.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Who You Callin' Fat

Tuesday September 29 2015


A score of between 7 and 8, in between "Fleshy" and "Fat" ?!

That's what Dr Washington marked Dudley for a body condition score at the vet-in for the 55-mile Lost 'n Lava endurance ride. (Please note Dudley's excellent pulse of 40.)

I was shocked. I was sure Dudley would at least be a "6," what with all his diet and hard exercise, and the fact he'd already completed five 50 mile rides so far this year (and 4 last year!).

Well. We showed him. We finished the 55-mile ride at Lost 'n Lava near Gooding, Idaho; Dudley pulsed down right away at both vet checks and at the finish; the 55-mile ride was the longest ride he's done; and I know he lost even more weight during the ride, enough to now be a "5", no matter what anybody else says. (Not that he has a complex or anything; he knows he's Hot Stuff.)

And while we're at it, I think some of the Body Score Conditionings should undergo a little revision.

Something like:

1. Seriously, Too Skinny
2. Greyhound
3. Thin
4. Lithe
5. Huggable
6. Voluptuous
7. Sexy
8. Carrying Some Extra Baggage
9. BlubberButt, Definitely Too Fat

I think Dudley looks pretty darned Huggable after his 55-mile Lost 'N Lava ride!

More stories, pictures at

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


Tuesday September 15 2015

Of course it’s 1:40 AM.

Whinny, whinny, in my dream. Whinny, whinny, WHINNY, this is not a dream.

I sit bolt upright in the dark, my ear straining to hear through the window over my pounding heart. It’s cool and windy, spattering raindrops - and a horse is whinnying. That’s not right. And it’s Mufasa whinnying - Mufasa hardly ever whinnies, unless his herd mates across the fence, and/or Dudley, next door, are gone.

I jump out of bed, and as I grab a headlamp I glance at the clock. Of course it’s 1:40 AM, middle of the moonless, cloudy night, when it will be hard to find any horses if they are missing. I think to put on some warm clothes, because this might take a while. please god please god, my heart pounds, let nothing have happened.

Whinny, whinny, I hear Mufasa’s whinny moving around his pen. I step outside in the wind and raindrops, and indeed, Mufasa is galloping around upset. As I get closer with my headlamp, sure enough, I only see his glowing eyeballs. He’s running his north fence back and forth. His herd, the other 8 eyeballs, are nowhere to be seen. Dudley’s eyeballs are nowhere to be seen either, but hopefully he’s across the creek in the trees, by his herd across the back fence.

I duck under the hot fence, which is still standing, and head for where Mufasa’s herd should be. I see nothing but raindrops flying sideways in my headlamp beam. Mufasa keeps insisting the horses are missing in that direction. As I keep walking toward the far end of the pasture - there they are, 8 eyeballs. Have they escaped their pen? Mufasa thinks so; he’s still hollering behind me.

The 8 eyeballs are moving around. Have they escaped, are they outside? I’m talking to them as I’m walking, so they know it’s me. They nicker at me, and start coming my way. Mufasa suddenly stops whinnying, because he can see his herd again.

No, they hadn’t gotten out. They’d just gone to the other end of the pasture to get out of the wind. Just over a slight hill and in the darkness, Mufasa couldn’t see them. Sure, they heard their pal’s rather panicked whinnies, but horses never care about the one left behind, unless it’s them!

I walked back to check on Dudley and the rest of our horses, since I was out there anyway. Yes, Dudley was hanging out in the trees across the creek (also ignoring Mufasa), next to his own herd in the corrals.

As I headed back inside, back to bed. Mufasa’s herd had left him and ignored him again; he was back to whinnying; but now I know nobody’s escaped.

It’s always good when these night escapades end well, though they can disturb a nice sleep.

Of course it’s 2:02 AM.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

New Neighbors on the Crick

Sunday September 13 2015

In hindsight, the obvious clues were there as to who was moving in.

1). I barged in the barn one night (this is a storage barn, not a horse barn), flipping on the lights as I strode in, arriving inside the second door just as the lights were flickering on. Startled from the cat food (around which is a half-set-up wire cage, to keep sneaky Luna the dog out, but that the cats can easily access), a rather loud and large, and, I thought, unreasonable ruckus occurred as the creature stumbled and crashed out the open window. I have glimpsed a stray cat before, so I assumed that's what it was.

2). The barn again. Where the cat food is. I have a small oven that I bake my Plumpie Ponies in, stored in a box, which was on top of 3 stacked Walmart tubs. It was solidly set, where nothing but an earthquake would knock it down. But it was knocked down to the ground one morning - and we didn't have an earthquake.

3). The barn again. Where the cat food is. We have buckets of ride ribbons stacked atop each other. Also solid, where nothing but an earthquake, or fighting dogs (we don't have any), or possibly fighting cats (we have cats that fight, but they really just howl at each other then creep away), would have knocked over. But several ribbon buckets were scattered on the ground, busted open, ribbons spilling out. And we didn't have an earthquake or dog or cat fight. 

4). Animal poop on the top round fence rail. What the - ? It certainly wasn't a bird. Sure didn't look like cat poop, and anyway what cat poops on a fence rail??? Dogs and coyotes will poop on bushes, and, ok, maybe a log, but - on a top fence rail??? We just sort of ignored that, because we couldn't figure it out.

5). The barn again. Now this is bizarre! I had a bag of clothes bound for goodwill, tied in a white plastic bag. I put it in the barn a few days, again, solidly on top of 3 stacked Walmart tubs. Nothing but an earthquake would have knocked it down. It was just full of clothes. And one morning I walked in the barn, and there was the bag on the ground, with - get this - 2 neat, careful holes chewed in either bottom side of the bag, with items of clothing appearing to be partially pulled out of the holes. A whole arm of a jacket was pulled out one hole, which appeared to get stopped up when the end of the arm got bigger and more couldn't come out. A whole leg of a pair of tights was pulled out the other hole, appearing to get stopped up only when the butt-part and other leg were tangled in a knot. The clothes themselves were not chewed.
What. The. Hell!

We do have stinkin' packrats in the barn (the war is on again to catch and remove them!), so… I just figured it must have been packrats. They love to collect things in their nests - but - entire pieces of clothing??? They usually chew things up into smaller, nest-decorate-able pieces, like cushion stuffing, insulation. I pictured a packrat taking a big white jacket and a pair of green winter riding tights for a packrat fashion runway show. Because - what else would have done that, and why?

6). The horses have been acting a little funny off and on. I tend to blame that on a cougar passing through, but they aren't acting real Cougar Spooked, just a little funny. Last night Dudley was eating his hay when he whirled away and ran a few strides away, turning to stare at the crick. Then he walked back and resumed eating.

7). There was the night a couple weeks ago, where Jovi Dog encountered a raccoon up at Connie's place. A raccoon! In the 8 years I've been here, I've never seen a raccoon. Never knew we had any.

8). Tracks this morning in the soft moon dust on the driveway put all the clues together. We have raccoons!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

I Know You Rider!

Wednesday August 26 2015

We got to go on a road trip to southwest Wyoming for the I Know You Rider endurance ride, and The Raven and I got to ride Dudley on the 50 miler on Day 1, over pretty Western country around Evanston.

The ride story is here:

Here are a few pictures from the ride, and photo up top is by Deb and Paschal Karl. Thanks Deb and Paschal!

The Raven is ready to ride Dudley!

A post-trailer ride stroll around ridecamp

On the trail in the morning, up on top

Well, the views would be great, if not for the smoke from the burning West.

Crossing a wide valley

That's the Bear River

Pretty Bear River!

I photobombed my own photo!