Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Launching Pad - Cloudcroft

This is where we'd go. But getting there...

There is just something about New Mexico. One moment you are in scrub desert, the next you are next to pines and aspen groves. If you've never traveled around the Alamogordo area of the state, if you've never been to Ruidoso or Taos, you'd think New Mexico was scrub desert.

I grew up in El Paso, the final stop before you hit New Mexico, and we all knew about the treasures hidden in the mountains of New Mexico. And one of the least known treasures is Cloudcroft. A poor relation to the more popular ski areas of Ruidoso (Ski Apache) and the even pricier Taos, Cloudcroft is a funky little mountain town - emphasis on the little.

It's ten hour drive to the mountains from the Texas Hill Country, the longest ride I've ever attempted with a horse in a trailer. Luckily I was traveling with a very experienced horsewoman in our barn owner, Donna. She had a system for keeping the horses watered in the trailer, all the gear we could possibly need once we got to our destination, and was prepared for every contingency.

'cept for the chainsaws. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

We arrived on Tuesday night. We were staying at her friend's cabin while the horses stayed on a little strip of land in a large round pen close to an entrance to the Lincoln National Forest. It's a good thing too - there are no stables in Cloudcroft, making horse camping a little challenging. Donna's friend, M, has purchased a narrow strip of land for keeping her horses near the trail. We unloaded and blanketed the boys, my Smokey and Donna's Arab Amigo. Then we blessed them, told them to stay out of trouble and headed for our own "stalls."

That evening some serious weather blew in and I tried not to worry. They were blanketed, in a secure spot. But they weren't where I could simply walk over to a window and see them. I just hoped they'd be okay.

Smokey and Amigo, joined at the hip.

We headed out Wednesday morning and found both horses no worse for wear, despite the wind and lightening that had danced over the mountain the night before. We fed and got ready to ride.

This little trailer has been a great one. I love that tack room!

Smokey, asking if there will be grass where we're going.

We headed up the hill to our first obstacle. Earth moving equipment.

That's right. We are in a national forest and for some reason the rangers had decided that this was the time to resurface their parking lot. A huge "blade" tractor was making it's way across the road back and forth.

I was suddenly grateful for all the trucks and trailers at the Concepcion ride which had totally desensitized Smokey to large contraptions that make loud BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP sounds when they back up.

We made our way past the construction and laughed about what desensitization our horses were getting.

Little did we know...

We crossed a highway and began to head up the trail. Already it was beautiful and we were still in sight of the highway! Tall pines surrounded us, a sapphire blue sky outlined each branch. Here and there golden Aspen announced the full swing of fall, their shimmering leaves like the wind's applause, greeting us with enthusiasm at every turn.

Just as we were about to cross the forest service road I saw a large 18 wheeler cross in front of us.

"Is that a logging truck?" I asked Donna with a bit of concern.

"Oh, maybe," she said, non pulsed.

I really hoped it wasn't a logging truck. Maybe it was just delivering a ridiculous amount of supplies to a deep in the forest ranger station.

We crossed the road and made a few more turns. That's when the buzzing started.

You know the sound of an angry bee hive? That buzzing that sounds like a million little wings beating in irritation at your approach? It was that kind of sound.

"Um, is that chain saws?" I asked.

"Huh. I think it might be," said Donna. She didn't slow her horse, so I kept following her.

Another truck came up the road behind us and we scurried into the forest to cut through a closed camp site.

"That's definitely a logging truck," I said. The buzzing was getting louder and more intense. Every now and then a bit of the buzzing would stop, as if someone stopped their chain saw, then started again.

"It does look like a logging truck," she admitted, riding on.

I rose in my saddle slightly, spotting the tell tale yellow color of a construction machine.

"That's a bulldozer. Are you sure we should go through there?"

"I think they are just right here. We'll be fine."

I bit my lip. Don't be a wuss, Winter. What's a few chainsaws?

Right about then we rode up to this sign:

And a dozen or so guys coming in and out of a few acres of dead fall with reflective vests, hard hats and, of course, chainsaws.

"It's just on the other side of this," Donna said as we dismounted. "We'll walk them through."

Of course we will, I thought. And hopefully they'll have all four legs when we get to the other side.

We picked our way through the deadfall and I asked one of the workers how long they'd be there.

"Un semana, creo," he said. About a week.

Lovely. We walked through the middle of the chainsaw hive, our eyes on the meadow just beyond. Remarkably neither horse took a single misstep or spooked even slightly. I suspect Smokey was at the point where he decided his best shot was just following quietly to get through all that craziness.

I knew how he felt.

We made it! Like my "don't shoot me, I'm not a deer" reflective vest? Slimming, no?
Yeah. I agree. Makes me look like a giant frig magnet. But hey, we didn't get shot.

Finally, through the chainsaw obstacle we made a few turns in the mountain and the buzzing sound went away and we were immersed in beauty. We walked in the narrow valley between rising mountains, the path where ice and snow linger until the sun finds it in late spring to finally turn it to water.

The rains that have covered the mountains made for a lovely green path for us. Along the mountains we spy splashes of golden Aspen, standing together like festive dinner guests, ready for the holiday party in their brightest clothes.

We took dozens of pictures at every turn. Here are a few of my favorites:

Donna and Amigo

Smokey, contemplating our next step.

This is what it looks like when you cross Nature's outstretched palm.

After a couple of hours we decided we'd gone as long as we could. More challenging weather was expected and we didn't want to push our luck. We stopped at a watering hole and let the horses have their fill, then let them hand graze while we hit our own lunch supplies.

Smokey did well the whole trip, never spooking once - except when he had to cross a stream about 6 inches wide. Sure, have guys jumping out from behind trees with chainsaws and he's fine, but WATER CROSSINGS?

We went over and over and over the water until we could go across without turning into a hunter jumper pony on a cross country circuit. Finally we just plodded across.

At our lunch stop we decided it was time for some portrait pictures...

Here's a few tips for taking pictures in the wilderness with your horse.

First, warm up your subject with a few kind words and a kiss on the nose.

Then, realize that the heck with the pictures, just love on each other for a second or two.

Then pose, knowing that the real photos are the ones you are holding in your heart. But at least you'll have one to hang on the wall.

And, on the way home, stop for grass. Cuz that's why we came, right?

It was the best day I've ever spent on a horse, the kind of day that makes all those disastrous horse times completely fade away. One of the top 10 non mommy related experiences I've ever had. (Cuz nothing compares to mommy moments, ya know)


The next day we loaded up and headed for Santa Fe and the Mark Rashid clinic. A few folks who attended/audited have already posted, but I'll be doing a series of posts on my experience and observations over the next few days. Yes, I'll be yammering on and on. You know how I am. And yet, here you are! LOL

Here's who's already written (that I know of):

Lisa, from Laughing Orca Ranch (Lisa got several pics of me and Smokey! Woot!)

Dan and Betty, from Dan and Betty's Place

So, more to come on the best horse week EVER.

Now, to catch up with you! How are you doing? :)


Susan said...

I spent seven years in New Mexico. It's a beautiful state. And what a great post! I'm so glad everything went well, am looking forward to hearing about the clinic.

lytha said...

that's what it's all about - being in the mountains with a horse you trust.


Anonymous said...

Boy, that looks like fun - wish Pie and I had been along - our two good brave 4 year olds would have enjoyed each other's company. He would have been fine with the trucks - don't know about chain saws! You've got yourself one great little horse!

Fantastyk Voyager said...

Now that's what I call riding! I;m green with envy!!! And glad that Smokey did so well for you.

jill said...

I love New Mexico. So glad you and Smokey are doing so well. What beautiful big eyes he has. Lytha is right, it's all about going places with and trusting in your horse. Glad you're enjoying him!

Life at Star's Rest said...

What a beautiful post! Now you know why I fell in love with endurance riding in my 20s and 30s. Every mile I traveled with my horse, whether it was conditioning or an actual ride, still lives on in my heart as some of the best time I ever spent on a horse.

Carmon...and yep, New Mexico is the best! Maybe next year I'll be in better health and you can come up here and spend a day or two riding in the Santa Fe National Forest with us!

Funder said...

What a beautiful ride! Well worth the wait to see pics and read the story. Love the pics.

Wolfie said...

Sigh. How magical. How beautiful.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

You said, "Then pose, knowing that the real photos are the ones you are holding in your heart. But at least you'll have one to hang on the wall."

You nailed it. Exactly! That is how I feel about photography, too.

And your photos are wonderful! Especially the special affection you and Smokey have for one another. Beautiful!

New Mexico is truly the Land of Enchantment and a huge variety of landscapes and weather. When I was away for 7 years due to a job transfer, I was in a terrible depression. My mood lifted the moment we drove through the Tijeras Canyon and looked out across the lights of Albuquerque and the wide open spaces. I was back home once again.

I'm so glad to have finally been able to meet you and Smokey in person. I'm so blissfully happy for you Winter!


Crystal said...

Wow that sounds like an excellent ride and Smokey is awesome!

Dan and Betty Cooksey said...

Great pictures and Smokey did great. Until you said different, I assumed this was your work with Mark so the fine tuning he got at the clinic will be really good for him. He's a good horse. I love the Cloudcroft area and maybe we'll trailer our horses down there and the chain saws will be gone.


Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Smokey is such a beautiful horse and I'm really impressed with his sensible personality. He's so open to new experiences even at his young age.

Shirley said...

A well written post, winter. The scenery is beautiful, but my favorite pic is the lovin' with Smokey closing his eyes. A great moment!

Jan said...

Breathe, Love your pictures! What a sweet horse! So affectionate! I'm glad your ride went so well, especially with all the logging and noise that you encountered.