Friday, August 15, 2014

Vacation After-Action Report Part One

I'm finally getting around to organizing the pictures from our recent Wyoming vacation, and thought I'd share a few to give you a feel for the people and place.

As I previously mentioned, every year we go to the same ranch. We stay in a century-old log cabin, which is very well maintained.

The ranch sits in the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains. If we turn right when we leave the cabin, we're headed for rolling hills and open spaces, with a few cottonwood trees scattered along the creek bottoms. If we turn left we go up the mountainside through aspen and spruce groves.

View from the foothills looking up at the mountains.

Main trail leading up into the mountains.

On our first full day there we rode out through the foothills. That's our traditional first ride, where we can get the horses into a gallop and assess our steeds. On the return trip we were about to cross a little creek. The banks were covered with heavy brush. As I approached the creek I heard a rustling in the brush. My horse pricked up his ears but didn't seem overly concerned, so we kept going. All of a sudden a moose poked her head out and gave me a dirty look.

I was riding a pretty good sized buckskin (about 16 hands high, for you horse people - that's around 64 inches high at the withers, or shoulders, for the rest of you). I'm a little over 6 feet tall, so when I'm perched on a saddle my head is about 3 1/2 feet above the horse's back. In other words, my head was close to 9 feet above the ground.

The moose was looking down at me.

You don't realize how big those critters are until you get up close and personal with them. Fortunately, this (female) moose didn't have any young 'uns around, so she contented herself with snorting disgustedly and then turning away. We decided to back off and cross the creek a little higher up.

Not a very good picture, but I was on top of a moving horse at the time.
Moose sightings at the ranch are somewhat rare, but not unknown. They usually stay up in the mountains during the summer, and come down to the lowlands when the weather gets cold. I guess this one was just trying to beat the winter rush.

Day Two we headed up into the mountains. Our objective was the Roosevelt Trail, named in honor of Theodore Roosevelt, who visited the ranch in the early 1900s. The trail begins on the ranch and goes up into the Bighorn National Forest. The trail is very isolated, very narrow (2-3 feet wide), and bordered on both sides by very thick brush. It winds its way up through a series of switchbacks, with sheer drops on one side and sheer walls on the other. You definitely want a sure-footed horse for this trail.

We were working our way up the switchbacks when all of a sudden the horses got very antsy. Their ears pricked up, they started dancing around, and they tried to back up. Since we were single file on a narrow trail, hemmed in on both sides by brush and trees, with a drop off on our right side, this was somewhat troubling.

About that time we heard the sound of something coming down the trail towards us. A small black bear suddenly popped into view, followed by a second one. They weren't cubs, but they weren't full grown, either. My guess is that they were a couple of yearlings out on their own. (Thank goodness they weren't cubs - I wouldn't want to meet Mama Bear on that trail.)

I don't know who was more startled, them or us. The wind was blowing from them to us, so they hadn't scented us. Between the winding trail and the heavy brush they didn't see us until they rounded the bend about 10 feet in front of us. I have no idea why they didn't hear us. Maybe they were listening to their iPods.

Anyway, they were so surprised they jumped back. One of them lost his footing and went tumbling down the side of the switchback (it was only about a 20-30 foot drop to a ledge below, so he wasn't seriously hurt). This unnerved his sibling, who turned around and went back the way he came.

There was no way to turn the horses around. The trail was just too narrow. So we had to back up seven nervous horses in single file until we reached a place where we could swap ends and get out of there. Got back to the cabin an hour later and headed straight for the liquor cabinet.

Sorry, no pictures of the bears. I was a little busy.

After that things calmed down a little. The only other real excitement was getting caught in a thunderstorm one evening. The weather in those parts comes over the mountains, and it comes quick. There wasn't a whole lot of warning. The wind picked up, the temperature dropped, and dark clouds came boiling over the mountain tops. We headed back to the corral tout suite, but didn't make it in time. We got soaked, and the horses weren't too happy about the whole thing.

Here comes the rain. You can see the corral and barn - the large white building - in the middle left hand side of the picture.
The next day we went out a little better prepared.

City slickers.
Overall, though, the weather was great. Mostly sunny skies, highs in the 70s and low 80s, lows in the 50s ... a great change from hot and dry Central Texas.

The dynamics of the ranch are interesting. We've been meeting up with the same people there every year for the past couple of decades. Since there's no TV, cell phone service, or Internet connection, you basically spend two weeks interacting on a personal face-to-face basis with folks. You get to know them on a much closer and deeper level than you do most people in your everyday life. We've formed some extremely tight relationships with people we've met there.

I'm going to wrap this up for now. I'll have a second AAR in a few days. Till then, I'll leave you with this view from the foothills looking back at the mountains. You can see how the land rolls and climbs up into the mountains. There's a cattle loading chute in the foreground, and the creek where we encountered the moose winds through the brush and trees on the left. The main ranch compound is at the base of the notch in the middle of the mountains.


Old NFO said...

Beautiful place, and a little 'excitement' gets the heart pumping! ;-)

Bag Blog said...

I love a vacation in the mountains and yours looks like it was a good one. I've never run into a bear or moose on my horseback rides, but once my horse came face to face with a lama. Both animals turned and ran in the opposite direction. Fortunately I was not on my horse, but just walking her. Here in OK, we were riding across the pond dam when two low flying military jets came roaring over. It was a bit tense for a few minutes.

CenTexTim said...

NFO - It IS beautiful - and it can get a little exciting at times.

BB - Was it a feral lama? :-)

Some of the ranchers around here have llamas and emus, but I don't think any have escaped and turned wild.

Bear said...

Awesome writeup and pictures! Makes me want to go back all the more!