Maah Daah Hey Trail 4/24/19
Yesterday the anticipation of knowing I was soon to hit the trail was crushed when I hooked up my trailer and pulled it to the house to get it cleaned. I engaged the slide so I could have enough room and all of a sudden the vinyl started to tear….The slide was dragging the floor right out the hole! Ugh, I had a major problem and now with Burton as he is I had to consider another way to diagnose and repair it! Well Susie slide repair lady stiffened her shoulders and crawled right under the trailer to see what was going on. One of the three rollers was dragging and causing all the problems. The roller’s whatsziees weren’t rolling! So this could only mean that it had to be replaced….Roy our wonderful part time help was asked to give a man’s opinion and sure enough the whatsziees (translation: bearings) were froze and causing that roller to grab the flooring. Okay, Sundowner said they could overnight a new one…Roy would install it tomorrow! Now on the get the trailer ready…..ugh…no another problem….the generator would start but not run any of the electricity….well since I had already gotten Roy out once I asked my son to come take a look…I am now feeling the stress of my life….Burton who rebuilt the generator tried to tell me there was nothing wrong with it but I still couldn’t get it to send electricity to the trailer…It started right up but no electric was being produced….Brett, my son said “ You getting the feeling that maybe you shouldn’t go?” Are you kidding me? No darn generator would stop me from hitting the trail – “He” would have to come up with something much more substantial than that! All this while Burton kept saying the generator was okay or at least I think that was what he was trying to tell me…I haven’t mastered adult sign/code yet….Okay so now Brett was on his way but Susie generator repair lady stiffened her shoulders once again and tried to decipher the generator manual….I checked the fuse and it was okay, then I saw something about a 30amp breaker switch….never knew anything about that before….so I knelt down (haven’t done enough of that lately) to take a look and sure enough there is a switch marked 30amp…oh, what the heck…I threw it and you know that darn generator purred electric right thru my trailer. So our first night is at Lake Carl Blackwell in Stillwater 268 miles later!
Leaving Lake Carl Blackwell at 7 or so with a light rain on the windshield I turned on my wipers and they slowly skirted back and forth on my windshield, then my windshield wipers started to speed up and a minute later slow down……Great, another day and another quest for Susie fix it! Now how was I going to fix windshield wipers with their own agenda? They were consistently inconsistent…Burton was half drowsy in the passenger seat and I really didn’t want to try to describe this new problem in” signish”…so since we needed diesel I thought I could decide what to do then. But, watching the wipers I realized they did indeed have an agenda….they would speed up when there seemed to be more rain and slow down when there was only slight drops….Well, I hadn’t read the owner’s manual since I had my hands full with my new life when we took delivery on this truck so while fuel was gurgling down to the 45 gallon tank I found out that I had automatic wipers….who would have dreamed? I love them! I was hoping for a bit more rain so I could see them work but the sun was up and shining all the way to Burlington, Colorado where we stopped for the night. Cisco had a wonderful roll and romp in the park’s rodeo arena and then grazed until he was more interested in the yellow birds. We parked the trailer right outside the door of his stall where I could look out my window and see him eat hay and we were able to hook up to 110. A simple day of driving 479 miles! Tomorrow to Custer, South Dakota!
We hit it early after cleaning Cisco’s stall and leaving a check in the self-pay box for Kit Carson Carousel Park. Cisco had a quick romp in the arena, came back and took a long drink of water…Now I knew he was good to go and probably won’t drink for 6 or 7 hours….We might make it to Broken Arrow by then. Thanks to Pam Beard and her hubby, Kelly I trucked on up 385 which would take us all the way. Mostly a great road but no services for 60 miles and then none for who knows how far! I had plenty of fuel and made it to Wray with 120 miles left of fuel. Heading north again we started to see snow in the hidden crevices not getting enough sunlight to melt but the temps were cold anyway. It was 33 this morning but quickly warmed up to 68 by noon. Hitting Pringle, South Dakota we found buffalo grazing the rolling plains and defying us to get out and get a closer picture. I did and one bull picked up his heavy head and turned it square to look at me…massive and not a sweet smile to go with it either! We took Sydney Parks Road to avoid going around thru Custer and after 271 miles we pulled into Broken Arrow…It was like coming home. Cisco had a big stall and we had all the hookups. I did the wash and made Burton a loaded potato and then we hit the sack 7:30 home time and 6:30 South Dakota time!
Bar X was 280 miles away but we couldn’t leave early because of the snow on the roads. It certainly melted fast and by 10:30 we were packing up after having taken a grand shower up at the main building…So nice to have lots of hot water and room to move! By the time my hair was dry the snow had melted and we were off! Once past the Black Hills the road was so straight that I barely had to move my steering wheel. It was a good road that was easy to travel excepting for a few closed lanes here and there where they were repairing bridges. One such lane closure was 10’wide and I am not sure it was a full 10’ because as I looked in my rear view mirrors I couldn’t see any distance between my trailer and the concrete barriers. I just looked forward and tried to keep it steady. Done…now more straight as an arrow road but now with lots of antelope and deer grazing. We could see the ribbon of road for miles and you could have set a compass by it…We finally made it to North Dakota and saw some snow in places but only where the sun couldn’t reach it to melt it. The roads were clear but there was a storm visible. I called Bar X and Doug told me to get off exit 23 and cross the railroad tracks, wait there and that he would call me back….so I did but as we watched a couple of trucks head down a massive hill I realized what the problem was…it was slick clay and an almost vertical climb. Doug had asked if we had 4 wheel drive and how big the rig was….I understood….he called his neighbors to find out if we could even make the climb….Encouraged by Doug’s response we headed up and the narrow road was cliff side and very slippery but the 450 pulled it in 4 wheel high just fine. I asked Burton if high was best and he seemed to confirm it. We crested the hill and there was the log with Bar X painted in white…we were almost there…well, no not really…we had to go down his driveway 3 miles and it was all down into the Little Missouri River bottom….and his drive was the same as West River Road…red clay like stuff….Winding and skirting down the truck was never out of 4 wheel high and we needed it. Arriving at camp we found the lane to the parking area looked like mud or something like it so I called Doug and was told it was sand and to camp right on the road as the pads (not) were too wet…we pulled in and Cisco was able to see a few horses and have a big pen. But trouble brewed…Doug told me about his loose horses and that one was a young stud who hadn’t learned his job yet. Well, Mr Stud Wannabee made his presence known but stayed the distance for the night. I had gotten up and erected Cisco’s awning so he could get out of the snow/hail/rain and he never moved from under it until morning! Then at 7 Mr Wannabee showed up to declare who was in charge….Cisco is low at the farm but camping he is a pretty aggressive and territorial horse….Mr Wannabee tried to rip his blanket off and Cisco reared up scaring me to death. I was hurriedly putting on the boots and coat and screaming the whole time….Mr Wannabee decided he didn’t want any part of me and he and his buddy moved off. So now I have to break camp and set up somewhere else that was harder for the studly to get to Cisco….a lot of work in the rain and mud but finally I got Cisco and his home moved. Burton tried to help but the cold went right thru him and he was shivering in just a few minutes. I dreaded having to back up the rig and truck since the mud was far too deep to make the generous turn established 500’ beyond our site so I pulled forward a bit started to drive right out in the pasture making a wide turn with Burton yelling the whole time and we did indeed almost get stuck but 450 in 4 was able to pull the empty trailer sideways thru the mud….very interesting garble came from a man who had difficulty speaking….he sure made his opinion known! But we got back on the lane and stopped right on front of Cisco’s pen. Home for the night or longer I hope!
I spent the day trying to find the trail and walking to the cute, rustic cabin Bar X rented out and found it very inviting and quaint. It was located at the Little Missouri River and only a log fence separated it from the water. The whole area felt like flood land and even in camp the footing was like river sludge with the grass all fallen in the direction of the river but I couldn’t find any drift in the fences, farm clutter or at the base of the trees. The trees didn’t have the swollen bases of those that often were submerged so when it did flood it probably left pretty quickly, but my childhood experience with flooding rivers left me uneasy the entire time, after all it was either raining, snowing or sleeting. (When I was eleven, my father took me canoeing in our green canvas and wood canoe which we rebuilt together. Our favorite water was the Houstonic River and for countless trips we lazily paddled past Lover’s Leap in New Milford, Connecticut. But one trip the water was so high that the boat ramp was almost under water and once we put in the current was so strong that we never had to paddle but then worked into a sweat to get to land. Later that week Dad took us kids back to the river to look and see how several days of rain had affected it and the flooding was so severe that you couldn’t see the farm land or any of the fields we enjoyed on our canoeing trips. Homes were submerged and the access road where we put in was completely gone. The sight gave me a feeling of utter helplessness and stark fear. Rivers and their potential ability to flood would forever leave a harrowing mark I carry to this day.) I was certainly glad to have turned around the trailer in spite of Burton’s objections and at least if the Little Missouri did start to flood we could load up and hit the higher ground –unless it rose with a wall….that’s another story I can tell some other time! I found the trail following the meanders of the river and heading south I saw across was the lovely, primitive camp “Sulley Creek.” The river crossing looked a bit deep but doable but the side of the river had undermined the banks and those looked dangerous. There were several spots where the trail had just dropped off into the river, leaving bottomless holes and a few areas where horses had tried to avoid them by squeezing along the edge of a barbed wire fence. From my trail map I could see that the several crossings would have to be carefully approached and that the marked crossings might not be the best ones. I was so ready to ride…I lost one day to the rain and snow and wanted to hit the trail as soon as possible. I headed back to camp to organize my equipment only to find Studly tormenting Cisco. The big Belgian seemed gregarious enough but he kept trying to get closer by coming around the pens but thankfully Cisco was beyond reach unless he came in front of my NEW TRUCK! Now I was getting angry and wondered why we had to have this kind of annoyance. But with the general indifferent attitude of the camp I felt we wouldn’t get any relief after all we had been there 3 days and no one came to greet us but the camp owner did call and inquire saying he was away for a few days. I told him about the trouble with Studly but I guess that is just part of camping there. In defense of the camp I understood that they really don’t open until late May but I wanted to miss all the bicycle events and traffic those brought. (I have gambled on an early break in the weather before and been lucky) So with Studly and his gelded friend dismissed I started to pull out my saddle bags and immediately the rain hit again. It was cold and turned to snow so I grabbed my phone and looked up the weather…two more days of rain and then 2 days of mostly sunshine. Two days of “mostly sunshine” wouldn’t be enough to dry out this Texas Gumbo and so I researched the extended forecast – a major winter event was heading to North Dakota! Ugh! 1,500 miles of driving and not one day of riding….that was all I needed when you add the fact that Pam was about to leave Texas to meet me right when the new storm hit and she didn’t have 4 wheel drive. I had counted on someone being in camp who could pick us up every 3 or 4 days and being able to check on Burton but no one was around and I am sure vehicles couldn’t get to the trailheads as wet as they were. I loaded up Cisco and we inched our way back up out of the canyon. If we made it to the top and then to a solid road I would try to figure out if there was any way to resurrect the trip. Going 3 miles an hour takes a long time to get anywhere but 450 in 4 was struggling, sliding and spinning but still climbing….I can’t imagine getting out at all with any more moisture on the road and I thought rivers concerned me…I finally realized I just wasn’t having any fun and this wasn’t worth the worry. Head south and that’s what we did. I called Broken Arrow and they said they were expecting 2 days of snow so I kept that truck rolling all the way thru South Dakota, Nebraska and stopped at Julesburg Colorado with it still raining and sleeting! The fairgrounds at Julesburg was wonderful: Cisco had a nice warm, dry stall which I bedded with shavings and we had electric, water AND sewer! We settled in for the night after Cisco had a short romp in the arena.
Second attempt of the Maah Dah Hey Trail
We left Mena late morning heading to Lake Carl Blackwell and arrived by 4. Cisco looked me square in the eyes and I knew he was aware that we were again on a long adventure. Lasier was a space cadet, with everything catching his attention. A boat was in the far off lagoon and he was sure it was going to devour him, Bo romped the open field checking for gophers as Burton hooked up the trailer. I settled the horses in some cleaner pens and waited for Brett and Linette to arrive. With a nice rest we headed towards Julesburg, Colorado only to arrive at the fairgrounds completely filled with horses and camping trailers although I had checked their web site and called and no one mentioned that the entire facility was leased for the week to a youth Christian camp….no stalls, no hookups but I found a fenced in trailer parking area and was happy to be able to set up our electric pens for the horses. We had to “join” their group to be able to stay (insurance was the reason given) but was just glad to be able to after 10 hours of driving. The horses settle in and were happily eating grass with Lasier only occasionally worrying about the loud speaker, 4 wheelers, screaming kids and blacksmith hammering, until…..the train came through. Cisco only casually lifted his head from the grass but Lasier was off to the moon! He knew his life as over….that big metal, bellowing, horse eating machine was whistling and tooting almost in time with his bolts and jumps. I have a feeling the conductor was chuckling as he pulled his horn. We all ran to Lasier’s rescue but he just couldn’t be calmed until the last train car was out of sight. Cisco still only looked perplexed at Lasier. Finally, after several trains disrupted the peace I put both horses in the trailer and we didn’t hear another snort the entire night. We were up and on the road by 7:30 heading to Broken Arrow….little did Brett and the rest of the trio realize we were about to be at a horse camping cadillac facility! After a 6 hour drive we pulled in, found our sites and settled the horses in 2 over sized stalls. Ah, now relax! Tomorrow would be Linette’s first real trail ride on Lasier and both horses might be a handful! But sleep came easy as we all were safe and comfortable. Brett, Linette and Aiden had a lovely cabin in the “Inn” along with the 2 chickens they brought! Tomorrow we hit the trail!
Two days of beautiful riding at Broken Arrow Horse Camp, covering the Three Ponds Trail and the spectacular Heaven Trail and we were hoping for a third but the weather didn’t cooperate so we packed up and headed to Buffalo Gap Horse Camp in North Dakota. I wanted to stay a night there so we could drive down to Bar X and take a fresh look now that they had started their camping season. Bar X was packed with horses and trailers everywhere. Their showers were open and Gary and Bette the camp hosts greeted us and showed us a lovely site where we could set up a couple of huge pens and still have access to the pens. Bar X is a layed back, casual place to relax and ride although it doesn’t have the usual trailer pads and hookups but there is electric for everyone and central water. My second visit proved to be well worth the reconsideration. Cisco and Lasier were relaxed with lots of grass and Brett, Linette and Aiden were in tents with electric. Comfortable and easy is my best description of Bar X.
Finally, hitting the Maah Daah Hey Trail riding right from Bar X, crossing the Little Missouri River and heading south felt like all the trouble was worth it. The river was only upper knee high and offered an interesting start. This trip I had the added bonus of Linette’s company and pleasure of watching her advance as a rider on our Welsh Tb cross who acted more pony like than a horse and challenged her every request. The trail was at 2200 feet, although there was a multitude of climbs and ascents that really worked out the horses. Linette was game to walk anytime and as often as my old body needed so she was/is a great trail buddy. I’m so grateful that she wants to do some of these trails with me and seems to enjoy the back country almost as much as I do. The footing started out sandy then turned to tiny sandpaper like pebbles which required us to put on our boots. I failed to bring Bo’s boots and he was sore the last few miles but didn’t slow a bit! We were faced with some horrific gates that had to be lifted against a rather tight spring and with my first effort Cisco got his reins caught on the support posts which were too short and that caused him to spin around under the heavy massive gate I was holding over my head. We finally got through but were forced to dismount the rather than ride thru the new gates. I hate those gates! We climbed and dropped gaining the views then the canyons. The draws were frequent and we often were at the edge of some very serious cliffs but on our seasoned trail horses we just journeyed up and down covering the 14.5 miles in only 4 hours. Brett was at Plumely Draw waiting for us with water for the horses.
The ride today was to be from Bear Creek back to Plumely Draw where Burton and Brett had left the trailer for us to get home with. Both Plumely and Bear Creek are excellent trailheads and in between is Coal Creek with a nice primitive campground. Very easy access for such a remote trail but the access road is not hard surfaced so if there had been much more rain it would have been difficult to get through. We did slip and slide a bit until we got south of the rain. At Bear Creek we had to look to find the feeder trail which led to the Maah Daah Hey Trail but finally Linette caught a faint line in the vegetation and we gained the MDH Trail. I was so enjoying the trail as it wound around the peaks and down into the draws and canyons. One of the creek bottoms although dry was very much like the Enchanted Forest Trail at Kanapolis State Park in Kansas with it’s low trees and heavy thick growth. Many cottonwoods, oaks and some aspens saluted us as we pulled up to the Badlands grasslands and the sand-like domes dotting the landscape with so many contrasts and on a very good footing trail. Again on this section the creeks had signs of having a bit of water recently but no water to be had as we passed. Bo hunted and disappeared on several occasions routing out one varmint or another. Pulling up out of one canyon I realized Bo gave a deep guttural bark and I called for him to get back on the trail – within a minute he ran up from a heavily treed drainage and I saw what looked like his cheek teeth were poking through his cheek. A better look proved to be a bit less of an emergency but still horrifying. He had tangled with a porcupine and I am quite sure the porcupine got the last laugh. I jumped down and started to pull many quills out of his mouth, nose, cheeks and tongue until his adrenaline wore off and he just couldn’t take any more of the barb removal. I rolled on the ground for a few more minutes grabbing and pulling with Bo offering to bite but ending only with murmurs and whines. I couldn’t stand to hurt him anymore but he was good to travel the last 5 miles to the trailer hauling the last of the quills hanging off his check and a few on the roof of his mouth causing him to be unable to drink….how this could have been such a bad scenario if we were any further out! As we pulled up to one of the high bluffs I tried to call Brett and as a doggie angel was working the signal we had a connection for a few seconds and Brett was on his way. We pulled off to climb out and up to Coal Creek to meet him so he could take him to the vet’s and get his jewelry removed. We hauled back to camp with Bo arriving 3 hours later none the worse except a bit groggy…vet cost for this emergency, last minute surgery? 78 dollars, hard to believe! Bo slept up on my bed so I could spoil him.
Burning Coal Vein to Tom’s Wash
With a good early start we headed north, the footing was excellent and travel was easy. We climbed for the first 2 miles, holding the gain until we descended to Third Creek at mile 6. The trail was hot and dry and Cisco was looking for water, luckily Third Creek had easy access and I carried 4 canvas buckets to them. We had a quick lunch giving the horses a half meal well soaked. Back on the trail a hiker was travelling fast towards Burning Coal Vein to claim his finish of the entire trail and then on a cliffy corner Bo barked that someone was coming so we found a good waiting spot and watched to see who or what would emerge from the narrow cliff side trail. A strong, well-armed hiker inched around the point with only one water bottle in hand, not the usual hiker way of carrying enough water for a few miles. This clean cut mid aged fellow announced that Bo had startled him and for the first time I realized that Bo might have been in danger. Bo always announces oncoming traffic with a deep bark but within a second or two his tail wags his whole body to relay his gleeful interest. After thousands of trail miles, I just didn’t grasp that others might think Bo was aggressive and not the happy go lucky guy he really was, thereby shooting first and asking questions after the fact….This hiker warned me that he was certainly alarmed and I felt the undertone was that the thought to shot first had occurred to him….Every trail teaches me something, this time no red flag annoyed my unconscious and I’ll never know how the hiker’s hesitation may have saved Bo but I’ll be much more cautious in the future. We continued on climbing to Hanley Plateau and finally down to Tom’s Wash.
From Bar X to Wannagan
Rain caused us to lose another day as we tested the muddy trail and found it far too slippery to try to do 16 miles of unknown trail. We tried to do just 5 miles from Bar X to Interstate 94 but that too was just not safe. We had to dismount and Linette managed to get right below Lasier causing me to scream to get out of the way…Time to go back to camp and talk with the locals. Gary the camp host warned that it would be extremely difficult and with that advice we lost another day to weather. Sunshine drew us to the trail and we were rewarded for our wait with great footing and little mud. The trail seemed to dry in hours as the Gary had said and we travelled at a good pace, climbing out from camp, along the edge of the Little Missouri and towards Andrews Creek. Although we were within hearing range of the interstate we didn’t get close to it until right at the creek. I wasn’t able to see how the trail went across the interstate but was anxious about taking Lasier too close to the 18 wheelers, whizzing cars and high throttled motorcycles. He had lots of trail miles but almost all were remote. We crossed Andrews Creek and dismounted for safety travelling along the creek bottoms, under the trestles and then sandwiched between the Little Missouri and Interstate 94 but the trail was safely nestled behind a good fence. We walked right into the Theodore Roosevelt National Park (South Unit) entering at a good gate and about 8’ security/game fence on our east. The trail was difficult but not impossible to follow as we enjoyed the views of the river and then Cottonwood Campground across the river until we were crowded right to the edge of the river bank where the game fence had fallen in 10’ below and the river had undermined and eroded the base…I told Linette of my concern and that a fall wouldn’t be much but the climb out to get back on hard ground would be a real adventure if we did. The bank held and we passed with no incidents, climbing out and following the trail which wasn’t the usual, good markings we had become accustomed to. We passed thru a prairie dog town with their heads popping up and scolding us as we came within a few feet of their holes, then on to a second town and a trail heading off to the east. The MDH Trail wasn’t well marked and I kept my fingers crossed that I made the right choices. I was apprehensive about taking a wrong trail and adding more miles to 18 we already had to do. Occasionally, we saw an encouraging trail marker and the map seemed to confirm the terrain was correct so we continued up to the Big Plateau. Instantly we were confronted with a massive thunderstorm with lightning strikes all around us. As I was putting rain gear on I realized my head was the tallest thing for miles…not the most comfortable feeling so we urged the horses as fast as we could the whole 3 miles of plateau, grateful for every inch we dropped. We both were exhausted from holding our slickers, driving the horses forward into the rain and hoping for the elevation to give us a bit of relief. A couple of trails pulled off to our west and finally we started to drop at the point where Buffalo Gap Trail came in. The trail took on the comforting markings we had become accustomed to in the south and the drop in elevation lowered our blood pressure! We left the park! Wannagan was only 3 miles away.
Wannagan to Elkhorn Campground
On the map this section looked rather easy and relaxing except for the undulating elevation profile. Our first major creek crossing was Pioneer Branch and it was a bit of a challenge but doable. Both horses worried about the steep drop into what looked like muck but Cisco led like it was business as usual. Crooked Branch was the next and dismounted we carefully started down the steep ravine into the creek. Linette hollowed that Cisco was coming down too fast and I might be in the way but he gingerly slid alongside of me and we were safely at the bottom. Then the job was to try to get out: the bank was so steep that I was on my hands and knees crawling out with Cisco looking at me like I was some kind of monkey….once I gained the top of the bank I cued him to climb and he just powered his way up. I guess he would have done the same thing with me on him but with that almost vertical bank I was too concerned to try it. Lasier was next and I told Linette to just let him go…at first he found a few blades of grass and I thought I miss judged his buddy instinct but within a moment he put his two front feet together and slid down like a skier! He turned his nose up at the copper colored creek and then climbed right up next to Cisco. We mounted and were happily riding our creek crossing wonders when we encountered Rooselvelt Creek, ugh although it was easier to get into it was a bear to get out. It looked like it was almost impossible but our surefooted steeds did their job and we were off to finish the ride….I thought….but no, we still had Dry Creek (not) and last Ellison Creek. I would sure have hated to be trying to cross any of these creeks when there was rushing water...the banks were slippery and so steep that it was hard to imagine. We finished what I felt was the most challenging part of the MDH Trail and was glad to have it behind us. We were at mile marker 86 and well over half way.
Elkhorn to Magpie
Two things concerned me about the trail today: crossing the Little Missouri River (if all those others were “creeks” then the Little Missouri might be a real challenge and then Devils Pass. I heard from the farrier that the river might be too high to cross but we had already crossed it by Sulley Creek Campground and it wasn’t bad. Then Devils Pass, I only saw pictures of it and I hate knife edge trails with the edges being just a few feet from dropping for several hundred feet. We descended from the ridge, switch backing our way to the river bottom and worked our way towards the river. Since I almost always walk downhill we gained the river on foot and I asked Linette if she wanted to cross it mounted or walk and lead our horses. With no preference, I decided that I would feel the river base to see how rocky it was and before I knew it we were both across with the water only up to our thighs. We dumped our boots and mounted up, finding the trail across a long field where the grass was horse hip high. One challenge proved to be a non- event but my stomach was still churning with worry about Devils Pass. My worry wasn’t so much for me as it was for Linette and Lasier. The responsibility of a neophyte trail rider weighed on me and a casual mistake could be disastrous. I made up my mind that we would dismount and walk across Devils Pass. Searching the map I saw that there was a road that bypassed the knife edge and asked Linette if she would feel better avoiding it and she casually informed me that she was fine walking it! Pictures of all the things that might or could happen flashed my mind….I quickly replaced them with us dancing across Devils Pass like it was a ball room floor! Foolish I know but a tactic that got me thru some horrifying challenges. Devils Pass was eroding away; the sides were reinforced with feeble posts already about to nose dive into the abyss but the tread was wide enough being 4 or 5 feet in several sections. We crossed and I could feel my blood pressure drop, we all were safe. I thought the rest of the ride would hold little challenges but I was wrong. We moved across a nice plateau and I heard some crickets or something in the grass but Cisco didn’t pay any attention. We walked on and the sound got louder and then there it was…. A snake reared up from the grass and if Lasier hadn’t reared up he would surely have been bitten by a rattle snake and to make it worse Linette was having her hands full to keep Lasier away from backing off the cliff….that insect I heard and Cisco ignored was a mad rattler! That was all the excitement as the trail was mostly downhill into Magpie Campground.
Magpie to Hanson Overlook
Mile 106 was signed at Magpie and that meant we were only 39 miles from finishing the entire trail. Once again we were fighting the weather with storms all around camp but we took a chance and drove to Magpie and it was clearing up enough for us to ride at least for 3 or 4 hours. Just after mile 108 there was a trail to Ice Caves but with the weather as ominous as it looked we opted to ride on and try to get to Hanson Overlook. We did a good bit of climbing then down into Beicegel Creek which was another one of those tough creeks where the sides were slick, deep and difficult. But, by now both horses knew they could handle it and they did just that with me holding my breath. We climbed out and continued to climb towards the overlook at Hwy 50. As we started to climb up towards the road there was a sign that directed people to climb an almost vertical hill to an information plaque, we decided to continue on the trail to meet Brett at Hwy 50. At Hanson Overlook as we were unsaddling the horses a small, well used truck announced it arrival with a loud muffler and worried Lasier but Cisco was only interested in getting to the hay in the trailer. We loaded both horses and Ed Storm introduced himself. What a neat fellow: he was the owner of Storm Ranch and from the family of the original settlers – the John Hanson family. Ed took us to see the information plaque with Brett, Linette and I riding in the back of his truck, hanging on as we bumped and jostled our way to the hill edge and sure enough there was a very interesting plate with John Hanson’s family history on it. There even was a nice bench and from the overlook one could see the remains of the original cabin from 1923. How fortunate we were that Ed Storm elected to stop and show us this bit of history.
Hanson Overlook to Bennett
We arrived early at Hanson Overlook to ride north towards Bennett Camp and I realized I had forgotten my neck scarf. My neck was already sunburned and I dreaded what it would be like after the ride today. As luck would have it Ed Storm came by and I asked him if he had one and he offered to go get a scarf or something and within 30 minutes he showed up with an old shirt I could cut and make one out of…He saved the day and I happily tied the old blue shirt remnants to my neck. We were only doing 10 miles so we weren’t in a big hurry. We travelled along following the well-worn trail and headed down towards a nice pond but the trail disappeared. We walked around the dam, followed cattle tracks but didn’t find the MDH. I finally gave up when we came to what looked like a shooting range on some private property. Back all the way up the hill we found the MDH trail sign and sure enough there was a small hand drawn arrow pointing into the dense brush. The cattle trail had pulled off to go towards the pond but the unseen trail went left. No problem as we had only gone a half mile off and back on track we found the landscape to be surreal with huge cliffs but with easy going tread. We rode down towards the Cottonwood Creek Bottom and came to the Bennett Camp cut off. This trail was almost 7 miles off the MDH so I opted to stay on the main trail and meet Brett at Road 823. If we had gotten off at the Bennet Campground trail we would have also added two and half more miles to get back to the MDH. Continuing on we came to Cottonwood Creek Bottom and had to cross, then up towards the China Wall. Just before we arrived at the China Wall we had to tackle a dam that had been breached with a 5 foot gap and deep ravine. I decided to give Cisco the best chance of getting thru by dismounting and letting him pick his way: with a mighty effort he jumped, clearing most of the gap but his hind foot caught on the edge and sank all the way to his hip…I was so glad he didn’t have me on his back to add that to his effort to recover. Then it was Lasier’s turn: Linette walked in front of him and he started to go off into the muck of the pond with me worrying that he would get bogged down. Sure enough he sank up to his belly but with no rider he was able to pull himself out and gained the solid ground after a heartbreaking struggle. We continued on to the famed China Wall where the sharp cliff almost says “stop – go no further” but we stayed below and enjoyed the view arriving at Road 823 where Brett was waiting.
Bennet to CCC
With only 14 miles to finish the Maah Daah Hey Trail we arrived at Rd 823 a bit late. I hated to think we were almost done, but finally we got tacked up and on our way. A few interesting downed tree stumps were already petrified and their unique features caught our attention. We climbed to Corral Draw, passing several fingers of Corral Creek and then down into Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Unit. Entering the park was easy enough but once in we found the signage to be lacking and the signs themselves changed from the easily recognized turtle to a hiker. There were trails and cross trails, there were more trails and gulleys and more game trails. We fought for every inch and often found we had followed a game trail. The mud was slippery causing us to slide and slip searching. Finally, I took the map out and just followed the terrain. I could see that we weren’t to cross Corral Creek and were to stay a bit north of the game fence encompassing the park. Giving up completely on the trail we bushwhacked our way to the southeast corner of the park and sure enough there was the trail lifting up and out of the muddy bottom. We opened the gate to find a by-pass trail coming in from the right. We were glad to have our nice turtle signs marking every mile! We headed to Corral Creek to make the one crossing of the main creek and then on to Long X Divide. The trail there climbed 4 or 5 hundred feet gradually and followed a fence line until we got to an intersection with sand road 825. Across the fence was a hiker storage hut built for hikers to place water before their hike. I opened it and found a 5 gallon jug with water marked “free” so we stopped and fed the horses some soaked lunch and gave them a good drink. We were at mile 139 with only 5 miles to go and most of that was downhill. Both Cisco and Lasier seemed to know and they pulled forward. We could hear highway traffic from Hwy 85 and see a few trucks in the distance until we got into a deep draw and then finally up to CCC our final trailhead! 144 miles done!