By Patty Wilber
Jim had an elk tag and I have a license that I can use for grouse, so we took Indy and Cometa and went to the Cruces Basin to try our luck. This year it was Camp Wilberry and not Camp Kingsbury and we did miss the camaraderie and amenities of the amazing Camp Kingsbury!
On Friday, we loaded up, left our place, and after four hours of travel, arrived at the last turnoff to the trailhead. There we discovered that the door to the camper had popped open, probably somewhere on the 25 miles of dirt road we had just driven, and virtually all our food, wine that we had put in metal water bottles, our brand new Jet Boil stove, our water purified and my very best milk crate from my days as a wildlife major at Humboldt State University had ejected out the back.
We were so hosed.
Well, when life gives you lemons you can give up or you can regroup. We turned around, drove an hour back out and went first to Tres Piedras (no food store) and then the other way into Antonito in Colorado to restock. We even found a small stove, but the store did not have the proper fuel canisters for the model they stocked…
We finally made the trailhead by 5:30 pm. Indy and Cometa had a fine bonding experience, but they were ready to get out of the trailer! They stayed overnight tied to the trailer that was hooked to the truck and they did not wiggle or mess with each other.
We stayed in the camper (with a stove and heater) overnight and hunted Saturday morning near the truck. The horses stayed in camp.
It was a beautiful and quiet morning, but we saw no animals. Nevertheless, the area is stunning.
We were anxious to get away from the “crowd” of two other camps so we packed up and headed into the Kingsbury spot in the backcountry.
Indy (age 4) did not display a brave, forward thinking mindset and had a few minor issues with LOGS and ROCKS, but over all, she did a decent job as lead horse, and Cometa (age 21), The Perfect, packed with a set of over-the-saddle panniers from Davis Tents and borrowed from the Kingsbury’s, carried a lot of our gear. Those saddle panniers rode better on him than our regular pack saddle does! Jim also carried some stuff, because we chose to take only two horses. I rode and he walked the three miles in.
We set up camp.
We highlined the horses on a running highline, so they could graze. We hunted up there in the evening. It was really windy, but we snuck up on two cow elk, both in the trees out of the wind, and they would have been good opportunities, but we had the bull tag.
We filled a gatorade container and a dry bag–hey if a dry bag can keep water out, it can surely keep water in– with water to douse our future fire because we didn’t have drinkable water to spare. We had to haul in all our drinking liquid since the water purifier was, you know, launched.
It was a fun hunt and nice to be out on our own.
There was that wind, but if we wanted to cook our steak, we had to build a fire. We had strike anywhere matches that didn’t strike worth a darn, but we had paper matches that worked fine. We had kindling, fire starter gel we bought on our restocking mission (because our wax and sawdust fire starters flew out the back with the stove), but with the breeze and the not bone dry fuel, things were not heating up properly, so we used a few pages of our Knight and Moon (Janet Evanovich and Phoef Sutton) paperback (already read) to get things going.
We grilled our steak, onions and pepper over the open flames on a s’mores grill we picked up with our new food, because, yes, our little collapsible back-packing grill was…well, you know.
We highlined the horses under thick trees out of the wind for the night.
Sunday morning we tried to track a bugling elk, but he did not bugle enough to make that effective (most of the bulls, it turns out, were down in the basin, “where they were bugling like crazy”, according to one guy back at the trailhead, and we were up on the rim, but hey, we had it to ourselves, so that was really nice.)
Sunday afternoon was cooler and windy and we knew rain and snow were expected for Sunday night and Monday. We had the right clothes, a decent tent set up and the thick trees to protect the horses. Also, we were not that far out from the truck in case we really needed to get out of the weather, so we stayed.
For the evening hunt, we went to the tank to the east. That is an easy and beautiful hike.
There, we snuck up on turkeys, and blended in with the trees well enough that the cattle that came in to drink didn’t see us until we were ready to head back. No elk.
On the way to our camp, it started to rain, and we ended up hiking more than hunting, even though we did put on rain gear! It was a drizzle, but a wet drizzle
We ate a cold supper in the tent while it rained, but some hunters down in the basin (camped at the trailhead with a heater and wall tent) hunted right on, and we heard their shots. They got a bull in the rain! All those bulls in the basin!
It rained for about six hours, and then it started to snow, but we were snug in our little tent and the horses were good under their trees.
We went ahead and packed out without hunting Monday morning as the snow was taking a break and we both had to work on Tuesday.
On the ride out, Indy had some trouble with SNOW on BUSHES and SNOW on LOGS, but her biggest problem was with the trailhead SIGNS, even though at that point she could see our trailer, which should have acted as a magnet, but did not! She did drink well, though.
Then we got ready to drive out.
Well, the trip out to the main gravel road is steep and rocky in many places, but one spot is uphill and muddy. We decided I’d ride out and Jim would drive because a) he wouldn’t have to listen to me panicking and b) he wouldn’t have the weight or the worry of slamming the horses around in the trailer if things got hairy.
That muddy spot did get a little hairy, in which he finally ended up gunning it through in four wheel drive while the truck and the trailer slewed 30 degrees this way and 30 degrees that way into and out of the ruts. Jim managed to keep the rig on the road, and I didn’t have to experience any of it because I was already up top with the horses!
We had a great green chile cheese burger at Burger Boy in Espanola, a real treat after all those stoveless cold meals!
When we got home, we laid out all our wet gear, so that it could get rained on a little move over night!
I probably will not put in for a elk tag myself next year (not that I ever draw –only Jim draws) since Atti is slated to go the World Show in October 2019 and I will use my time off work for that (she qualified this year in all her events but should be that much better next year!). Maybe I could at least spend a weekend grouse hunting.
Cloud got his teeth done 10/10! He also got his shots, was wormed and is out of quarantine.