Back in the Back Country!

By Patty Wilber

We’ve had this drought going on for the last three years and in the national forests, the trees were brittle with dehydration.  So, naturally they caught on fire. Actually in some cases, they unnaturally caught on fire–downed electrical lines.

But naturally or not, two of the fires were in the Pecos Wilderness area and burned (or is that burnt? Must look that up…Ok. I looked it up–I love the Internet!  Either burned or burnt works.  More info here.) places the Pecos Chapter of the Back Country Horsemen normally maintain.

The fires ashified some of our favorite trails. (Yeah, I know. “Ashified” is not a word, but hey you can make things up.  Just the other night I made up “quizlet” and used it in a Scrabble game.  My long suffering Scrabble spouse allowed me to Google “quizlet”, and there it was in two blogs–someone else made it up before me! Double word score with “Z” and “Q” AND used all my letters. 112 points.  Cha-ching!)

So, back to the ashified forests.  Here is a map.

**Ok was a map–worked fine last night…ON CHROME..where it still works.  Failed in Internet Explorer.  If you can’t see the map, Google  “Inciweb” if you want to learn more about wildfires burning (or having burnt) this year in the U.S.**


In late June, it started raining, which helped damp (haha) the fires, but also caused flooding.  You just can’t win the game of Natural Disaster when you are competing against Mother Nature.  Which reminds me of those old Chiffon commericals…”It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature…”

The precipitation, which felt miraculous since it had been so long since any significant moisture, also allowed lifting of the forest closures, so us Back Country folks are back in business–we just can’t use our normal trail heads, yet. So, when the VFO (Volunteers for the Outdoors) needed pack support for their trail project, we  hauled in on a trail we’d never used.

Longer drive (50 miles farther) and more difficult access road. (Coveting 4-wheel drive in the next truck I buy.)

Steep and rocky trail.  Not as bad as the Bat Canyon Trail in Canyon de Chelly, but we did have to go both up and down the Pecos trail,with pack stock, whereas we only went down Bat Canyon, sans pack stock.

We loaded tools, food and even cubies (cube-shaped containers) of water.  (Is “cubies” a word?)

Cubies and a bunch of other stuff we carried in.

Cubies and a bunch of other stuff we carried in.

I rode Toots and packed Lacey.  Lacey carried tools.

Lacey packed tools!

I hauled the pulaskis, axes, loppers and  a pesky shovel and even peskier trail rake with an awkward non-detachable head. Had the tools all standing up in the middle of the bag and bungeed them together and to the pack saddle.  Then lashed it all with a simple once around the middle sort of hitch.  Is”bungeed” is a word? Well, if not, I think the meaning is conveyed.

Julie wrapped two coolers in pack tarps called manties and used rope to secure each mantie.  I wanted to watch closely and grill her with questions but I thought I better not be too much of a packing stalker, so I tried to observe surreptitiously.  I am not sure I could do the mantie thing–it is like wrapping a gift, and anyone that has received a wrapped present from me knows I failed Wrapping 101.  Whoever thought of stuffing gifts in those nice bags and arranging tissue paper on top was brilliant.  Just saying.

Then, even cooler (get it??), she hung the wrapped coolers from her pack saddle with another set of ropes .

The mantiedload was already unpacked.  Photo by Richard Kingsbury.

The mantied load was already unpacked. Photo by Richard Kingsbury.

 Maybe pack-school could be in my future!  There is one in Montana!  Julie told me. Who wants to go?!

Most of the items we packed were fairly compact, except for the two-man saws.  The forest service forbid arcing the saws over the pack animal like we usually do (for over 10 years with no issues on our own saws) so we had to carry them flat.

Primo --unflappable?

Primo –unflappable?

These blades are long (5-6 feet) and have a lot of flexibility.  So at first, as Primo walked, they were flapping like wings.  Another horse may have lifted off, but not Primo–he’s unflappable! Secured the wings with–ta da–bungee cords!

We headed up and up and up.  Around 2000 feet of elevation gain in two miles.  Toots is in pretty good shape, but at a reasonable walking pace, it did not take long before sweat was running off her.  Most of the other animals looked the same. We knocked the pace way down and that made the day a whole  lot longer but the stock breathed easier!



Almost there!

Almost there!

We unloaded and ate lunch.  Chocolate is great in fall when you are hunting.  It is terrible in summer when it is hot. Hello!  It melts.

All over.

That under lines the brilliance of M&M’s–hard candy coating–melts in your mouth, not in your hands.  Except M&M’s are milk chocolate and I’d prefer dark. And even M&M’s melt all over if it gets warm enough, or you squish ’em.  Same thing happens, Richard says, with wax coated backpackers chocolate.

Then we went back down.

What a view!

What a view! Me, Amber, and Richard

Did I mention views?

Did I mention views?







It was a faster on the return trek–not as cardio-stressing for the animals.

I am thankful we have steep and rocky trails right out our front door.  They are much shorter stretches, but comparable in incline and technical difficulty. Thus, this trail looked about normal to my girls, except it went on and on!

It was great to be out!  Have at least two more trips planned in the next month–both will venture into the actual burn areas.

That should be sooty!

Thanks to Jim for taking most of these pictures.

Richard snapped this one of Amber--and there is Jim getting a different angle!

Richard snapped this one of Amber–and there is Jim getting a different angle!











About BlogPatty

Here's the skinny: I have a thing for horses. They make sense to me. I have a small horse training business (it's a "boutique" training business, not because it's super fancy, but because the horses get a lot of personal attention). I also go by Dr. Wilber, and teach biology full-time at a Central New Mexico Community college.
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6 Responses to Back in the Back Country!

  1. Jackie Splinter says:

    Looks like really hard work and SO MUCH FUN! And I loved your Scrabble words..have to share those with Laura. She is always looking for new ways to cheat in Scrabble With Friends !

    • Patty says:

      Quizlet was a bit deflating for Jim because the play before he had used all his letters for a score of 80. How often does one get to use all their letters anyway? And then to have that two plays in a row (well in my case it was a little iffy..)
      It is really great being out–I had planned a lot more for this summer but the dry weather, forest closures and fire got in the way.

  2. Doranna says:

    But OH! There are indeed dark chocolate M&Ms! Yummmmmm…

    So my question is, what happened with all the tools? You were hauling them up to volunteers who are…doing what? And who hauls them back down again?

    • Patty says:

      The VFO folks are doing trail maintenance for the week. They will come out on the 11th and BCH will go back in that day and pick up the tools and other gear for them.. I can’t make the pack out. When we go into the burn area, we will take our tools and do the trail work ourselves.
      Ok I am going to have to find some dark chocolate M&M’s!

  3. Marilyn says:

    That looks like a delightful ride. And brings home how much I don’t know about packing horses. These days, it takes a bunch of volunteer hours to maintain trails so that everyone can have fun!

    • Patty says:

      It was a fun ride–and a different trail which was also nice, for, uh, different!

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