Burn ‘n Bridge

By Patty Wilber

No, we did not burn the bridge!

The Pecos Chapter of the Back Country Horsemen had a bridge repair project in the Pecos Wilderness, and to get there, we had to ride through the area where this summer’s Jaroso fire burned across Trail 25.

I figured the bridge project would be grand, and I was really excited to see the burn.

On Friday, the bulk of the group rode in around 1 pm, and myself and Squirt-Longshot-Tabooli’s Dad got on the trail in the late afternoon.

We hauled seven bags of pelleted feed and personal gear.  We had seven horses between us, including Squirt and Longshot.  (T has moved on in life and is now a Valley Boy, known as Bo).

S-L’s Dad rode Alamita and packed Cinco, Squirt and Longshot, in that order.  It seemed  like a good working order as Cinco will follow Alamita anywhere, Squirt is level headed and easy going, and Longshot has been hanging out with Squirt for much of his life (of three whole years).

Pack string order #1.  Cinco, Squirt. Longshot.

Pack string order #1. Cinco, Squirt. Longshot.

But Longshot, lacking motivation for forward progress when faced with the possibility of a grass snack or a steep incline, would endure the pull of the lead rope on his halter and snap the tag line (made of two strands of baling twine afixed with a square knot.) Then we’d have to stop, gather him up and re-tie.

Ok, so how about Cinco, Longshot, Squirt?

Well, no.

Longshot, when denied the opportunity to pop  off the end of the string, apparently took to day dreaming, so instead of dutifully following the horse in front of him, he would play bread and butter and go on which ever side of obstacles (like trees) suited him at the time.  When one part of your string is on the left of a tree, and one part is on the right, well: Pack String Fail.

The winning line-up: Longshot, Cinco, Squirt. This way Longshot could be managed by a higher life form (with a plan).  And the two very agreeable girls just came on along.

I was on my Go to Girl, Toots, and packed Cometa and Lacey. Cometa had never been packed but he is a stand up guy and will handle just about anything.  I put him at the front of my two-parted-string  because he has been used to pony lots and lots of horses.  I don’t think I have ponied anyone off Lacey and figured she might just melt down if a rope got under her tail. That order worked well (mostly).

The view from Toots (looking back). Cometa and Lacey loaded up and heading in!

I got a kick out of our seven horse caravan!

Late afternoon is one of my favorite times to to be ahorse and since it is pointless to shout a conversation over three animals in a pack string and still need your voice  to swing around to the front of the lead rider to be heard, we rode to the sounds of tack and hooves in the softening light and into…

… the Jaroso burn.  So fascinating! The fire began on June 10th and was 100% contained on August 5th.  It covered 11,149 acres (kind of small compared to some monster fires we’ve seen in recent years in the west).  We’d had very dry weather in New Mexico and were the most drought stricken state in the Union, and then on June 30th, it started to rain! It still took  another month until containment!

The picture above is of a spruce (I think) stand that was one of the last areas to burn.  There certainly is bare ground and there are fire sculpted trees (so surreal!), but look at the green ground cover!!  Less than one month after the fire ended.

Weird shot in the burned spruce--as result of snapping while I rode.

Weird shot in the burned spruce–as result of snapping while I rode.

There was an aspen stand nearby and the results there looked completely different.  The white of the aspen bark stretches up from the blackened bases in a startling contrast.  Many of the small aspen clones are dead, but most of the mature trees are still crowned in green.  The ground cover is a profusion of bracken fern.

The burn in the aspen

The burn in the aspen.

I don’t know if the fire was cooler in this area or if the characteristics of the aspen grove affected the burn’s behavior.

At any rate, we did make our evening destination:  Beatty’s Cabin.  Propane, water, dishes.  It is a nicely stocked and very hospitable Forest Service Administrative Site.  And since our purpose was the bridge work, we lodged there!

As for the bridge, we redid the middle tread, tightened up the bolts, repainted the entire span, and built up the approaches with dirt and rocks.  We were uber efficient and finished in less time than we had anticipated (which was sort of unfortunate, really, because who wouldn’t want to stay ay ay just a little bit longer…won’t you stay ay ay, just a little bit longer! (Can you hear music in your head?  Or not.)


Working! Early in the job.

Cathy, surrounded by supplies.

Cathy, surrounded by supplies.


Um these guys are not working! Ok they are building up strength for Sunday's pack out.  Lacey, Toots and Cometa, hobbled and grazing.

Um, these guys are not working! Ok they are building up strength for Sunday’s pack out. Lacey, Toots and Cometa, hobbled and grazing (in a light rain).


The Bridge Crew:L-R Mary Ann, Dale, Richard (with Abby), Amber, Keith, Siri, Chuck behind Siri, Cometa packing left over stuff with Peter, Lacey with more leftovers and me. Cathy is taking the picture.

We got rain Saturday night and Sunday.  We packed up in a  steady damp but happily it was dry the whole ride out.  When we hit the parking lot, though, we got to unpack in a drizzle!

 Here are a few shots of the ride to the trucks.


Unburned spruce (I think it is spruce!)--much denser look and feel than the burned areas

Unburned Spruce (I think it is spruce!)–much denser look and feel than the burned areas.


Dead trees and month old greenery.  The tenacity of life.

Charred logs, burn-killed trees and six(ish) week old greenery. The astonishing tenacity of life.

We got lucky and missed being pummeled by hail.  It sure was pretty (and noticeably colder).



This was like riding through Lord of the Rings or any of that genre where magic abounds.  Hail sparkling as the spears of sunlight drew mist from the earth.

Does that count toward finding a balance of joy?*


*Hover over “finding a balance of joy” to find out where that phrase came from!


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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