By Patty Wilber
A couple months ago, the Shuert’s and us decided to head to Arizona for five days of mid-winter warmth. Of course, it turned out we had two good days, one cold rainy touristy day where we drove to Bisbee and Tombstone, and then gave up and came home Day 4, but we still managed 24 miles of riding including a bucket list ride in the Chiricahua National Monument on Day 2!
We stayed at the Cold Bore Ranch, which is about five or six miles from the Cochise Stronghold, off Hwy 10, near Cochise, AZ.
The horse facilities had big pens with nice covers, the hosts were great, the five RV spots themselves had nice viewd and electricity (and must have water and sewer as they are set up for long stays, even though Jim and I only used the electricity). There was a bathroom and shower for guest use, which I liked as we have no shower or running water in our trailer. We do have a porta-toilet, but they are gross to clean! There was a round pen, and an arena. There is access to miles of beautiful mesa and arroyo riding from the ranch, but not on well established trails, so if going out alone, a GPS could be helpful. One of the hosts, Loni Jean, gave us a great guided ride the afternoon we got there (10 miles!), so we did not need the GPS.
We trailered to the Chiricahua National Monument (~45 miles) Saturday, and we would have also trailered to the Cochise Stronghold (6? miles), Sunday but for the cold wind and rain. In future, I will remember that I prefer not to drive my camp (trailer) to trails because we could not set it up well for camping and then drive it around. Plus, we had rain and wind so couldn’t set up outside effectively. Our “three” horse trailer can easily hold four and if we took out the dividers, six. Thus, despite the minor inconvenience of driving our camp, we had the perfect trailer to haul all four horses. We could have borrowed a trailer from our hosts, too.
Ok, let’s get to the Chiricahua National Monument! The drive there from the Cold Bore Ranch was on good, two lane roads with very few other vehicles, and took less than an hour. There was no entrance fee! Our hosts provided good information on where to park. There is only one not-huge trailer parking area in the Monument and the paved road to the top is not available to vehicles over 19? 22? feet. It was good to know to look for the trailer parking and pull in there, the first try! Although there were plenty of hikers, NO ONE was parked in the trailer area–they all parked in the car lots. We were actually the ONLY horses in the park, and had the trailer parking lot to ourselves. I don’t know if that was normal or lucky. I think normal, even for a Saturday, because while there were signs of use by other horses on the trail, there were not a copious number.
Here is the route we followed:
It was 1.5 flat miles along a live stream from the parking to the Visitor Center and then another 1.5 miles up on Rhyolite Trail to the junction of Sarah Deming and Echo Canyon Trails. The trails are well signed, and were engineered and built like roads (only narrower) by the CCC in the 1930’s. There were areas that had been blasted, they had stabilizing stacked rocks on both the downhill and uphill sides and LOTS of rock steps. They were amazing; plenty wide and stable, which is reassuring when traversing cliffsides. The Rhyolite Trail climbed steadily along a canyon to the Sarah Deming-Echo Canyon junction. The views were lovely!!
At the junction of Sarah Deming and Echo Canyon, hikers advised us that Echo Canyon Trail was too tough for horses, but our camp hosts told us to use it and the park had that open for horses. Besides, they were hikers and did not know we have horses that are practiced in both steep and rocky terrain. I mean, we own a hill of rock with railroad tie steps that I ride on daily. We ignored those hikers. We headed up Sarah Deming and would come down Echo Canyon Trail.
The trail now wound through the rocky spires and we merged onto the Big Balanced Rock Trail and went by the Big Balanced Rock.
Then we joined Mushroom Rock Trail and rode to Ed Riggs Trail. We dropped into a canyon and climbed back out. There was water in the canyon so the horses were able to drink there. Ed Riggs Trail ended at the Echo Canyon Trail trailhead parking lot and we stopped there for lunch. I think it was about two and half to three hours of pretty steady riding to get there. There was a bathroom and one picnic table! We had started at 5160 feet of elevation, peaked close to 6,900 feet near Big Balanced Rock. If we add in the ~500 feet down and ~300 feet back up along the Ed Riggs Trail to the lunch spot, the horses, to this point, had accomplished more than 2500 feet of up and down. Pretty impressive. I actually walked abut 100 yards at one point. Or maybe less. The chemo fatigue had me breathing hard awfully fast. Good thing I am in good riding shape, because hiking would have been totally out of the question for me!
We went down Echo Canyon Trail through the Echo Canyon Grottos. HOLY MOLY. This was mind blowing. The trail wound down, down, down through lots of slots between the rock spires! There were wonderful views. Here is one picture.
The trail, though steep, was wide and stable and not slick–thank goodness I did not bring slidey footed LT who is built for sliding stops. It switched backed down a cliffside while going through the rock formations. It was technical enough that none of us took that many photos. Bill got a pretty gasp-inducing video, and there was one point where there was a sharp bend where if the horse did not turn, a serious drop off awaited. Turn Penny, turn! All the horses were fine. But after we made it through steepest part, and had reached a tamer part of the trail, Patty S.’s saddle slid up onto Bella’s neck! Bella stopped politely and Patty S. was able to dismount safely.
Then we just kept going down and got to a nice creek crossing, where Penny went across perfectly, and Cometa, who has a bad moment only once about every five years, refused to cross and worried Bella who decided to jump off the trail, down a pretty big rock and stick the landing in the creek. Patty S. stuck it, too!
We joined back up to Rhyolite Trail which had seemed fairly steep on the way up, but now, after going up the Sarah Deming and down Echo Canyon, seemed very tame! As the trail descended to the creek, we got to see a pair of coatimundi! I had always wanted to see them! They are related to raccoons, and have crazy long tails! Wikipedia says: “The white-nosed coati is distributed from as far north as Flagstaff, Arizona, New Mexico, through Mexico, Central America, and the far northwestern region of Colombia near the border with Panama”
We also saw about 50 Gould’s Turkey and several Coues Deer, which are a subspecies of white tail deer that are “elfin, standing 32-34 inches at the shoulder and seldom exceeding 100 lbs”. They are only found in Arizona and NM. The name is technically pronounced “cows” but most people, including me, say “cooz”. I was proud to have been able to drag that ID out from my 1980’s wildlife degrees!
We made it back to the trailer at about 5 pm (6 hours) just as Jeff, our host said. We covered 14 miles according to Bill’s Onxy, with over 4,100 feet of elevation change, according to my Equilab. Our horses worked hard!
Breast cancer treatment update: Last week I had some lower blood values. The nurse said to eat more meat and get moderate exercise. So, we chowed down on elk sausage from Bill, elk tenderloin from Richard and Amber, lamb Heidi raised, and store bought chicken. And rode 24 miles in AZ. All my blood values went up! My white blood cell count is still below normal (but it went up, too). The rest of the values are normal–including my red blood cells and hemoglobin, which is why I feel pretty energetic unless I have to hike up steep hills! The neuropathy is down to so minor I hardly notice it most of the time and my Taxol damaged thumb nails are growing back normally.
I have five more weekly treatments. Four are Taxol alone and one is Taxol plus and two types of monoclonal antibodies to attack the Her2 receptor. I will be done with this round the third week of February. Surgery in March.
The one remaining tumor has shrunk to just a few mm’s, so all is going according to plan. And my hair is growing back. I will be happy to get some hair on my head (it’s about 2mm now, maybe) looks white, not my younger-self red. I could live without the return of my old lady mustache and beard, which are not starting to make a comeback, yet.