I Went to the Desert on a Horse with No Name
Published on Feb. 15, 2020
I’m in the desert with the buckskin. He’s really a line back dun, but he got stuck with the buckskin moniker before I figured out the difference.
We’re on a walkabout in Arizona. The land of the smiling saguaros, whose tall upright arms are smiling and welcoming at the same time. It all started with the American Sheep Industry (ASI) convention in Scottsdale in January. Bob and Kate were going, so I thought “why not me and the buckskin”?
I’m very fortunate to be doing this. It involves an older horse trailer with living quarters and room in the back for one or two horses. A large pickup with good tires and horsepower to pull the trailer.
And a credit card to buy diesel to put in the above large pickup. I sold a litter of border collie pups in December to help out with the finances, but in the end, it takes a credit card or two and a good husband, daughter, son and daughter-in-law at home to make this journey.
I’ve been to Arizona plenty of times. In seventh grade with my family in a camper, gazing out over the Grand Canyon. A couple of trips to my aunt and uncle’s in Mesa when I was young. My dad lived the last 10 years of his life in the Phoenix area, and I would fly or drive down to visit. None of those trips really showed me much of Arizona though.
So why do I have a horse? Several years ago, a good childhood friend who lives in Buffalo started showing me the trails in the Big Horns. Renee now spends half the year in Buffalo, and the winter months in Arizona. She invited me down to show me the trails in Arizona. And they’re spectacular!
Riding one day in the red rocks near Sedona, on a newly established trail with some dang sure “pucker passes.” Twice going out near Renee’s home in Mesa to the Coon Bluffs state recreation area, with a nice stream and feral horses. Getting rim rocked east of Apache Junction near the Superstition mountains. Riding down near Tuscon in Catalina State Park, where soaring peaks of the majestic Santa Catalina mountains are right outside my door.
Speaking of peaks, Arizona has 3,928 mountain peaks and summits, more than any other mountain states in the lower 48, including Colarado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.
There’s plenty of flat land too, and cactus. All kinds of cactus. The stately saguaro’s, that are over 100 years old at their height and grow their first branch after 50 years. The prickly pear, a flat balloon shape that can be eaten. The barrel cactus, that often leans towards the southwest. You can use it as a compass if you’re lost!
The Jumping Cholla. The branches are easily detached, and if you lightly brush up against one, it’ll stick with you. Horse riders carry large combs in their bags to remove these, as they have tiny barbs at the end.
There is plenty of alfalfa grown in Arizona. West of Casa Grande, I saw large fields that supplied big dairies in the area. In the winter, they chop the hay and deliver it direct to the feed bunks, as it won’t dry with the cool nights. Arizona can get as many as eight or 10 cuttings of alfalfa hay.
Renee has orange trees in her yard, and a real treat is fresh squeezed OJ. She used to live at Queen Creek, southeast of Mesa and cotton fields surrounded the homes. I drove south towards Douglas one day, and saw large groves of pecan trees.
Near Globe, I picked up a greenish rock, a sure sign of copper that is mined in the big mines there.
I’ve had to hunt for a place that will take a large trailer and a horse. The horse population swells in the winter months, and most “horse hotels” have clients that book for months instead of days or weeks. There are people from all over the northern states and Canada is well represented also.
I’m talking trail riders now, but of course anyone with a rope will know about Wickenburg, the capital of team roping in the winter months. There’s quite a few Wyoming folks in Wickenburg, and they have their daily pick of many area arenas to rope in.
I’m staying now in a state park near Tuscon, Catalina State Park. It has wonderful facilities, a fabulous view, and fun trails. Horseback riders share the trails with mountain bikers and hikers. Ol’ Buck seems to get along with both, just the odd barrel cactus once in a while catches his eye.
And speaking of the buckskin, I believe I will give him a name. When I first arrived, I was a little apologetic about my long- haired ranch horse fresh out of the pasture.
He’s done well traveling, riding in the rocks and strides right out, a joy on the trails. I will name him Buck, the Traveler.
I was visiting with a gentleman from Vermont the other day, and he said “What’s Arizona got that Wyoming doesn’t have?” How about sixty degree days in February? I will try to bring some home.