A Week of Camping in the Bighorns

Every year since my parents bought the gorgeous log house I currently live in in NE Wyoming we have taken a five day camping trip into the Bighorn Mountains each year. And each time we have gone it has never been smooth sailing, and often down-right messed-up…until this year.

Prior years have seen tender-footed and lame horses, a fall from a horse resulting in a broken wrist, altitude sickness coupled with vertigo, and helicopters landing less than 200ft from the campsite. We’ve suffered through blizzard and sub-freezing conditions with 18″ of snow dumped on tents and awnings (completely destroying a great awning) and giving us worry that we might not get off the mountain (thank God for Big Blue, my truck).

Thankfully the only thing that negatively impacted our trip this year was a broken awning, caused by extremely high winds, and a hail storm. It was definitely chilly that first night, but the days were warm and we got in three good rides.

Instead of writing about this year’s camping trip myself I am including a guest post from my step-mom, Nicole M. She likes to write while we are camping and her observations often make for amusing memories and anecdotal stories. The story of this trip is told from the perspective of Skye, the horse she rides when she is here in the US. (Pictures of Skye and the other horses are available under the Horses and Horse Training page at the top of this post).

So here is the post, written by Nicole (Thank you to her for letting me use this material. The original blog entry can be found here: Hove To Wyoming). She hopes (as do I) that you get a few chuckles out of it:

A Mare’s Tale: The Camping Trip by Wyoming Skye


My rider has given me the priviledge of a guest entry in her blog. (That’s what she says; I suspect some idleness on her part.) Let me introduce myself. I am a paint mare. (My rider gets confused over this I would apparently be a skewbald in England, but paint refers to my breed, not just colour.) I live with Annie and Merlin on two and a half acres on the edge of a small town, in the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains of northern Wyoming.
We have one human who looks after us all year round (the boss) and two who come for the summer (however that is defined in Wyoming!) The woman visitor rides me (and spoils me) while the man, although liking us horses, eschews the pleasure of riding us.
This is the tale of their fourth camping trip in the Bighorn National Forest as seen through the wise eyes of the mare Skye.

Setting Off

The humans seemed proud of their organisation as we left earlier than they had planned. Annie and I, however, were still grieving the absence of our adopted son, Merlin. Although we’d given up neighing for him we still felt bereft and less than keen on a new adventure. In addition they expected us to load up into a new trailer. We tried to explain that we were used to one for six horses and this was claustrophobic. They might have a fancy new tack room or dressing room or whatever posh name they chose to give it, but we were supposed to squeeze into the rest of the space – and at a weird angle. Our protests went unheard. Annie tried to neigh ‘Help they’ve kidnapped us!’ But no-one came to our rescue so we had to put up with a long, long, journey. I don’t think it was the longest I’ve been subjected to; Annie and I discussed this at length.
No real bears..
There was an interval when the humans disappeared into a large log building, leaving us horses parked. It was apparently called Bear Lodge though we were most thankful there was no sign of the creatures. They don’t usually cause us too much trouble (unlike mountain lions) but the smell, my dear.
Again no rescuers. The dogs were not impressed either, but kept their heads down – with the occasional peak to see if the humans were returning. Finally they emerged looking full; we could discern the scents of burger, chicken …. and beer. That was it, someone had mis-spelt the sign, Beer Lodge. Ha! No-one thought to bring out some food for us horses. Not burgers of course (though the dogs wouldn’t have minded) a little salad – but hold the dressing.
We set off again, (us without food or drink) and for a while at least the journey was smooth although we had to descend a most steep hill. Thankfully the trailer had a divider so I didn’t have to fall on Annie. But then came the slowest, bumpiest ride you can imagine, the longest three miles. Good gracious I thought my head was going to hit the top of the trailer, most disconcerting.

Making Camp

Finally we stopped. Exhausted, hungry and thirsty.  The spot was one Annie’s rider had prayed would be free. Taylor’s Cow Camp.  Another empty trailer had taken the best location, catching the evening sun, which disappointed the humans but made little difference to Annie and I who grazed wherever was sweetest.

Sweet grass aplenty
The best grass often happened to be a little way from the camp. The humans kept bringing us back from our exploring. They seemed pretty puffed as they walked us back (and yes the altitude affected us too – we just made less fuss) the horrible hobbles were put on one leg with tremendous jangling, like a convict – hardly very elegant. They say that we’re not very fit or too fat but you should see the size of my rider – and hear her puffing.
It was a lot colder than at home, though yes there was the grass. We began to wonder (not for the first time)  if these humans knew what they were doing when the wind, rain, hail, thunder and lightening started. Why did thy bring us all this way for this?  (Though last year we had more than twenty inches of snow so the storm was not as bad as that)
They seemed to be fighting with poles and garish materials. The wind was being especially unhelpful but what did they expect? It looked like their tents were going to be blown over but it was a bright yellow awning that suffered. They left the structure up all week like some huge insect sitting in the camp. There was considerable disgruntlement among the humans.
An electric fenced corral, smaller than the one at home, was put up for us. A bit of overkill to my mind, hobbles and electric! But then it was a strange place and it felt good to be near the humans. The humans ate and for some curious reason our two riders drank ice cold beer – can you imagine? They did manage to light a fire despite all the wood now being damp but stood shivering round it. Finally they gave us some peace and went to bed in their little fabric barns. I don’t know why they do this when they have a perfectly good building at home.
The dreaded trailer and the humans’ fabric barn
I don’t think they slept too well. Annie and I were fine clearing our little patch though it did get chilly during the night – we’d shed our winter coats for what was supposed to be the summer, July I ask you. They were wrapped up in their cocoons without a horse blanket for us – not even the thought of one.

Day One

The humans complained about all the ice on things the next morning – never mind the fact we’d been outside all night. Still they seemed to cheer up after hot coffee, cooked sausage and bacon – and I’m sure I could smell oatmeal. Fancy humans eating our food!
We got our food – after them of course. (Yes, I know we’d had the time eating grass.)  But it was a sop to distract us as they threw our saddles on. (And yes I do mean threw. After carefully placing a couple of blankets this heavy leather construction is chucked on our back). Annie did her usual little dance. I couldn’t be bothered myself – you know they’ll only get you in the end and why make them grumpy? I kept telling Annie this but she had decided it was fun to muck about on the ride too. I was used to her doing the rock spook, I’d found a few scary things myself, just to keep them on their toes you understand. If you just plodded they might get bored… and who knows what might happen then? They might decide to trade us in for one of those dreadful all-terrain vehicles – though they couldn’t use them in the wilderness thankfully.
There is a limit to the entertainment, as I warned Annie. But would she listen? She got herself into some serious trouble. So much so that her rider got off to make her run in circles. We all know what to do but Annie played the ‘let’s turn in to face the human.’ It can be a good game but it has its place – at home in a corral not out in the middle of nowhere. It became tedious as I had to stand and wait with the other human and the dogs. I snorted ‘Enough’ to her after she’d barged into me a couple of times.
Distant Absaroka Mountains
It would have been a pleasant ride, open landscape empty after an early encounter with a collection of cows who we played a half hearted spook at, distant views across the Bighorn basin to the Absoroka’s (we hoped they weren’t planning to ride there!) Unfortunately there were an  inordinate number of hills. Altitude around nine thousand feet, fitness and the heaviest rider, it was hard. Annie was quite smug about it – she had the lighter saddle too. Was  that fair?
It is most entertaining to move when they’re trying to take a photo (note the size of my rider…)
It was a curious ride too. The humans seemed in a muddle on directions with Annie’s rider getting off to look at the map. At least Annie got a rest then. My rider couldn’t even get on from the ground, she had to find a rock or log to stand on. They kept mentioning a creek, Medicine Lodge or something, which would’ve been good. I was so thirsty I was even tempted by a muddy puddle. In the end after tiring me out some more with all the hills they gave up.
Then we were back. Thankfully watered and munching on the grass. The humans managed to find water (or beer?) for themselves. Annie’s rider had a curious meal with a bag emitting smoke,  though no-one seemed to be getting too worried about it.
Annie’s rider and the man drove off in search of fish. I munched as Annie stared at my human writing with the dogs at her feet. Maybe, I thought, it was not going to be too bad a trip. Though I feared further expeditions. I hoped my human did not have too much food -or beer- before the next one. Another chilly night when, having eaten all the grass in our not very large corral, we looked mournfully at the frosted grass outside. Annie’s rider had given us some strange cubes, alfalfa apparently, which were like grass but with a stronger, more concentrated flavour, I wasn’t too sure about them at first but the taste grew on me as they say.
Man and his fire
The humans had sat around another campfire. A very spicy smell wafted across to us. I couldn’t imagine why they  would want to eat that curry stuff. Alfalfa was enough of an adventure for me. I regret to say that more beer appeared to have been drunk.

Day Two

I quite liked the new corn mashy food we were getting in the morning, though of course it was just a distraction from the saddling up. More, heavier stuff seemed to be pushed into the saddle bags, adding to the weight I had to carry. Annie had no sympathy at all. She did her saddling dance again – when would she learn?
If the saddling up ready for more work wasn’t enough, we were then expected to get into the wretched trailer again. It was too much. Neither Annie nor I were happy with this arrangement and demonstrated our disquiet quite clearly. We backed out again at any opportunity. I pretended I didn’t know what moving over meant with Annie’s rider, though I did eventually for mine. (I didn’t want to make her cross with me when it sounded like we would be having a long ride together). Annie and I managed to squish her rider a couple of times, teamwork. Her rider was the boss so we had to show her some of our strength.
Finally we set off, more bumps. I’d have been travel sick if horses could vomit. We were brought out to a car park at the trailhead. The Edelman Trail into the Cloud Peak Wilderness seemed to cause some excitement for our riders. I was not convinced that wilderness looked much different to the rest of the forest and mountains in the Bighorns.
Across prairie: Annie, dogs – and the back of my head!
After another, shorter, interlude of losing the trail we settled in for what looked to be a very long ride across prairie to the mountains. To entertain ourselves (and our riders of course) we played the spooky rock game. Annie won as usual though I put in a good effort. What the humans didn’t appreciate was that as well as the game there were genuinely some bad rocks, those inhabited by evil spirits  known to steal horses’ souls if they were not careful to spot them.
(What’s that you say? My dear, you are so ignorant, of course horses have souls. Why do humans believe they are the only ones with this privilege? All living creatures have souls. I’m not sure about grass though… that could be difficult.)
This trail went on and on with humans distracted by pretty waterfalls. But then, inevitably, it started to rise. Every time I thought we’d got to the top there was another climb. The humans rabbited on about the colours of the rocks and history of the earth. It was just stones and hills and hard work to me. They did have the decency to get off and lead us for a while but my rider was so slow and stumbling I bumped into her several times. She’d never make a good horse.
The Emerald Lake
Finally we reached the last peak and looked down on a pretty blue-green lake called (without any great stretch to  the imagination) the Emerald Lake. The best thing about it was that we stopped for lunch. They tried to get me to drink out of the lake but, honestly, how could you trust water that colour? There was a delicious plant though with small juicy leaves that I couldn’t stop eating (which might have had something to do with my stomach ache later…) My rider was more interested in her own lunch than looking after me – so when I stepped on my rope and spooked I managed to pull her off the rock she was sitting on. She should have known better than to leave the rope slack under my feet. She knew I hated it – but I didn’t mean to give her a shock (and a bruise or two.) Annie’s rider said she should have let go of the rope. She just didn’t want to lose me, quite sweet really.
The dogs seemed quite tired out too. I hoped it meant they wouldn’t get under my feet on the way back. I’d no desire to tread on them or kick them but they failed to notice when I pinned my ears back. Annie said I should just go for them. She’d had her fetlocks nipped a few times and let them know in no uncertain terms that she was not to be rounded up like a cow.
Annie experimented with some strange corn things her rider had left from her lunch.  Her rider had poured them out on a rock for whatever critters might live there. Annie kept eating them then spitting them out. Why she didn’t learn they were unpleasant enough for humans not to want them and why she wasted time with the wretched stuff when she could have been eating the delicious plants was beyond me.
Hardly flattering!
My rider took several photos of me. At least it wasn’t while she was riding as she failed to pay sufficient attention to me when she did. Though she then proceeded to take some more when she was mounted. Humans, I ask you. Of course they were all of Annie too. Has a horse’s rear end ever had so many pictures of it?
Normally the ride back seems shorter – but the trail across the prairie seemed endless. Annie and I were too  tired to play spooky rock and the evil spirits seemed to be having a sensible siesta. We were more co-operative about the trailer on the way back, looking forward to enjoying the grass – even though it meant the horrid hobbles.
Annie decided to have a lie down next to her rider’s tent. I don’t know quite why our lying down caused the humans to get out their cameras. It’s quite natural and I understand they did it too, though they have things to lie on. I suppose it was quite a feat when your front feet were tired together!
Voles were the preoccupation of her rider. Herding one particular vole to safety away from the dogs, having taken its picture with her new camera.
The man
The fishing man had had a frustrating day with Californians (some sort of foreigners). They failed to appreciate the impact of stopping a car in the middle of the road then all getting out and leaving it, or another not moving over to let him pass. No consideration and not a modicum of Wyoming civilities; none of them even waved or nodded, or at least lifted a finger or two from the steering wheel in acknowledgement.
My stomach was uncomfortable so I lay down several times, more than usual, which made my rider anxious. Annie’s rider listened to my stomach and said I was fine. No getting out of the next day’s expedition for me then.
Again they sat round the fire, drinking beer and laughing,  while we stood in our grassless corral. Well okay we did have the alfalfa to munch on – though I ate mine rather fast which probably didn’t help my stomach. But would they take any notice? I doubted it.
Our sleep was further disturbed by wretched cattle coming through the camp. They were very curious about the strange stool the humans sat on – why they didn’t just poo as they go along like us. The cows decided to chew on the stool, not an option I would have considered.

Day Three

So another expedition. It seemed pretty harsh to make us do three days running – and they were even talking about a fourth ride! But, as Annie pointed out in one of her far too reasonable moments, we have a pretty good life so we can afford to give the humans a few days effort. I just wished I had Annie’s rider – little did I know what would come to pass.
There was a determination to find the trail along the canyon that we’d missed the first day. (A generous ‘we’, of course, the error had been down to our riders – they never  asked us despite our sense of direction being clearly superior to theirs. Though we’re better at using our skill to find the most direct way home!)
Again there was taking trails then backtracking, as if we didn’t have enough to do. At least it was more interesting terrain than the long haul across prairie of the previous day. We ended up by the same decrepit cabin we’d seen on the first ride. Apparently we had been very close to the right way.  (If they had got it right the first time we could have had today off. No, Annie pointed out, they’d have just found somewhere else to go.)
If you look very hard you might make out a moose…
We disturbed a bull moose who did a short trot along the track in front of us. My rider was too slow to get her camera out. By the time she did it’d disappeared into the trees on the side of the hill. She then insisted on taking pictures of it hiding in the scrub.
I was most uncomfortable on this ride. It was in no way sensible to ride along the bottom of a steep-sided canyon. Lord knew what could be looking down at you, deciding  whether you were to be their lunch. Why didn’t the humans understand this? The only good part was the lush long grasses just at the height of my mouth. However my rider was unkind enough to pull my head up and push me past the sweetest blades. Torture. I imagined kicking over her drink when we stopped for lunch – and standing on her sandwiches. Even better we could bolt home and leave them stranded. No, that would no doubt have unpleasant consequences. All in all I did not feel in the best of moods.
Annie unhappy on the loathesome trail
The path the humans had chosen to follow deteriorated. No longer at the bottom of the canyon there was a steep bank on one side, with sufficient thickness of undergrowth to hide a wealth of predators, and a sheer drop on the other. I don’t know how many feet it was to the bottom. Admittedly there were trees and branches enough to break your fall but also ready to provide further injury.  I did not like it at all. I sensed the eyes of the soul stealing evil spirits. This was not a good path.
We had to negotiate a goodly number of fallen trees. If there was no opportunity to go round I reluctantly stepped over them. Then we came to a point where the next fallen tree trunk was clearly not going to be easy to traverse. Annie’s rider took her up the steep bank. (A feat I decided I had no wish to follow.) Even then there was no clear way round so they soon returned . Annie’s rider dismounted and scrabbled up the bank herself, (demonstrating how Annie had performed the task more elegantly), and disappeared among the tree. We stood there, the three of us, waiting. We could hear branches breaking, the occasional cussing, and then, nothing. I could feel my rider tense for what seemed to be an inordinate amount of time before the branch breaking and cussing sounds returned followed by a glimpse of blue t-shirt.
No, there was no obvious way round. A debate ensued between the two riders, to return or to attempt to go forward. ‘Go back!’ I wanted to shout. Annie and I agreed, ‘Go back, this is a bad trail.’ Why couldn’t the humans sense the evil? As usual they paid no attention to our sage advice.
Annie’s rider went ahead along the trail and found that after the dozen or so difficult obstacles there was a clear path. She came back as a path-clearer, breaking off branches and even pulling away a whole tree. She was very strong. I was not sure my rider could do the same.
They decided that the route was now passable. I did not. Annie’s rider re-mounted and Annie, the turncoat, jumped over the big log and stepped over the next. No, I thought, I am sticking to my judgement. If there were fallen trees here there would be further fallen trees ahead. If there was evil here there would be worse ahead. Someone had to take a stand. My rider disagreed. She clicked and kicked till my ribs were sore and I was sure her legs were aching. I would not budge.
Annie’s rider (the boss, you understand) decided that she would make me move. But no, despite her harder kicking, I refused to go over this tree trunk. They then decided on a joint approach. My rider at the front pulling my halter rope and Annie’s rider behind. (All this time Annie standing quietly, Miss Goody Two-shoes – or rather Four-shoes. Where is equine solidarity when you need it?)
My rider almost slid off the path as she pulled, which did provoke concern and even a twinge of guilt. What I had not appreciated was that Annie’s rider had unclipped my reins to use behind me. Whereas I had expected the slap of a rope, I received the smart sting of the metal part. I was so surprised I jumped the log.
I baulked at the next fallen tree but when Annie’s rider came behind me I considered the metal sting and proceeded. At the next  log she just approached my side. I knew the threat and resigned myself to continuing along this evil path.
I cut my leg on the next tree trunk since they hadn’t pulled off all the side branches properly. No-one seemed to care about my plight. Admittedly it was hardly a deep cut but they were both so caught up in this crazy quest they didn’t even notice. Even my rider went forward to clear more trees after the short section of clear path became strewn with trees again.
Until, until we came to a tree that was too large for us to step over or even jump. (I am not a show jumper despite my ability to provide exceptionally large leaps when least expected.) Finally, thankfully, they decided to give up their attempt to ride along the Medicine Lodge Creek canyon despite being able to see its pink stone walls. So close, but so far. And if they had only had the wisdom to listen to me…
The humans discussed who they would complain to – Bighorn National Forest, Game and Fish or Bureau of Land Management. I suspect they’ll have forgotten about it when they get home. They seemed so fed up about it that they didn’t even want to stop for lunch. ‘Not hungry’, they said, ‘Let’s just get back for a beer.’ Not that they consulted us. We had a short rest and a little time to savour the grasses but we missed a leisurely lunch break. (No opportunity to spoil my rider’s lunch, I had not forgotten.)
Annie decided to show off on the path back, trying to break into a trot. I was too tired as of course I had so much more to carry. The truth was she was scared and anxious to get out of the canyon quickly. She got her comeuppance though. Her rider decided she needed to let off steam in a canter up the hill. Ha! I was not at all happy to be made to go up ahead on my own. What if she got lost? What if a mountain lion, having tracked us along the canyon, decided to attack while we were separated, or that bull moose returned…
Of course the riders had not explained to us their plans. I kept neighing to see if she was alright and tried to turn back for her but my rider would have none of it – and even seemed entertained by my antics. Eventually I could hear Annie’s hooves along the track and her rider came into sight. Annie hadn’t managed to canter all the way up but gallantly broke into a few strides when she saw me. At least we could have a relaxing, if now rather hot, walk back.
Safely home, well our temporary home, they opened their beers. We ate. They drank. Once more a group of cows came to visit. The humans had set up camp by a cattle route from the creek. It was obvious to us – especially when the place was called Taylor Cow Camp. What else did they expect? The cows stared at the humans. The humans stared at the cows. Until a bold cow started toward them. I  was a little anxious. But Annie’s rider instructed the dogs, ‘get them’. We had worked with the dogs back at the ranch last year but I’d not seen the two of them working on their own. In a cloud of dust and whisk of tails the cows were out of  there. They tried to circle back but the dogs had control.
I was impressed. Very impressed. Those animals who could be so annoying under our feet could manage so many thousand pounds of beef. No wonder they tried to move us. No wonder they failed. We horses are of far superior intellect.
Photographing the photographer!
As the sun set the humans became excited about the moon. They must’ve seen it so many times before! Admittedly it was very bright (another night where it would be difficult to sleep). They were busy taking photographs. (I believe they had more of the moon than of me – though not as many as of Annie’s rear). They were even photographing each other taking photographs!
Wither nibbles
Dearie me. These humans! Annie and I comforted each other with mutual wither nibbles.

Day Four and Home!

There had been talk of another expedition, another attempt at this darn Medicine Lodge Creek canyon from the other end – as if they weren’t going to encounter fallen trees again! We were hugely relieved when they changed their minds.
My rider and the man had been up early dismantling their lying-on things. You should have seen the amount of warm bedding they brought out. We watched them take their ‘barns’ down with a sigh of relief. It was over. We would be going home. It took far too long for them to pack though Annie and I were torn between the desire to get home and the last chance to munch the sweet grass.
This time we got into the trailer calmly, as though it had always been this way. The bumps were no less agonising, the road no less slow. But we knew it would end and we would be home, in our own corral – with no hobbles.
We arrived sooner than my rider and the man. Annie’s rider stayed sitting outside the house for at least an hour, muttering about keys. It appeared she couldn’t get herself a beer. She was not happy. My rider and the man eventually returned – with beer. More unloading and unpacking ensued.
There was a calm. Annie and I settled down for the evening. Our riders set off on the small noisy vehicle. I hadn’t given it a thought until they returned onto our track accompanied by the sound of hooves, little hooves. A whinny, we rushed to the gate. Merlin! I had thought we might never see him again. His mother Riley had gone last summer. This was truly home, my baby Merlin (even if he was adopted and now a bumptious yearling, he was still my baby.)

Harmony was restored though if I was truly honest it was just a tiny bit dull.  We would be moved to new pasture soon but there was something exciting about mountains, lakes, (and rocks) which even the entertainment of watching humans engaged in muddy ditch digging could not surpass.


About the guest contributor, in her words:

After years in Management Development, Nicole has moved from part-time writer to full-time sea and mountain gazer. She chews pencils in Brighton, England and Wyoming, USA in between writing the sequel to her first novel “My Glass Grenade.”

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