I spent two summers riding in Rocky Mountain National Park and the surrounding national forest. It was two of the most amazing summers I ever spent on horseback. Talk about a multi-sensory experience! I could HEAR the sound of hooves on the trail, SMELL the amazing scent of evergreen trees, SEE the majesty of the mountains, and FEEL the joy of an awesome horse beneath me.
Kadeen enjoyed it too. He was always the first one to spot wildlife and would alert me with his gaze. He handled all trail obstacles with confidence. More than once we went out alone. I would only do this because I had purchased a Garmin GPS device with the capability of connecting to the park ranger radiofrequency. I knew if I got into trouble I could summon help.
The first summer was in 2013. I met several local riders and in July I rode Kadeen in the annual Rooftop Rodeo Parade. He was the only Arabian and the ONLY horse who did the “parade horse jig” all through the town! Hard to blame him though… it was his first time, and many of the other horses had done it annually for years.
We had to park at the fairgrounds and ride several miles on a busy road just to get to the staging area. At one point, we were walking up the hill in town right next to the Safeway grocery, and a SEMI TRUCK was on the road passing us. He would inch a few feet forward in heavy traffic and then apply his air brakes! This went on for quite some time, and poor Kadeen was not too excited about that. The truck was literally no more than 6 feet away from us, probably closer to 4 feet.
Once or twice that first year I dismounted and walked for a little while, as I wasn’t too keen on the idea of taking a header on the pavement. I had put borium nails in his shoes to provide a little more traction on the pavement. All in all that was quite an experience. (We did a little better the second year, although he still jigged the whole time!)
Note that I am riding that summer in an inexpensive Wintek English saddle. I had an Aussie trail saddle on order but it was delayed, and delayed, and delayed so I rode with a saddlebag/saddle pad combo for most of that summer. Not the best option for up and down the mountains…
One of my favorite places to ride in Estes was a destination I had reached many times on foot. It is a trail called Homestead Meadows, and up until the 1980s, it was still possible to acquire land in that meadow by homesteading. There were remains of several cabins and plaques describing the adventures of the hardy folk who had lived there in times past. There was even the remnant of a cattle corral. It was a favorite destination hike for my family… about 3.5 miles up to the meadow and the same in reverse. It was possible to hike further up and see more cabins but we never did…. But I did do that on horseback!
The first time I rode the horse up to the meadow I parked at the same trailhead I had used as a hiker. However, I soon discovered there was a county park that had access via a different trailhead, with a great area for trailer parking off the busy highway. It took me ten minutes from my house to get to the park and another ten minutes to get to the trailer parking area. Such a deal!!
The other awesome thing about Homestead Meadows was the fact that it was a national forest and not a national park, and that meant that DOGS were allowed. (They were SUPPOSED to be on a leash….) Since I went up the back way, and since I have amazing and well-behaved dogs, I would often ride with my two Border collies gleefully running in front of me. No ticks, no flies, no sweltering heat. It was Nirvana.
One day I was up there alone with just the dogs. (Usually, I would run into at least a few hikers.) Suddenly I heard the faint sound of water splashing (very faint) and I had an uneasy sensation that something was wrong. And then I realized I couldn’t see Reilly, my dog-of-a-lifetime Border collie that I lost just this past summer. As I rode toward the sound of splashing, I realized she was in a well!!
The water was quite high, only about 6-8 inches below the well wall, but it was low enough that she couldn’t get out herself. I don’t know if she was drinking and slipped in, or jumped in herself, as she LOVED the water. Regardless of how she got herself in that predicament, she needed help getting out. She had a rather annoyed look on her face, not particularly concerned but not too thrilled either!
I jumped off the horse, held the reins with one hand and grabbed Reilly’s collar with my other hand, and pulled her out. I made a point of stopping at the park office to suggest they cover the well, although it didn’t seem to generate much of a response from the person I spoke to. Sadly, a year later I checked it out and nothing had been done. I would hate to think of some little boy playing Frisbee in the meadow and falling into that well. I think it was a jurisdiction thing–National forest vs. county park.
I spent quite a bit of time up there that summer and learned the trails fairly well. I went home in August and looked forward to coming back the following summer. But nature has a way of changing your plans…
That fall was the devastating flood that occurred in Estes Park. My home had 4 feet of water in the basement. It happened in early September. There was significant damage to the infrastructure of Estes and also to the surrounding park and forest. When I arrived in Estes in the spring of 2014, Homestead Meadows was closed, and it remained closed until a couple of weeks before my scheduled return to Kansas in August. Watch for Part 2 of this story and I will tell you about my adventures bushwhacking through the forest after losing all of my landmarks!