In Part One of this story, I wrote about riding in Estes Park in the summer of 2013, before the great flood that occurred that fall. I spent a great deal of time that first summer riding in Homestead Meadows, often by myself with just my dogs for company. Usually, I ran into at least a half dozen hikers, and on very rare occasions, another horseback rider. I learned the trails and the terrain, and with a GPS that could connect to the Park Ranger frequency, I felt quite safe.
The Great Flood of 2013 occurred in September of that year. I had a horse friend who had planned on hauling her horses to my place the very weekend the flood happened. Needless to say, she didn’t make it. Even though I was a homeowner, I was strongly discouraged from even trying to get to Estes to evaluate the damage to my property. (Two of the 3 major roads into town were impassable and the third was in terrible shape.) I relied on neighbors and the man I paid regularly to keep an eye on the place while I wasn’t there. We had 4 feet of water in the basement due to a French drain system that failed.
This video shows the area around my home (starting around the 6-minute mark). The two lakes that were bridged by the earthen dam were within walking distance of my home and I often walked the dogs around those lakes. Fish Creek Road and Scott Road were heavily damaged, and Fish Creek Road remained compromised for years afterward. Just in the last year or two has it been repaired. I had horse friends who lived on the far side of Fish Creek Road who had to walk their horses through flooded creeks to get them to safety. No cars or trailers could make it. If you want to see more about the flood, watch Part One and Part Two of the video shot by the same gentleman who posted the one above.
In spite of the fact that much of Rocky Mountain National Park was a mess, there was still good riding to do in the summer of 2014. The trailhead to Homestead Meadows was closed and didn’t reopen until a couple of weeks before I returned home to Kansas. Nevertheless, there was a workaround!
I had another horse friend whose property abutted another section of the national forest that included the meadow. Even though all public access to the meadow was closed, we still managed to ride up there. We had to climb a very steep trail to reach the meadow. We entered the meadow at about “9 o’clock”, compared to “1 o’clock” when I rode up the trailhead I used the previous summer. Because I accessed the meadow from my friend’s home, I never rode up there alone… there were always at least 3 of us who would meet to ride on any given day.
It was so different that second summer. We never saw another hiker (all public access was closed) and the trails were washed out, rutted, and covered with debris. When I say rutted I mean really rutted! The water had created deep crevices in the trail, making navigation quite challenging at times. The horses did fine, but it was a vastly different terrain.
About two weeks before I was due to leave, the county park services opened up Homestead Meadows to the public. I was ecstatic and most anxious to ride the trail I had so enjoyed the previous summer. I loaded up the dogs and off we went. We entered the meadow at the aforementioned “1 o’clock” location. The trail I had ridden extensively the previous summer had followed the face of the clock south to about “5 o’clock” where another trail coursed east and returned me to the trail that would take me back to the trailer.
Alas… the terrain was so different that we missed our right-turn trail. I was watching my GPS and my anxiety grew as we approached and passed “6 o’clock” and “7 o’clock”. I knew where I was as the crow flies because I was rapidly approaching where we had entered the meadow behind my friend’s home. And that was a long way from my trailer! As my GPS recorded 7 miles, I faced a decision. I really didn’t want to trek 7 miles back the way I came. I could see on my GPS that the trail I wanted was about 15 minutes east of where I was. But what terrain existed between me and my intended destination?
I kept looking for a right turn trail. At one point, I followed a fairly faint trail off to the right and up the mountain. The dogs gleefully ran ahead as they could easily discern the trail. (It was basically a wildlife trail!) But at the top of the mountain, it disappeared. The scene before me resembled a gigantic game of Pick Up Sticks. Trees were lying on the ground crisscrossed in all directions. The dogs stopped. The horse stopped. Everyone was waiting for me to tell them where to go… I looked at my GPS to tell me where to go!
With my heart pounding, I decided to go for it. I headed due east to attempt to intersect with the trail that would lead me home. If all went well, I would emerge at about “3 o’clock” and have a short ride to the trailer.
The dogs and horse were confused but totally cooperative. The dogs had to keep looking back to determine our general direction. Kadeen picked his way over log after log after log. I was filled with adrenaline and had my eyes peeled for drop-offs or holes or hazards of any kind. I really didn’t want to get into trouble all by myself on the mountain. It was a very long 15 minutes but, to my relief, we emerged exactly where I hoped we would. I’m not sure I had a normal heart rate for quite some time…
As scary as that 15 minutes was, it was that kind of moment that really cemented my bond with my horse. I remember one other time that summer where I was alone, except for the dogs. A storm came up quickly, as they do in the mountains. I had a rain jacket, and I have vivid memories of trying to get that slicker on, while on the horse, with the wind whipping it like crazy. Kadeen was great, but he knew a storm was coming and we were both anxious to get down the mountain.
I hadn’t created my Emergency ID Tags at the time these experiences unfolded. Rather, it was because of those adrenalin-pumping moments that I realized I should have some emergency information available at all times. I am a safe rider, as safe as I can be given all the variables. My horse is trustworthy and I maintain the relationship with him that is necessary to give us maximum trust and communication. I wear a helmet. I have an excellent trail saddle with poleys and a high cantle that help me keep my seat. My Garmin GPS is state-of-the-art with communication abilities. I have years of experience and a whole lot of muscle memory. But I also don’t bounce as well as I used to. I am less and less interested in hitting the ground!
Although I had to sell that home due to divorce, I am actively seeking another horse-friendly place in the Estes area. I can’t wait to get back there… I can’t think of any place I have ever ridden that was as amazing as the Rockies.