ID MyHorse

Beautiful Coronado National Forest… Boondocking With Horses

My husband and I have been trying to plan our first equine boondocking adventure, and we finally made it happen. We just returned from three nights and four glorious days in Coronado National Forest in St. David, Arizona. We sold the beloved LQ that I brought to the marriage and purchased a new-to-us Class A motorhome. We certainly didn’t break any speed records getting that beast back to our camping spot… but we did it! We were close enough to home that we opted to have Alan drive the coach and I pulled the horses with the truck. That allowed me to scope out if our desired spot was available before he took the coach all the way back.

We took a day trip to this location a few weeks ago. Prior to our recent adventure, we hadn’t ridden here for several years. I wrote about our first ride in the post titled: Council Rocks in St. David, Arizona. I mentioned in that blog how BUMPY the forest road is, and it is nearly 20 miles back to where we camped. It takes us an hour to get to the forest road, and another hour to go not quite 20 miles! I’m not inclined to rattle the teeth out of the horses, and neither did I want to have to rearrange every single item in the coach.

We arrived around lunchtime on a Tuesday, hoping the park would be less crowded. On our day trip a few weeks ago, we scoped out two great options for our boondocking adventure. Happily, we were able to snag our primo location. While there, we encountered a group of ladies who frequently ride and camp in the area. We learned that we had, indeed, snagged the favorite equestrian camping site.

We have used electric fencing multiple times in the past, both while camping and for erecting a temporary grazing fence at our home in Colorado. We had never highlined the horses. Knowing that more boondocking was in our future, I wanted to have highlining as an option. After doing some research, I settled on ordering the Ultimate Highline kit.

We set it up once at home before we left, and it was quite anticlimactic… just what you want with horses! They stood there like the older, mature horses that they are. In fact, I’m not sure my gelding figured out that he had the option of moving on his longer line. His training told him that he was tied so he needed to stay put. He preferred to just hang out with his lady. We were very pleased with the highline setup. When I purchased the base camp set, I also bought a smaller, lighter set to use when on day rides. Additionally, the smaller line will be pressed into service to highline a dog or three or four…

Coronado National Forest

Coronado National Forest covers 1.78 million acres in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. The area where we camped is part of the Douglas Ranger District. It used to be that this area was divided into three separately designated National Forests: Chiricahua National ForestDragoon National Forest, and Peloncillo National Forest. I have written several blog posts about riding in the Dragoon and Chiricahua Mountains.

Our first ride

By the time we crept down the bumpy road and set up our coach and highline, we opted not to ride on the first day. On our first full day of camping, we headed north on the forest road until we passed Slavin Gulch and the trail split. We took the right fork. I think we were on the Slavin Gulch trail, but I am not sure. However, it was beautiful!

At one point, we passed a parking area where a few people were getting ready to hike. We headed on down the trail ahead of them. We started up a branch of the trail that became way too challenging for the horses. I took a couple of photos and we carefully crept our way back down. We encountered the hikers as they were headed up the trail we had abandoned… to CLIMB the mountain! My Garmin watch died a short distance from camp, so you’ll have to fill in the blanks… We walked a short way past camp to water the horses at a creek that still had some running water.

Ride #2

For our second ride, we essentially retraced our ride towards Council Rock. It is a steep climb up to the actual area where the Native Americans “counseled” and it is not a horse-friendly trail. When we rode here in 2020, we had a friend along who held our horses while we climbed up the trail on foot. Nevertheless, it is a beautiful ride through the Dragoon Mountains and some open plains. This is the ride we took on our day trip a few weeks ago.

The temperature was 63 degrees but there was a bit of wind that made it chilly enough to need a light coat. We were accompanied on all three of our rides by two of our five dogs. Jake, our recent acquisition from Arizona Border Collie Rescue, is undergoing heartworm treatment and is on major exercise restriction. The other two are too old or have unhappy joints and cannot do the 6 to 7 miles that we covered each day.

Our third and last ride

We rode on the day we broke camp, as the weather was beautiful and no camp host was pushing us out of our spot! This time, we decided to ride away from the mountains and into the flatlands to see what we could discover. We saw one lonely, solitary steer but lots of evidence of cattle in the past. Coronado National Forest apparently allows free range cattle. There are cattle guards on the forest roads. Initially, we saw some evidence of prior horseback riders, but most people apparently ride into the mountains.

There were stock tanks scattered throughout this area. Some were filled, some were not. We rode through a gate or two. We had many options as to where we rode and how far we rode. There were lots of cattle trails and a road or two. We ended up riding through a dry wash with a deep, sandy bottom. We were the only people and horses visible in the vast landscape.

A wonderful time was had by all!

We thoroughly enjoyed our first boondocking-with-horses experience. The horses handled the highline quite well. The dogs did great. Thank heavens for more room in the motorcoach!

I will add that knowing our horses had identification on them at all times gave me a great deal of peace of mind. I don’t think we encountered more than a dozen people during our entire four days. I can’t imagine waking up to find that one or both horses were not where they were supposed to be, and having to count on a park ranger (we never saw the first one) or some other hikers or campers to find them. What good would a Facebook group be in that scenario?

Should the unthinkable happen and our horses get away from us, at least I know that we can be called immediately when they are found. I would be a nervous wreck if our horses were loose on hundreds of acres of land, but I would also be a lot more confident that we’d eventually get them back.

We are excited to plan future getaways with all of our animals. My gelding turns 22 years old this year. He’s definitely slowing down, but I hope we still have many more memories in our future.

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