A cowboy needs a horse…

Liz and I on horsebackLiz and I on horseback, in the shadow of the Superstitions.

Yesterday, Liz and I hired OK Corral Stables in Apache Junction for a two hour ride in the Sonoran Desert. Neither one of us had been on horseback in over 30 years. I had never been on a horse on uneven, rocky terrain – my experience was riding a retired race horse on an oval dirt track.

OK Corral in Apache Junction, AZOK Corral is a family-owned venture five miles down the road. The sons are involved in the Animal Planet series “Ice Cold Gold” where they are mining gold in Greenland. They run a gold mine in AJ, so they have experience. Josh booked our ride and helped saddle the horses, and he adjusted my stirrups prior to my ride. Helluva nice guy.

Josh Feldman adjusting my stirrupsIt was a nice morning for a ride, we commenced riding a little after 8AM. Our guide, James gave us all a quick run down on handling the reins Western style. Liz was given Ned Kelly (named after an Australian outlaw) and I was given Guinness (how appropriate!).

We headed east from the ranch, towards Goldfield and the Superstitions. We rode with another couple from Mesa. They keep the groups small, which is nice. Our two-hour ride was actually almost three hours, and James stopped frequently to give us some local history as well as some intersting anecdotes about the local foliage.

in the shadow of the SuperstitionsI learned something new – my dad always said you would learn something new every day if you were not careful.  At one point, James asked us which direction was north?  I knew from the location of the Superstions, and if we had been at a higher elevation we would have seen Four Peaks, which is true north from Apache Junction. But he told us a better way to know north, especially when the Superstitions or Four Peaks are not in your vicinity (or otherwise). Barrel cactus lean to the south. The second photo, of the OK Corral sign, has barrel cacti in the background, and they are growing toward the southern sunlight.

Guinness, the lazy horseBarrel cactus are also the best source of pure water in the desert. Saguaro cactus flowers and fruits are a good souce of food, but the water in a saguaro can be tainted. Also, Sagauro are protected, so you don’t want to be caught defacing them. Barrels grown much faster.

The chain-fruit cholla cactus is also a good source of food – the small joints taste like cucumber. You have to burn the spines off, then peel the skin and eat the fruit raw.

ridingWe rode past several abandoned gold mines – all them dating to the 1970’s or earlier. Mining is still allowed, the Feldmans own a mine, and our guide James works for the Goldfield gold mine. In the ’70’s, laws were passed that required miners to fill in test holes.  The holes we saw were failed mines – test digs looking for a vein.

The ride took us up and down gullies and rocky paths, we had to rein the horses back to keep them from running down the hills, and then spur them to get them going back up. It took me a while to get used to reining higher up on the neck to get Guinness to turn right or left, a few inches back and he understood the command to mean that I wanted to go in reverse.

I was afraid that after thirty years I would not be able to handle the horse, but he was gentle and while stubborn, not aggressive. He did try to take advantage a few times and stop to eat, but I learned how to cut his snack short. You can’t allow the horses to eat out in the desert – rattle snakes are a real hazard.  We werfortunate and didn’t run into any, even though the weather was ideal for them to be out.

We did see a couple coyotes that were way too close for comfort, as they were not runnign away as they normally do. They are getting way too familiar with humans, and with the plentiful rabbits they were hanging closer to civilization.

After two and a half hours in the saddle, my knees were a bit wobbly after the ride. My ass is a little sore today, but not as bad as I expected. Anyway, I am hooked, and can’t wait for our next ride.

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