story and photos by Katherine M. Cerra, Buckeye, Ariz.
The answer to the question, “What do you carry in your saddlebag?” is age dependent. Me, being 56-ish, along with others in that age bracket, experience frequent reminders of injuries of the past when out enjoying ourselves.
Pain meds and Maximum Strength Flexall join my cache of first aid items, hoof pick and Leatherman Tool. The first two items are very much needed, so come the four-mile mark of a ride I don’t have the personality of a snarling coyote with it’s leg stuck in a trap.
And with age is suppose to come knowledge gained by experience. I’ll be darned though if I remember to thoroughly wipe the Flexall off my hands with baby wipes before using nature’s restroom. Being 16% menthol, I am here to tell you that by not practicing in thorough hand wiping, you will experience sensations where you probably shouldn’t be feeling any sensations. Oh my gosh!
So with my saddlebags packed, camera, GPS, extra batteries, my two mules Floppy and Izzy, and my trusty German Shepard co-pilot pup Sophie all loaded, we headed out to the Boyd Ranch Mule Ride, located north of Wickenburg, about nine miles east of Hwy 93 in the Wickenburg Mountains overlooking the Hassayampa river.
This was my fourth year attending the ride, which has been going on for five years now. My first two years it was just Floppy and I, and then the third year I added my new mule Izzy. This year my 8-month-old pup Sophie attended.
I love this ride because of the people and riding. Though I started off not knowing anyone, it has since turned into more like a family reunion with good down-to-earth people.
Each year the “family” gets bigger. This year there were 64 riders and well over 70 some animals, so...lots of braying going on.
We’ve had a lot of rain here in Arizona, so with safety in mind some of the rides had to be altered due to the presence of quicksand in the Hassayampa, as well as some downed barb wire cattle fencing that was taken down by rushing waters.
On Thursday I went on Cathy’s 9.8 mile ride. There was a 697-foot difference between the minimum and maximum elevation with an overall 1,309-foot in ascents. We saw a coyote making a mad dash up the hillside across the way and a jackrabbit dashing up the hillside we were on. I think the jackrabbit was glad he wasn’t the main entrée on Mr. Coyote’s menu that day.
After the ride, Brad Pyles and his seven-month -old Rottweiler Chief joined Sophie and I for some play time in the Hassayampa. Sophie is a water diva and with her encouragement Chief joined in on the romping in the water.
Friday was the ride of rides: Scott’s now infamous ride into the Hassayampa River Canyon Wilderness. I went on this ride the year before and it was pretty and challenging. Izzy was my mule of choice for the wilderness ride for both years. This year Scott re-routed the approach into the wilderness, which got a thumbs up from me. The approach this time was along a jeep trail that runs up to and along the boundary of the wilderness (versus riding a wash the year before).
Once in the wilderness area we took the same trail as before, with the only difference being we didn’t cross the Hassayampa. The river was running pretty good, but it was running muddy and you couldn’t see the rocks and/or sand that lay beneath, so we trekked through some old mesquite and landed back on track. The ride was 22.2 miles with nine hours in the saddle and I think everyone’s bodies were reminding them of the time. There was a 1,055-foot difference between minimum and maximum elevation with 3,320-foot in ascents.
The sharpest descent of the wilderness ride was the same spot as last year where we were left wondering what the heck happened to Scott. He seemed to have disappeared. Just mere minutes before he had told us to take our cameras out as the views were going to be awesome…only thing is he forget to tell us that the descent we were about to make was going to be a butt-pucker. Seeing how I knew what to expect and I recorded the descent.
Arriving back at the ranch I, as I’m sure as others, was ready to roll off the saddle. And what a pleasant and most appreciated personal pit crew awaited my arrival; Dwight Beard, Donna Norgaard and Debbie Humphries. Thanks so much for your help!
I took the day off on Saturday and caught a ride in a wagon and milled around the ranch. Come 2 p.m. it was time for the Mule Ramble. I think the events (keyhole, barrels, ribbons and obstacle) were a nice mix, ran smoothly and enjoyed by all. The highlight for me was watching the Masters of Driving (Dwight Beard, Donna Norgaard and Ray from Montana) strut their stuff in the arena. Ray, who I hadn’t met before, likes to leave an impression on people he meets and forever will I remember him as Spartacus, as he showed up dressed in Roman garb driving a chariot.
The Farewell ride was led by Bonnie, another awesome trail boss. Bonnie spends quite a bit of time on the trails in the area and found several spots where we could safely cross the Hassayampa River. Luckily, where we crossed, Floppy didn’t need his water wings. Mother Nature turned up the furnace on Sunday and I was glad we weren’t riding the Wilderness area that day! The Farewell ride was 10.3 miles in length, 648-foot difference between minimum and maximum elevation and 1,442-foot in ascents. This was one of the prettiest short rides. We rode up through a wash into a canyon that had yellow poppies all over the canyon sides. Very, very pretty. Out on the trail enjoying the high temperatures was a Desert Tortoise. I always feel privileged when I see one of these creatures out in the wild. He had his head tucked in his shell as we passed and I could have sworn I heard him mutter “ass.” Yep, that’s what we’re riding buddy.
Too much to tell and some of which was missed, went on during the event; music, gold panning, orienteering, a pirate maiden pouring shots, bonfire, socializing and a fox scurrying up a rock canyon.
What goes on, on the Hassayampa stays on the Hassayampa. And even if tales were to be told, one would never know the truth because as legend has it once you sip on the waters of the Hassayampa you never can tell the truth again.