Monday, March 31, 2008

Desert Dancer

Congratulations to Omar Davis and his mare, Desert Dancer! Rusty covered her twice over the last two days. Tonight at 6:30 pm he finished and Omar took his mare home. This will be the first Mule for both of them.

I rode with Omar on Saturday between breed attempts. This nice tempered mare is Quarter horse/Thoroughbred, but moves out with a single-foot gait that I could hardly keep up with, and I'm usually out front. I can't wait to see the foal. Check back on her due date, March 9, 2009.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Haslem Trail...ode' to Old Kim

Not for the faint of heart, the Haslem Trail is tailor-made for mules. At 89 years old, Kimbal Haslem painstakingly carved it by hand in 2003 with some help from my neighbor, Jim Wallik. I've flown these cliffs many times, but this day(Friday March 28), I get to know them. From Warner Valley's monochromatic red floor, Jim and I pick our way up through ledge and cliff. Finally, we scramble over the petrified, honey-combed dune scape that guards the living, crimson sand dunes across her mesa top--in shock and awe that we get this all to ourselves! A ride up this trail is an eye full of miracle, and a gut full of adrenaline.

Just don't tell Jim or Kim that it ain't for horses. When Old Kim hacked this passage out of boulder and ledge, his un-shod horses were 30 years old and just as tough as he was--none moving too fast, but steady and full of purpose. They carried Kim along everything you see here, except the ledge jumping, but including the boulder hopping . Trail building is the way he stayed young. There could literally be over a hundred miles of trails in the county with his name on them, none on maps, but catalogued in the memory of young Jim who covered so many of those miles as Kim's riding partner and apprentice.

For years, Jim wondered if he would have to pack Kim's used-up tabernacle off of some impossible climb, or some boulder strewn ledge. But Old Kim still lives. He retired from horses and trailbuilding just a couple of years ago. His vision failing and his body finally exhausted, Kim left for California to spend his last days with his kids.

Kim used to invite me and my kids to come along before we started our Mule project. I regret missing the chance. Reflecting on Old Kim's contribution, Jim and I figured this trail had Kim's name written all over it--the Haslem Trail.

Sunday morning 2:00 am--the watch is on...4 days over due, and no baby mule yet.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

ITS A GIRL!! what the...?

Well, isn't that just like life? We had a baby alright. Today around noon, one of the spring babies we were expecting came into the world. Trouble is, we didn't think this one was coming for another month.

...and she is CUTE! White, with red points and brindle pattern on her sides. Wanna see a picture?

We had to sneak her under the fence to get these pictures. Momma is a wild longhorn with a nasty temper that just got worse with this new baby. LOOK AT THE CLOWN STABBERS ON HER! I can't wait until she is hamburger in the freezer and a nice rack over the hearth...or wait, maybe those horns would look better on the hood of Tyler's car--maybe it'll make him popular with the ladies.

Still waiting for the baby mule...

Rusty, Expectant Father

343 days ago, Rusty covered Can't Splash, our 10 year old AQHA mare with a pedigree that goes back to the famous Dash for Cash. That means we should be having a baby mule today. These pictures of her were taken last night. To those who have seen a few pregnant mares, she looks very un-pregnant. Even our vet had to do a manual rectal palpation 3 weeks ago because he didn't believe it himself. That baby is in there, he ASSures me. Today's Digital technology, where the vet dons the rubber glove and goes shoulder deep into the mare is pretty reliable at this stage of pregnancy.

She's a very nice mare. For a horse with race-blood, Splash is unusually gentle and predictable to ride. In fact, she is the preferred mount for my wife and kids. But she is fast and has wonderful potential as a barrel horse. My neighbor who understands this barrel-horse potential is just beside herself that I'm using it up to make mules.

I have some horse friends who think they know how to explain the mule outlook on life--Emotional Trauma. He is just mad at the world for the rape and molestation of his mother by his father, the Jack.

When this baby arrives, you'll be the first to know.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Coyote Symphony

Water carved this singular amphitheater from petrified sand dune formations rising nearly 2500 feet from the Earth's surface. Then, as if to punctuate the already intense visual effect, the Author of this beauty poured some lava over the East edge of its canyon wall, covering red and white layers of sandstone with black basalt. The lava flowed south through the deep canyon floor and continued out the mouth of the canyon, finally stopping in present-day Ivins and Santa Clara. Discovered by the world, and in danger of being loved to death, Snow Canyon is now in the iron grip of State Park culture. It has become a haven for tourists and nature lovers who don't mind paying a fee to be mother-henned through a controlled experience. Its pretty enough that even I will occasionally ride through her bottoms--dutifully staying on the trail and paying the entrance fee.

Not this trip. When you go with the Rocky Mountain Mule Association, it is the ultimate ATV ride. The rougher it is, the more they enjoy it--guy and gal alike. We spent two days on the rugged upper platform that looks over Snow Canyon from above. Petrified dunes and ledges theme this landscape, and they didn't see a set they didn't like. Like mountain goats, the mules negotiate this stuff with grip and confidence. I had seen pictures before, now I have the perfect knowledge that comes from trying it. Mona Molly was a little hesitant to play in the ledges by herself, but she was perfectly willing to follow the more experienced mules.

My boys came along on the Mustangs. Two-year-old BarbWire was on her second ride and Justin agreed to take the honors. The Mustangs didn't cliff dive like the mules, but they covered some rough country with nerves of steel and perfect foot-work. Randy Johnson brought his winning barrel horse and was expertly careful about the country he traversed.

The stars shone clear and bright Friday night. Frost settled on our bed rolls as we lay curled around the flickering warmth of our campfire. About two a.m. we were treated to nature's symphony. It was theater in the round, but we were the center, and a musical entourage circled our camp. In perfect surround, with brilliance and nuance Dolby labs could never duplicate, the Coyotes performed a piece that left my heart standing, roundly cheering for an encore. First, a commanding bark somewhere off center shattered the heavy silence, answered by barks from the remaining quadrants--then the movement began. A harmony of staccato yips and soul-full howls penetrated the crisp black air--our stage lit only by star and the red glow of embers. It came in rounds like the primary songs of my youth, but with polished sophistacation-- rich of tone, pitch and key. The encore came a half hour later. No art or composition can compare. God is Good.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Pony Express

*Photo courtesy National Park Service: Fairbanks Pony Express Monument, SLC Utah

The Pony Express seared its hot brand deep into the naturally tough hide of the Western United States-- its mark, a visible reminder of a day when men were tough and comforts were scarce. The Pony Express filled a critical gap in East to West-coast communication as the Civil War loomed, but its existence was brief and it bankrupted its founders. San Francisco bankers and business men were frustrated at the minimum48 day turnaround for communication to the East. Answering this demand, the Pony Express cut in half the normal 24 or more-day trip by the Overland Mail Company stage line to St Joseph, Missouri where they could get telegraph service. For $5 one way, the Pony Express could hustle your message, written on very fine tissue, over the 1800 mile trail and do it in 10 days.

The Pony Express lasted 19 months. Each day, riders as young as 11 and as old as 40, averaged sixty hard miles and six ponies a day. They had to brave the weather (including winter), mountain passes, hostile Indians, outlaws, and the emptiness of the early West, yet only one mail-pouch (called a mochilla) was ever lost, and one rider killed by hostile Indians. The mail saw an average of 3 riders, 18 horses, and 180 miles each day. It ran 24/7. Rain or shine, snow or mud, heat or draught--the mail always got through. One of the primary successes of the Pony Express was proving that year round passage through our nation's middle was feasible.

This legendary help-wanted ad reputedly in a California newspaper read: "Wanted. Young, skinny, wiry fellows. Not over 18. Must be expert riders. Willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred." Seventy-five men, none of them weighing over one hundred and ten pounds, were engaged as riders, being selected on account of their bravery, their capacity for deprivation and their horsemanship, as well as for their shooting abilities and their knowledge of the craft and the manner of attack of the Indians.

Pony Express founder, Alexander Majors, was a religious man and resolved "by the help of God" to overcome all difficulties. He presented each rider with a Bible and required this oath:
"While I am the employ of A. Majors, I agree not use profane language, not to get drunk, not to gamble, not to treat animals cruelly and not to do anything else that is incompatible with the conduct of a gentleman. And I agree, if I violate any of the above conditions, to accept my discharge without any pay for my services."

Sir Richard Burton who, in 1860, journeyed the full length of the Pony Express trail and stopped at most of the stations made the following observations:
"His (Alexander Majors) meritorious efforts to reform the morals of the land have not yet put forth even the bud of promise. He forbad his drivers and employees to drink, gamble, curse, and travel on Sundays; he desired them to peruse Bibles, distributed to them gratis; and though he refrained from a lengthy proclamation commanding his lieges to be good boys and girls he did not the less expect it of them. Results: I scarcely ever saw a sober driver; as for profanity-the western equivalent for hard swearing they would make the blush of shame crimson the cheek of the old Isis bargee; and, rare exceptions to the rule of the United States, they are not to be deterred from evil talking even by the dread presence of a lady."

Destined to be temporary, the hard-riding Pony Express, a short enterprise for its owners, galloped long into the persona of the wild West.

eds. note: Some inconsistencies exist in the reports of the numbers of men hired and horses purchased--even from the most reliable sources. Click on any of the links in the story or below for more reading. (the annual re-ride)

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Oh, Babylon!

Kailee on Kissin' Kate Barlow

Jerimiah 51: 37.
And Babylon shall become heaps, a dwellingplace for dragons, an astonishment, and an hissing, without an inhabitant. KJV

The cataclysmic meeting of three giants and the forces of creation have produced a few real mystical places. Somewhere near the center of the confluence of the Colorado Plateau, the Great Basin, and the Mojave Desert lies the heart of Babylon. I don't know what Babylonian imagery possesed our pioneer ancestors to name this place. There were silver mines here in the early days. Perhaps it reflected King Nebuchadrezzar's monetary policy in ancient Babylonia--the silver standard. More likely, it was Mormon Prophet, Brigham Young's distaste for precious metal mining and the godless roughians that generally came with it that earned Babylon its name. Bawdy mining camp culture was abrasive to orderly Mormon life in St George and represented the wordly evils Mormons eschew.

The silver mines are just a memory now. The verse in Jerimiah 51 mutters a more modern interpretation for this Babylon touching the Virgin River. Astonishing heaps of Sandstone peirce the cactus and yucca strewn desert floor as if they were punched through from beneath by some great blow of force. It is the dwelling place for the mighty dragon, Desert Tortoise, who now owns Babylon. Today, we dared enter his lair.