July 21, 2008

Over Low Pass to Vat Creek Ridge

This past weekend, we again visited the area north of Strawberry Reservoir. On Saturday morning, we drove up Co-op Creek road about 12 miles to Roundy Basin, at the northwest foot of Current Creek Peak. We arrived about 10 AM and were ready to ride by 11. We heard gunshots coming from not too far from the trailer and assumed the hunters were out siting in their guns before hunting season starts. Coyotes yipped in the distance, perhaps disturbed by, or protesting against, the guns.
The plan was to ride northwest to Red Creek Mountain, about 10 miles away. Our map showed a 4 wheel drive road we planned to travel. Unfortunately, mucho Jeeps, 4 wheelers, and other SUVs including a Hummer planned the same thing. We saw one caravan of 4 wheelers that must have had a dozen vehicles. On the plus side, the riders all stayed on the road, were polite, safe and friendly. Our horses are fine with vehicles, so we really had no problems, other than more noise and dust than we’d bargained for.
The area was open enough that we were able to ride off-road , following the ridges in many places, which made for great views.
The wildflowers were every bit as spectacular as we had hoped. Geranium, lupine, penstemon, columbine, and sulphur paintbrush were predominant, with a few Indian paintbrush, wild roses, and monkshood, among others I can’t name. In many places, the flowers grew 2-3 feet high.
We ran into a herd of a couple of hundred sheep on the way up. Daisy chased them some, and even tried to jump on them and grab them by the neck as if they were rabbits. The sheep didn’t comply and lie down, so she gave up that plan. As I was approaching on Mischief, Daisy suddenly ran at the sheep from the opposite direction, moving them directly toward us. Mischief had been suspicious of the critters all along. When they charged toward him en masse, he freaked a little and attempted to whirl. I stopped him and he calmed down as soon as he saw the sheep weren’t really out to get him.
The two guard dogs with the herd appeared to be white labs. They came forth wagging their tails and making friends with Daisy. One of the dogs was missing a front foot. We assumed the dog must have been caught in a trap at some point to suffer that kind of injury. He limped along with the sheep and seemed to be doing his job in spite of his disability. A little farther along, we saw what appeared to be the sheepherders living quarters with one horse tied outside and a couple of other horses roaming free. No sheepherder was in sight.
Daisy was getting thirsty, so we sought out the Indian Springs we’d seen on the map. As we neared it, we came across a couple of guys in camouflage attire. They were very friendly and came up to talk, petting the horses, asking where we were from, where we were headed, how far we’d come (they seemed unusually curious, for guys), if we’d seen any elk (we had seen one with a big rack, just down the road) and if Steve had “drawn out.” Once Steve realized they were asking if he’d gotten an elk tag from the UDWR, he allowed as how he didn’t know anybody or work for any federal agency, so, no, he hadn’t drawn a tag and wasn’t likely to in the near future. The hunters seemed to relate to that. They hadn’t “drawn out” either. They told us they’d been trying with no luck for 10 years, but they were checking out the wildlife anyway. They said they’d been hearing elk bugling from their camp several mornings. When they learned we were looking for the springs, they pointed us down the hill.
We found some nice pools, watered Daisy and the horses, and moved on. A few miles down the road, when seeking the next spring (unnamed on the map), we heard gunshots. As we approached a woodsy part of the trail, Mischief became unusually nervous, acting as if he smelled danger. A few minutes later, a shot rang out, coming from those woods, uncomfortably close. Mischief jumped and tried to take off in the opposite direction. I stopped him before he made a full 180.
We went around those woods to an opening in the trees. Two trailers were parked there. As we approached, a man and two little boys, one carrying a gun, came out of the woods. They had stopped shooting when they saw us.
Again, the folks were friendly, pointing us in the direction of the spring. When we didn’t find a pool right away, they came up to show us the spot and stayed to chat. The man was from Heber and volunteered that his grandfather had had a cabin nearby in the 30’s, and his family had been coming there ever since. With his family ties to the area, we were pleasantly surprised that he wasn’t possessive, but quite willing to share information on the spring and the trails.
We did a lot of trotting and loping when the road was suitable, hoping to cover the distance in a reasonable period of time. However, as we’ve found before, Easy Boot Bares can come off at a lope. Our horses kicked off 3 of them on this ride, damaging the gaiters on all 3. Since we only carry one spare, we were down to going barefoot, at least in part. We have been trying to toughen up their feet lately, though. We have ridden parts of our last several rides barefoot and have been applying what we’ve learned from our reading on a good barefoot trim (see Natural Hoof Care by Jaime Jackson.) The ground wasn’t too rocky, so the horses did fine, even though we ended up traveling over 10 miles barefoot, much more than we’d attempted before.
Because of our wandering around looking for springs, following the crest of hills, and investigating the sheep, we had traveled 10 miles by the time we reached Vat Creek Ridge, elevation 10, 200 feet. Red Creek Mountain, our original destination, was still a couple of miles away. With no extra boots, we decided to turn back, figuring a 20 mile round trip would be plenty for the day.
Just before we reached the sheep herd, we saw an old man limping through the wildflowers toward us. He turned out to be the sheepherder, and he was muttering, with a heavy accent, about a stupid bay horse he couldn’t catch. He asked if he could take our picture, pulled out a disposable camera and snapped a couple of shots. He was Navaho, from New Mexico. Since Steve works with a Navaho nurse, he was able to exchange a few words in the man’s native tongue. The sheepherder then went on about the stupid horse, and how the stupid people who were supposed to supply him hadn’t brought any good ropes.
We offered to try to help him catch the horse. We saw one horse tied up, and two running loose, one of which was the bay in question. The man supplied a little grain. The bay came up to get it. I was able to pet him for a second, but the horse took off before I could touch him with my lead rope. We tried a few more times, but never could get a grip on him.
The sheepherder indicated that he needed to move the sheep, so we offered to head the herd his way while he saddled up his one tied horse. We had fun moving the sheep up the mountain a ways until the old man arrived. I guess he decided they had moved close enough to his residence, because he left the sheep and rode down with us. We thought maybe he intended to come to our camp. Again, we had run across a curious neighbor who asked where we were from and where we were going. In return, he, offered his opinions on cows (good) and sheep (bad, stupid, didn’t like them at all), bay horses (stupid), size two horseshoes (hard to put on – he liked smaller hooves better), and so on. As it turned out, his destination was a camp we’d passed on the way up. He said his dog was there. We didn’t understand the connection, but it didn’t matter. At least we didn’t have to worry about feeding him dinner when we all rode up to our horse trailer!
We arrived at our gooseneck “home” at about 7PM, starving and exhausted. The day’s ride was 20 miles, 3000 feet total elevation gain, in under 6 hours. Overall, an eventful, scenic, fun day.

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