Sunday, August 13, 2006

Riding in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Woke up a couple of times last night to a train whistle, then alarm at 6 AM, so that we could be on time for our horseback riding lesson. I think I’m fighting off a cold, or I’m allergic to something here. I wake up having sneezing fits and feel drained.

Our reservations were for the 2.5 hour advanced ride. I hoped that they wouldn’t question us too much. We had our cheap boots, jeans and sweatshirts and asked for the optional helmets. We were the only three along with the guide to leave the ranch at 7:30. Conor and I were both on quarter horses and Chloe on a mule named Molly. For most of the beginning of our outing, Chloe was begging Conor to pick up speed. We were asked to keep one horse length between us, and Conor’s horse (by choice of the concession I’m certain) was pokey and liked to eat grass along the way. Our guide started to get after him, and told him to kick Elbert until he told him to stop. Conor obeyed and eventually it only took him 3 or 4 kicks and not much more for Elbert to stop eating.

We rode through a prairie dog town. Of the 46,000 acres in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the prairie dogs have about 1,300 acres claimed. Neil, our guide told us that one of the low-lying weeds near the holes, was wormwood. I knew from reading about absinthe, which is legal in the Czech Republic, that the active ingredient, thuyon, comes from wormwood. Neil said that the prairie dogs eat it, so they’re tripping down there in those holes.

We saw numerous cottontails, two eagles, wild horses and three lone bison bulls. Male bison who are away from the herds are younger or weaker and pushed away by the more dominant males. Neil called them Lonesome Georges.

The destination of the trip was a limestone formation called the Eye of the Needle. We rode through it, ducking our heads, and came out on a high field with the best view of the canyon. Ahead of us, directly on the trail and about 50 yards away, was a Lonesome George. Neil led us to the left, toward some trees and the buffalo followed us, getting even closer, now about only 30 yards away and staring straight at us. I thought if it charges at us now we’re screwed. I had faith in Neil, but doubted that Conor would be able to handle an escape at a gallop, besides we were on top of a mountain now and heading to quickly in any direction could lead us right over a cliff. Neil then decided to take us back to the right, toward the trail and the buffalo continued down through the trees.

Neil’s horse spooked once as we were about to head downhill. He was riding a three-year old who didn’t have a lot of trail experience and the turkey family below us startled him. Our three were good old souls and barely lifted their heads during the commotion.

When we returned to the ranch, we saw more wild horses munching on hay. Neil said that he would have to chase them away later in the day. (Pictured--we could not bring a camera on the ride).


katie said...

I found your description of the Needle of Eye trail ride intriguing. I guess you would recommend it to park visitors who would want to take a trail ride, correct? I am writing an article about the ride for a magazine and would like to ask you a few questions about your ride. Would that be possible?

Katie Moser

Kim Barke said...

Hi Katie,

I'd be glad to answer your questions. Just send me your email.