Sunday, 26 February 2017

Wet Washoe Weekend

It turned out to be an excellent decision to retreat to Petra's in the Washoe valley as the heavens opened on Saturday October 16th and Sunday October 17th   The view of Petra's yard from the house....
  .....but the horses were content in their field shelters..
and it was an opportunity for a little retail therapy in Carson City on Saturday for Rowena and I, who returned home clutching matching cowboy boots - well it had to be done!  Still raining on Sunday so Petra and Rowena got stuck into green tomato chutney making, while Lucy caught up with her diary..
Monday October 18th and the sun has come out at last...
...and the mountains are now visible!
 
We had to wait until Tuesday October 19th  for the appointment Petra booked with farrier David Howard and vet Dr Ian Lafoon of Edge Equine.  
  The horses had their vet papers for entry to California sorted, and a Coggins test for return to Utah, and David reshod Lady.  Vet Ian (on right) also looked at Mo whose lameness was most likely caused by sore heels aggravated by a stone, and David reshod him with pads.  But sadly it meant he was out of action, a huge disappointment for Rowena.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Hobbling Along

Thursday October 14th.  It immediately became evident when we set out the next morning that Mo was unsound.  However he seemed to recover, and we put it down to a bruise or stiffness from a knock.  
In the photo below we have just ridden from the Sand Springs Range in the middle distance. Sand Springs Pony Express station lay at the foot of the great pale sand dune of Sand Mountain, which can be clearly seen to the left in front of the Stillwater Range. Like Cold Springs the station has been the focus of archaeological study.  The interpretive site lies nearer US50 at the end of the promontory of the Sand Springs Range.
The Pony Express Station was built in March 1860 by Bolivar Roberts, J Kelly and others, and James McNaughton was the first station keeper, later becoming a rider. But by October 1860 Burton described it as "roofless and and chairless, filthy and squalid, with a smoky fire in one corner and a table on an impure floor, the walls open to every wind, and the interior full of dust".
Unsurprisingly the water supply was not good "thick and stale with sulphury salts: it blistered even the hands".
We were deviating from the original Pony Express trail to follow the route of the re-ride, which loops south of the Salt Wells Basin.  In the next photo Sand Mountain can be seen to the right - the original trail ran westwards (left) from there along the base of the Stillwater Range to cross Eightmile Flat, the alkali plain in the middle distance.  Burton commented about this crossing "All off the road was dangerous ground: in one place the horses sank to their hocks and were not extracted without difficulty"
However we were taking a southerly route round the alkali flat, following a rough track along the base of the Cocoon Mountains, sometimes through rugged basalt rocks as seen here, sometimes through deep sand, but at least dry.
From the US50 at Sand Springs to where the trail crossed the Schurz Highway south of Fallon was  over 25 miles which I felt was too far for Mo to cover in a day.  It was a waterless stretch not accessible by Lucy's rig except at one point I had identified - a rough but firm road ran from US50 to a thermal power station located on the trail by Simpson Pass in the Cocoon Mountains.  We successfully rendezvoused there as the wind began to get up again.  Once more we found a relatively sheltered spot, unfortunately right up against the power station fence where the strident throbbing of the turbines was loudest.  But the wind died down, and the horses seemed to be soothed by the hearty humming, as demonstrated by Lady the following morning Friday October 15th...
...and what a lovely sandy bed to lie on!
The view from Carson Pass as we head west...
The White Throne Mountains where we are headed rise up on the other side of the alkali Bass Flat. Carson Lake and Fallon lie off to the right.
Crossing Bass Flat....
Rowena is walking as Mo's unsoundness had come back and worsened. 
 
Lady by the ruins of Wildcat Freight station (Allen's Station)..
 
The sign reads "These ruins are the remains of the Wildcat Freight Station founded in 1863 by Lemuel Allen this station was an important watering and rest stop on a turnpike which originated to the west of Fort Churchill and extended past Sand Mountain to the east.  The turnpike closely followed a route taken by Capt James Simpson in 1859 and used by the Pony Express in 1860-1861".

Another couple of hours brought us to the Schurz Highway where Lucy was waiting with the rig. But decisions had to be made.  Mo was still visibly unsound, and the bad weather which had been forecast was now imminent, with heavy rain threatening.  We had already planned to stay with Petra near Carson City for a couple of days and get the horses reshod, though I had hoped to make it to Fort Churchill where Petra had arranged to pick us up. But it now seemed expedient to give Mo a rest and sit the weather out.  It was a couple of hours drive for Petra from her home in the Washoe valley to the north of Carson City to fetch the horses in her trailer, and this was particularly charitable as she had only just returned home after being evacuated due to wildfires!

The Loneliest Road in America

Tuesday October 12th The next couple of days were spent making our way alongside Highway US50, which follows the line of old Overland/Pony Express trail here. It has been branded as the  'Loneliest Road in America' rather misleadingly judging by semis roaring past at regular intervals.  But there was also a good earth track running virtually all the way alongside the road...
 Only about a mile and a half further on, we came not only to the ruins of the former Cold Springs telegraph station...
 ...but of the Overland Stage station, and an interpretative site for the elusive Cold Springs Pony Express station. But it appeared that the station ruins were a mile and a half walk along a track to the east, and we regretfully decided we could not leave the horses to spare an hour walking into the sage brush.

Watering Mo in Rock Creek - we had to sneak onto private land through a nearby Montana gate.
This was the last accessible clean natural water supply we were to encounter for over eighty miles, although we were able to top up the water tank at Middlegate station five miles further along the road.
Another example of the quaint American hobby of displaying old shoes on fence posts and trees, this time a shoe tree just before Middlegate....
 The story goes that it was the result of a lovers' tiff after a newly married couple camped beneath the tree and got into an argument.  When the wife threatened to walk off the husband retorted by telling her she could walk barefoot and threw her shoes up into the tree,  He then drove off to drown his sorrows at the nearby bar at Middlegate.  However the story had a romantic ending when the bartender persuaded him to return. The couple reconciled and lived happily ever after!  Unfortunately this is not the original tree, which was cut down by vandals in 2010, but shoes seem to have quickly sprouted on this nearby tree.
There is a Trails West marker for Middlegate station here, but in fact the exact location is not known.

Middlegate (which I visited with Mike and Bonnie in September) became a two horse town when we rode in to camp behind the motel/restaurant/bar, which seems to be the place to be in this neck of the woods or should it be sage brush.
 It may be the only establishment in this isolated location, but it serves good food and drink, and that evening the place was jam-packed with a variety of individuals including thirty geology students who were camping in tents at the side, and Brett Bramble, a young man walking across America in aid of drug awareness.  Tragically his young sister died of an overdose.  Just discovered that he finished successfully and here is a link to his facebook page and article
Wednesday October 13th At Drumm Summit on the loneliest road looking back across the Stingaree valley towards Middlegate.
Shortly after this the horses were given the shock of their lives when two low-flying fighter jets came screaming through the pass and over our heads. Luckily they were tied up but the Topgun fighters certainly took my breath away.  It was a sobering warning that we were just about to enter the restricted training grounds of the Fallon Naval Air Station in Dixie Valley, the Topgun School having been moved here from San Diego in 1996.
We tramped rapidly for ten miles across the Dixie Valley towards the Sand Springs Range, nervously scanning the skies for Tom Cruise and friends....
 ...I was glad to have my eagle-eyed cousin with me, but happily the only military aircraft that came anywhere near us were helicopters....
 There had been warnings of bad weather preceded by high winds coming in, so we found a sheltered spot behind a bank on the other side of the Sand Springs Range rather than descend to the more open Salt Wells Basin..

Friday, 24 February 2017

Cold Springs

Sunday October 10th   The morning sun catches the tops of the Desatoya mountains as Petra and a more subdued Red lead the way along the Pony Express trail up the Smith Creek valley .....
Unfortunately our  progress was stopped abruptly a little further on by a locked gate. We had been given permission to ride through this private land by the Smith Creek Ranch, but a ranch employee had forgotten to leave the gate unlocked for us.  Petra and Red's chance to put on their Pony Express hats and gallop back to fetch the key!  So it was not too long before we were on our way again...

Negotiating the Montana gate at Basque summit before we descend into the Edwards Creek Valley....
Ranchers please note the simple lever contraption made out of a stick and a bit of wire to pull the posts together!
Stopping for a rest in a pretty glade...
 ...not sure what the squirrel paws are for, unless she is looking for nuts, or apples....

She has scrumped in Asia, she has scrumped in Europe, all by horse. The international equine apple scrumper is at it again.....
 Not many continents to go.    And for the uneducated who do not know what scrumping is, follow the link.

How convenient...
..and a sign that we are nearing civilisation, or in this case the ruins of Edwards Creek Pony Express station....
A view looking past the ruins back up Edwards Creek Canyon to the rig and corrals.   The station was not here when Burton passed through, but in July 1861 traveller Israel Benjamin commented "Here there was fresh bread, Zwieback, and brandy, but so dear that a bottle of brandy cost three to four dollars".  Sounds pretty reasonable to me.
Sadly Petra had to leave us here but on Monday October 11th Rowena and I rode down to Highway 50 and followed alongside it for a few miles to Cold Springs, where there was a camp ground and bar/restaurant.
 We had the whole afternoon to take advantage of all the facilities, and in the evening Rowena and I walked up the hill behind in a fruitless attempt to find the ruins of the old Pony Express station.  As it was fairly sizeable home station at 120ft by 53ft and has been the object of considerable archaeological excavation, it was rather disappointing not to find it, but the evening view was beautiful!
I suspect the station site was further to the south, and left in the photo.
 This was where 'Pony Bob' Haslam found the original building burnt, the station keeper dead and the horses gone on his return ride from Smith Creek.  This was not the only attack it suffered during the Indian troubles, and the station was later enlarged and provided with gun ports in thick stone walls.
Burton reported that it was a "wretched place half built and wholly unroofed" and he slept once again in the haystack, this time serenaded by "the loud howling of the wolves, which are said to be larger on these hills than elsewhere".  Wretched it may have been, but his party "supped upon an excellent steak" from a freshly killed "beef".   We supped upon macaroni cheese unaccompanied by lupine howls.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Rowena Joins Us

The troops rendezvoused in Austen for breakfast on Friday October 8th, the assembled company comprising Mike and Bonnie, Petra, and also local ranch managers Wade Rusler and Becky Bible, shown here at the fairground with a resigned Mo, Wade and Becky's lovely mule and a young quarter horse being taken on a walk to see the world.
The old fogeys breathed a sigh of relief when young wrangler Wade volunteered to wrangle with Mo first, and although he was a little 'humpy' to begin with (Mo not Wade), he soon settled down and Mike (who is the same age as me but considerably braver) got on board with no trouble.
 
The cavalcade sets off across the Reese River valley, which Burton commented "might have served for a sketch in the African desert".  We were following to the side of the old US50/Lincoln Highway, now an almost deserted road....
Left to right, Mike on Mo, Wade on his palomino quarter horse, Petra leading the way on the irrepressible prancing Red, Becky with her steady mule and youngster.  The little dip in the hills straight ahead is Railroad Pass where we were headed. The line of the Pony Express trail lies through the wider pass a little off to the left, but on private land.  The site of Jacobsville Pony Express station lies behind us. It was burnt down during the Indian troubles, and was in the process of being rebuilt when Burton slept in the haystack there, serenaded by "the jackal-like cry of the coyote".

Return of the Dark Rider?.....
...or a senior citizen pottering along on a pony.  Unlike the little figure in the background, which was Wade on Petra's thoroughbred Red, still prancing after over fifteen miles. Wade had relieved an exhausted Petra and was trying to calm him down with indeterminate success!

It was all change at Railroad Pass.  Wade, Becky and four-footed friends were picked up by trailer, and Petra and Red hitched a lift with them back to the Austin fairground.  Lucy arrived with the rig and I settled Lady and Mo down in the portable corrals.  The ever public spirited Mike and Bonnie turned up at dusk to deliver Rowena from Reno airport, before driving back to their overnight lodgings in Austin while Lucy, Rowena and I had a late supper and crashed out.  Phew!

For those who are not up to speed with my whole journey, Rowena is my cousin (in fact cousin once removed!) who took part in my Beijing to London ride whenever her young family allowed.  She was with me when I set off from the Chinese coast in 2008, has joined me for weeks at a time, in China, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, and rode into Greenwich with me. She was indispensable in helping with logistics in Kazakhstan, where she and husband Matt were living at the time, and provided three of the horses I used. So it was great to have her along for a small section of the North American adventure.
 Saturday October 9th  and another early breakfast rendezvous, this time at Railroad Pass. Mike has no hesitation in digging into the very civilised breakfast spread produced by Lucy in the middle of nowhere....
 
Setting out across the Smith Creek Valley towards Smith Creek Ranch in the Desatoya Mountains straight ahead....
L to R, Mike and Ahab, Me and Lady, Rowena and Mo, just beyond the point where we turned off the old US50/Lincoln Highway. Mike in fact left us here, as he had very kindly accompanied us for a little way to check Mo was behaving.

After riding for about twelve miles through the sage brush across Smith Creek Valley..
 ...we reached Smith Creek Pony Station, which has been privately preserved and renovated, but not restored to its original condition, unless glass windows were a feature of nineteenth century pioneer buildings.....
 
This was a home station, and according to Burton "unusually neat, and displayed even signs of decoration in ornament of the bunk with osier work taken from the nearby creek.

This station is notable as the eastward destination of "Pony Bob" Haslam's famous 320 mile ride in May 1860, the longest in Pony Express history.  Starting from Friday's Station near Lake Tahoe, his usual run was to Buckland's station 50 miles further on. However on reaching Buckland's he found the usual rider refusing to ride on due to the recent troubles with the Paiute, so he agreed to continue to the next home station which was Smith Creek, another 107 miles ride past several stations. After a short rest at Smith Creek, the westward bound mail came in, and Pony Bob set off home to Friday's.  However on reaching Cold Springs (see next post) he found it had been raided and the station keeper killed.  At Sand Springs he persuaded the lone stock tender to ride with him to safety at Carson Sink (watch for these names further on), and then rode on via Buckland's to Friday's.  This was an extraordinary total of 320 miles through rough and lethally dangerous territory at the height of the Paiute war. Having covered fifty miles in a day several times in endurance races, I can tell you this is going some!

It was also notorious for a couple of violent incidents, no doubt the result of frictions generated by the throwing together of some tough characters in isolated and perilous locations.  Tempers could blow up in moments, and in August 1860. station keeper H. Trumbo and pony express rider Montgomery Maze had an argument which resulted in Trumbo 'snapping his pistol' at Maze. The following day Maze retaliated by shooting and seriously wounding Trumbo in the hip, but was not punished for his action as others present signed a certificate vouching for the fact that he was provoked.
A more serious and in fact fatal incident occurred in the same year when there was a bitter altercation between two pony express riders at the station, William Carr and Bernard Chessy.  Carr subsequently shot and killed Chessy, was arrested and brought to trial in Carson City, and became the first person to be legally hanged in Nevada!

But all was peaceful in this small oasis when we passed through, and we found a serene camping spot at Smith Creek Ranch a little further up the valley...
Life with vehicle support....

..Rowena, Lucy and Petra tuck into a glamping evening buffet, so much better than packet noodles boiled up over a Pocket Rocket camping stove and eaten straight out of a cook pan. The joy of plates, cutlery and a bottle of beer as the sun goes down.

Friday, 3 February 2017

Over the Simpson Park Range

Wednesday October 6th.  At the Pony Express convention I had met up with Arthur Johnson, former President for the Nevada division of the NPEA, and he had kindly agreed to guide me along a tricky stretch of the trail through private land. This ran from Dry Creek, crossing the Simpson Park range and up the Simpson Park canyon to Emigrant Pass and on to Austen.  As the sun rose he arrived on cue with his pinto horse in the trailer.  Lucy watches as Arthur saddles up his horse for what would prove to be a very long day in the saddle...
 Climbing up into the Simpson Park Range along the Pony Express Trail...
A couple of mule deer had just jumped out of a brush thicket and bounded up the hill.
The tops of the pinyon pine were heavily laden with cones, and Arthur stopped to pick cones and extract pine nuts which we were able to nibble as we rode along.
Coming over the top of the Simpson range and starting to descend the steep rough track clinging to the escarpment on the other side, this was the breath-taking view out over Rye Patch canyon to the Simpson Park canyon beyond....
In the distance lies the Toiyabe Range.
 
Picking our way down the lower slopes of the Simpson Range into Rye Patch Canyon..

Arthur is recounting the tale of when a rider on a recent Pony Express re-ride took a wrong turn in the dark and ended up entangled and freaked out in some old wire from the transcontinental telegraph line that used to run this way.  After some nasty moments the horse managed to extricate itself and both horse and rider survived relatively unscathed after their trauma.  And the mail carried on!
It was the transcontinental telegraph which of course caused the demise of the Pony Express, but followed in its wake in 1869 when it was replaced by a new multi-line telegraph beside the first transcontinental railway.  It was the remains of this line which caused the unfortunate incident, and the remains of telegraph poles can still be seen along the cutting through the forest which the trail now follows.  Here is Arthur by an old telegraph pole which had been wired to a sapling for support....
 The sapling has grown into a tree, but the two can still be seen side by side.  Behind him is the cutting which we would follow, with the Toiyabe Range on the horizon.
Another few miles further on and we had crossed a low divide from the Rye Patch canyon into the Simpson Park canyon.  Riding the trail up Simpson Park canyon...

Near the site of Simpson Park Pony Express station...
The original building was attacked on May 20th 1860 and the station keeper James Alcott killed and mutilated, the day before the attack on Dry Creek. William Streeper, who carried 'heavy mail' by mule and was also a part-time Pony Express rider, described finding travelling westwards to find the station burned, the station keeper dead and the stock gone.  He went on to Smith Creek but later returned to Dry Creek only to find the same situation there.   
 By the time Burton went through, the station was being rebuilt.

Watering the horses in Willow Creek which flows down Simpson Park canyon......
It was getting late by the time we rendezvoused with Lucy on the Grass Valley road to the north of Austin.  Arthur needed a lift back to Dry Creek to fetch his trailer, so I ponied his horse most of the eight miles over to the little town of Austin via Emigrant Pass.  Arthur loaded up his horse to drive home in the dark while we made our way down to the Austin fairground to find a camp spot.  Many thanks Arthur for a great day through some stunning scenery!
Thursday October 7th was a welcome day off for all of us. Lady relaxed in a corral while Lucy and I found somewhere to shop. wash clothes and take a shower, after a hearty American breakfast.
 
  Look behind you!!....
...but Lucy seems too aghast at the scary witch and spiders to notice that John Wayne is shneaking up on her.  North America goes a bundle on Halloween, and they even have stores devoted entirely to Halloween decorations, costumes and other paraphernalia.   In the cafĂ© I particularly enjoyed the hairy tarantula on a Heath Robinson string and pulley system which dropped down from the ceiling when you opened the door...
 
This unassuming little building at the top of the main street has quite a heart-warming tale to tell....
In 1864 (not long after the end of the Pony Express) it was a grocery store run by democrat Reuel Colt Gridley. During the Austin mayorial elections of that year Gridley bet a Republican friend that whoever backed the losing candidate should lug a 50lb sack of flour through town.  Gridley lost, and did his stuff to the strains of the town band.  That might have been the end of the entertainment, but it was then decided to auction off the sack in aid of the oddly named 'Sanitary Fund', a worthy organisation founded to help disabled Civil War veterans, presumably not just with hygiene issues. But after being auctioned off for $250 the sack was returned to Gridley to be re-auctioned.  Suddenly everyone wanted to be involved and the sack ended up being auctioned off all round America, raising $275,000 in the process!  The story achieved lasting notoriety when Mark Twain wrote about it in his book 'Roughing It' which describes his time in the West.  
 Gridley and his patriotic sack of flour.....
Nice to think it was used to help both sides.
 
Our day off in Austin also enabled us to wait for the arrival of Mike and Bonnie Robinson, who were transporting Mo over from Salt Lake City so my cousin Rowena (who rode with me for large sections of my Eurasia ride) could join me for a couple of weeks across Nevada.  They had additionally very generously offered to collect her from Reno airport the next day. And Petra Keller of the Nevada division of the NPEA was going to come along as well.  I had been very grateful to her for sending me a digital file showing satellite locations logged on the 2016 ride which had been indispensable in planning out my route.

Coyote!

Tuesday October 4th.    Following the Pony Express trail over the end of the Sulphur Springs Range towards Garden Pass... 
Scrambling up the trail to the south of Mt Hope and over to Robert's Creek...
This was a lovely section of trail winding round forested hillsides, but the track was not always very clear, so it was a comfort to find these Pony Express markers every so often....
 A view of the Roberts Range with Roberts Creek ranch at its foot, from the new gravel road which bypasses it....
This was the site of one of the first Pony Express stations, named after Pony Express division superintendent Bolivar Roberts who took over management of the Division Five stations from this point to Carson City.  The valley was originally called the Sheawit Valley by local Indians. The station had its fair share of Indian attacks, and was burned down in 1860, though it had been partially rebuilt by the time Burton passed through.  However he spent "a cosy, pleasant evening there .....in the ingle corner and round the huge hearth of the half-finished station".   He reported "About the station loitered several Indians of the White-Knife tribe, which boasts, like the old Sioux and the modern Flatheads, never to have stained its weapons with the blood of a whiteman. ,,,,,,,,,,These men attend upon the station, and herd the stock, for an occasional meal, their sole payment".  Nowadays the ranch is attended by Peruvians who I assume are good people, and who get more than the occasional meal. 
Following the trail across the wide Kobeh (or Sheawit) valley in late afternoon, the sun lowers over the Simpson Park mountains over twenty miles away... 
 
In all the months of travelling across North America I had heard coyote howling and yelping eerily in the distance on many an occasion, but amazingly had never actually caught sight of one.  Suddenly I saw a little figure  trotting up the trail towards me, far too confidently to be anything other than a dog. At least until it saw me, and then I realised it was my first coyote sighting!  Out with the camera, but of course sod's law it chose that moment to play up.  Ah well, at least I have a representative blur.....

Lucy was now getting an old hand and met me bang on where the trail crossed the gravelly Three Bars road, about ten miles from Robert's Creek and our camping destination for the day.
Wednesday October 5th About five miles further on the next morning we came to the abandoned outpost of Grubbs Well..
 There was initially no Pony Express station here, though Burton notes "We came to some wells whose alkaline waters chap the skin". Butterfield probably built an Overland Stage station which was then used as a Pony Express way station during its last months. The station has been described as a tepee-like structure of rough poles covered with rushes and grass (Townley 1994) but none of the old buildings currently existing are original.  According to Chapman, the telegraph line had reached this point from the west by the end of August 1861.
Pony Express monument for Grubbs Well...  
There was also a sign erected by the Overland Trails Organisation quoting Wilson Fryberger in August 1864 "After noon traveld 17 miles to Grubs Well. Som water not much grass along the rode for 40 miles fit for a hors". 
The long and winding road past The Point, a protruding hill which provides clear landmark for travellers to aim for...
Tumbleweed piled up along a fence line....
 
 
My evening rendezvous with Lucy was near the site of Dry Creek Pony Express station at the foot of the Simpson Park mountains.  This degraded rock is actually the Pony Express monument.. 
You may just be able to see the plaque, and also the rig in the distance across the creek valley which was not unsurprisingly dry.  The station was the scene of a deadly attack on May 21st 1860 during the Indian troubles.  Station keeper Ralph Rosier (also referred to as Roiser and Losier by different sources) was shot dead by a Paiute warriors as he was going to the spring for water that morning.  Station employee John Applegate was badly wounded but managed to make it back to the station, where he was joined by storekeeper Si McCandless and pony express employee Bolwinkle.  Although the Paiutes did not immediately attack the station, Applegate asked for a pistol but then used it to blow his brains out.  McCandless and Bolwinkle managed to make a run for it and escaped all the way to the next station while the Indians pillaged Dry Creek. As late as October Burton remarked "It was a mere shell, with a substantial stone corral behind, and the inmates were speculating upon the possibility of roofing themselves in before winter."
 
Burton also commented disapprovingly on the double grave of Rosier and Applegate, which "piled up with stones, showed gaps where the wolves had attempted to tunnel, and blue bottle flies were buzzing over it in expectation". Station keeper Col. Totten "at our insistence, promised that it should be looked into". The station ruins are now covered with sage-brush, but there is a gravestone to Applegate and 'Lozier'.

An apochryphal story exists of a pony express rider who died at Dry Creek after riding in shot with arrows and bullets but who safely delivered the mochila.