Friday 30th September I knew we were now going to tackle a remote section of the trail, crossing three mountain ranges and wide desert scrub areas with no guarantee of water on the way. In addition I had had difficulty loading a route onto my GPS and was going to have to rely on paper maps in strange country where we would be miles from help if anything went wrong. I had anticipated that Lucy's 2WD vehicle would not be able to access this section and that our next rendezvous would be at Ruby Valley, about forty-five miles away. So I was extremely grateful to elicit the help of Pony Express faithfuls Wendy Anderson, Gino Okhart and Anthony Zamora, shown below in their alta egos as ghostriders Cat Balloo, Blackjack Frenchi and El Capitan.....
(Photo courtesy of Sandy Powell Western Photography)
In this guise they scare tourists on the Nevada Northern Railway at Ely by galloping up on their horses, holding up the train and robbing passengers (by arrangement only of course).
They turned up early morning with Wendy's elderly horse on which Blackjack Frenchi (aka Gino) was going to guide me, while Cat Baloo (aka Wendy) drove support in Gino's horseless carriage (aka his 4WD SUV). They were only able to spare the one day, but suggested Lucy drive round the mountains and tackle a sixteen mile dirt track up Long Valley Wash to meet us where the trail crossed. El Capitan would go with her to show the way and provide moral support. I had previously ruled out this meeting point as too risky for Lucy to try! The next day I would be on my own, but would only have a fairly straightforward twenty mile ride to Ruby Valley where there was a good road and Lucy could meet me with the rig.
Following Gino over the Cherry Creek Range on the Pony Express trail....
The mountains had become more wooded as we crossed into Nevada, the upper mountainsides covered with juniper and pinyon pine. The juniper is characterised by its opaque white berries, while at this time of year the pinyon pine cones are ready to be harvested of their little edible pine nuts.
Wild mustangs ...
They survive largely on bunchgrass such you see in the photo. It does not look particularly nourishing but is in fact highly nutritious. All the mustangs I saw were in good condition though of course this was at the end of the summer. Unfortunately large parts of the USA have now been invaded by the aptly named cheat grass or drooping brome which was introduced from Europe. It has no nutritional value to speak of and takes over wherever the environment has been disturbed. I have encountered it all the way through the US, and a number of times have been attracted by what appeared to be a good supply of grass in someone's yard only to discover it was worse than useless cheat grass.
Following the Pony Express Trail into Butte valley...
The wind makes it difficult to hear Gino, but he was talking about a herd of lovely palamino mustangs that inhabit this valley. The trail goes straight ahead to White Rock which can just be seen as a small white dot in the distance on the Butte Mountains. This is the location of Pony Springs on a more rugged and difficult route which was used in summer by the Pony Express. We would be following an easier route slightly to the left, past the site of Butte Pony Express station. This was used by the Pony Express in the winter and by the Overland stage.
Wendy drove ahead, pulling the trailer through steep, rocky and muddy terrain, but unfortunately took the SUV straight up the impassable road towards Pony Springs. We rode over to check she was OK, and then cadged a lift back to the trail, an experience in itself for a tenderfoot like myself....
....just to make it clear, at this point Wendy's horse and Lady were in the trailer behind. During the National Pony Express Re-ride the three ghostriders haul their horses to locations virtually inaccessible by vehicle, so this was perfectly normal for them. Lady emerged unscathed and added another T shirt to her large collection.
Gino and me by the ruins of Butte Pony Express station..
It sometimes happened that when I was not expecting to find traces of a station it was there, and so it was in this case. Interestingly, although Burton arrived less than a week later in the year than I did, he reported that the road was six inches deep in snow. By comparison Gino and I are in shirtsleeves, demonstrating the unpredictability of the climate here.
Burton gave quite a detailed description of the station, which was run by Welsh Mormon Mr Thomas, and consisted of a stone cabin thirty feet long by fifteen, with portholes on the long sides, and roofed with split cedar trunks. There was the usual corral for the horses and a dirty pool. Inside the cabin was divided into two by a canvas partition, one part containing bunks and storage space with heaps of "rubbish, saddles, cloths, harness and straps, sacks of wheat, oats, meal and potatoes" and "dogs nestled where they found room" The cabin floor was of untamped earth, and muddy where water had seeped through the wall at one point. However Burton applauds the presence of a roaring fire in a large fireplace with a hook and iron oven, and they were fed comparatively well with "added meat to out supper of coffee and doughboy"
On the trail over a pass through the Butte Mountains
Lucy and I settled down to a late supper to the distant strains of coyotes celebrating a kill.