Arlene - The grandest saddle mule to ever walk a trail.
Back in April of '05 I had just returned to Arizona after being gone for a year working in the tiny Middle Eastern country of Qatar.
The company I worked for was the 2nd worst employer I have ever had. Anyway, being back in the USA I tend to get bored quickly so I began to look for something to do.
I was riding my mountain bike around town and saw a 1999 blazer for sale. I bought the thing then drove it to my storage locker. I broke a bottle of San Miguel beer over the hood then Dubbed it "war pony" after the car in the movie "Pow wow Highway", then loaded it down with guns and gear. I took both wheels off of my mountain bike and managed to cram it in the "War Pony" also.
My old Friend Alan managed an Organic Beef ranch along the Canadian river, near wagon mound New Mexico. I decided to Head over to his place first to see what was going on. Besides, My favorite riding Mule, Arlene was at his place and I wanted to see her again. She was the best mule to ever walk a trail.
Wagon mound is about 600 miles or so from Douglas, Arizona. I headed north out of Douglas toward Rodeo New Mexico, then made a right on HWY #9 going toward Columbus, NM.
The town of Columbus has the distinction of being the only town in the USA invaded by poncho Villa back in the day. I don’t know if that is true or not because I heard stories in Douglas of how Poncho would cause trouble on the North side of the border in that town also. At the Gadsden Hotel in Douglas you can see where some chunks have been knocked out of the marble steps, I was told this happened when Poncho Villa rode his horse into the Hotel and up the stairs to the 2nd floor. True or not, I can’t say, but that is the local legend.
I continued to drive east through the towns of Hachita and Animas. It is interesting to note that the Apache Indians were still raiding ranches in this area until the late 1930's, they had a stronghold in the Jaguar mountains of Mexico about 60 miles south of Douglas, Arizona near the Mexican town of Nacori Chico in Sonora.
You can find more info about the Apaches in the book They never surrendered: Broncho Apaches of the sierra madre By: Douglas V. Meed. you can find it on Amazon or at your local library.Once I got to Columbus I stopped at the poncho villa state park , I find it funny that New Mexico has a park dedicated to the Guy who shot up the southern end of their state for years....From Columbus, I headed north toward Deming on HWY 11 and passed through that town then took the Hatch cut off (HWY 26) which will take you to interstate 25 north.
I continued north on the interstate to Santa fe then from there got on HWY 68 heading toward Taos.Taos is another town in the western USA that has a wonderful history but was over run by tourists and artist over the years and is now like tombstone Arizona, a very obvious, over priced tourist town.
I spent a lot of time around Taos and the Hondo river near Valdez, and the Bull of the woods area. It is a beautiful place and gives you access to Wheeler peak, the highest point in New Mexico. I love that area, If I was to ever live full time in the USA, Taos would be at the top of my list of locations.
The Kit Carson Museum in Taos is worth the 5 buck entry fee, lots of cool stuff there. Upon my arrival in Taos I parked my blazer in the parking lot of a Chinese restaurant then ambled over to the central plaza for a bite to eat and a cup of Joe.
My intent was to head to the Bull of the woods trail head at the Taos ski area and camp for the night. I had the Idea to hike to the top of Wheeler peak(13,161') the highest point in new Mexico.
I headed out of town toward Valdez and the Hondo river area en route to the Ski Basin. Along the way I picked up a hitch hiker who went by the name of Linjon, he said he was a Ute from Utah and he came to New Mexico to work for the summer. He was a pretty cool cat, and sporting a six pack of Schlitz "tall boys", I wasnt in the beer drinking mood, but , it didnt take Linjon more than 5 seconds to crack open a "Tall boy" and pass it to me asking "Wanna beer?".
I dropped Linjon off at the ski area and drove off to park my car in the Shade of some aspen trees. Next I hit the woods and did a quick scout to see what was about. Later on in the evening, Linjon came back to my camp with an arm load of Budweiser beer so I helped him drink a few then hit the sack.
The next morning it was a cool 48F when I hit the Wheeler peak trail, it was fairly steep and I didnt see another person until closer to the top of the mountain. I was surprised at how easy it was for me to ascend wheeler, I thought after being in the middle east at sea level for a year it would be difficult, but it was not so.
It was an uneventful hike to the top I did spy some Big horn sheep and a few antelope , I took a few pics at the top of wheeler then started to decend the trail I had taken up, but then got the idea to bushwhack back - Big mistake!! hahaha, I hit some horrible rock slide areas, snow, very steep slopes and soon regretted the folly of my decision to bushwhack back.
It in fact took me longer to descend then it did to get to the top!
Plus side? - great scenery, no people, trash or noise, and plenty of snow melt for water. I had a good time on that hike and arrived safely back at my truck in due time. I hopped in my truck then drove down to the hondo river and set up camp for the night.
The next morning I headed up HWY 64 toward Cimmeron and Raton, I knew Ted Turner had bought a bunch of Land near the Valle Vidal wilderness and put Buffalo in there , something like 3000 head. That is Way to many Buffalo for that area, but, what the heck if you got money you can do pretty much what you want.
My plan was to get some pics of them if possible, Not far up the road I spied a huge Buffalo Bull standing about 50 meters from the road inside the fence.
I pulled over, whipped out my camera and walked up to the Gate - about that time the old Bull charged the gate and gave it a decent head butt! There was a loud bang, lots of dust and some snotting(by him) and Farting(by me) . That kinda spooked me a little but I managed to get a pictures of him.
In the distance I could see other Buffalo on both sides of the road, Hopping back in my Blazer I headed up there to get some more pictures. It was a beautiful sunny ,cool day and I really enjoyed being there and seeing those Buffalo. I was amazed at the amount of sound a sizable herd can make. Back in the days when Millions of these animals roamed the American west , it must have been deafening to ride into a herd on a hunt.
And in addition, after seeing 1st hand the power and speed of the great beasts I can appreciate the Native American buffalo hunters and how they rode into a herd bareback, shooting them with a bow and arrows. That took Guts. Anyhoo, it was getting late so I hopped into the Blazer and headed up the road looking for another adventure.
Up the road a ways I picked up a hitch hiker named Chris, he definatly had the "Grunge thing" down pat, Chris told me he was going to the rainbow gathering , and was going to sell the jewelry he makes for cash to fund what ever supplies he needs. He was an interesting rascal for a "Hippy Backpacker". He loved to smoke, either tobacco or weed, and if he wasnt smoking one, he was smoking the other. In the 2 days we were together, I never saw him NOT smoking. I believe he actually breathed more smoke the O2.
I asked Chris if he wanted to be dropped off where I turned to head into the Valled Vidal, or come along and spend the night in the wilderness area. He decided to come along and check it out. We drove the 26 or so miles back to the wilderness area, then found a decent place to camp not far off the main road. I simply pulled the blazer in and used it to sleep in, Chris set up his tent. We built a fire, cooked some grub, drank beer,sang songs, swapped war stories, and generally had a good time, All the while, Chris smoked weed and ciggies to his hearts content.
The next morning we made Montana guides coffee, hiked around a bit then headed out. I didnt want to drop Chris off in the middle of nowhere so, I took him up to Raton and dropped him off at the interstate after loading him down with some food and water. He wasnt a bad dude for a Hippy. I swung south on I25 toward Las Vegas, NM, and Wagon Mound. I had little difficulty locating my friend Alan at his ranch on the Canadian river. As luck would have it, Al was saddling up to go check on the cattle and asked me to come along. I was privilidged to ride "Chief" a 17 hands tall tobiyano paint, he was one of my favorite horses in Alans remuda.
as we mounted up Als horse began to buck, he rode that hoss and bucked him out, spurring the shit out of him until he settled down. Alan and me are the same age, but, I dont know if I could have bucked out that horse. I would have been thrown clear for sure, but ol' Al stuck to the saddle like a burr on a wool blanket..
We rode out to check the live stock, and as we rode other horses and Mules came along and I saw Arlene out in the field, I gave her a whistle - the one I always used to call her in the past. Her head shot up, she looked my way, and began to trot towards chief and me. I dismounted, and threw my arms around the old girls neck, and gave her a hug. it was good to see her. she was a savvy old gal, and brought me through some tough country, day and night one her own, with me as basically baggage. I will admit, I had a tear in my eye....
She nudged my pocket , I dont know how she knew I had them, but I dug out the peanut butter flavored granola bars I brought for her, peeled back the wrappers and let her munch away.
It was good to see her again ,Ill never forget her. And people who think animals dont remember, of have feelings for people are just wrong, very wrong. Alan told me she went blind in one eye so he retired her to pasture. It is good, she earned it.
We found the cattle, and cut out one sick looking cow then drove her back to the stock pen. Al doctored her up a bit, then threw out some hay and supplimental feed. We headed to the barn and unsaddled the horses. After stowing the tack we went to the house and broke out some of the Organic beef that Alan was selling. We grilled it up outside over a fire of Oak and juniper wood we dragged up. It was good beef, I just sprinkled mine with a little salt and knawed on it Apache style. After a while Alan broke out some cheap whisky he had in the house, and we proceeded to do our best to polish off the bottle. What a good time! Just 2 dudes, drinking whisky, searing beef over a fire ,and swapping war stories in one of the prettiest places in the South West USA.
The Next day , we went out to and loaded two beeves Alan had cut out for slaughter. We drove them to the slaughter house for processing then went into Santa fe to make deliveries of Beef to the local organic markets and restaurants. It was good just to hang out, I basically just sat in the refer truck and did nothing while Al did all of the work. I know he had a hang over, because I had a massive one, it was enough to kill a draft mule.
After making deliveries we did some shopping, then headed back to the ranch. We sat around the fire swapping lies and drinking cheap whisky until the early hours of the morning. I was truely hurting the next day when I had to get up early and headed back to Arizona. Unfortunately, I had taken a job with a security company in Kosovo and had to return to the "Man world". It was a long drive back to AZ, filled with much contemplation....there were several times I almost turned around and went back to New Mexico, but, I ended up driving back to Az, and flying out of Tucson, bound for Kosovo. It was a mistake on my part but, that it is another story.