It’s a sunny, breezy Sunday afternoon in Quartzsite, AZ. The sound of the Karaoke coming from the Yacht Club next door makes me glad I’m outside. I’ve just enjoyed my first shower in 11 days – having ridden across the Mojave Desert in the meantime. I don’t feel particularly clean, mostly I feel Dry. Laundry is done and the Banana Split helped a Lot!
We crossed the Colorado River into Arizona on Monday, having reunited with Finehorn the night before. Tuesday morning Cowgirl came up lame. Wednesday showed no improvement. We were camped in a dry lot, surrounded by thorn trees on the Colorado River Indian Reservation – and the Fox’s rental truck was due back in Yucca Valley on Thursday. It’s hard not to succumb to panic or discouragement in moments like that. Thank Goddess for cell ‘phones and trail angels. By Wednesday afternoon L had offered a resting place in Buckeye – but had no trailer. The ‘phone rang. “I heard you’re stuck in the desert with some horses and need a trailer?” I laughed in relief, “That’s close enough.” As I explained our situation he stopped me – “Wait. You’re Riding these horses across the country?!?” Blessings on Mike from Wire to Wire Horse Transport – he dropped everything – hooked up his trailer and drove 150 miles to our rescue – arriving Wednesday night, After Dark! At midnight:30 I got the call from L that Cowgirl and Daisy had arrived and were settled in and doing well. And on that note I drifted off to sleep beneath the stars.
Thursday we rode down the road to the 70 Wash. I’d studied the map and determined that taking the 70 Wash to Bowyer Gap Road was the most direct route. Fox had heard from the Fire Department, and the Sheriff, and some guys in a jeep that the Tyson wash was our best route and the lowest path through the mountains. That didn’t jive with what I was reading on the map, so I ignored the local wisdom. Thursday was windy and chilly and long. There were high winds predicted for Friday. Kurt, en route to join the rodeo for a week, taking over the pack pony role from the Fox, stopped to talk to the Tribal Police and Fish and Game to get permission to camp by the “Area Closed. Extreme Fire Risk.” sign and to ride down the 70 Wash to Quartzsite in the morning. They readily granted permission, but seemed a bit surprised by our choice of route. “The Tyson Wash is an easier way to go.”
Friday morning at 4:15am we awoke to flapping tarps and blowing dust in our eyes and mouths and ears and bedrolls and tin tea cups. I could hear things blowing around camp but knew that if I got up and started trying to chase things down in the dark my bedroll would blow away without me. I dragged what I could into the sleeping bag with me, pulled the blue tarp tighter around my bedroll and waited for morning. The wind abated slightly with the dawn and we packed up camp. “Gryph, you’re the one riding the kite, what’s your call?” (Finehorn had been light as a feather in the winds of yesterday, blowing this way and that, imitating the clouds of red-winged black birds and having more fun than Gryph who was sitting on back, pinning her wings.) “I just want to get it over with. Let’s go.”
It was less windy up the wash. The wildflowers were in bloom and we were dressed for the weather. We had water and food and maps and a compass. A few miles in we met a couple camping near their jeep. He was from the reservation, tall and lean, and his wife was short and round and blond and cheerful. He tried to direct us over to the Tyson Wash, said he was skeptical about our chances of finding our way through the 70 Wash to Bowyer Gap Road – we thanked him and went on our way. There are times that my stubborn determination does not serve me well. As we went further up the wash the way became rockier and less clear. The cactus became more abundant. The wind picked up. We took turns holding the ponies and scouting ahead to find the most promising route. Years ago I wrote a short story called “Badlands” warning myself about just this sort of situation. Finally we gave up and turned back – trying not to see this as a failure, but as us being smart enough to turn back in time and therefore not need a search and rescue party thrown in our honor. Tomorrow would be another day – and we’d take the Tyson Wash.
Which we did – and 8 hours later, not without some uncomfortable moments – wondering if there was something wrong with the compass – or the map – or our brains – we arrived in Quartzsite to find Kurt and his Yurt holding down a piece of desert with our names on it. Tomorrow we start the 90 mile ride to Tonopah. The forecast is for 90*F. Tuesday the winds return. If things go as planned we will be soaking in the El Dorado Hot Springs by Friday evening…