Thursday morning began at 4:30 am at Woody’s Corral on the West Fork of the Gila River with a holler from Timber to the camp to "Get up!" Several members had gathered there earlier than the trek dates to partake of some camping and day rides and it was now time to load horses and gear and make the two-hour drive to the starting point from corrals near Cooney.
The trip to the starting point went smoothly and the balance of the troops and trusty steeds and mules arrived shortly thereafter. Anticipation of adventure surrounded the efforts of saddling and packing of animals with "mostly" correct period accoutrements. Perennial outfitter, Billy, has become enamored with previous SW horse treks and honored the ride with full period clothing complete with a fancy new capote built by hand from a six-point HB blanket the night before by his talented wife, Cindy. Why, he was even packing along a new .62 caliber smoothbore built by Bob Pluss! Of other equipment note was a fine copy of a period Santa Fe saddle ridden by El Paso member John. When all were in the saddle and Kodak Moments were complete, Hands hollered for a "Let’s go!" Taking the lead with pack mule in tow and a trail to the Mimbres River followed. The ride this day was short and after two hours, the draught-reduced river was accomplished. The group continued up the barely trickling stream past clear and shallow pools where numerous trout were seen and prayers for rain were thought of and even voiced. Despite the dry conditions, the river bottom was actually fairly green and the transition zones clearly distinct from juniper and oak to cottonwood and black walnut trees. Two more hours upstream brought the first campsite of the trip and certain strategic placing of tents was observed after unloading pack mules. This was likely due to strange and curious noises anticipated to be wafted along in the cool night breezes or to minimize the effects of a hostile attack on the camp. Who knows? Slight drizzle began, but did little to dampen anyone’s spirit and a period of relaxing in camp brought wild, humorous stories followed by some serious practice of knot tying. The unfortunate fire restrictions made for a Coleman fire to prepare a "Dutch oven delight" supper, but there was little left to satiate Jaeger’s appetite. Camp was secure and all well so no guard was posted as the riders turned in for the night.
Day two dawned cloudy and the air felt moist as coffee brewed in a pot over the pseudo fire. Previous trips and skills learned came into play as camp was quickly packed and the sound of hooves on the trail was heard early as the group gained several thousand feet in altitude over the course of the day’s travel. Two hours from camp, the trail forked and now the north fork of the Mimbres was followed for a couple of miles before the steady uphill became steeper when the trail routed along ridges and side canyon. Early in the day it was prophesized we would get wet this day. And stopping on a steep slope in early afternoon to don rain gear, someone was heard to utter, "Is there a word to express more than drenched?" The leader on the white horse wondered about the waterproofing effort of moccasins on the outside as they filled up on the inside from water running down the legs! Yes, the draught was broken and monsoons filled the air!! Of course, the air was also filled with the all-to-close brilliant zorch and the resounding loud clap of a million-tenor drum band sound of thunder! Throw in a thirty-degree temperature drop and all the riders will have a memory to reflect back on! And through it all, the occasional hand reached out to pluck the raspberry or gooseberry that was within easy reach and delighted the tongue with high-country sweetness. Just at the point when it seemed to have lost some of the fun aspect, the group rode into a clearing at nearly 10,000 feet elevation and stopped to enjoy the view of a small herd of elk laying in the high meadow, shrouded in the wispy clouds that continued to pour forth rain. As the elk became nervous and began leaving, we also realized we had reached our destination for the day. The unloading of gear was into a pile to quickly be covered by canvas and dripping saddle blankets and pads were hung on a rope strung between aspens to continue their wash cycle. Sometime later when the rains abated, shelters were put up and camp set to our liking. It was determined that there must be no fire restrictions in place now, so a call on skills to build a flint and steel fire with water-logged wood proved to be of small challenge to the hardy! Water was obtained from a concrete-encased Squeaky Spring just to the south of camp and fixings went into the community Dutch oven for another tasty treat for supper. Everyone was finally dry and fed when the blankets became the focus of the night and each drifted into slumber with the sounds of a bell on the nightmule, horses grazing in the meadow, and occasional distant thunder.
The third morning dawned with the now familiar rain clouds on all horizons and soon enough all were gathered around a brewing coffeepot and several corn boilers. There were no plans for travel to a new camp this day, but rather a day ride out and back. Saddles were soon in place and the adventure began. The plan was to travel the remaining few hundred feet to the top of Reed’s Peak for some enjoyment of scenery, via another trail on the south side. However, that route had not been worked for years and it was necessary to turn back and go around to the north. An hour ride put the riders on top of the world. We were delighted to find the old lookout tower and cabin there both unlocked to allow for exploring and enjoyment of the facilities. Bob, John, Billy, and Hands climbed the 100-foot tower to take in the views from inside as the rains commenced once again. The rest took advantage of the cabin to stretch out and nap on the bunks within. During a lull in the weather, some dry wood from inside was utilized to make fire and coffee outside the front door of the cabin. Hands found some old notebooks inside with entries of visitors from around the world that had left notes and thoughts of their journey. The entries were ready to all and the laughter flowed! The records now contain an entry from the NMMM for future readers. While the rain continued, the group enjoyed being dry in the cabin and shared stories and thoughts of days gone by. The cabin was returned to its solitude as the riders departed in late afternoon when the skies dried. A bit of dry wood from the cabin’s wood box was tied onto Billy’s saddle for the evening fire at camp, which yielded another fabulous Dutch oven concoction.
The last day of the adventure would be a 14-mile ride out along the Continental Divide Trail so the group was up early and packing gear to make an early afternoon arrival into the 21st century. We returned the high-country park back to the elk and began the decent off the mountain. Over the course of the next six hours there was only the great scenery to admire while hoofs on the trail were the sounds to be heard. A few events added to the memories along he way out. On a left-handed switchback in the trail, old Oscar lost his wheels when the pack mule he was dragging sat back on the lead rope, which didn’t slide around a saddle horn because of the wet leather, and caused Hands to make a bailout as Oscar tipped over. Fortunately, it was to the uphill side and the result was only to right the ship and continue on. A large blow-down log across the trail made for dismounting and herding animals around with no troubles. And of course, Festus, the mule John rode, caught wind of a passing bear and sort of scattered some plunder on his flight, but that wreck was quickly squelched and on we went. Down the last few miles of trail was a race to beat an on-coming thunderhead and the low country was reached where trucks and trailer waited undisturbed for four days. The quick unsaddling and handling of animals was now from experience and without event. The farewells were bid and remarks made of what a great time it was. A doubt would be cast if the thought were that anyone wanted this to end.
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