May 21, 2016: Horseback

After lunch, we went back to Tso’s to see if we’d have any more luck with getting a horseback tour. This time they were ready for us, but there was some dithering around and waiting for another group to join us. While we waited, I spotted a yellow bird directly overhead in a big cottonwood, which turned out to be a Western Tanager – another lifer. Finally we were assigned our mounts. As an inexperienced rider who is also a little old man, I got a horse named Perky, I think the same way Little John got his name. He showed very little interest in anything except finding a shady place with grass and following Hamner’s horse with his nose in its butt. Peggy, as the experienced rider in the group, got to ride a mare who had a little colt, who got to come along for practice.

Canyon de Chelly

The trail leads right up through Chinle Wash, which at the moment is pretty full, so we did a lot of wading. As we progressed into the canyon, the walls got higher on each side of us. We stopped at one spot to look at petroglyphs, including the first real example of Kokopelli I’d ever seen. In the Chinle region, he’s depicted lying on his back.

Petroglyphs with Kokopelli

Finally I noticed a ledge with an overhang to our left that held a group of stone structures. We pulled up on the bank to look. This was “First Ruin”, so called because it’s the first one you come to on your horseback ride.

Canyon de Chelly

We passed various corrals and hogans, and even some apparently wild horses. The canyon is beautiful, full of green grass and cottonwoods with the spring rain and snow melt. The walls were often hundreds of feet high above us. Every once in a while there would be a jarring reminder that we’re still in the modern world as a pickup truck with the bed full of kids would pass us driving in.

We stopped at one point to look at a big rock face with a dark surface and hundreds of petroglyphs carved in it – “Newspaper Rock”. Shortly thereafter, we reached the junction of Canyon de Chelly and Canyon del Muerto, and turned right into the former.

Canyon de Chelly

I was getting a bit sore on the backside, and my knees were really feeling the strain, when we finally stopped at the turnaround point. When I helped Robin off her horse, she looked awful. Turns out in the last hoalf hour or so she’d started to feel really bad. I think she was dehydrated and possibly low on blood sugar as well. One of the young women in our party was a nurse, and started attending to her with entergy gels and water, and Hamner talked to our guide about getting her a ride out. Coincidentally one of the guys in that group had hurt his back, and also needed to bail. By the time we left, Robin was feeling a bit better, and we left her resting and waiting for a pickup truck.

On the way back my horse was rejuvenated, surpassed only by the two horses that were returning riderless. At times he broke into an ass-punishing trot. The pickup passed us going in, and a while later, going out Robin smiled and waved, so it appeared she was doing better. Here you see Hamner, Peggy, the colt, and a riderless horse in memory of our fallen comrade.

Canyon de Chelly

We got back about 6PM and creakily dismounted. By the time we got back to the hotel, I was wondering if I’d be able to walk the next day. As Hamner pointed out, not being able to have a beer after that ride was cruel in the extreme. We made up for it by eating a lot and turning in very early.

Sunday, to Flagstaff.

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