Sunday, June 14, 2009

Historic Wyoming

Little did I know that when I bought a grey Arab gelding awhile back to resell that it would lead me to Wyoming. But a rancher there wanted a grey Arabian for riding fences and sorting cows and by delivering him to Wyoming, I got a vacation. Not just any vacation but a journey to the Black Hills of Wyoming. Yes I said Wyoming, the Black Hills continue to South Dakota. This area of the Black Hills is known as the Bear Lodge range.

On my adventure to the Rauth Ranch in Alva, WY. I got to see 950+ miles of amazing country. And I think there was every kind of weather too. Years ago going to the Race of Champions we had traveled the big Horns, Cody and Yellowstone, so I opted to take the faster route this time.

I took Thunder along to keep Grey Boy happy in the trailer and also to do some riding. How can you visit a place in the Black Hills of NE Wyoming and not ride?? Especially when the place is a working cattle ranch. This might make up for those fleeting pictures of all the interesting things that I drove by. I would have loved to have had more time for a trip like this, so many historic and wondrous things to see: Battle of Little Big Horn, Devils Tower, views of the Tetons and several other mountain ranges, and my favorite - old homesteads.

I pulled in to the ranch yard just past midnight. Was greeted by ranch owner, Dick Rauth and four dogs. We tucked the horses into a corral with hay and water and headed to the ranch house. That long drive wore me out.

In the morning I could see everything was lush and green, creeks and big trees, and lots of mud from heavy spring rains. I think it rained 3" while I was there. But then since I got home it's done nothing but thunderstorm, just that time of year. The plan for the day was to ride and mend fences.

Since Thunder had been in the trailer for 18 hours Dick suggested I ride one of their geldings. He caught up two horses across the creek, both homebred Morab geldings. I rode "Stranger" who strayed from his mother as a baby and grew up half wild. But he was a good mount and solid as they come. Dick packed his fence stretcher in his rifle scabbord and tied on a roll of wire to his saddle and we were good to go. We followed miles of fence, fixed a place or two, and I just sat back and enjoyed the ride. From different vantage points the green vistas showed thousands of rolling acres that belonged to the ranch and I could even see Devils Tower in the distance. To say that deer were abundant is an understatement as both whitetail and muley's were everywhere I looked. They can hide easily in the oak thickets. The wild flowers were beautiful and the Pines smelled so good.

Once back to the ranch the grey got his saddling lesson and he was not fond of the rifle scabbord and that back cinch so he bucked off through the muddy corral. The deep mud made him work and wore him down and he'd quit. Then something would set him off and he'd take out bucking again. He got to wear that saddle around for a couple hours and just get used to it.
I got to meet some of the homebred ranch horses. He and Twila have two Morgan studs and they have mostly Morabs for ranch use. Although one black gelding was a Tennesee Walker Morgan cross and Twila rode him to gather cows. In addition to saddle stock there are four Percherons that are used in the winter for feeding cattle in the snow. They put hay on a big sled and take it out over the snowy pastures. All really nice horses. There were two mares heavy with foal but a couple weeks away from their due dates.

The next morning Dick saddled the grey up again, who was still basically nameless because "gotta know them before you can give them a proper name". I think he was just as bucky today so he just spent time in the muddy corral. Dick said he wanted all the buck out of him before he got on. Then we headed across the border to Spearfish for a few supplies. Went through the old cattle capital of Belle Fourche, a destination in many John Wayne movies. Back at the ranch Twila rode down the creek on her Morgan stallion to go look for calves and I set off headed for one of the high pastures just to ride and sightsee. Thunder just wanted to keep going, maybe he was trying to trot back to Idaho. We trotted through the meadow, up the hills, in the mud, crossed some creeks, all in one pasture.

The next day it rained, and poured and rained some more. The creeks swelled up and the mud got deeper. Seemed like a good day to go sightseeing and we headed off through Hulett, set near the banks of the Belle Fourche River, to Devils Tower. The heavy rain had the mountain top all fogged in so I couldn't see the huge rocky tower in front of me. We went on past Sundance (where the Sundance Kid took his name from Sundance Mt. when he spent the night in jail.) Then to Spearfish, down through Spearfish Canyon, mining towns Lead and Deadwood (where Wild Bill met his fate) and on to Crazy Horse Monument. All the way Dick is telling me different stories about the country and the people in it, he's a great tour guide. The rain was relentless and luckily the fog didn't block Crazy Horse. That's an amazing piece of work! I wonder if it'll get finished in my lifetime? The Museum and all the pictures are fascinating. Mt Rushmore was only a few miles away if we skipped Custer Nat'l Park and all the rain. But when we got to Rushmore the fog and clouds were so heavy that I couldn't see a thing, not even an outline. There were people everywhere hoping for the same thing I was, just for the clouds to part so we could see this magnificent patriotic monument. But no such luck. Back to the pickup and back to the ranch.

The next day the sun was shining and the job was sorting cattle. Sounds easy enough but there are HUGE pastures and cows and calves hiding in oak thickets and the goal is to find the older cows and take them up to a different pasture. These cows are pretty wild but every now and then would would come up looking for "cake" and hoping you'd feed them. Cake is large pellets of meal with molasses and all the critters love it! Of course the beggars were never ones that we needed to sort out and move either.

The first batch to hunt down and sort wasn't too hard but when we rode back up to another pasture mixed with two year old cows with their calves that was a rodeo. The older cows weren't too bad to sort and move out but their calves said no way. Those calves hadn't ever been pushed anywhere, and all they wanted to do was go back to the others and they had plenty of open space to run in. Dick and Twila were galloping everywhere after calves and all Thunder wanted to do was run and join in the fun. Not turn and stop with the cows just be a goofy racehorse. So when it became evident that we didn't know what we were doing, I just got out of the way and took a few pictures. Now I felt like a city dude. Once the older cows with calves were sorted and pushed through the gate the rest was pretty easy by comparison, just take them down the road and up to the other pasture. I decided Joe's cows are a lot easier to move along than these are.

After all that I rode Smokey, a Morab gelding, complete with the big western saddle, tapaderoes and lariat. Sorry I didn't get a picture of that. Anyway I rode out to accompany Dick on the grey Arab for his first outside ride. I would have taken Thunder but we didn't just want the horse following his pal around. We went up to the high pasture where I'd ridden Thunder before and the grey did great with the only problem being creek crossings. But after Smokey led him across a couple then he was doing just fine and seemed to be enjoying himself.

Time flies and it was time to head back home. After the thank-yous and goodbyes were said I didn't have to ask Molly twice to get in the pickup. I went a few miles out of the way in hopes of seeing Devils Tower but even though the rest of the area was clear the rocky peak was cloud covered. Along 287 and the Madison River I found a great spot to give Thunder a rest and some grass before we continued on. I pulled in my driveway at 2:35 AM, and was ready for some sleep. Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.

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