This was the 53rd year for the Chief Joseph ride, sponsored by the Appaloosa Horse Club, and yes you must ride a registered Appaloosa on the ride as it's all about the history of the Nez Perce and the horses. This year the ride reset to the 5th cycle and started once again at Joseph, OR. Each year riders complete approximately a 100 mile segment of the historic route of what is often referred to as the greatest retreat, until they reach the end once again at the Bear Paw Battlefield. All because the whites found gold and wanted to run the Nez Perce onto the reservation lands. Joseph was just one Nez Perce leader, and he didn't want war nor did the people want to be on the reservation, it was decided by council to escape first to Idaho, and later to reach Sitting Bull and be safe in Canada. There is far too much history to list here, many books are available as well as information online. Check it out for the full story.
My BFF, Colleen Martin, and I arrived early enough Saturday, July 15, to unload Rio near Joseph, OR., and walk into town, meander through a few shops, and take pictures of some great statuary and murals around town. Then Molly got to play in the creek and cool down before we headed into assembly camp. Colleen was driving for my friend Dennis Schultz, so I could ride this year. I'd promised Dennis last year I'd find him a driver so I could ride instead of drive. Thanks Colleen for that opportunity. Admittedly this is not my style of riding, too much hurry and wait in this huge group, but I am glad that I went and rode it like I have always wanted to do.
Sunday morning Rio got a quick ride before I took my truck and trailer ahead to destination camp. Then he got another ride that afternoon because my normally calm and quiet horse was no longer calm and quiet. BIG camp, nearly 200 horses and he was just a bit excited. Monday morning wasn't much different as over 165 riders set out onto the prairies heading North.
During the weeks trails we traveled much of the Nez Perce hunting range and the lands they enjoyed. Some trails are not accessible. Not just because of land owners but because along the trail, there is simply no place to camp well over 100 large trailers and such. To me this is the biggest limiting factor. For example previous years of this leg ended near Dug Bar, down in Hells Canyon along the Snake River, but the road would rip the bottom out of many of the trailers providing they could even make the corners. In the early days of this ride most vehicles went to destination camp. Riders camped all week, tossing their belongings in the club Uhaul daily so it would arrive in camp each night. The few trucks and trailers were of modest size not today's 30 foot or longer LQ trailers. Each day camp, the entire kitchen, dance floor/stage, all the water, potties, etc., is packed up and moved to a new site. Driving on this trek is even an interesting experience, just ask one of those lucky folks who made the wrong turn and took the side trip to Imnaha. :)
The second days route took us through Zumwalt Prairie, where over 300,000 acres of grasslands are home for elk and deer, all of what was once Nez Perce hunting grounds. I'd guess we saw between 250- 300 elk. There are so many elk in this area that several special hunts are needed to thin the numbers for herd survival or many would starve. All through here are several little draws with a creek and Pine trees. Old homestead remains are scattered across the lands along with the occasional farm implements.
There were numerous views of the Hells Canyon, Seven Devils mountains, the Eagle Caps and still the Wallowas. The route went up and down small ravines and traversed across very rocky ground as the trail headed towards the Grande Ronde through more trees.
When we arrived at camp along the rim of the Hells Canyon there was a sizable fire burning. We saw a few planes dump retardant and some choppers with water buckets miles in the distance. Talk about dinner with a few, lawn chairs lined the rim as riders soaked up the canyon views.
The last day we wound around trees and draws as we left the canyon and ventured on to destination. It was an awesome week of new friends, old friends, fantastic food, good music, and many really nice Appaloosa horses. Saturday morning we all gathered for one last breakfast, we thanked the many crew members that make this adventure possible, said all our "see ya next year!" goodbyes and loaded up. Next year - Tolo Lake. See you there.