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Trip Dispatch #7: Wednesday, May 25: Spring Creek Trailhead to Smith Reservoir campsite: Accumulating and Swapping Stories

At 8 a.m., Stephen, as promised, arrived with his trailer, and assisted us in packing up the horses and the gear. I retrieved Raudi and Signy. Siggi, hobbled, came racing down the trail. He obviously feared being left behind.

We loaded all into Stephen’s trailer and drove a ways past Cuchara where we met up with his friend Jerry Knox. The guys spent considerable time deliberating about our route; then, finally, it was decided that Jerry would take us to nearby Fort Garland. The horses hopped into Jerry’s stock trailer—this was a first for them, and for Rainbow, who we put in the front compartment.

We climbed into the truck. The backseat then consisted of me, two feedbags a purple halter, and a pile of saddle blankets.

Pete pumping water
Pete pumping water

Jerry, tall, reddish blonde hair, blue eyes wearing a dark leather cowboy hat, a leather vest, and a plaid shirt, was kind enough to head west before then driving to Missouri. We bought him lunch in Fort Garland, and he regaled us with rancher and cowboy stories.

Jerry’s travelled extensively by mule and horseback, and has been a Grand Canyon guide. At this point in time, he’s doing maintenance on a Colorado guest ranch. He was heading to Missouri, to drop off horses and pick up the grandkids.

He was full of stories. For example, he was traveling with a guy who in Fort Garland tied his mules to a dumpster – the mules bolted down the street – the fellow comes racing into the restaurant and the owner said “Yer mules just stole my trash!”

Less than a month into this trip, and we’re not a loss for stories. Jerry helped us buy a bale of hay from an area rancher. His wife comes out in her pajamas and in curlers and says “How come you knocked on the door? I wasn’t dressed yet!” She then called her husband on a cell phone, who shortly thereafter came racing up on his four wheeler. He looked like the bad guy in a western, square jaw, sideways smile, gray hair, hat pulled low over his forehead. As he, Pete, and Jerry talked, low, mournful western-type whistling came to mind. The rancher sold us a bale of moldy alfalfa for $5.00. Have no choice but to feed the better parts. Alfalfa isn’t good for Icelandic horses. I said to Pete that this stuff is like high octane fuel with crap in it.

From Fort Garland we could see 14,345 ft. Mt. Blanca at the distance. The town’s the home of Fort Garland – built in 1858, the fort was designed to protect the San Luis Valley settlers. The fort housed more than 200 men in its day, including soldiers, volunteers, and Kit Carson, the Fort Commander.

Jerry, Pete, and I agreed that we’d need to go further afield, since there was no place to camp in Fort Garland town proper. We got directions to Smith Reservoir at the town museum. At first, the reservoir area didn’t appear to be too promising a place to camp. It was surrounded by barbwire fencing, and the enclosed area appeared to be dry and unappealing. I saw a huge snake, which furthered my reservations about staying here. Jerry, seeing me jump, chuckled and said it was a bull snake, to which Pete added “they eat rattlesnakes.

I bit my tongue because we had no choice but to camp there. We found a brushy area near the water, highlined the horses, and set up camp for the night. Mt. Blanca was at the distance. I got out my binoculars and watched pelicans, western grebes, and mergansers swim back-and-forth. I was so excited about this that I called my sister Eleanor, who is a birder, and told her about my sightings. “Pretty good for a non-birding person,” I says.

To which she replied, “Yep,” the inference being that a birder would not only see something rare, but know that it was rare. The setting sun was an orange ball in the sky. Too, the wind had abated. It was indeed, I decided, a fine campsite.

Next: Dispatch #8: Mr. Road Grader