Friday, June 20, 2014

Horseback Riding at Fisher Towers

Our last big adventure during our vacation to Moab last week was going horseback riding near Fisher Towers, east of Moab. The last time I could remember being on a horse was in 1977, when I took an equestrianship PE class at the University of Illinois. Before that, I had only ridden a horse one time - at Camp Ondessonk in southern Illinois the summer after fifth grade.

So ... I was a bit apprehensive about getting on a horse. They are, after all, very large animals. I was also apprehensive that some of the kids - or perhaps all of them - might be afraid of getting on a horse. Boy, was I wrong.

Our horses were saddled and ready to go when we arrived.

We set out at 8:15 from our condo for the 45-minute drive out to Hauer Ranch near Fisher Towers - very near where we had put into the river the day before. It was another beautiful day. Clear blue skye, mild temperatures, perfect.

Kerry with the kids before the ride

Hauer Ranch is a small operation, but we were very pleased with the choice Mark had made in arranging this outing. Kerry, our guide, was very friendly, outgoing and reassuring - great with the kids. I engaged her in conversation (and visa versa) for much of the ride. 

I am fascinated by people's accents, and hers to me sounded very much like an upper midwest nasal twang. She obviously wasn't from Utah, so, intrigued, I eventually asked her where she hailed from.  "Well," she said, "I grew up in South Dakota, but then I lived in a lot of other different places." She mentioned a divorce and a remarriage, telling me that she had ended up in Utah because her husband had a job in economic development with the Navajo tribe. 

After moving west, Kerry had seen an advertisement by the owners of Hauer Ranch for a trail guide and had gotten the job. She related that she had been riding rodeo by the time she was seven years old and had a lot of experience with horses. It find continual fascination in hearing the stories of people that lie just below the surface.

The ornaments we bought in Moab

I had had a similar experience a couple of days before in a Native American gallery in Moab. I found a couple of Christmas ornaments - hand-painted sand globes (half price even) - and the cashier was an older woman whom I thought was probably in her mid-late 60's. I mentioned that I collect Christmas ornaments. Her face lit up. "I do, too!" she said. She proceeded to tell me a story of how she had collected ornaments all of her life and what a pleasure it was to get them out each Christmas and reflect upon the story behind each ornament. "Then," she continued, "I started buying ornaments for my grandchildren." She shared how excited her grandson had been to receive a small dream-catcher one year from her.

As I listened to her, I could detect a clear upper-Midwest accent, and sure enough, she was originally from Michigan. I sometimes hesitate to ask because of the reaction some people have when I enquire. She frowned a little bit and said, jokingly, "After all these years ... I thought I had lost it." I replied that it only stuck out because she is in Utah; then I mentioned that, when I first went to the University of Illinois, being from the southern part of that state, people asked me -in all seriousness - if I was from Alabama. Of course, most of my fraternity brothers were from the Chicago suburbs, and "southern Illinois" to them meant the part of the state south of the Cook County line.

But I digress. Kerry proceeded to get the kids on their horses one at a time, and I think her calm and friendly manner inspired confidence in them (and me).

Annie (above) hopped on her horse as if she'd done it dozens of times. Unlike on the rafting experience the day before, she showed no fear at any point on the trail ride. 

Getting Aaron on

Aaron was next up. Mark took pictures of all of them as they got on their horse, and when we later saw the pictures of Aaron, we all got a good laugh because of what the horse was doing, even funnier because it was Aaron's horse (think Boy Scout potty humor):

After we were all mounted, we headed out, seven horseback riders with two dogs accompanying us. Kerry told us about them, Twister and Spook; about how Spook was so named because one of their horses had been spooked one day by stomaching under a bush. Upon inspection, it turned out to be an abandoned dog whom the ranch adopted and nursed back to health.

Heading out. I love the look on Levi's face. 

Kerry also told us the story of "Blender," a ranch dog who had become famous during the 1990's because he loved to swim out in the Colorado River and be "rescued" by rafters. He would happily enjoy their attention on the way to lunch, then enjoy being fed before he'd set off on foot for the ranch. The next day, he would do the same thing, day after day.

I can't emphasize enough how surprised I was that all of the kids took so readily - and happily - to trail riding. Annie had absolutely no fear. Levi - who had told me earlier in the week that he isn't really "an outdoors person" - LOVED it. Esther and Aaron, too. Esther, of course, looked like a natural, she's such an athlete.

Along the way, Kerry told us stories about movies that had been made in the area. "City Slickers 2" was filmed on and around the ranch. "Rio Grande" with John Wayne was filmed in the area, along with a number of other westerns. Kerry also pointed out where a car commercial had been made, where a helicopter set a car on top of one of the towers. During the filming process, a storm came up, and the helicopter needed to land. The actress featured in the commercial stayed in the car; everyone assumed that the storm would quickly pass. But it didn't, and she ended up spending the night in the car.

Once we got up to the turnaround point, Kerry had us all line up (well, she lined up the horses and we all hoped they stay put because none of us - except Mark - really knew how or had the confidence to steer them) and she took a picture of us with the Fisher Towers in the background. It's the lead photo above, but I'm going to put it here as well to give texture to the comment Mark made about it when I posted it to my Facebook page:

"Here's what's wrong with the picture," he wrote. "Very western cowboy setting but mounted on those very western horses in the very western setting are 4 Xbox addicts and 2 road bike addicts. What an experience - lots of fun with those fearless children."

Indeed, it was fun. And such a great experience for the children, to encounter something they had never before encountered, to allay fears they might have had, and to teach them that they weren't necessarily who they thought they were.

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