Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Trail Ride Day!

We didn’t think our second day in the Grand Tetons could possibly be as thrilling as our first – not after seeing all those wonderful animals the evening before. But today was the day we would get our trail ride at the Mill Iron Ranch, and I was really looking forward to that. I have been a horse rider for most of my life, and trained as an instructor on leaving school. It was originally my ambition to become a show jumper, but sadly my woeful lack of balance proved too difficult to overcome. My riding skills never progressed beyond average, which was a disappointment, but I made up for it by enjoying the instructing side. I also got to buy my own horse – once I got a job that paid enough money – and that fulfilled another early ambition. I don’t have a horse now, so I ride when I can, and this trail ride was going to be a whole new experience.

We still had most of the day to enjoy though before heading off to the ranch, so after another wonderful breakfast, this one consisting of raspberry waffles, we decided to explore the town of Jackson. We had heard about the awesome arches made of elk antlers, and simply had to see them.


Jackson was only a short drive from the Wildflower Inn, and it was easy to find a place to park. We didn’t even have to pay! You have no idea how refreshing that was. We spotted the antler arches even before we got out of the car, and they were indeed awesome. There were four of them, one for each entryway into a pretty, small town park or square, and we went for a closer look. Each arch had an internal steel framework and the hundreds – or maybe thousands – of antlers that made up each one were skilfully woven together to make a stunning spectacle. It was also nice to know that these antlers had been naturally shed – no elk had died to make them. We both loved them, and took plenty of pictures.
Elk Antler Arches

The town of Jackson was friendly, and clearly prosperous, with a vast variety of galleries selling all types of artwork. There were huge bronze figures, both animal and human; pottery sculptures, ceramics, paintings, and more antler artefacts than you could shake a stick at! I particularly loved the antler chandeliers. All of these things, though, were so far out of our price range that all we could afford was a delicious hot chocolate and a cake! Well, that’s not quite true. Dave bought me a beautiful opal heart pendant and a shimmering blue opal and silver bangle. Anyone who has read King’s Envoy and King’s Champion will know that I have a ‘thing’ for opals – Sullyan herself wears fire opals!
After our visit to Jackson we drove to Teton Village, because we both fancied a trip in the cable car up to the top of the mountain. It was a great ride up, the sun was still out, but boy – was it cold at the top! Now I know we should have expected this, there was still snow underfoot after all, but we had forgotten how quickly altitude affects warm air. Neither of us had warm clothing with us, so after a brief time spent staring at the stunning panorama of the mountains and the valley laid out below us, we hastened into the café for a hot chocolate and a cookie. Then we rode the car back down and made our way to the Wildflower Inn to change for our ride.

Cable car view

The ranch had sent us directions and Sherrie at the Inn told us that it was easy to find. She was right, and we pitched up at the ranch right on time. We could see all the horses in a corral, some saddled, some not, and spent a few minutes trying to guess which horse we would be allocated. Then we went into the ranch office to let them know we had arrived.
Arriving at the ranch.

Soon, more guests arrived and then the ranch hands began bringing horses forward. Being somewhat stiff these days (oh – the pleasures of aging!) I was pleased to see that we didn’t have to climb into the saddle from the ground. Instead, each horse was led between two mounds of earth, making it easy for us to mount. I suspect the idea was to protect the horses, more than to help the riders, but it was nice anyway! My horse turned out to be a pinto (in the UK we’d call this piebald) named Cisco, and he was very comfortable. Dave was allocated a kind-eyed bay named Roy, and he seemed quite happy with his mount. In the past I have given Dave riding lessons, and he has good balance, but he wouldn’t call himself a rider. He also sometimes suffers a stuffy nose around horses, and I really hoped this wouldn’t spoil the ride for him.
Me and Cisco

Our guide then mounted his own horse and led us up into the hills. We climbed pretty steeply up through wooded tracks, keeping our eyes open for wildlife. Dave had managed to secure himself a place near the front of the line – there were about eight or nine of us – and so he could hear our guide’s commentary. But I was second from last, and couldn’t really hear him. So I just enjoyed the ride.
Eventually, we climbed high enough to leave the trees behind. We had a glorious view of the surrounding hills, and stopped right on the crest of the highest one to take in the panorama. Two large birds were circling overhead and one suddenly folded its wings and dived, showing its beautiful bronzed feathers. It was a Golden Eagle! After that, our guide dismounted and took photos of all the riders with their own cameras, just to prove we’d been there.

Dave and me on Cisco and Roy

Then we began the descent, and this time both Dave and I were right at the back. This wouldn’t have been a problem had it not been so dry and dusty, but the trail was bone dry and the horses in front were kicking up vast clouds of brown dust. Dave and I had to breathe this in all the way back down to the ranch, which took about an hour. We were both sneezing fit to bust by the time we got back! I was also beginning to feel the effects of riding for two and a half hours and was quite glad to slide off Cisco’s back. My legs were pretty wobbly for a few minutes, but the feeling soon wore off.
Our final treat that day was a steak supper at the ranch house. I have never seen steaks so huge! They were delicious, but far too big for me to finish. Baked potatoes, salad, chips and beer completed the meal, and another thoroughly fantastic day. My only worry was that I would ache so much after all that riding, I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed the next morning!

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