After getting seven inches of rain this May which is almost unheard of in these parts, I just couldn't resist going
back into the beautiful San Rafel Wildness again. This time I was looking at pushing deeper into this vast untamed
wilderness going by way of up the Manzana River, through its narrows to a place I had camped last month, and then
continuing on deep into the hart of this wild land that few others will ever explore. With all of the unseasonable rainfall,
it was sure to be one of the most scenic trips I had been on in a long time.
We made it to Nira campgrounds by late afternoon, where we spent our first night getting ready for another fantastic
adventure into this magnificent wilderness. As dusk descended around us I tied the horses Creek and Sespe to a high
lined behind camp near the stock trailer. My zebra, Dandy was left to roam free and my camel, Gobi was hooked to a
long line so he could play in camp but not take off to bug the nearby campers.
I had brought some pine mountain logs and was in the process of getting one lit when there was a commotion over at the horses.
Dandy was being mean to Sespe and I had to scold her. I had only been gone a few minutes, when I got back to the fire
I discovered Gobi had been playing in it. The hair on his lower neck was lightly singed from the fire; apparently he
had been rubbing his neck in it while playing. The rest of the night went by smoothly and Gobi settled in sleeping
with his side pressed against my tent.
The dawning of a new morning was upon us. Songbirds were singing away in the early light of day. There was a light aroma
of campfire smoke drifting in the crisp mountain air. The smoke's blue tint had formed a thin layer about 20 feet above
the ground and was weaving
in and out of the trees around camp as we ate a large breakfast before breaking camp. All of the animals were in high
spirit as we rode out of camp in the early morning hours heading out on a new quest of exploration.
I planned on doing more photography this time so I had most of my camera gear strapped to me. Going up the trail I would stop,
walk up ahead and set up my equipment. I had just finished taking pictures of the group going along a rocky ledge above the river.
I tied Creek to a tree and went back to gather up my equipment (3 cameras, 2 tripods and a remote)
Heading back towards the horses, Sespe suddenly came running down the trail being chased by Dandy. I had two seconds
to decide what to do. On one side a rock wall, on the other side was a steep rocky drop-off down to the river below.
Nowhere to go, I quickly squatted down for a controlled slide down the rocks when suddenly I was broadsided by Sespe.
I went flying in the air, tumbling head over heals down the jagged rocks, doing my best to keep from ending up in the
river with all of my equipment. I came to a stop with my legs and a tripod in the river. I got up, yelling a few choice
words at Sespe while surveying the damage. My arm and hand were cut up, my shirt ripped and shoulder slightly cut,
extreme pain in my lower back from hitting one of the sharp rocks. I stood there looking back up at Sespe, she was staring back at me.
She knew what had happened and was sorry. After doctoring myself up, we were headed on our way.
The colorful spectrums of wildflowers were even more amazing and beautiful than the last time I was up here.
The life giving moister from the rain had brought the floral brilliantly alive into a full bloom of radiant colors
bursting upon the hillsides, unlike anything seen here in countless years. We stopped frequently to rest and enjoy
the fabulous views that engulfed us as we worked our way deeper into the wildness. Enjoying the sweet aroma of the
blossoming foliage drifting along in the gentle breeze as we slowly made our way up the canyon. Occasionally the animals
would hit some brush alongside the trail sending up a small cloud of bright yellow pollen that would drift off into the summer breeze.
Working our way yet deeper into the flourishing canyon, the walls started closing in around us as the wild river picks
up speed forcing its way through like the mighty river it is. We started entering the narrows, its towering walls turning
the daylight dim and cool. Near the entrance the trail climbs up becoming narrow with steep drop-offs. Riding along on
my trusty steed, I looked down past the toe of my boot seeing the roaring river far below as it battles its way over the rocks.
Luckily, I trust Creek with my life and we make it past this point entering into the narrows. The river sings to us as it
gushes swiftly down the narrows with mummers' waterfalls. There's a mist in the air giving off the sweet fragrances of damp cool earth.
As we near the far side of the narrows, we stop at a sweet little camp nestled in a heavily wooded area just above the mighty river.
There are some outstanding waterfalls here roaring into the deep blue pools below. Their sound reverberates off the steep canyon walls,
creating a crescendo that fills our ears with their lovely music. Gobi goes roaming around the campsite checking out the fire pits,
Dandy and the horses are content to stay put relax, enjoying their short break.
Continuing on, we leave the sweet coolness of the narrows and start climbing up a hot southern facing slope, quickly gaining
altitude passing through purple flowering sagebrush that's in full bloom with some of the most dazzling patches of wildflowers
growing in between. Far up in the back of a canyon I spot a huge waterfall that feeds the river we just left. Up near the top
of the waterfall is where we were planning on making camp for the next few days.
It's late evening by the time we make camp, I unpack the animals in the coolness of the last lingering rays of sunlight
as it quickly sinks below the horizon, the tall bluffs behind our modest little camp catching its last rays, lighting
everything up in a beautiful golden amber, before disappearing. The brilliant stars take over in the deep mountain skies
as the full moon slowly works its way high into the sky. The moonlit shadows on the enormous bluffs behind camp take on
eerie, ghostly elusions, which slowly transform as the moon sweeps its way across the vast heavens.
The animals are set free to enjoying themselves, filling their bellies with tall mountain grass and drink from the cool
spring that flows through this little meadow.
Gobi came over, lying down next to my tent keeping me company as I sat there using him as a backrest, enjoying the coolness
of the night air while watching the rest of the animals grazing on the small hill behind camp, with the bluffs in the background.
I got up and dug through the panniers, finding some alfalfa pelts and carrots to give Gobi; Dandy doesn't let this go
unseen and quickly comes over sharing the treats with him. Gobi had worked up quit a sweat coming up that last hill before camp,
so I gave him some electrolyte past to replace his salt loss. He wanted more, but I had only brought one tube of it
this time and I mostly give it to him as a treat anyway. I finished settling into camp and stayed up late into the night,
enjoying the most gorgeous array of stars with the moon light illuminating this pristine little mountain meadow in its
soft amber glow. The moon has leisurely been working its way across the heavens as sleep starts to overtake me,
I got Creek and hooked him up to the highline before crawling into my tent for a restful night of deep sleep.
The early morning light of a new day came breaking through the night, bringing with it the warmth of what was sure to be a beautiful day.
I lazily lay in my tent, listening to the birds singing their songs in the twilight of morning. Getting up I turned
Creek loose and the animals went back up the small hill behind camp to feed on the lush grass. I made some breakfast
and wouldn't you know it, Gobi came over to share it with me. I had to keep moving around the tent while eating to keep him from getting it.
I gave him some food, but he thought mine was more interesting.
After a fine but rather fast breakfast, I hiked up to the base of the bluffs where an old Indian encampment had once been.
There's good shelter here formed by the overhanging bluffs with a tall waterfall coming over the rim far above,
splattering down into flat rock creating shallow pools. With the beautiful sounds of the waterfall echoing off the rock walls,
and the spectacular views, this is truly a remarkable place.
After spending some time hiking around, I decided to try working my way around to the top of the falls. I followed what
looked to be an old bear trail leading to the top. After reaching the top, I enjoyed the vast views and outstanding
rock formations, peering down over the waterfall; I could see camp and the animals far below grazing on the grass
enjoying the morning. There were 3 little creeks feeding into the waterfall, following the main one up through the flat
rock and round amazing formations. I found another secluded campsite sheltered deep in the rock wall, with a 20 foot
waterfall feeding into the center of a small pool near the base of the camp. I walked behind the waterfall to the far
side of camp thinking "this has to be one of the most beautiful campsites I've ever found", with its deep cool shelter
going back into the canyon wall, a beautiful sandy beach, gorgeous rock formations and the waterfall freefalling down
into the middle of a pool. After a little further exploring around, I worked my way back down to camp. Creek and Sespe
had found the deep shade of a giant old oak tree growing up against a massive bolder, Gobi was lying down near by with
Dandy standing next to him. Looking around I found an old mortar hole in the flat rock near the base of the bolder.
This is where long ago the Indians worked grinding acorns to make their bread.
I followed the spring down to where it enters the main river, just a short ways from camp. Standing at the brim of
the waterfall I had seen on our way to camp the day before, I stood there gazing off into the vast wilderness below
as a light breeze blows spray back up into my face. Working my way around the brim of the cliff, I fond an incredible
spot to view its sheer magnificent as the white water streams downwards into the vast canyon below.
The day had warmed up nicely to the point of bring hot. I grabbed a book to read and spent the rest of the day in the
deep cool shade with Gobi and the horses. As the sun started sinking below the horizon I laid there starring into the
heavens watching sparrows flying high overhead, a raven was soaring along the bluffs, squawking as he flew back and
forth looking for something that only he knew. The stars started to make there appearance in the ever darkening skies,
popping out one at a time at first then filling up the entire sky with their brilliance. I laid there with Gobi and
Dandy standing near by, watching the twinkling of stars as the full moon worked its way up into the sky drowning out
the dimly lit ones with its brilliant glow.
Gobi moved over lying next to the tent, reaching around to scratch an itch he rolled over into the tent. Luckily the
tent poles fold inwards and no damaged was done. This is not the first time he's pushed in the side of my tent and
I'm sure it won't be the last, any other type of tent would have been destroyed long ago.
I got up to check the horses a few times daring the night, all was well. With the early morning light of a new day it
was time to start breaking camp and prepare for our journey, pushing ever deeper into this vast wildness.
Looking back at the canyons below the fog was trying to push its way inland drawing ever closer to camp.
We were about packed up when suddenly the fog and wind came bursting into camp streaking across the bluffs and meadow
in a stunning display of nature. The wind soon let up as we were surrounded in the gentle cool fog drifting all around
us in this picture perfect setting.
Off we headed thought the fog, gradually gaining altitude, crossing the creek and entering a pine forest leisurely
following the river deeper and deeper into the mountains. We made our way up a small canyon until the landscape opened
up emerging into a large plateau with scattered pine trees, rocky outcroppings and grassy fields of wildflowers.
The fog cleared and the warmth of the sun filled our hearts as we rode through field after field of the most beautiful wildflowers.
Stopping to let the animals eat the grass and flowers, I sat there in the saddle with a smile on my face thinking,
"life doesn't get any better than this"!
We crested the top of the plateau and were again caught in the fog and wind as it swirled around the bluffs streaking
past us in its haste to move inland. We moved on dropping down the back side of the mountain entering fantastic rock
formations winding our way downward along the slick rock, moving in and out of rock outcroppings and pine trees into
the narrowing canyon with its rock wall towering high over us on both sides. We finally worked our way deep into the
narrow canyon passage, following a seasonal river that slowly works its way over the smooth rock with its shallow pools
reflecting images of pine trees and rock walls off its glimmering surface. Coming out of the river at one of the crossings
we came upon a beautiful pine cover camp and took a long break. I gave all the animals some granola bars and adjusted
Creek's saddle before starting back down the trail. Two spectacular miles deeper in we arrived at Happy Hunting Ground
camp where we set up camp on the far side along a little grassy meadow that had a few pine trees scattered about, tall
bluffs on one side with a cliff dropping far down to the river below on the other.
I set up my tent under a small pine tree, rigged up the highline for Creek in the center of the tall grass between
two pine trees, and made a barricade across the trail to keep the horses from wondering off.
We settled into camp to relax and enjoy our beautiful new campsite for a few days. I went down to the creek to take a bath,
a few minutes later Gobi showed up looking for me, he hung around for a short time until deciding I wasn't doing anything
interesting, then headed back to camp. Leading Creek down to the river for a drink the rest of the animals would follow
along, running and playing in the vibrant spectrum of wildflowers and tall grass along the way.
That evening as the sun was setting I sat there looking out across the canyon as the shadows from small borders, patches
of grass, and pine trees grow longer on the flat rock slope as the amber light of evening slowly moved into darkness.
Going over to the edge of camp I looked down the rock cliff to the river far below. The dim light was reflecting off it
like a shinny mirror showing the trees and steep rock walls in its reflection, it was a gorgeous sight I will long remember.
It was another mild, moonlit, summer night. The moon was lighting up our campsite as the horses and Dandy grazed on
the sweet spring grass. Gobi was lying nearby watching them eat as the moon leisurely worked its way through the starry heavens.
Looking around in the brilliant moonlight it was easy to see the animals in the tall grass with soaring bluffs and pine
trees in the background, the vast sky looming above in the backdrop outlining the bluffs and trees.
It was so wonderful and peaceful in this remote wilderness, and the animals were enjoying themselves so much,
I did not have the hart to hook Creek to the highline. I knew they were not going anywhere during the night,
they had been enjoying this adventure as much as I had. But come morning, after a good night's rest it would be a different story.
I decided to let Creek enjoy his freedom, and sometime before sunrise I would hook him to the highline,
I always check on them a few times during the night anyway.
All went well, checking on them everything was so peaceful I kept deciding to give them some more time; I would highline
Creek next time I got up. Morning was upon us before I knew it; Gobi was sticking his head in the tent waking me up.
It was already light outside, I knew something was wrong! Quickly getting up I saw the horses and Dandy were gone,
only Gobi had stayed to warn me, waking me to their absence. I quickly got dressed and gathered up a few things to go
looking for them; I didn't have time to find some of the things I would have liked to have taken as I madly dug through my packs.
Every minute counted, I could not afford to delay an extra minute. I pored out a pile of alfalfa pelts to keep Gobi happy while I was gone.
I had my satellite phone, a lead rope, headstall, water bottle and a few other things as I took off in search of them.
Heading up the river I could see where the horses had crossed, there was still muddy water in the river and water
splashed up on the far side as they came out. They couldn't be far ahead; I give it all I had, pushing on, following their tracks.
Minute by minute I was thinking of whole scenarios of different outcomes as I followed the tracks up the river, finding
more muddy water and fresh signs where they had recently crossed. Would I catch them? It took two days to pack into here,
maybe they would stop at the next camp along the trail, or at the place we last camped (they liked that spot).
I kept pushing on, my ankle was starting to give me pain, I was pushing to hard. But every minute could mean the
difference in catching up to them. I pushed on, the trail left the river and climbed up following the high ground,
I had gone about five minutes up it when I came to some soft dirt and saw there were no horse prints heading out.
They were somewhere behind me, had they followed the river and were going to come out on the trail up ahead? Could
they make it that way? Should I go back and see? Could I afford the time to find out? If I followed the river,
rock hopping up it, the going would be too slow. I can't go as fast as they can up it. This could be my only chance
to catch them, if I took the high ground and beat them to the junction up ahead.
I continued pushing on, my ankle was throbbing in pain, I had to slow down!
Roger and Gobi