I’ll admit that old Western song’s been stuck in my mind since I signed up to ride a horse through the Nevada desert. It’s the West, so it seemed mighty appropriate.
What was a surprise and delight was to return to the foothills beyond our hike along the Colorado River Heritage Greenway to experience the Horseshoe Trail as it should be enjoyed – on a horse. Our small group had arrangements with Pot A Gold Stables, who work inside Lake Mead Recreation Area in the arid hills above Davis Dam, to take us on a guided trip.
It’s been a decade since I saddled up. Lesson one: your horse knows the way. There was no mistaking where the trail went as it wound its way high up into the hills, and my horse, Mr. Sunny, knew exactly where he wanted to pick his path between the rocks.
He was a big boy, and for some reason, had extreme short reins. So I found it necessary to lean forward as if galloping. Galloping wasn’t on Mr. Sunny’s agenda. “He’s a lazy boy,” our guide said, as we caught up to the rest of the group. In no hurry at all. We lagged farther and farther behind. He cut corners where he saw he could. “Better a slow horse than a feisty one!” I said, being wholly unfamiliar with rocky terrain with drop offs while on horseback. In fact, I traded my Tilley for a helmet for the ride, thinking of John’s favorite line, “Cowards live longer.”
Back in the saddle comes back quickly, despite a decade without a ride. We stop at a promontory for photos, the sweep of Lake Mohave in the background. It’s afternoon, and no life stirs on the desert floor – it’s just too hot. Fortunately, these saddles come with a water bottle holster.
The river is the focus of activity, so we make our way down the mountain to the flats, emerging at the exact trail junction John and I had walked to previously. We ride past the ruins of homes, the subtle footprint of the ghost town that was once a mining boom town. Scattered stones, rusted cans, and foundations are all that’s left. The streets are laid out with rock edging.
Coming down to river level, we parallel the Colorado River Heritage Greenway in the shade of the pegmatite cliffs, staying to the natural surface that’s kinder to the horses. It’s Saturday, and the river is busy. Kayakers look for quiet eddies while jet skis splash past. Tents are lined up along the riverside campsites.
We get a good view of Davis Dam and an unexpected green lawn surrounding the playground area at the end of the access road to this recreation area. It’s a wonder that the horses don’t bolt for that oasis of grass. Instead, a couple of them try to nibble on small tufts of grass in a dry wash. Mr. Sunny surprises me with a sudden burst of speed climbing out of the wash.
We cross the road, and the trail turns to follow it back up the mountain. Mr. Sunny stops. I urge him to go. He does, but not in the way I expected. I lift my feet to stay out of the spray zone, which is pretty serious for a horse his size. After he’s done, he looks up and realizes the rest of the group is well ahead of us. He takes off at a full gallop.
I didn’t quite expect this reaction, so I grab the horn of the saddle to hang on and end up with a bit of a blister as it rubs down my palm. But I’m able to stay on and keep the camera from bouncing away. He finally slows as we catch the group, then takes one more burst uphill as he spies the home spread.
It’s a pleasant ride, a quiet ride, and hot out here in the desert. The horses look for shade and water, and we do the same.