Mackenzie has never been West of the Mississippi, and now we’re taking her West of the Rio Grande.
We set off from Mike and Dana’s house in Flemington, NJ and collect Mackenzie from A Hope Equestrian in Lebanon. We drive about 6 hours through Pennsylvania and Maryland to our first stop in Purcellville, just over the border of Virgina. We visit with Pam, her three kids, two dogs, two cats, and snake.
We log another 6 hours, clipping the corner of West Virginia and crossing Virginia, to the Uwharrie State Park in North Carolina. On the way to the Canebrake Horse Camp we pass the “Old Horse Camp”, which is for boondocking (free camping with no amenities). This works for us, since we are self-sufficient. The next day we hike a couple miles, find deer stands, and enjoy ribs and brisket from Dickey’s Barbecue Pit.
We continue to South Carolina and stay at a “horse motel” called Double J Arena. Mackenzie gets a 12×12 covered stall. The forecast calls for heavy rain, so we pitch our tent in a neighboring stall.
We drive across northern Georgia and arrive at Warden Station Horse Camp in Alabama. When we pull in there are a few horse trailers at nearby sites. An hour later the occupants return: mules pulling covered wagons. Mackenzie is excited to see them, runs in circles, and slips on a muddy tree root.
Our next stop is Gum Springs Horse Campground in Louisiana, so we put in a long day. We cross the rest of Alabama, all of Mississippi, and half of Louisiana. After 9 hours of driving we arrive and have the whole place to ourselves. In the morning we take Mackenzie for a 5 mile hike. For dinner I pick-up the best meal yet, from Grayson’s Barbeque.
The next day we make it to Dallas. We crash at a friend’s ranch for two nights. Gabrielle is President of the Cleveland Bay Horse Society of North America, and is pleased to meet Mackenzie. Gabrielle has a few Cleveland Bays herself, and we help her with turnouts, doctoring, and feeding. Jess even rides one.
From Dallas we drive to Odessa. The West Texas Horse Center is right next to I-20 and stinks from the cattle in close quarters. We try to visit a local restaurant, which is closed, and settle for fast food fried chicken. This is the worst stop so far.
The Guadalupe mountains improve my mood. We take Mackenzie for a hike on the Frijole trail, which I think is aptly named as she passes gas in my face for the 5 miles.
We continue to our next destination, the Hueco Rock Ranch. By this point we are so practiced at setting camp it takes only 13 minutes to pitch the tent, stake it down, attach and secure the rain fly, inflate the air mattresses, and lay out the sleeping bags. We hunker down until the 25mph winds wake us around midnight. The tent flaps violently, rips a few stakes out of the dry desert sand, and would have blown away if not for the weight of its occupants.
In the morning we visit Hueco Tanks State Park. After a 15 minute video of its history, we hike the Chain Trail to the top of North Mountain. The rock formations are unique and make it clear why this is a bouldering Mecca.
In the afternoon we go to the opposite side of North Mountain and climb Malice in Bucketland. This is described as a sport route, but it starts atop a 20-foot-high boulder and the first bolt is 25 feet above that. In total there are only 5 protection bolts for over 100 feet of climbing.
In the evening we drive into El Paso to have dinner with Jason, a local climber. Jess drinks the largest margarita. Then we return to camp and sleep in Boop, shielded from the continuing winds.
The last leg of this journey brings us across the Rio Grande, up to Las Cruces (New Mexico), through our first border patrol checkpoint (“Are you US citizens?” “Yes” “Have a nice day”), past more mountains, and through Tucson (Arizona). We touch down at Hay Creek Ranch a few hours before sunset. We meet Doug and Robyn, setup Mackenzie in a stall, park the horse trailer nearby, maneuver Rubble into position, and unpack Betty. I prepare a meal in our kitchen, we watch some TV, and we go to sleep in our bed.
After 13 days on the road, 14 States, 61 hours of driving, and 3,100 miles it’s good to be home.