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2009 Death Valley Encounter
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Ring in the New Year at the Death Valley Encounter




Day 1

Day 3

2015 Death Valley Encounter: Isolation and Desolation

by Merri Melde

You're flirting with disaster when, if you're a #WinterWimp, you migrate south with two horses and me, the Ice Princess, hoping for a warm winter in Arizona and California.

And so it was somewhat disastrous when #WinterWimp Steph pulled into Ridecamp at the Trona Country Club with 2 horses for the Death Valley Encounter endurance ride, and the sunrise temperatures hovered between 21* and 31* the next 5 mornings, temperatures that nobody ever recalls being so low during the ride. I was of course given credit for bringing the cold with me. :)

"Trona is known for its isolation and desolation," says Wikipedia, and that about sums it up. Either blinding white (even in winter!) from the borax crystals mined in the dry alkaline Searles Lake bed, or Desolation Gray (a crayon color yet to be invented) from the severe and sparse mountains and desert, and freaking hot in the summer (think 105* average for July), regular godawful wind, and chronic stink from the "hellish stench of sulfur" (said the L.A Times in this dismal 2006 article), Trona appears to leave much to be desired.

It's slightly famous for the nearby Trona Pinnacles, where, among others, Planet of the Apes, and Star Trek V movies were filmed.

And on a less grand scale, but nonetheless famous among endurance riders, it's now basecamp for the Death Valley Encounter endurance ride. Basecamp has moved around over the 30 years of this 4-day ride between Christmas and New Year's, including moving basecamps during the ride itself; this year's Ridecamp at the Trona Country Club (it's not what you're all thinking)

for all 4 days gave us a grand view and sniff to the east of the Searles Valley, Trona, and the borax plants.

While in previous years the DVE would traverse some trails of the actual Death Valley National park, now because of logistics, permits, and a morphing endurance riding population that isn't as gung ho as they were in the old days and which prefers not having to pack up and move camp every night after each day of riding 50 miles a day, the DVE ride is still pretty darn close enough to Death Valley, and still has some of the most scenic trails I've ever ridden on an endurance ride.

To the West lies the Slate Range, Panamint Valley, Panamint Mountains, and Death Valley, in that rugged order. The area is rife with history: of the Timbisha Shoshone, Western Shoshone, and Paiute Native Americans around before the gold and silver miners who attracted the pioneers (memorably the Lost Fortyniners) who came to look for more gold. Old mines and equipment still litter the landscape over the trails we trod during the endurance ride.

And they are rugged trails, isolated and desolate, and just exponentially multiply those thoughts if you dare visit in the summer. Desperately lacking in water and shade, diabolically hard on animal life, and oh those pioneers who had to traverse the valleys and mountains with oxen and wagons or, worse, on foot because they ate their oxen and burned their wagons for fuel. Every time your horse climbs over the Slate Range, every trail over which he has to carefully pick his way through the rocks, you are reminded of how difficult it was for the miners and pioneers, and how tough they were to choose that life. I was particularly grateful to be riding in a cold winter, and not in a hot summer! (Well, you won't get me into Death Valley in the summer, nowhere nohow noway anyway.)

Steph and I rode Smokey and Jose on the 50-mile rides on Days 1 and 3. We had inch-thick ice on the water buckets in the mornings; we wore layers of clothing (Steph 6 layers, me, The Ice Princess, 3 layers, and the horses their thick Idaho winter coats) to start out. Not much got peeled off during the days!

Day 1 followed two-track desert roads, washes, burro trails (we didn't see any burros, but they were around, but what the heck they ate to survive I couldn't imagine), climbing up and over the Slate Range and down into the Panamint Valley, before following miles of the dry Lake Panamint bed, then climbing back up and over the Slate Range again to basecamp.

Most of the trails were rocky. But we expected that, having padded our horses' feet. Climbing up and over the Slate Range got our winter-hairy ponies quite sweaty despite the awesome temperature (says the Ice Princess) of high 30's in the morning sun. The view of the Panamint Range across the Panamint Valley far below is staggering. In the winter sun, the rippled washes grooving the mountains in tans and grays and purples are magnetic and mysterious to the eye and soul.


Lunch was a pleasant stop in the middle of the Panamint Valley. I had the best cup of soup I've ever had in my life which I slurped and crunched down even before the noodles softened.

In this country, you trot when you can when the footing's good, and you walk when you have to when it's rocky. We had good footing along the dry Panamint Lake bed heading back after the lunch stop, and we trotted, non-stop for 1 hour and 20 minutes. The playa is a dry mud flat covered with water in the wet season - if there is a wet season. We had a slight head breeze and the horses cruised along this soft, rock-less footing.

Once we turned back toward the Slate Range, the horses got back to picking their footing through rock, rock, and more rock. The trails we climbed back up were built by a dirt bike group - 4 miles of it, at least. Tremendous effort they put in, and they must have been some C-R-A-Z-Y riders. Yeah, I'd ride a sure-footed horse over these trails, but a dirt bike!? Those people are nuts. But we appreciated the trails, with yet another spectacular view of the Panamint Valley and Range behind us that widened into a spectacular panorama far below us.

The trails and two-track roads down the east side weren't as steep nor as rocky. I got off to walk/run some downhill, guaranteeing I'd be wiped out by the end of the day. While still up high, (un-forecast) clouds began moving in and the temperature dropped to the low 30's, and danged if we didn't get a few itty bitty snowflakes on us as we were riding into the finish. The Ice Princess' power extends even to the southern reaches of Death Valley!

We'd planned on riding our horses only 2 days, so we decided to ride Day 3 (up the Slate Range again), and sleep in on Day 2!


Day 3's loop 1 took us back up into the Slate Range on a different trail - and up and up, climbing to radio towers on one of the peaks. We had yet another view of the Panamint Range and Valley as we headed up.


Descent back to the Searles Valley was a long, steep, gnarly, very cool old trail that must have first been created by burros. Everybody was off leading on foot on that one. That is a trail you would not want to ride up!

After an hour lunch break back in camp, the going got tough - but in a different way. We looped around the Searles Valley, up against the Slate foothills through some old mines,

then across the highway to the Argus Range foothills - but no matter which way we rode, we always had a clear view of Ridecamp far away. The horses sure kept their eyes on it the whole afternoon! Every time we seemed to be getting closer to it, we'd keep traveling in the same direction way past it. We rode up to a water-less waterfall in the Argus foothills and made some more wide detours in numerous directions before finally finishing, just as the sun sank behind the Argus range and the temperature began dropping again.

Several milestones were reached at this year's Death Valley Encounter. Among others:

Cindy Bradley and her Morgan, Bogar Tucker, (aka "Bo", with over 5000 miles) accomplished Decade Team status after Day 1's 50 mile ride.

Becky Lange's Kentucky Mountain horse, Mocha Jack, (aka "M"), reached his 5000 miles plateau.

Attendance was again lower than the year before… we sure hope The Duck keeps this ride (and the rest of his XP rides) going.

We made some new friends, reconnected with old friends, played some old tyme Bluegrass music at the New Year's Eve party with Gretchen (and on an earlier day, Simon), and loaded up and said, (as did one of the Lost Fortyniners, as the story goes), "Goodbye, Death Valley."

Till we meet again. (In winter!)


Multi-Day Endurance Event

December 28,29,30,31, 2015 (2016 ride season) 50/50/50/50 & 25/30/30/30

Sanctioning: This is a multi-day format of 4 separate 50’s and 4 LD’s. It is sanctioned by the American Endurance Ride Conference.

1. Leave Ridgecrest on Hwy 178, which is the road to Trona

2. You will cross a railroad track in Trona. Continue on Hwy 178 for another 6.45 miles to the entrance to Valley Wells Country Club.

3. Turn right and camp in the large parking on your right. Do not camp with horses in the parking lot of the golf course. The correct location is to the right of the paved road. Don’t pull in there before noon on December 26th. If you are arriving in the area earlier than that you can find nice accommodations at the fairgrounds on the east side of Ridgecrest. There are also numerous open areas in which you can camp in the desert. You are welcome to call us at 907 209 8881 when you get to town and we will help you with your needs.

Basic Ride Info: The ride will take place from ONE camp for the entire time again this year!

Meals: Dinners are available each evening of the ride. The first three nights the cost is $10. The fee for the New Years’ dinner and dance will be $20 and will be a steak barbecue with all the fixings. You will need to pay for your dinner ticket for the New Years dinner party when you check in to ride. Lunches are included each day and will be hot soup and hot chocolate on two of the days, bbq hot dogs on another day, and bbq beef sandwiches on another day. Plan to dress up for the New Years’ Party as we will have special awards for best dressed along with some other fun prizes!

Some areas of this ride are in jeopardy of being placed into wilderness which would completely eliminate this ride in the future.

2012-12-30 09.22.49Trail Description: The trail will be similar to last year and will include the nice new single track trail down the spine of the Slate Range where you will be able to see the Manley escape route from a birds eye view. The ride will consist of desert type terrain that will range from really good footing, soft sand to rocks and hard packed. Elevation gain will be moderate. All four days will be loop rides out of the same camp.

Awards: Daily awards will be given in addition to sweatshirts for the riders completing all four days on one or more horses. We will also have “Boobie” awards like last year and will also have a drawing at the New Year’s Party for free ride entries to those who are “Bests Dressed” (and whatever else we can think up!)

Ride Rules: AERC rules apply. The management, unlike the AERC Board of Directors, is able to differentiate between an endurance ride and an endurance race. If you are into endurance riding you will probably enjoy this ride. If you are a real competitor and are looking for a race you are likely to find the lack of structure here to be an abomination. This is an old time endurance ride like we used to have when you could print all the AERC rules on a single page. Back in the good old days we used to ride more and read less. Those were better times.


2009 Stories by Steph Teeter

pre-ride
The trailer is packed, saddles-pads-tack everything sorted, cleaned and neatly hanging on hooks and racks and stacked and sorted. That should last at least 30 minutes or so after we arrive! We're leaving in the morning, caravaning with our Scottsdale AZ friends Rusty and Kevin (and Rocky and Far and Redford). We have lots of leftovers from Kevin's incredible Christmas day Beef Wellington, and Rusty made turkey soup (from Thanskgiving leftovers) and we have plenty of other goodies. I don't think we'll go hungry. ...more


Day 1 Monday - Day 1 was a big loop out of camp with 2 stops at a vetcheck near the RR crossing. We rode out of camp and through a very charming little town (Randsburg) with very artsy (California hippie artsy) yards and houses and shacks and bus-abodes and a cute cafe and Opera House. My horse (Jaziret aka Rhett, as in "Frankly my dear I don't give a damn") was full of himself - strong and pulling every step, head high, tail high, I felt like I was riding a pogo stick... all day). John's horse Sunny was also strong and forward, but she never pulls... she may jig and dance a little but is very light in the mouth. ...more


Day 2
Day 2 - I went out again on Rhett, and John rode Batman. Rhett started out nice and mellow, a welcome change from the previous day. I think it had something to do with leaving his girlfriend back in camp, but whatever - it was nice to feel him moving out like a horse instead of like a pogo stick. However John had his hands full with the Bat. Poor fellow had just left his home and friends in Idaho a few weeks earlier - to hop into our trailer and come down to the land of saguaro cactus and howling coyotes, then take a long trailer trip to California and be left tied to the trailer for 32 hours while his new and only friends Sunny and Rhett left him behind, and then be asked to move out nice and easy on a cold crisp morning. ...more


Day 3 & 4
I felt tons better in the morning, and Rhett was looking pretty good too - moving easy and nice and bouncy. So - off we went for another day. Both horses were pleasant moving out - pulling, but not hysterically. But Batman was very upset about being left. He would pull his spring tie as far as it would go in each direction trying to see his friends (the only friends he had left in the world...) as they were leaving. Hollering, and we just hoped everything would hold. ...more





pre-ride

The trailer is packed, saddles-pads-tack everything sorted, cleaned and neatly hanging on hooks and racks and stacked and sorted. That should last at least 30 minutes or so after we arrive! We're leaving in the morning, caravaning with our Scottsdale AZ friends Rusty and Kevin (and Rocky and Far and Redford). We have lots of leftovers from Kevin's incredible Christmas day Beef Wellington, and Rusty made turkey soup (from Thanskgiving leftovers) and we have plenty of other goodies. I don't think we'll go hungry.

John installed our new trailer ties (the Ride 'n Tie spring tie) and hopefully our horses will adapte to them quickly :) Plus I have one horse, Batman, going w/o shoes - using the Easyboot Gloves. I feel like one of the Multiday Gang! Our other two horses (Jaziret and Sunny) are still shod. I might try pulling their shoes when we get back... the footing here in Scottsdale is so perfect for the transition from shoes to barefoot. I'm still leary of going w/o steel shoes because of the hassle of putting on and taking off boots, and losing boots, and glue on boots, and all that stuff. But it's pretty logical that keeping a foot unshod is conducive to better hoof health with the right management. we'll see!!

So off we go in the morning. I'm going to try to ride all 4 days on Jaziret (one day at a time!). He's 18 now, we'll be a decade team if I get a completion with him this year, and he has around 4200 miles - many of those fast FEI rides - he's been quite the horse! He still seems to love going down the trai, still sound and healthy. We'll see! John will probably trade off on our two six yr olds Sunny (half Shagya mare) and Batman (newly acquired very cool black beasty horse).

That's the plan :) If we can get on Dave's internet I'll try to post updates during the ride.

later-
Steph


Day 1
John and I had a really good ride - here's a little summary of the week:

Sunday - travel from Scottsdale to first base camp outside of Johannesburg, California. We semi-caravanned (connected via IPhones) with Kevin and Rusty, taking the southern route - I-10 from Phoenix across Arizona and California. Long drive, too many stops looking for an RV dump, propane, last minute stuff, traffic outside the LA basin, long drive...

Finally made it to camp, Lucy had saved us a parking spot, Kevin and Rusty were already set up and helped us as it was getting dark. We had just bought and installed 3 springties (Ride 'N Ties) for the horses, this was our maiden voyage w/o portable corrals. They were GREAT - so much simpler than unloading and setting up corrals, the horses had no issues with being tied on a long rope from above. Batman (our new big beasty black horse with a sense of humor) seemed to enjoy the sproingy sound of stretching and releasing the spring. into the night... And the second day that we left him alone he managed to extend the spring and rod all the way around from one corner of the trailer to the other so that he could poke his nose around looking for his buddies who were leaving him! He's a funny horse, tons of personality. We eventually figured out a good feeding and watering system (Batman had managed to poop in his water bucket no matter where we put it) so that we minimized hay waste and hassle for the horses.

Monday - Day 1 was a big loop out of camp with 2 stops at a vetcheck near the RR crossing. We rode out of camp and through a very charming little town (Randsburg) with very artsy (California hippie artsy) yards and houses and shacks and bus-abodes and a cute cafe and Opera House. My horse (Jaziret aka Rhett, as in "Frankly my dear I don't give a damn") was full of himself - strong and pulling every step, head high, tail high, I felt like I was riding a pogo stick... all day). John's horse Sunny was also strong and forward, but she never pulls... she may jig and dance a little but is very light in the mouth.

We hand walked most of the long downhill from Randsburg, past the fenced off toxic arsenic poisoned area (lovely remnant of the use of arsenic to extract gold from the mined rock) and arrived at the vetcheck to see a very worried Kevin, and a missing Rusty. Rusty's little dynamite horse Rocky had spooked coming under the crackly power lines, the saddle slipped, Rusty lost a stirrup and came off with the second spook and Rocky took off into the desert with the saddle slipping under his belly. Rusty was out there searching for Rocky... When they were finally sighted on the horizon Kevin rode out to meet them, and a very dejected Rusty finally made it into camp. Rocky was bloodied and bruised from hooking his hind foot in the stirrup - and it looked pretty bad. Rusty and Rocky trailered back to camp, Kevin went on to finish the ride, but both he and his horse Far were pretty sad as they headed out...

John and I left together with Kevin, but our horses were pulling (Rhett) and jigging (Sunny) and I was determined to do the first day VERY SLOWLY with our wooly Idaho horses (and really hoping to do all 4 days with Rhett) so we let them go on ahead and did a lot of walking to settle them down. It was a very scenic loop - ups and downs and arounds and rock formations and a long sandy wash. The sun came out in the afternoon and it was almost warm!

Back to the vetcheck for a 45 minute hold, back to camp (Rhett was still way strong) - finished, (I was exhausted from holding my horse back all day) took care of the horses and had dinner with Rusty and Kevin. They would head back in the morning and take Rocky to a vet for scans to see if there was any serious damage. Nice dinner, plenty of wine, a good release from the tense day.

more later,

Steph


Day 2 Day 2
Day 2 - I went out again on Rhett, and John rode Batman. Rhett started out nice and mellow, a welcome change from the previous day. I think it had something to do with leaving his girlfriend back in camp, but whatever - it was nice to feel him moving out like a horse instead of like a pogo stick. However John had his hands full with the Bat. Poor fellow had just left his home and friends in Idaho a few weeks earlier - to hop into our trailer and come down to the land of saguaro cactus and howling coyotes, then take a long trailer trip to California and be left tied to the trailer for 32 hours while his new and only friends Sunny and Rhett left him behind, and then be asked to move out nice and easy on a cold crisp morning.

The Bat is a very nice guy and really wants to do the right thing, but he's also very big and strong, and a he's a horse godsakes :) He was starting to settle into a nice walk/trot pace when I got worried about his boots. We're doing the barefoot - easyboot gloves thing with him - my first experience w/o steel shoes and of course I wanted to make sure they were on tight, not rubbing, etc. So brilliant me suggested we get off in the wash and I could adjust the gators, check the fit etc. Everything was fine, but while I was fiddling with Batman, Rhett realized he was out in the desert without his girlfriend and only this big black beast for company and he started getting a wee agitated. So Bat decided maybe he wasn't feeling better after all and we had two fireballs on our hands.

If Batman were fit, and I wasn't concerned about managing Rhett through 4 days we could have just let them move out for a while and let them get tired enough to settle down on their own. But we were in a deep sand wash, and I was determined to 'go slow' so we worked out a walk/trot system that got us through the first loop more or less. We had a pretty good hill to climb, up the road to the communications tower, and were doing pretty good though I never could release my grip on the reins at a trot. This day was two loops, each time going back to camp. NOT a good recipe for these horses on this day. Once we started back towards camp, and back down off the mountain, it was a constant battle for both of us. Bat was feeding off of Rhett's manic state, and Rhett was thinking only of home, and Sunny.

He started hollering for Sunny as soon as camp was in sight, she started hollering back and it was quite the silly scene. We had to take her with us over to the timer to get his pulse down. Bat pulsed right away - he's actually pretty amazing considering his size and fitness (not) level. An hour hold and back out we went, and more of the same for 25 miles. Not too bad heading away from camp, bad bad bad heading back in. Rhett took longer to pulse again, and he looked totally wiped out. I was considering taking the next day off.

We had to move camp that night - from where we were outside of Ridgecrest, to the little town of Ballarat in the Panamint Valley. A lot of work packing up, finally on the road after dark, an hour drive up and over the Slate Range, and into camp just in time to set up our horses (hooray for the trailer ties!!) and make it to the ride meeting. I still hadn't decided about riding - I was whooped too from fighting my horse all day. But signed up and figured I'd decide in the morning. John would take Sunny out again, she was looking fresh and rested.

more in a bit -
Steph


Day 3 & 4
Day 3 - I felt tons better in the morning, and Rhett was looking pretty good too - moving easy and nice and bouncy. So - off we went for another day. Both horses were pleasant moving out - pulling, but not hysterically. But Batman was very upset about being left. He would pull his spring tie as far as it would go in each direction trying to see his friends (the only friends he had left in the world...) as they were leaving. Hollering, and we just hoped everything would hold.

We had a 10 mile loop up and around a mountain trail - very rocky, we walked almost all of it. But beautiful - morning sun coming up over the alkali lake, a few different herds of wild burros - one group ran right across the trail in front of us. Sunny was not too pleased with that. We rode back by camp and then out across the valley to the south range. It was a pretty slow and tedious day for us - very rocky and our horses weren't padded so we just took our time and enjoyed the panoramic views. The afternoon light was absolutely stunning - blue sky, the sun was strong but low in the winter sky casting long purple shadows. Very special.

Back to camp, Rhett looked great, I felt good and it seemed that we had another day in us both! John decided to not ride the next day, he'd move the rig instead since we had to go over to Valley Wells, back across the Slate Range, and set up a new camp for the finish at the 'resort' where we'd have a room for dinner and awards.

Day 4 - I set off alone the next morning and had a perfectly splendid 30 mile ride into camp. We rode a couple hours across the flats around the alkali lake - perfect footing, riding into the sunrise, sweeping valley to the north, mountain range drawing nearer to the south - Rhett was forward and eager but not pulling too hard. just perfect. We picked up a rocky single track trail and crossed the mountains. Great trail - windy single track up down and around, across talus slopes, over rocky ledges, the flat valley receding to the south. We crossed over the mountains, and dropped down into the Trona valley on the other side. Rhett had been there before, and knew exactly where he was and once the footing got better and we started moving out again, he was full of it - pulling - but not as bad as before. He started calling to Sunny a few miles out, poor beast - it did make me laugh tho!

An hour hold and we left for our last 25 mile loop. Rhett took off at a gallop - he must have know this was it. What a feeling... He was pretty 'awful' for the first ten miles, and the jarring pace was killing my foot (I think I have a neuroma in the ball of my foot). I finally got off and walked him for a mile and he got over it and so did my throbbing foot. The rest of the ride was perfect. We met up with a few other riders, and had a lovely tour beside the ice caves - a spectacular formation of granite rocks, with a cold spring waterfall, and another herd of burrows - 15 or so in varying assortments of grays and blacks, their ears large and erect as they tried to figure out if we were friend or foe. Back towards camp, we settled into a strong walk about a mile out and rolled into camp as happy as can be! Pulsed down quickly, looked great at the finish exam and woohoo! we did it!

:)
Steph
p.s. many thanks to Dave and Annie and all of the people that helped make this ride possible!!