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City of Rocks National Reserve
Images by Merri Melde

2017 City of Rocks - June 8,9,10

2018 webpage here

Steve Bradley Photots

Photos by Merri Melde

Trails Preview

Day 1 - Castle Rocks State Park

Day 2

Day 3

Hillbille Willie: Standardbred Conquers Endurance!

June 21 2017
by Merri Melde

A few things come to mind, when you first see Willie the Standardbred. You will likely think, "Oh, my." A giraffe might come to mind, when you note that he's toweringly tall, with long legs, flat back, and down-sloping butt. How is a saddle going to stay on him, you might wonder.

The name Hillbillie Willie just came about because, well, he just looks like a Hillbilly. Curious, kinda dorky (he likes to climb in water troughs, and Jose gets him to test electric fences), upper lip poking out in a goofy way, curly hair on his fetlocks. He even has his own cartoon underway, The Grand Adventures of Hillbillie Willie.

After wondering about it for a while, since she'd had several successful Orlov Trotters, two winters ago Steph decided yes, she wanted a Standardbred, and within a month, she had one. Her friend Heidi Siegel, from Nevada, chose one from a track stable in California. Heidi picked him up and hauled him to her ranch in Nevada, and we first saw the bay horse in one of her dark stalls late at night when we arrived at her place on the way home to Idaho from Arizona. We saw more of the 4-year-old gelding in the morning light when we loaded him up with Steph's two endurance horses to drive home. "Hmm," we all said, not sure, besides the height (he's 16.3, maybe 17 hands) and long legs and plain bay, what we were seeing.

Willie was the luck of the draw, a former pacer with an unknown race record and a well-healed hind suspensory. He had been due to go back into race training after a year off to heal, we heard, though apparently he hadn't been all that terribly interested in racing. He seemed kind and quite sensible, which always puts you a step ahead of the endurance game.

Willie went to trainer Ted's the next spring to be broke to saddle; we trail rode him in the summer and fed his skinny-frame with lots of calories, and then turned him out for the fall/winter. He was sent back to the trainer for a tune-up this spring, and Steph proposed him as my summer project. I've been riding him consistently since April, aiming to get him fit for a 50-mile endurance ride.

The April 1st April Fools/Tough Sucker ride was too soon, and the April Eagle Canyon ride was too hard - too many hills for a flat-lander ex-racehorse. Sure, Willie has speed to burn on the flats, but I think most Standardbreds probably don't come with hill muscles built into their engines, certainly not one with a giraffe butt...

Read more here: http://merritravels.endurance.net/2017/06/hillbille-willie-standardbred-conquers.html

2017 City of Rocks - It Ain't Over Till the Fat Man Rides

Wednesday June 14 2017
by Merri Melde

We do things 'a bit differently' out here in the Western endurance riding half of the US, according to a couple of visiting from the Southeast region. Mike and Ruth Anne Everett journeyed out from North Carolina to the Northwest to partake of the City of Rocks multi-day experience. Mike crewed for Ruth Anne, who rode Katya Levermann's gelding Kharmichel LK (whom mom Katrin hauled from British Columbia for the weekend) all 3 days.

At the City of Rocks Pioneer 3-day ride in Almo, Idaho, no, we're really not set on racing here. It's really more about enjoying your horse and ogling the scenery and admiring the fauna - of which there was a plentitude after this long wet winter - on the trails in City of Rocks National Reserve and Castle Rocks State Park. Most horses stroll out onto trails at the start, and stop to dine on the good grass along the way. Many riders are more interested in finishing all 3 days on the same horse (this year there were nine 3-day horses on the LDs; nine 3-day horses on the 50s) than winning. Ruth Anne caught the relaxed City of Rocks multi-day fever, gawking at the views on trail, soaking up the rock formations and flowers, taking plenty of pictures, and, with Suzanne Solis from Georgia, learning how to cheat a barbed wire fence gate shut when all else failed. :)

For a little entertainment and excitement, there were those mules that always put on a show - the Heart 2 Heart ranch brought a slew of mules for a pack of junior riders in neon orange shirts on Saturday, and then dad Warren (the "fat man" - his words, not mine!) and 2 daughters Trinity and Jill raced their best mules on the LD on Sunday!

The 6th annual City of Rocks Pioneer endurance ride may have been the best. (And the last? It's to be determined…) A better than expected turnout made for a several days-long endurance party. Weather is always a surprise and always different each year at City of Rocks... and our conclusive mantra this year was, "and there were no thunderstorms!"

After the perfect riding weather all 3 days (cooler, often cloudy, and no thunderstorms!), who cared if it rained on some riders on their last loop Day 2. Who barely even remembers those terrific wind storms that on one night ripped up the gazebo tent, and left grit in the eyes and dust in the lungs for a week afterward. Skies were spectacular for every hour, from every angle, and the full moon lit up the parkscapes. One evening several brilliant rainbows popped out in succession, some lasting no more than 45 seconds.

From basecamp at a local rancher's RV park near the entrance to City of Rocks, Day 1's trails looped to and through Castle Rocks State Park. One loop through the park took riders down a spectacular green and flowery meadow overlooking the valley.

Along the way to Castle Rocks, and on the way back home, riders came upon a refreshing Lemonaid stand where a couple of local little kids sold $1 cups of lemonade, and wrote up a tab for you if you weren't carrying money. (They came by camp in the evening to settle up!)

25 started on the 50-miler with 24 finishing. Christoph Schork won the ride aboard his AERC War Mare and AERC National 100-mile Champion, GE Stars Aflame, with his German intern Carla Lakenbrink finishing second on GE TC Mounshine, in a ride time of 5:08. Third place Stephanie Chase, who finished right with them aboard DA Serabaars Secret, won Best Condition.

All 27 starters finished the 25-miler, with Joan Zachary and Chico finishing first in a ride time of 3:01. Fifth place Debbie Gross and Jack won Best Condition.

Day 2's trail was supposed to loop south through the ranching community of Yost, but because of high water (or, rather, deep gooey, sticky river banks) in the Raft River, for safety's sake the trails were changed to repeat Day 3's loops through Emigrant Canyon and Indian Grove in City of Rocks National Reserve.

23 of 26 riders finished the Day 2 55-miler, with Christoph winning aboard his other AERC War Mare and AERC National 100-mile Champion, GE Pistol Annie in 6:03, with Carla finishing second aboard Moon again. Annie got the Best Condition award.

All 28 starters finished the 25-miler, with Bill Miller and Raffons Noble Dancer winning first place in 2:54. Third place Debbie Gross and Jack got Best Condition again.

Day 3's 50-miler had 17 finishers in 18 starters, with, again, Christoph winning on GE Pistol Annie, and Carla finishing second on GE Stars Aflame (and Best Condition) in 5:31. Ride manager Steph Teeter escaped onto the trail and smoked after them on Owyhee Smoke Signal, finishing third in 6:10.

And the race was on with the father-2-daughter mule team in the 25-miler. And race they did, smoking the course, coming in together at the finish, with daughter Trinity's mule pulsing down first on Gracie in 2:33, with daughter Jill second on Out of Idaho a second later, and dad's mule Bear pulsing down in 2:34. It's reported dad got on a first-time endurance mule who took 3 people to hold him still and 2 more people to get the bit between his teeth. Dad didn't do too bad at all, because Bear got the Best Condition award. "It's not over till the fat man rides," he quipped, as he got up to get his award.

Head veterinarian Robert Washington chose, as his 'Getaway horse' (best overall 3-day horse he'd choose to get away on if he was being chased by Indians back in the day), David Brown's Chipikiri in the Limited Distance, and the Levermann's Kharmichel LK in the 50s, ridden by Ruth Anne Everett.

Several notable milestones were reached at this year's ride.

Yes, Christoph Schork added another 3 wins to his already-over-300-AERC-most-wins record.

On Day 1, Cindy Bradley's Morgan, Bogar Tucker, reached 6000 miles, the second-highest mileage Morgan horse in AERC. On Day 3, Cindy herself reached 7500 miles.

Naomi Preston (11,000+ miles, with Mustang Lady in the Hall of Fame), rode her first ever bay horse in endurance (!), finishing all 3 days on Fire Mt Malabar, riding with Lee Pearce on JAC Winterhawk.

Mike Cobbley reached 1000 miles, riding his phenomenal 3-day horse Taladega that once was a castoff 4H horse.

Connie Holloway and her Grandson of the Black Stallion (and don't you forget it!), Phinneas achieved Decade team status - an awesome AERC award that epitomizes the longevity of our horses in our endurance sport.

Also of note were the 18 horses that completed all 3 days of the ride, and all the Juniors who rode: (by my calculations) 5 on Day 1, 12 on Day 2, and 8 on Day 3. How can we continue to support these Juniors, who are the future of our endurance sport, after all us Old Fogeys can't clamber aboard our old steeds anymore?

And the Limited Distance riders outnumbered the 'endurance riders' all three days. It's a division of our sport that's sometimes denigrated by some Old Fogeys who may soon not be able to clamber aboard our steeds anymore, but the division that is becoming the butter on the bread that keeps endurance rides going. Maybe it's time to change a blinkered, parochial way of thinking.

It takes a huge effort, and more than an enormous village to put this ride on 4 hours from home. The entire Nicholes family vacationed here for the week, though all were persuaded into helping with the rides at some point, with Terrence and Matt being indispensable. The Durfee Hot Springs and the Garbage Pizza at Rock City are amenities to soothe weary souls and riders.

City of Rocks and Castle Rocks is a nice system of current trails over historic emigrant trails, and is pretty extraordinarily well-managed by the State Park system. Both parks welcome horse events along with hiking, climbing, biking (all bikers I've ever met on the trail there have been polite and safe toward horses), ranching, hunting.

And will the 'fat man' ride again at City of Rocks? This year's near-perfect weather and scenery might, or might not, have been the book-end to this multi-day ride.

Coming Up: City of Rocks - Steph Teeter

City of Rocks, Almo Idaho

It's time to start thinking about our next event. We discovered this treasure in 2010. My son Clay had told me about an amazing place after his in-laws had their family reunion in the little town of Almo. Wynne's family came from the area, and it was a chance for them to revisit the old home place. Clay said "you gotta see this place!" .

So, I found myself veering off the Interstate when I saw the sign for 'City of Rocks' on our way home from Wyoming. Merri and I had been crewing for our friends Rusty, Kevin, and Kevin at the Big Horn 100. Heads full of adventure and beautiful scenery from several days in the Wyoming Bighorn Mountains, warm sunny July day ... just seemed like the right thing to do.

The road to Almo and City of Rocks passes through high desert scenery - farmland in the valleys, surrounded by mountains. We wind our way through the valleys and over a few passes and BOOM all of a sudden there is this immense world of granite.

and it just kept going, past Castle Rocks State Park and then into the City of Rocks National Reserve. An expansive stunning landscape of sagebrush, aspen, firs, pinon pines, cactus, sub-alpine firs, snowy peaks... dotted with cattle and old homesteads. This area was a major crossroads for emigrants as they traveled west toward California, Oregon and Nevada, or north to Idaho. Pioneer journal entries describe the site as "a city of tall spires,” “steeple rocks," and "the silent city."

There are natural granite caves with names and dates of the pioneers inscribed in axle grease, or etched into the rock . There is a very strong sense of awe, and perhaps humility, when confronted by such magnificent scenery, and how it must have affected these travelers.

It didn't take long for the idea (compulsion) of an endurance ride took hold. Perhaps a few seconds. I talked with the park managers - they were very excited about the idea having invested heavily in making the park horse friendly with trail heads and well designed equestrian trail. Oh my, getting better. I spoke with the Forest Ranger (Sawtooth National Forest) and he was very supportive. We met a rancher happy to lease us a campsite. And after one evening in the hotsprings there was no going back...the rest is history. The first ride was a mid summer 5-day 250 mile event with trails going off in every direction. Ambitious? of course! and the 'Crick Gang' spent many glorious days scouting new trail, riding the country, basking in the high altitude sunshine.

I've changed a few things since our first 2011 event - only three days now, and in early June instead of mid summer. With the high altitude and mountain ranges summer thunderstorms can get pretty Exciting, and the heat is intense. So we're doing cooler weather, and simpler rides - and sticking with the most scenic trails and easiest logistics. (smarter with age?)

So, now we're less than six weeks away from the next event. Time to focus. The website with trail maps and link to pre-registration is at
http://www.endurance.net/international/USA/2017CityofRocks/ .
There are lots of photos too, as well as Merri's awesome Circle Creek video.

Now... just waiting for springtime to actually arrive! Might be a little snow up at Indian Grove in the high country...


Come join us for this spectacular ride at the City of Rocks National Reserve and Castle Rocks State Park. The park has amazing rock formations and scenery, as well as a rich pioneer history which you will experience on the trail. We will have marked Trail rides as well as 25 and 50 mile rides each day. There are plenty of things to do for families and fun. Durfy Hotsprings has swimming and soaking pools for every temperature preference (be sure to bring your swim suit!). Try the Great Pizza at Rock City, have a steak dinner at Almo Creek Inn, and explore the trails and scenic spots.

Basecamp is a large field adjacent to the City of Rocks National Preserve, elevation 5500 ft. The trail footing in this area is very good, with just a few rocky sections - it is NOT a rocky ride! City of Rocks is known for its botanical diversity - you'll see cactus, pinion pine, sagebrush, aspen and sub-alpine fire - all on one day's ride! The wildflowers should be in full bloom in June!

We will provide dinners each night (Two Trees Catering) with your ride entry and you can purchase breakfast, lunch and dinner on the days you don't ride, beginning Wednesday afternoon. See menu and meals available here.

Pre-Registration is required! **(The form says 2016 - but don't worry, it will work) Click here to pre-register

We need to plan for meals and awards and since we have to travel to set up basecamp and trails we need to make sure we are prepared! You won't pay until you get to the ride, but tell us (as best you can) what your plans are for riding.

Ride Entry fee is $110 for all distances (includes dinner). Juniors ride free! $25 for the Trail Ride.
If you are not an AERC member there will be an additional $15 AERC Day-member charge, per day. Contact us if you want to join AERC at the ride.

Trails: *subject to change (weather and cows!)
Day 1 Castle Rock 25/50

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25's will start along the park trail and then ride along the dirt road to Castle Rocks State Park. Take a loop around the park on spectacular single track trails, have a vetcheck, and then home. 50's will take a longer route, along City of Rocks Road, then along Boxtop singletrack trail, and Circle Creek trail, then ride the road to Castle Rocks State Park. Take a loop around the park, then have a vetcheck. Loop around the park again (it's beautiful, you won't mind!!) and then backtrack home along the same trail you started on. Highest point is 6800 ft on the loop around the park. Some climbs and some technical trails.
Day 2 - Yost 35/55

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Ride south along cow trails and dirt 2-tracks, loop up into the Sawtooth Nat'l Forest, then to the 'town' of Yost and an amazing outdoor museum, then have a vetcheck. 35's will head back to camp from there. 55's will continue on following some road, some single track trail back into the forest, and then another vetcheck. Ride back towards camp and follow original California trail over Emigrant Pass trail, and back to camp. Historical sights along the City of Rocks Road (original trail route). Moderate trail, just a few climbs, highest point at Twin Sisters is 6400 ft.
Day 3 Indian Grove 25/50

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50's will do a loop south to the Utah border, then follow single track and 2-track dirt roads. Across Emigrant Pass, between Twin Sisters, and return home via Boxtop single track trail and Circle Creek. Vetcheck in camp. Second loop for 50's is along the spectacular park trails up to a hight point of 7500 ft at Indian Grove water tanks. Then down through Breadloaves, Tea Kettle trails, and then home along the City of Rocks road, past historical sights. 25's will do this loop as well, with a vetcheck at Breadloaves.

Previous years, photos and stories:





2013 AERC
National Championship



Circle Creek High Trail Video by Merri