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XP RIDES - Death Valley Encounter
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2015 Death Valley Encounter
Images by Merri Melde

Steve Bradley Photos

Ring in the New Year at the Death Valley Encounter!

2015 Death Valley Day 1!

PHOTOS BY Jessica Cobbley:

2017 Death Valley Encounter, Day 1: Panamint Valley - ride story by V. Jaques

Death Valley Encounter 2017 - ride story by Kipling the Wonder Horse

Death Valley XP ’17: Lessons from the Trail - Redheaded Endurance

2017 Death Valley Escape - Karen Bumgarner

Death Valley Encounter XP 2016 - Redheaded Endurance

by Redheaded Endurance
January 6 2017

I was incredibly fortunate to end my 2016 calendar year, and start my 2017 AERC season, adventuring through Death Valley with good friends and borrowed horses. I rode all 4 days of the event, something I’ve never done before, and rode a different horse each day. It was an incredible adventure that I hope to do some justice to with a bit of summation, as there’s many things to say and pictures to share.

We left early the morning after Christmas–we being myself and my gear, hopping aboard childhood schoolmate Elicia’s rig, along with new buddy Jo. Elicia brought her Arabian Kenlyn Amir, one of Mark Montgomery’s Mustangs, her mini horse companion Jellybean, and Jo’s amazing Morgan mare Beetle.

It was a happily uneventful drive and we pulled into a relatively empty ride camp just after dark. Mark and the rest of his Mustangs rolled in later that evening but as we hadn’t entirely sorted out my sleeping quarters to that point I spent the first night on my cot in the cozy christmas light-decked tent of a kind new acquaintance, Lora, and her cutest-ever dog. The tight community feel at these XP rides truly cannot be overstated!

As usual, having “a whole extra day!” in camp quickly seemed like not enough time, as everyone settled in, Mustangs were clipped, and we got through our two sets of pre rides getting all the necessary steeds legs stretched. It’s a singularly interesting experience to be at a ride you’ve never been to, sleeping you’re not sure where, riding a number of new horses, in saddles you have not yet decided on. I’m fairly certain a number of Endurance Tenets were broken (don’t try something new at a ride? Pshhhh!!) throughout this saga but hey, that’s adventuring!...

Read more here:

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.