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2018 City of Rocks Pioneer Endurance Ride: Put it on Your Bucket List

June 14 2018
by Merri Melde

"City of the Rocks ride was absolutely amazing!!" - Idaho rider Sally Tarbet

We Crick people do our bestest to put on a great 3-day Pioneer endurance ride for those who want great trails and a good challenge. Over the 8 years we've done it, we've got our routine and jobs down pretty pat. That's not to say it's not exhausting, but it's pretty rewarding when numerous people take the time to write, or stop by before they head home, and gush about their experiences, and thank us for putting it on. And when you hear the term "Bucket List ride" tossed around a bit, well, the tiredness and tribulations (like that gnarly wind storm we had Saturday night!) seem trivial enough.

Gasp-worthy vistas and great trails and pretty darn good ride weather greeted a record number of riders for this year's City of Rocks ride near Almo, Idaho. Participants from as far away as Canada, Arizona, and California - as well as local Idaho first-time riders - partook of the delights, which, besides the excellent riding, were the town amenities of the Durfee Hot Springs (they know us by name now) and Rock City (they also know our names) and their fabulous pizza and gourmet beer selection. To be sure, we got some Washington and Oregon riders because Klickitat was cancelled, and Strawberry Fields is 3 weeks later this year instead of two, but whatever the reason, they pulled into Ridecamp in droves this year.

5 or 6 of us hauled horses and gear and a refrigerator (best idea ever!) the 4 hours from the Crick to a perfect basecamp at 5600 feet right outside of City of Rocks National Reserve, to camp out for 10+ days, and work non-stop setting up camp, marking trail by ATV, hiking and riding. John T even had the great honor (?) and VIP job of doing the water this year, since the indispensable Nicholes kids couldn't be present to help.

Over the week, Ridecamp grew bigger and bigger, on both sides of the road, till it was busting out of its seams. The locals were agog at this annual conglomeration of avid horse riders and campers.

An astounding 75 riders took to the trails on Day 1, touring Castle Rocks State Park to the north. 33 started the 25-mile LD, with those racing mules from Heart 2 Heart Ranch taking the top spots. Junior Lucy Martin's mule Irish pulsed down first in 2:51 for the win, with Junior Claire Sterling and Bear the mule second, and Trinity Jackson and Hope the mule third. Fourth place David Brown on that other Equus species, a horse, finished in 3:08 and got Best Condition.

30 riders finished, with Ann Kuck and Dirty Martini bringing up the Turtle spot in 4:58. Both Ann and Marty have come a long way together in their endurance journey; he's slowly coming to be one of those other Equus species, a good dependable riding horse!

42 riders started the 50, with only 1 rider option pull. We all want Jessica to get well soon, though she found an upside in being sick on The Big Brass, who can sometimes be very naughty. "Now I know I can puke off Brass without freaking him out - always good information to have!"

Stephanie Chase aboard DA Serabaars Secret and Christoph Schork aboard GE Atticus Golden Sun tied for first place in 5:20, with Secret getting the Best Condition award. That was Secret's 6th BC in his 5-year career.

Day 2 had 66 riders, with 33 in each distance. Trails looped along the Emigrant Trail through Emigrant Canyon and into the City of Rocks National Reserve past the iconic Twin Sisters granite spires, and back up into the park near or up to Indian Grove springs at 7200 feet.

Junior Sidney Jackson won the 30-mile LD in 3:25, and got Best Condition on the mule John Henry. Jill Hedt and Gracie the mule were second, and Trinity and Baby the mule were third. Only 3 pulls on the LD.

28 of 33 finished the 55-mile ride, with Christoph aboard the AERC War Mare GE Stars Aflame finishing first in 6:29. Second in 6:29.02 was Christoph's intern Tina Gottwald aboard Pinky (GE RR Jazz Dancer); they won the Best Condition award. On this day, Crockett Dumas aboard OT Rasa RSI (another AERC War Mare, and an AHA Distance Horse of the Year) met a cactus he didn't like when Rasa took a spin in a new direction Crockett wasn't prepared for. It of course did not deter Crockett from saddling Rasa up for the third day.

Day 3 had 62 riders, with the same loops through Emigrant Canyon, and up to Indian Grove, though the Indian Grove loop was done in the reverse direction so you could see totally different, still-spectacular scenery.

37 of 38 riders finished the 25-mile LD, with Lee Ann Clark and ROL Burning Love getting first place in 3:12, and the Best Condition award. Junior Baylee Morgan on the mule Bear was second, and Junior Parker Eversole on the mule Irish was third.

22 of 24 finished the 50-miler, with, guess who, Christoph aboard Medinah MHF tying for first again with Stephanie Chase on Secret, with Medinah getting the Best Condition award. They finished in 6:01. Tina Gottwald was third aboard GE Atticus Golden Sun.

A number of riders finished all 3 days on their horses. 8 rode all 3 days of the Limited Distance rides, with Carrie Johnson and Payback Daysea Duke getting the overall fastest time. 7 finished all 155 miles (3 of them from Canada, eh?) with Layne Lewis and Beauty's Harley getting fastest overall time. Both Carrie and Layne's horses got the Vet's Choice award, the Getaway Horse.

Veteran endurance rider Naomi Preston summed it up:
"One word. Spectacular! City of Rocks Pioneer 3 day ride in Idaho. A MUST for your bucket list! Reminded me of the gorgeous trails and fun at the old Race of Champions!"

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go sleep for a week.

2018 Updates

    Registration: Riders may register on site, you can also email your info: [Name, AERC#, Horse(s) AERC# ] to Regina, rrose4u2002@yahoo.com to give us a headstart. Ride entry fee is $110 for LD and Endurance distances. $35 for trail ride.

    Meals: We will NOT be offering meals this year. (Our regular cooker is in Europe!) . But the town of Almo is just 1 mile from basecamp, they have groceries, a GREAT Pizza place, and a nice steak-house restaurant at the Almo Inn. We will have the tents set up and a few tables and chairs for ride meetings, but you should plan on bringing your own chairs too.

    Camp: We'll be renting the same basecamp as in years past, large fields on both sides of the gravel road. We haul all of the water for horses to camp, you will need your own potable water.You do not need certified weed free hay in camp. We will supply hay at the out-vet check.
    Basecamp is at 5000 feet, this is a high elevation ride!

    From Boise take I-84 to exit 216 (Declo); go south on Idaho 77 to Conner Creek Junction, then southwest on the Elba-Almo Road.
    One mile south of the visitor center in Almo, PASS BY the intrance to City of Rocks/Equestrian Campground. Instead, continue straight south onto dirt road, and you'll shortly see Ridecamp on your right - Castle View RV Park.
    From Pocatello and Idaho Falls, take I-86 and I-84 to exit 216 and proceed as above.
    From Salt Lake City take I-84 to exit 245 (Sublett/Malta) then head west toward Malta.
    Turn left (south) onto highway 81 for .2 miles to Highway 77, then turn right (west). At Connor Creek Junction, follow directions above toward Almo.

    Trails: The trails are challenging with elevations up to 7500' Day's 2 and 3, and 6700' Day 1. Footing is very good though, very little rock (except for the scenery), some gravel road, lots of single track in the mountains and jeep roads and cow trails through the BLM land.

    Updatee (June 3) maps here

    Awards: We have some fun awards this year!

    for more information, contact steph@endurance.net

    City of Rocks

    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?)

    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!

    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.

    Trails: Updated June 3
    Day 1
    Castle Rock 25/50

    view large jpg
    download pdf
    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 at the park, and then home. 55'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 at the State Park. 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
    Emigrant Pass 30/55*

    view large jpg
    55's will do a 5 mile loop out/back to camp, then a 30 mile loop south to the Utah border, following cow trails and 2-track dirt roads. Vetcheck 1 at Emigrant Pass stage stop, then dirt road between Twin Sisters and Elephant Rock,then return home via Boxtop single track trail and Circle Creek. Vetcheck 2 in camp.adloaves, Tea Kettle trails, and then home along the City of Rocks road, past historical sights.
    30's will do the 30 mile Emigrant Pass loop, with a vetcheck at Emigrant Pass stage stop.
    Day 3
    Indian Grove 25/50

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    50's will do a 5 mile loop, back to camp, then 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. Vetcheck in camp
    50's second loop will be a 25 mile loop south to the Utah border, following cow trails and 2-track dirt roads across Emigrant Pass,part road between Twin Sisters to Elephant Rock, and return home via Boxtop single track trail and Circle Creek.

    25's will do the 5 mile pre-loop out of camp, then the park mountain loop, with a vetcheck at Breadloaves.

    Previous years, photos and stories:





    2013 AERC
    National Championship



    Circle Creek High Trail Video by Merri