Let me just first start off saying how much I love my family for supporting me in my life’s passion for horses. And I cannot forget to include Apache, my worth-her-weight-in-gold, sweet, little, pinto mare. And I also cannot leave out the good friends in my life who share my same passion for horses and who share the same zest for a beautiful and adventurous life.
So, this week I accomplished another horse-riding goal I had dreamed about 4-5 years earlier. You see, I had bought this book……
And over the years, I have dog-eared and stuck sticky-notes on the pages that listed trails that I hoped one day to take my own horse and ride. As you can see from my header photo, one of those epic trail rides I already accomplished just a couple weeks ago, thanks to some dear friends who also love to ride the high mountains. But soon after that trail ride, my friend and I began planning another trail ride in the mountains, another one that I also had on my wish list, too.
Red Canyon Loop Trail Ride, which includes riding on 3 different trails: Spruce Spring, Manzano Crest, and Red Canyon.
We did quite a bit of planning and researching, of course, but these trails are basically in our back yard. Our home vistas are of these beautiful mountains, and we had both hiked in the Manzanos in the past, so we didn’t feel like they were foreign or out of our reach. But neither of us have ever hiked the specific trails we were planning on riding, and neither of us had ever ridden horses in the Manzano Wilderness before.
This trail ride was going to be our grand adventure! Just the two of us and our steady, trust-worthy horses riding into the wilderness together!
So this past Wednesday, my friend Kendra and I made our way to the trail head. Ranchman John was home and was eager to come along, tow my horse trailer, spend some relaxing time reading and meditating surrounded by nature, and just being there in case we needed him. While we were riding, it was kind of nice just knowing he was down there, even though the Forest Ranger Facility is just a mile or two from the Red Canyon Campground and Trail head.
The equestrian campground has about 10 campsites with picnic tables, grills and 10x10 ft pipe corrals at each site. It also has a large horse trailer parking area with the trails starting at the west end and a a horse mounting ramp in the center. (Manzano Mountains in the background)
We got our horses tacked up and another benefit of John being there: He even took a few photos with his cell phone.
I took some I-bute-profen like I always do before a ride. And I gave Apache her own small dose of Bute while I was tacking her up.
And then I mounted up and posed for a photo, excited to explore the trails….while Apache was more excited about the green grass.
Kendra and I posed for a photo in front of the trail head sign.
And then up Spruce Spring Trail we went, and very quickly encountered our first trail obstacle.
Spruce Spring Trail is not heavily used and even though the trail was easy to follow, there were quite a few trees that had fallen across the trail, that had not yet been cut or cleared. Thankfully most of them we were easily able to just step over and a few were on sections of wider trail that we could step off and go around.
The trees were very friendly, like this one that bent down to say hello to Kendra and Bailey.
Apache picked her way carefully over logs and rocks.
The trail was very rocky, and although both of our horses were barefoot, they were never ouchy or gimpy all day.
I’m so happy to have such a great horse that really enjoys trail rides.
The lower forest has these fascinating Alligator Junipers with the most unusual textured bark.
The trail guide book said we would see the Manzano Wilderness sign after 2.6 miles, but we never did see it, even though we kept our eyes open.
Apache took the lead for part of the ride and seemed to enjoy being out front.
She was very forward and interested in our surroundings as we moved on down the trail.
Bailey is such a gentleman and really enjoys being in the lead, but patiently allowed Apache her time in the spotlight.
There were quite a few Knee Knocker Trees along the trail…sometimes even on both sides. But Apache did a nice job at keeping my knees mostly safe during this ride.
Spruce Spring Trail was a gradual, but continual climb, and always had something interesting and challenging at ever bend and turn in the trail.
And we continued to climb….
The trail was so cool and shady and so lush and green.
Kendra and I took lots of photos!
The trail had rocks, boulders, logs and roots to negotiate, so our horses had to pay attention and focus on where they placed their feet at all times. I was very thankful to have my sure-footed mare underneath me.
Apache likes to sniff trees as we pass by. This tree had someone living inside of it. Thankfully they weren’t home when we rode by, but Apache was very curious about the odd smell.
For the most part, the trail was thickly tree-covered, but sometimes there were openings in the trees that provided beautiful vistas. Apache always asked to stop and enjoy the views.
This is the spot where Apache decided she didn’t want to lead anymore. Something up on the steep mountain side concerned her and she refused to go any farther in the lead. Thankfully she didn’t panic because we were on a narrow trail with no place to turn around, but she would not go further. “Hey Mom, there’s something spooky up there. Let’s get Bailey to lead now. If something scary and hungry runs down the mountain side, it will eat Bailey and we can run away. See? I’m just trying to keep us safe, that’s all.”
I was able to back up Apache to a spot in the trail that was wide enough for Bailey and Kendra to climb creatively around us on the uphill side of the mountain.
And we continued on down the trail. Do you see the heart tunnel ahead?
We really enjoyed the peacefulness and beauty on these trails…even though we frequently made it loudly known, to any bears or cougars in the area, that we were there…..
We had the entire trail to ourselves and never saw a soul all day.
We all loved the trail when it became smooth and clear of rocks, and other obstacles, and softly padded with pine needles.
It was exhilarating to be riding along the steep mountain trails beneath the tall trees and all the lush greenery.
Stopping to enjoy the views of the Manzano Mountain Wilderness. We had just ridden from that opposite mountain side across the canyon.
Just so happy to be out in the beautiful nature with my special horse and my dear friend and her terrific horse.
Spruce Spring Trail is only 3.9 miles long, but gains 2,038 ft elevation. The trail head begins at 7,896ft and peaks at 9,730ft on the Manzano Crest Trail. It seemed like we were on Spruce Spring Trail for a very long time and a few times we even considered that we might be lost. But it was slow-going on such a steep, rocky, rugged trail and it took us about 2 1/2 hours to reach the Manzano Crest Trail.
Some sections of trail were very steep and rocky.
But our horses were sure-footed, calm, brave, and took good care of us.
We traveled on narrow trails…and it was a long way down…..
The views were amazing!
Rocky and narrow…….
Apache was willing and eager to please and was such a wonderful trail horse.
I took a ton of photos, but I’m so glad I did. It’s so great being able to go back through the photos and remember what a great trail and ride it was.
Apache asks, “Are we at the top yet?” “Sorry Apache. No, that’s just a meadow ahead, not the top of the mountain”
It was such a thrill when we finally started riding among the beautiful aspen groves!
We rode down into a small canyon with a spring beside the trail.
The little canyon was so lush and green. My camera created an interesting effect in the low light, and made it look like everything was moving, except Kendra and Bailey.
A couple of huge trees had fallen across the little canyon.
The first sign we saw on the trail! We finally made it to Spruce Spring, the trail’s namesake spring!
We didn’t take the detour because it was a steep downhill and we wanted to make it to the Manzano Crest in good time.
Another log across the trail, as seen from between Bailey’s lovely ears.
We stepped over it and continued on down the trail.
Apache did such an awesome job negotiating over the rock and boulder steps….after she stopped to enjoy the views first!
Good girl Apache!
Oh wow! Could it be? Did we make it to Manzano Crest Trail?! I see a trail sign ahead!
Making our way across the meadow on the way up to the crest at 9,730 ft elevation!
We made it!! So happy!
Checking out the Trail Junction sign and discussing if we should continue on the Manzano Crest Trail to the Red Canyon Trail,or if we should turn around and head back down Spruce Spring Trail……
But first we explored the meadow and let the horses enjoy some grass.
While Kendra checked the map…..
And we all enjoyed a little lunch break….
To Be Continued……………..