Equitrekking.com - Full Story
June 12 2017
Story and photography by Michael W. Church
Why go on a horse riding vacation in the Sierra Wilderness? It’s simple. As beautiful as this country is, it’s always twice as nice when seen between the ears of a horse.
Story and photography by Michael W. Church Michael W. Church
It was August 16, 2015 and the fourth year of an epic drought for California. The Owens Valley was baking in 100°F heat and the Sierra foothills and mountains were plagued by a record number of forest fires. As I drove down Highway 395 from Carson Valley toward the tiny town of Lee Vining, I could see large thunderclouds towering high above the mountain peaks. “Good,” I said, “we desperately need the rain.”
As I drove closer to Lee Vining, the storm clouds grew bigger and darker. Finally, I reached the scenic Vista Point that overlooks Mono Lake and Lee Vining far below. What I saw next made my heart sink to the very bottom of my soul. Those weren’t storm clouds! They were great billowing clouds of smoke from a forest fire that was raging out of control near Tioga Pass. With high winds at its back, the Walker Fire quickly spread out of control.
Airplanes and helicopters were flying in formation over the fire and dropping orange fire retardant in a feeble attempt to quell the fire. Silhouetted against an enormous wall of swirling red fire and black smoke, even the largest planes looked like tiny flying insects. Crestfallen, I forged onward to Mammoth Lakes.
Mammoth Lakes to Johnston Meadows (Day 1)
The following morning, our group met for breakfast at The Stove Restaurant. There were two male wranglers (Clay and Andy), one cook and lady wrangler (Anna), and eight guests comprised of four ladies from Indiana, a married couple from England, a gent from California, and me from Michigan. After breakfast, we drove to Horseshoe Lake Trailhead, where our horses and pack mules were waiting. Some of us rode horses that were a quarter horse-warm blood mix, whereas others rode mules.
We mounted up and took Red’s Meadow Trail over Mammoth Pass. At the mountain crest, we could see the majestic Minaret Peaks in the distance. We descended into a valley and rode across the wooden bridge that spans the San Joaquin River, rode past the basalt rock formation called The Devils Postpile, then joined the John Muir Trail/Pacific Crest Trail and made our way through a forest of Lodge Pole pines to a campsite at Johnston Meadows (8,100 ft. elevation)...
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