TWO DAYS AFTER LANDING in the mountain state that I love so much, I was excited for a horseback ride through the mountainside of Cody, Wyoming. This was not a normal horseback ride, as a group of archeologists, intern students, and my friend Sally were on the hunt for the remnants of a Native American wickiup and a sheep trap in that area.
A local archeologist, Mr. Edgar, from Cody Wyoming rode with us. His knowledge of the mountains was invaluable in locating the remnants. Mr. Edgar’s quite demeanor would not brag about the fact that he was an internationally acclaimed archeologist, historian, author, naturalist, conservationist, world-class sharpshooter, and hunting guide. Mr. Edgar even received national recognition from the Smithsonian Institution.
As Sally’s guest, I was simply looking forward to learning from this special group of people. The group gathered along the base of the South Fork of the Shoshone River, several miles West of Cody. We packed up our gear and met up with two cowboy outfitters and three trailer loads of horses. The outfitters were excellent horsemen and trainers as they matched horse to rider. They knew that most of the riders did not have the experience that Sally, Mr. Edgar, and I had with horses. Sally and Mr. Edgar were given Rocky Mountain horses to ride and I was given a mustang that the outfitters personally adopted and trained. My horse, Gus, was a tall dark gray gelding with a black mane and tail.
I remember how good it felt, swinging myself up in the saddle, collecting even reins, and just sitting in the saddle while the other riders mounted their horses. I was third in line behind the cowboys, as I knew there would be less dust towards the front of the line. The group fell in line behind me, and bringing up the rear were three large female mules. The mules carried the sawbuck, pack saddles, and canvas panniers loaded down with our gear and food. These strong mules were outstanding, never missed a step, and stayed in equal stride the entire time.
The solid black Rocky Mountain mare that led the mules wore a bell around her neck, and the sound provided a clue to the cowboys as to the location of the mare and the mules. The mules willingly followed two cowboys, ten riders, and the mare for miles and miles, round and round, up through the mountainside. We crossed several ice-cold water crossings and climbed switchback after switchback until we reached the mountain trail that led to the area of the sheep trap.
When we reached the top, the panniers were unloaded, giving those magnificent animals a break from the heavy load. The cinches were loosened on the horses as they were tied to the trees. The view from the top of this mountain was breathtaking, and the glacier-formed valley down below created quite a memorable moment. I stood in silence to watch an eagle soar through the valley on the invisible updraft of the wind. The cowboys started a small cook fire and placed a handmade grill over the open flame to cook hamburgers. I stayed with the cowboys and enjoyed freshly brewed hot coffee while the others set out on foot to complete their mission.
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