The White Pine Range is one of my favorite ranges in Nevada. It's located in southern White Pine County, in eastern Nevada. It runs about 50 miles in length, north-south between Highway 50 and Highway 6. I purposely added time to our most recent ride, just so I could ride the entire length of this spectacular range.
There's a lot of history in this range. It's home to several ghost towns, the most famous of which is Hamilton, which at one time boasted a population of 10,000 people! Not much remains today except the remnants of scattered outbuildings, cabins, and mines throughout the range. The Hamilton-Pioche Stage Road runs through the area too, which was teeming with stage coaches when Hamilton was booming. There's even a legend of buried treasure somewhere in the White Pine Range!
This is a really diverse range so it's a lot of fun to ride. It features rocky ridges, rolling hills, and epic views of the valley floor. The high point is Currant Mountain, a dramatic limestone peak rising to 11,513 feet. Vegetation includes limber pine, juniper, and even Great Basin Bristlecone Pine! There's a lot of water in this area too, with year-round springs and creeks. When I rode through here on my 2013 ride in the spring, the wildflowers were out of control! On my recent ride, we saw elk, deer, and wild horses. (This is where we had our heartbreaking encounter with the young wild horse we named Oscar.) I've read the range is also home to Bighorn Sheep, but alas, I never saw any.
Some of the trails are tough, but they're worth it. Like most of the ranges we explored during the ride, we didn't see a lot of people in here, only a few hunters out scouting. One of the things I love about public land is that you can just pick a spot and camp. There are some great places in this range to set up camp and then head out and hike or ride. Watch out for the cows though - we had a big bull wander into our camp one evening! If you do need something a little less primitive, there is an actual campground on the southern end of the range. As always, I recommend the Nevada Road & Recreation Atlas from Benchmark Maps to get a feel for the area before you go.
Hoof protection might be one of the most important things to consider for a long ride. Riding in Nevada is especially tough on the hoof, as the terrain can be incredible challenging. It's amazing how much the footing can change mile to mile -- from decomposed granite to boulders to gravel to dirt to pavement. We saw it all on our recent ride, and that's why I was very careful to make sure Sage's hooves were protected.
I have nothing against traditional metal horse shoes, but Sage has been barefoot his whole life. Instead of shoes, we use boots on tough trails. There are many companies that make hoof boots. I've tried several of them, but ultimately used Easyboots from EasyCare Inc. for my 2013 and 2016 rides.
There are a lot advantages to hoof boots. They're removable. You just put them and take them off each day. They're relatively custom fit, as they come in different sizes. If you send your horse's hoof measurements and photos of each hoof to EasyCare they will recommend which style of boot is best for your horse. Sage wears the Easyboot Epics, which have a semi-aggressive tread - perfect for extreme trail conditions. For our recent ride, I recycled some of my old boots from our 2013 ride and purchased several sets of new boots. Nevada's terrain did not disappoint and the boots were certainly put to the test. Sage wore the boots every single day of our 1,100+ mile ride, in sand, dirt, rocks, mud, snow, water, and more.
Overall I love Easyboots. There is no question that they have protected Sage's hooves on both of our rides. With so many other things to worry about on the trail, it's nice to not have to worry about chipping of the hoof wall, stone bruises, punctures, or any other hoof ailment. People we met on the trail were often shocked we weren't using traditional horse shoes! But they were very intrigued when I showed them the Easyboots.
Despite the name, these boots are not easy to put on - but I suppose that's a good thing since you want them to stay on once you do get them on. They're especially hard to put on when it's below freezing. We lost a few boots early on in the ride, which was a result of me not putting them on properly. We also broke some boots during the ride: snapped cables in extremely rocky terrain, broken buckles, and torn gaiters. We actually wore through the toes of some of the boots! But they're meant to take a beating. Better the boot than your horse's hoof! Easyboots come with repair kits. Snapped cables, broken buckles, even torn gaiters can be repaired, which is great.
Easyboots aren't cheap, especially if you need as many I did for our long ride. Because of the investment, I went to great lengths to not lose them! I had to turn around a few times to retrieve boots that had fallen off. Several times Sage stepped into boggy areas and the suction would pull off a boot -- I went elbow deep in the muck to pull them out! Mud was always a problem to ride in. Even with the good traction on the Easyboots, Sage was slipping and sliding.
But I really credit the Easyboots for getting us through tough country with no problems. If you're interested in trying them out, you can use EasyCare's dealer search online (http://www.easycareinc.com/Search/Dealer.aspx) to find a rep near you. But I also recommend trying other boots from other companies to find the right product for your horse.
One of the places I was most excited to ride through on our recent journey is truly one of the most remote places in the continental U.S. Located in Elko County, in the northeast corner of Nevada, just south of the Idaho border, you'll find spectacular views, rugged terrain, and complete solitude.
This out-of-the-way area is home to the Jarbidge Wilderness - 113,00+ acres of pristine public land. (Areas that are designated as "wilderness" by Congress are protected from development. They are closed to mechanized recreation, which means you can't use a car, atv, or bicycle in wilderness areas. They are, however, open to hikers and horses!) The Jarbidge Wilderness features dozens of mountain peaks, eight of which are over 10,000 ft. It's also an unusually wet area for Nevada, with two lakes, many rivers, creeks, and streams. Lush meadows and trees abound, including Subalpine Fir, Whitebark Pine, and Quaking Aspens. I'm told the wildflowers in Jarbidge are amazing in the spring. We rode through in September, which was still beautiful with all the fall colors starting to emerge.
For my ride, I chose a nearly 20-mile pack trail that runs north-south through the wilderness area. I can honestly say it was some of the most thrilling riding I have ever done in my life! The pack trail is extremely technical, with non-stop obstacles and lots of elevation change. In many places the narrow trail wound high up along the sides of the mountains. I kept telling myself not to look down and I hoped Sage wouldn't either! The pack trail was fairly easy to follow. There are very few signs, but in some confusing spots people have erected rock cairns to help guide travelers. I only lost the trail once, but luckily was able to get back on track with my GPS.
It seemed as though every turn of the trail revealed a new, stunning landscape. I couldn't stop taking pictures! This is certainly not the terrain most people think of when they think of Nevada. One of the most wonderful experiences I had riding through this area was seeing all the elk. We encountered several bull elk and more than a dozen cow elk throughout the day. They are magnificent animals to see up close. And hearing them bugle? It gives you goose bumps! Incredibly, we spent a whole day riding through the wilderness area, but we didn't see a single other person. I felt like we had the whole place to ourselves.
After a very tough day of riding in the Jarbidge Wilderness, we rode through the town of Jarbidge itself. This quaint community is home to approx. 180 people. It has one hotel, one bar, one diner, one gas station, a community center/museum, and... that's about it! We had a blast riding through town. Several residents came to talk to us and one lady told me it had been a long time since someone rode a horse through town!
Go check out Jarbidge! It's well worth the drive. You'll want good tires; the roads are not paved. Also bring cash; there's no ATM, though the hotel and diner accept cards. The wilderness area has 150+ miles of pack trails to explore and quite a few trail heads. Trail maps are extremely hard to find online, but the Nevada Road & Recreation Atlas from Benchmark Maps is a good start. This is one place I definitely want to go back to explore more. In fact, if you're planning to go let me know and I'll go with you!
I have always been enamored by riding skirts of the past, so when I saw that someone was bringing them back for modern women riders, I just knew I had to have one!
Arctic Horse is a small, women-owned business based in Alaska. They make a variety of skirts for a variety of trail conditions. Prior to my 2016 ride, I ordered a Backcountry Trail Skirt so I could put it to the ultimate test in some of Nevada's harshest terrain. I absolutely fell in love with it on the trail. This is no cheap quality product thrown together. It is made from high quality and durable materials and incredibly well-made. It features snaps that keep the skirt up and open for mounting. The waxed canvas outer layer protected my legs from tall sagebrush and other brush. The lined inner layer kept my legs warm when the temperature dropped. When the rain came, it kept me dry. When I fell on barbed wire the skirt saved my butt - literally. But most of all, you just feel cool wearing it! This skirt is a must-have for the serious trail rider. Forget chaps - bring back skirts!
The Backcountry Trail Skirt retails for $299. Arctic Horse donates a portion of each sale to a non-profit of the buyer's choice. Keep your eye on their Facebook page for occasional sales. It's worth adding that these skirts are not adjustable and cannot be taken in, so be very sure about your sizing.
Something nagged me throughout our recent ride around northern Nevada. In 74 days, through eight counties, over 1,100 miles, the only people we met on the trail were hunters. Don't get me wrong -they were always incredibly friendly and extremely interested in my ride. Time and time again we bonded over a shared love of Nevada, its beauty and wildness, and yes, even the animals. I can't count how many times I heard hunters say, "We're so lucky to have this," as they gestured to the land around us. But it really began to bother me that I never encountered a hiker, a cyclist, a camper, or even another equestrian. This became a regular topic of conversation between Ryan and I. Why aren't people out here using this incredible resource? we'd ask each other.
It takes a long time to plan a long ride. There are so many logistics to work out -- feed, water, gear, etc. But, even when I was planning my first ride, the one thing that didn't take long for me to decide was where to ride. I could have gone to any state, to any number of designated trails. But, it was obvious to me from the very beginning that I should take advantage of what was right outside my door.
This is one of my favorite maps. The areas in red are public lands. Ponder it for a second if you will...
Every state has some public land, though the vast majority of it is in the West. Nevada has more than any other in the contiguous 48 states (>80%). By comparison, look at Texas, which has <5% federal land. Essentially what that means is that if you were trying to do a long ride in Texas, you would be restricted to public roads because most of the state is private property.
But all those areas in red -- with a few exceptions -- are free and open for use by anyone. For me, this means I can create my own long ride routes, choose my own trails and roads from millions of acres of land, and never have to worry about getting permission from a landowner for access. I couldn't do what I do without public lands. Likewise, that opportunity is available for every other American who is interested in hiking, biking, hunting, camping, or any other recreational activity.
Unfortunately, that freedom is under threat from people who think they have more of a right to the land than others. There is a movement underway to transfer federally-managed public lands to state ownership. Proponents readily admit that under their plan, millions of acres of public land would then be sold off to help states pay for the management of their remaining lands. Make no mistake, the privatization of public lands would be the end of open access for the rest of us. I saw very real evidence of this on my recent ride.
Incidents such as these will only increase with the transfer of public lands. You may not like the federal agencies managing public lands, but do not be fooled into thinking the land would be better off under state control or on the auction block. It most certainly would not be better off for wild horses and other wildlife. This issue is only going to grow more contentious over time, especially following the recent court ruling regarding the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Public lands belong to all of us, not just those who make the most noise. I encourage you to get to know the public land in your state (every state has some!) and discover why it is worth preserving if not for you, then for others. And please make your voice heard. There are a number of organizations who are working hard to keep public lands in public hands.
If you are an equestrian, please check out Backcountry Horsemen of America here: https://www.bcha.org/
If you are a hiker, skiier, cyclist, etc., please check out Outdoor Alliance here: http://www.outdooralliance.org/.
If you are a hunter or angler, please check out Backcountry Hunters & Anglers here: http://www.backcountryhunters.org/
Also check out:
The Wilderness Society
The Public Lands Foundation
High Country News
My experiences with The Nevada Discovery Ride have very much reinforced the value of public lands for me. That's why I love long riding in Nevada so much and will do all my future long rides on public lands. I wish I had seen more people out enjoying public lands during my previous rides, particularly equestrians who have a stake in keeping trails open. But no matter your interest: If you don't use it, you could lose it.
Well, after 74 days on the trail and 1,100+ miles we made it safely back home to Reno! We arrived to an amazing homecoming. Dozens of people (some on horseback!) greeted us with cheers as we rode into town. It was a wonderful way to end the ride. The Bureau of Land Management folks presented us with an absolutely beautiful belt buckle and Sage received lots of congratulatory carrots. It's honestly a little overwhelming to be back. So many mixed emotions. It feels strange not to sleep just feet away from Sage and hit the trail with him every day. Our whole routine has instantly changed! I was so mentally exhausted that first day back, but we are slowly adjusting the new reality.
I don't want to lose the wonderful momentum that we have so I've already begun to dive into post-ride stuff. I have several public presentations already booked and have posted them on the homepage. More will be added soon. I have thousands of photographs to sort through and organize and will begin to share them once that's complete. I also plan to start writing some gear reviews to share what worked and did not work for us on the trail for anyone interested in that. So many amazing things happened during our travels; I can't wait to share the stories with everyone!
But rest assured, our adventures aren't over. In fact, while we were still on the trail Ryan and I talked a lot about future rides! We have some great ideas for other places to explore and look forward to beginning to plan those adventures. We also want to do more to get other people out into our incredible public lands and have some plans for that as well. Stay tuned!
There are so many wonderful people and organizations who helped make this ride happen. Thank you to Carol Schley and Paul Boone for keeping our house and other animal companions well cared for in our absence. Thanks to the strangers who agreed to cache hay for us during the ride. Thank you as well to all our sponsors for their support and enthusiasm. Thank you to the Long Riders' Guild for their invaluable guidance.
Sorry it's been so long without an update! We haven't had cell service in FOREVER!!! That's part of the fun of riding in the backcountry though :)
Suffice it to say it would take a long time to tell you about all our adventures since the last update so here are some of the highlights:
- In the Owyhee Range we saw a stunning diversity of wild horses! Every coat color and pattern you can think of! One night during dinner we watched 50+ make their way down a hill to a water source. Sage made the mistake of whinnying at them and a magnificent red roan stallion took umbrage. Suddenly all 50+ came charging toward us! We threw down our food and took positions to protect Sage. My handy plastic bag came to the rescue as always and we managed to scare them all off. During the chaos Bella ate my dinner :(
- The weather really turned wild on us. We got snowed on in the Pine Forest Range and have endured freezing nighttime temperatures. But the hardest by far has been the rain. We have gotten poured on, which is not fun to ride in. I tried the other day, but after riding for 5 hours in constant rain I was soaked completely through and had to stop. Also gale force winds are not fun to ride into.
- We climbed our last great peaks awhile ago. Very tough acesents and descents, but stunning views. From high atop the Pine Forest Range I could even see the Sierra Nevada, which was very exciting for morale!
- Sage continues to see lots of "firsts", including wild burros! In the area around the Smoke Creek Desert we were delighted to see hundreds of burros. Sage was a little nervous about them and confused by their constant braying! They are just too cute and Ryan and I agreed we'll definitely be adopting a burro into our herd.
We're now just days away from home. It's hard to believe we're almost done. In some ways it feels as though the ride has flown by. We're excited for showers and decadent food (I'm skin and bones!!), but there's also a feeling of sadness to leave the trail. Part of us just wants to keep going! Bit sadly the end of the trail must come. So, everyone who can is invited to come see us make or official ride-in to Reno. We plan to arrive on Sunday, October 23 at 1pm at the Lemmon Valley Horse Arena (Deodar Way, Reno). Hope to see you there!
As Ryan likes to say, "We are finally going in the right direction!" Yes, after passing our halfway point in Jarbidge we are on a westward course across northern Nevada to make our way back to Reno!
Our ride to Jarbidge was some of the toughest terrain so far, but absolutely spectacular! We rode 20 miles through the Jarbidge Wilderness on a tiny pack trail. We didn't see a single other person and felt like we had the place all to ourselves... with the exception of all the elk we saw! Sage is an elk magnet. We have seen so many on this trip. They are magnificent (and a little scary). We rode through the tiny town of Jarbidge which was quite exciting for the residents. (One lady told me it's been a long time since someone rode a horse through town!) And then we endured even more challenging riding, climbing several mountain peaks. It was tough going but worth it for the incredible views we received.
The past couple days stormy weather caught up to us again. Today we rode in the rain almost the entire day, but luckily I had all my waterproof layers. Sage was grumpy about it but he pulled through.
Some of you may have heard that we had a little accident last week. Sage got tangled up in some downed barbed wire. It was very scary. He suffered some punctures and lacerations, but it was an absolute miracle that the wounds were superficial. He's healed up now, but boy was I worried.
Lastly, I have to give a huge shoutout to the world's greatest trimmer - Cindy Nielson from Reno. She drove nearly 12 hours to meet us in Jarbidge so she could trim Sage's hooves. I am so grateful!
We're trucking along - about to drop down into the Owyhee Desert. I'm looking forward to seeing that country (and hopefully some wild horses). Otherwise, all is well. Everyone is doing fine and morale is high! Thanks for all your support!
We are getting a slow start today and I happen to have enough cell service to catch up on what's happening in the world and I am reading A TON of controversy over the recent Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board meeting and their 8-1 vote to recommend euthanasia of 45,000 horses in holding facilities. What a quagmire. I want to say a few things based on what I've seen during my current long ride.
As many of you know, Nevada is home to more wild horses than any other state. Riding 1,100 miles around the state at 3mph is a great way to really see what's happening on the range. I have definitely ridden through places that were dominated by cattle where springs (and good campsites) were cowed out. And I have also ridden through areas that were dominated by wild horses. In fact, one of the things mentioned in a lot of articles about the WH&B meeting is their visit to the Antelope HMA - an area that I just rode through and camped in. Some of the board members have said in interviews how overpopulated the area is with horses - and I can tell you based on what I saw just the other week, it is. I was absolutely shocked at the number of horses I saw in the valley and in the ranges surrounding it. I've never seen anything like it. They have completely dominated the landscape in that area - you can physically see it in the grasses (or lack there of), the sheer number of horse trails, and the area around the limited water sources. Even I - an ardent wild horse lover - was forced to admit that it was too many horses. In fact, when I was finished with my ride I was planning to ask the BLM what the heck was going on out there.
One thing that seems to happen though is that Nevada gets painted with a broad brush - people think what's happening in one area is happening in all areas. Each basin and range in Nevada is unique. Some places are cowed out and some are horsed out. It's just the reality. It's very easy to read an article and criticize but until you have been out on the range and seen the evidence for yourself then you just can't know what's actually happening. So, yes - in some places there are too many horses. In others, there may not be. It's not as simple as cows vs. horses, and it's not as simple as overpopulation or "on the verge of extinction" as some advocates like to say.
Now, onto this euthanization business. First of all, the board's vote is merely a recommendation to the BLM. It does not mean the BLM will go out and kill all the horses in holding facilities. But it is shocking to think about. It should be. And I think it was meant to be. But, as I have said over and over again and tried to emphasize with my rides - there are too many horses in holding facilities being cared for at taxpayers expense. Essentially you and I pay millions of dollars to warehouse horses for the rest of their life. It is costly, it is growing, and it is not sustainable. Those horses WILL NEVER be returned to the range. So what can be done? Everyone is up in arms about this vote, but how many of those people are actually going out and adopting from a facility? That is literally the only alternative to warehousing them forever or euthanizing them. Get those numbers down (in population and cost) and then the BLM can work on better management on the ranges, like the one I mentioned earlier. Those horses will be rounded up eventually and then they'll just end up in holding facilities too.
I was so excited that adoption numbers were up last year, but they weren't up by a staggering amount. They certainly weren't anything close to the historic highs. Go adopt a mustang. Stop breeding your backyard ponies. And reserve your anger not for a board made up of volunteers, but for the beaurocracy that has allowed this situation to develop over time.
Whew! Does it feel like the past 30 days has flown by for anyone else?! We've done about 465 miles or so to date and what an awesome adventure it has been. Today was actually the first day we had a real problem. I was surprised to find my route blocked today by a very large and very active gold mine! It had not been there when I scouted that section of the trail a year and a half ago. The best laid plans, as they say! Unfortunately the mine wouldn't let us ride through or around so our only options were to turn around and go back or go way out of the way to the east and then work our way back to the original route. We opted for the second choice, which puts us a little behind schedule.
Compounding the problem was that today we were supposed to cross Interstate 80. The original route (through the gold mine) would have let us cross at a very quiet and seldom used underpass. Going out of the way with the reroute put us at an exit with an overpass! I have never taken Sage over an overpass, let alone one over an interstate! But, we pressed on - and in his usual fashion, Sage walked across the overpass and was totally fine. Also, interstate exits here have cattle guards but no gates. Luckily we knew that in advance and came prepared. Ryan has been hauling a piece of plywood in the bed of the truck which we laid over the cattle guard so Sage could walk across. We hadn't practiced in advance, but Sage bravely crossed the plywood behind me.
But it it hasn't all been that dramatic. We've ridden through amazing ranges with stunning views where it felt like we were a million miles from civilization! We've seen tons of animals - antelope, deer, and two up close encounters with bull elk! Amazing! We've also seen lots of wild horses - and had our share of sleepless nights defending camp (and Sage) from their attack! It's scary to wake up to the sound of thundering hooves in the darkness! Sage also saw his first flock of sheep, which he did not care for too much.
Everyone is holding up well. Sage is super fit and muscled. He's eager to hit the trail each morning and has really picked up the pace. Bella has been doing some miles with us each day, generally in the morning when it's cooler. Ryan is looking more and more like a mountain man and is taking good care of us. I have lost quite a few pounds (my extreme diet plan! Haha) and have acquired quite the tan.
This week we'll try to get back on route and make our way to Jarbige. As usual cell service will be spotty at best, but I'll update when I can. Thanks for following along with our adventure and for all your well wishes! It means a lot :)
The latest updates from Samantha on the Nevada Discovery Ride.