In which we head to the mountains and don't come down for a week, part two

Part Two: The Trails

I have tons of pictures for this post, partly because working on trails was the focus of our week in the mountains, and also partly because it's just so amazingly beautiful that it was hard for me to put down the camera all week!

As I mentioned in the last post, most of the trails were marked by riders on horseback.

We stuffed our saddle bags full of ribbons, and took pack horses along to carry the longer and heavier tools.

Last year was Fiddle's first year of trail work, and she got freaked out by some of the equipment tied to her saddle,

so this year I remembered to longe her for a few minutes so she could get used to the large pack bags. It took less than a minute for her to figure out what that new sensation/sound attached to the saddle was all about, and then she relaxed.

We also made sure that the horses remembered what trail ribbons look, sound, and feel like. It's much easier to do this in camp than to have a horse frick out on a skinny cliff trail, even though the process does look pretty strange.

Heading out on the trails in groups of 2 or 3,

some groups mark trails,

while other groups focus on clearing, repairing, and re-routing trails.

Clearing is sometimes as easy as kicking rocks off the trail, but sometimes requires heavier equipment like chainsaws. This winter was kinder than last winter, and I think there were less than 10 trees that required a chainsaw to clear. Last year, we lost count after 20 trees.

Also, we try to re-route trails that require frequent clearing, because those are the trails that are poorly designed anyhow.

Re-routing takes a lot of time initially (because you basically build a brand-new trail) but a properly built trail requires almost no maintenance once it's built, so it's usually worth the effort.

This series of pictures shows a major re-route that we started last year and finished fixing this year. We start the new trail with the tool Ryan is using, a Pulaski. It is used to carve out a slanted back-cut and flat trail bed in the side of a hill.

The next stage is clearing and flattening the trail bed. Jim scrapes off all the dirt that Ryan loosened, using the rake-blade of the McLeod.

When the loose soil is scraped off, Jim uses the flat side of the McLeod to tamp it down tightly to create a firm trail bed.

You can see the berm on the outside edge of this trail in the upper half of the photo.

We started building this section last year, and it has been heavily used since then, creating a trail "trough", where the water runs straight down the trail and erodes it into a little river-canyon.

I use my foot to remove the berm on the outside of the trail. I walk down the trail and kick the berm downhill, creating a path for the water to flow off the side of the trail instead of down the middle of it.

We cut out any roots and stubs that appear on the backcut and trailbed so that horses won't step away from those things and erode the non-trail surface.

The side-hill trail is now about 48" wide, with a slanted backcut and a solid trailbed. Water will travel across it, instead of down the middle, and this stretch will need almost no maintanence for 3-5 years.

Then, we move on to the next stretch of trail that needs to be fixed!

The ribbons are a source of great hilarity. Of course, they are intended as trail marker, but how can anyone resist decorating the horses, dogs, and each other?

Eventually, we get most of the ribbons hung on trees.

Madeline did a lot of the lime-arrow markings on the ground, because Destry is so much shorter

--and theoretically, easier to re-mount--than Fiddle.


We did some of the trail marking from the truck, as well. Two people sit in the bed of the truck, and clip ribbons to branches, while the third person drives as close to the trees as possible without driving off the cliff.

The Little Fish trail is too narrow and steep for trucks or quads, and there aren't any trees tall enough to mark from horseback, so Jim and Willy flagged it on foot. I dropped them off at the top....

...and met them at the bottom.

(There's a geocache hidden between two tree stumps halfway down--Willy's first geocache find!)

The rest of this post is just pretty pictures taken from the trail.

Life is good!

Part Three: The Ride


  1. AWESOME..I love doing this stuff and I really want a small chain saw half the time as I ride so I can mare hates brushy unmanaged trails..she kinda puts her head down and rushes into them..I get scraped up in that case!
    What a great time and times to come!

  2. I found this post so fascinating! So much behind the scenes work goes into trail maintenance. I had no idea. Wow!
    And such awesome team work, too.
    Why pink ribbons? They sure do look silly decorating everyone. hehe!
    Do you use different colors for different trails or for giving information about each trail?


  3. Oh! And I'm not sure how to e-mail you with my trail ride info, so here it is:


    My 'trail ride' will be on The Enchanted Circle' of Northern New Mexico. We'll ride where Lonesome Dove was filmed, in expansive valleys with tall mountains all around. We'll dine on elk burgers and ride alongside stagecoaches and through herds of alpacas and llamas.
    I may not be in the saddle yet, but I can dream, right?

    word verification: mallaria

  4. allhorsestuff: I was given a small "landscaper" chainsaw last year and it's small enough to fit in a saddlebag. Don't forget to tie your horse a safe distance away when you're clearing branches and leaves (and if she hasn't heard chainsaw motors up close before, you might want to practice at home before hitting the trail!)

    Laughing Orca: Differently-colored ribbons denote different trails. For this ride, we prepared a 50-mile loop (with 2 vet checks along the way), a long leg for the first part of the 25-mile loop (they have common trail with the 50's after their vet check, so we didn't have to mark an entirely separate loop for them), a 10-mile loop, and a 5-mile loop.

    Riders (theoretically) know where they are because they (theoretically) remember what color ribbon to follow.

    I always write the ribbon colors on my arm, just in case I forget....

  5. Wow, what good work!! I always wonder who helps maintain our trails, and I am very grateful to them, it is a lot of work. I like the picture of the ribbons all over your horse, LOL! :)


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