Childhood Memories: Colorado: San Juan National Forest

The first day of a week long pack trip that has become one of my fondest memories.


Happy Hump Day everyone and here is to your week going well! I hope everyone enjoys the beautiful state of Colorado because we are staying there for this story, although we are moving south a bit and a few years earlier.

My dad spent many hunting seasons up in the national forests of Colorado hunting elk. He has some great stories of what to do and not to do but this is my blog and thus my story. This is a recounting of the start of my second Colorado pack trip. This trip was just my sister (Brooke), dad, and me. We saddled up two horses and a mule to ride with two pack mules in our sting. The first day in our gelding quarter horse throws a shoe. We can’t go the the rest of the trip without some protection on that hoof, if we do it will lame him. We get to the first spot that dad had planned on camping: a flat area near a river that he and some friends had used previously as a base camp when elk hunting.

Dad switches the saddle from the gelding, Chico, to our mule, Uno, turned around and rode the fifteen miles we had just traversed in, back out. This left my sister and me fifteen miles into the mountains with the horses, mules, and supplies. Our grandparents and our mom were not happy that dad left us up in the mountains alone, for any length of time. We weren’t scared though, we knew what we were doing, and dad had left us the pistol.

Us girls set up camp,  unsaddle, and unpack the animals before hobbling them to graze. Next we set up the tent and started a campfire in a ring of stones. The saddles and packs went under a tarp to protect them from the afternoon rains. Being from Texas we enjoy our iced tea and Brooke had brought tea bags, so we boiled water in our coffee pot and brewed tea. To chill the tea we wedged it between two stones in the shallow river that ran near camp. That “iced” tea really hit the spot.

The funniest part of setting up camp, for me anyway, was setting up the picket line. My sister is younger and smaller than me thus she was volunteered, by me, to climb the evergreen trees and tie the line. These trees had sap oozing out of them causing the rope to get stuck as my sister ran it around the trees. It also got all over her. Personally I thought it was funny, she did not agree. Once the mules and horse were picketed, we made dinner and then sat around taking bets on if dad was going to make it back to camp that night. He had told us before he left that he would try but it also depended on him being able to find a rubber boot for the horse.

Around dusk dad rides back into camp. He looks like an old cowboy riding out of a western film. His head is hanging and his whole body looks tired. Uno’s nose is just a few inches above the ground. After unsaddling the mule dad just sat down and ate. He had ridden close to forty-five miles that day with little rest and a job to do in between. Later, when he was rested, dad told my sister and me how proud he was that we had everything set up properly by the time he made it back to camp.

We stayed at that location all the next day. I did a bit of reading, exploring, and photographing the scenery. I didn’t see much wildlife other than a single martin. Its red-brown fur and long, low body shone in the sun as it ran across the ledge above us. Dad and Brooke fished. I don’t remember her catching many but dad did. We actually had the fresh caught fish for dinner. There is little better than fresh, lightly fried trout up in the mountains.

In life it is the simple things, the small moments that are the best. And life is about making the most out of what you’re dealt. The first couple of days in the vast Weminche Wilderness had plenty of those moments. If Chico hadn’t throw his shoe, the begining of this adventure wouldn’t have been nearly as memorable.

Picture by Laci McGee

**Above Picture and Featured Image By C. McGee

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