Why I Love Arizona

Well, it’s certainly not because of my allergies.

Pretty.  And sneezy.

Sometimes I think living in Arizona is like a badge of honor.  We complain about the heat in the summer, the humidity during monsoons (everyone east of the Rockies scoffs at this…”Girl, you have no idea what real humidity is…”), the allergens during the spring, the dust, the traffic…

So why the heck do we stay?

I can’t speak for the rest of the residents, but based on what I feel is the current over-population, obviously something is keeping us here.

Me, I’m an Arizona native.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to do some pretty awesome traveling, and as much as I love going to other places…I love coming home.  I honestly don’t feel an overwhelming desire to move out of the state, despite falling in love with a select few other areas in the country.  (None of them have yet managed to put up enough pros to outweigh staying in this state.)

The horse thing is a large part of why I stay.  Arizona is a big state.  And I’ve had the chance to ride in many different parts of it.  (Pretty much all but the far northern part…such as the Grand Canyon…one of these days…)

And it always amazes me how different the state is, even within the span of 50 miles of a ride.  So with that, I give you the Tour de Places-Ashley-Has-Ridden.

I love having all of my photos organized and accessible.  It means I tend to actually blog with pictures a lot more readily.

And because I’m easily amused and need no excuse to play around with Google Earth, I’m including relevant  approximate elevations.

Salt River and part of the Goldfield Mountains.
Located directly east of Phoenix about an hour, give or take.
~1400′ elevation

The Salt River area has Bulldog Canyon and the trails around the Blue Point Recreation Area.  Immediately on the south side of these mountains is Usery Mtn Park:

“Standard” desert. And cholla cactus. Lots of cholla.

A little to the south by another half an hour or so, and my typical riding stomping grounds, is the San Tan Park in Queen Creek.

I only have a couple hundred variations of this photo.

Keep on heading south…waaaay south (like, just-north-of-the-Mexican-border-south) and you run into Sonoita and the Old Pueblo/Las Cienegas endurance rides down there.

Beautiful, rolling grasslands surrounded by mountains.
It’s always windy here.  Non-stop.

Re-centering on Phoenix and heading west, there’s Estrella Mountain Park.  Back to what I consider “normal” desert with all the usual suspects…lots of washes, lots of cactus, and in certain times of the year, if you’re really lucky, a few wisps of desert grass.

Grass.  Thoroughly interwoven with toxic weeds.  This is the desert.

I did quite a bit of riding between the three parks: Usery, San Tan, and Estrella.  They have civilized trailheads with water, trailer parking, and signed trails.  Which also means they host a plethora of hikers and mountain bikers.  Good desensitization training.

Bouncing back to the east side, another hour or so past the previously explored area of Usery Mtn and the Salt River, is a beautiful trailhead called Picketpost Mountain.  It’s the host of the section of The Arizona Trail that runs right through the area.  If you follow the trail to the north, you see this:
But if you go south, you ride right up against this:

Picketpost Mountain proper

Back into the Valley, just northeast of Phoenix, there’s the area that I call the North Scottsdale/Fountain Hills/Rio Verde confluence.  Dad’s first horse came from the Rio Verde area, we spent quite a lot of time trail riding in the Rio Verde Foothills area, and McDowell Mtn Park is located there.

McDowell is like most other Valley parks: sand, cactus, and
more sand and cactus.

In the northwestern part of the Valley, there’s Wickenburg, site of quite a few rides we’ve done: 2 NATRC and 4 endurance.

Similar to “my” desert, but typically slightly cooler.
Head out of the Valley northeast about 2 hours, and you’ll hit Payson.  It’s in the mountains, so it’s much cooler, and a good summer option.  Payson itself has very little by way of trails, but if you head due east, you quickly run into several trail options.

“Red dirt” elevation, ~6700′.  This particular trail runs
right below the Mogollan Rim, which rises a vertical
1000′ above this point.

Head northwest from Payson, and you run into the little towns of Pine and Strawberry.  They’re also right below the Rim, and actually at a lower elevation than the more easterly-located Payson area trailheads.

Lower elevation, less red dirt.  (Which results in cleaner
pony legs and tails.)

Now we’re in the mountains, which are something of a fascination and novel concept to this long-time desert rat.  North of Phoenix by a couple of hours is Prescott, which is an amazing range of micro-climates within a very short span of time.  Exhibit A, Man Against Horse 50:

Gorgeous mountain sunrises.  Not that they’re shabby down
in the Valley, either.  There is a plus to the dust pollution
in the air.
Ridecamp, down in the rolling grasslands.
Wind up in the pine trees at ~7700′ halfway through before
descending through red-dirt elevation and back to ridecamp.

Another hour or so north of Prescott is Flagstaff.  Flagstaff is pine trees and snow skis (for at least a couple of months in the winter).  And the best summer escape destination.  Fortunately, there are some nice horse camps up there to accommodate the droves of Valley-dwellers that make frequent weekend pilgrimages.

Flagstaff is green and gorgeous…but I wouldn’t live there.  Too much of that white, fluffy stuff in the winter.
Greenery…pony-eating downed logs…
7300′ (to start)
Aspen grove, which means the elevation went up…
to ~8900′
(Another pesky feature of mountains…I am a low-lander…
I cannot breathe properly at high elevation.)

One of my favorite features…mountain lakes!

West of Flagstaff is the “gateway to the Grand Canyon”: Williams.  My overwhelming takeaway impressions of Williams are if your horse doesn’t trip on the rocks and fall and squish you, then you’ll both be eaten alive by the vampire-alike no-see-ums.

That innocuous-looking meadow of grass in the background?
Not so much.  The grass hides the fact it is completely covered
in softball-sized (at minmum) volcanic rock.

Williams is also the location of Al-Marah Arabians’ Hat Ranch, where they let the babies run around and grow up for a couple of years, which goes a long way towards explaining why they seem to produce some outstanding endurance horses.

Maybe there is something to survival of the fittest?

Finally, just for kicks…Y’all want to know where I live?

In the middle of suburbia, surrounded by a sea of tile roofs.
(Question: If the plural of “hoof” is “hooves,” wouldn’t it make sense for the plural of “roof” to be “rooves”?  This is why I didn’t become an English major.)
Elevation: Just over 1200′.  No wonder my respiratory system protests 5000’+.
Looking at where I get to ride, sometimes I forget I still live in suburbia.
And that riding variety is probably the Number One reason why I love Arizona.
(The sand washes make for good conditioning, too.)

The Times, They Are A’Changing

It’s certainly not what I wanted, and was never part of my “Five-Year Plan.”  But I know it’s the right thing to do.  Barring a sudden miracle age-reversal process, it’s time for Mimi to retire from competition.

I had already made the decision to retire her from 50s earlier this year.  In a way, that was the toughest decision to make.  Giving up 50s meant giving up on even bigger dreams…Tevis, 1000 mile medallion, multi-day rides.

But for her sake, I think that retirement, even from 25s, is the right decision.  I’ve always said, albeit jokingly, that I have to be the sensible one of the two of us.  She will just goGoGO until she drops, and doesn’t quite have the good sense to know when she should slow down and take it easy.  So the voice of reason has to step in a say, “No, you’re done.”  That voice of reason would be me.

She is still a phenomenal trail horse and riding companion.  I’d like to keep her that way.  I know my rides are numbered…I’m getting down to the last stretch for school, and once that is over with and all my certifications are passed, Real Life is going to take over for quite a while as I start working, and hopefully relocate.  (105* at the end of September?  Relocation can’t come fast enough.)  I know there’s not going to be a lot of time to condition an endurance horse, let alone go to rides, while I’m doing all of that.

But I’ll need the escape therapy that riding provides.  Rule Number One for court reporters: Have an outlet.  We get to hear about the dregs of society, and it’ll turn a person bitter and cynical very fast, unless there is some kind of a mental release/escapism available.  For me, that’s riding.  Even if it means just jumping on the pony and riding out for a few miles.

And that’s what I want her to still be around for.  She’s a safe, trustworthy trail horse that can sit around for a few weeks (provided she gets turnout), and not do anything stupid when I climb on her back again.  Saving her now means I will hopefully have a lot more casual trail miles left in her for years to come.

Easing the sting of all this is my father’s very generous offer to start riding his horse Beamer with greater frequency, and taking him to rides.  It works well, really.  A lot of Dad’s time is being taken up with work, and Beamer has been sitting around, not getting used all that often.  He’s a working performance horse, and needs a job to do.  So he’s without a rider half the time, and I’m now without a competition horse.  Seems to be a good match…

So we’re going to start instituting a “horse-sharing” plan.  I’ll still ride Mimi, primarily, but on the days Dad isn’t available, I’ll take Beamer out.  And we’ll share Beamer for rides.  This works particularly well for multi-day 50s, when we can each ride him for at least one day.  One-day 50s…well, we might have to flip a coin.  ;)

Beamer and I are going to do our first ride together at the end of October, at the AHAA Halloween Ride at McDowell Mountain Park.  We’re going to do the 25, for several reasons: 1) Beamer has had most of the summer off.  Granted, he’s an Arab and keeps his conditioning, but there’s no sense in pushing it.  2) Need to make sure my saddle really does fit him for distance.  It appears to work, at least in the arena, as long as I have the proper saddle pad set-up.  But the distance is what will be really telling.  3) Need to make sure Beamer and I get along for at least 25 miles.

Despite the fact we’ve owned Beamer for almost six years now (!), I’ve spent very little time on his back.  I put about 60 days total on him when we first got him, then handed him off to Dad.  I’ve spent a lot of time working with him on the ground, and more recently, with his hoof care and tending his various injuries acquired over the summer.  But I haven’t ridden him all that much.

All I can say is, this should be Interesting.

I’ve got a lot of catch up on, blogging-wise.  Friend Kaity came out for a week, and we had a grand time visiting and riding.  A lot of pictures from our ride, including a day trip to Payson, and my first ride on Beamer on trail in about four years.  Look for those to go up, as well as grand tales for the telling.  (Blogging off my laptop at school at the moment, so don’t have access to all my pictures.)

Also to come is a new blog.  I can’t very well talk about Beamer antics on Mimi’s blog, so I will have a secondary blog that covers Beamer, and some more general aspects of my life.  I’ll still keep this one going for reporting Pony antics.  This, too, should prove Interesting, as we all know the trouble I sometimes have with just maintaining the one blog.

Once I have that up and going, I will post a link to it here.