TPWD/TETRA Marfa Outreach Ride at Big Bend Ranch State Park Held During Spring Break March 14-21, 2009
The TPWD/TETRA Outreach ride was absolutely wonderful. From the Texas Ranger that spoke to us at Marfa to the Buffalo Soldier presentation to personal stories and everything in between, it was all great. The wagon drivers, the outriders, the trail boss, the cooks, boy scouts, students, teachers, and everybody that was there, it made it so special to the students, thank you for your extreme effort to make this ride happen.
I would like to say a huge personal "Thank you" to my friend Karl Cloninger, without his dream and vision, this would have never been pulled off. Karl spent countless hours behind the scenes making arrangements and having to make adjustments on the "fly’ but hey buddy, you did it! Gary Hahn, TETRA President.
The TPWD/TETRA outreach ride held over Spring Break from Marfa to Big Bend was an awesome adventure. A Big "Thank you" to Dr. Karl Cloninger for letting me big a part of this adventure that I will remember my entire life. I know it made a huge positive impact on the students that were a part of it, it was very "Old West" and very cool. if you ever get a chance to go ride at Big Bend ranch or in the Marfa area, do it! It is a long drive but the scenery and general atmosphere are well worth the trip. It is the closest thing to being transported back in time a hundred years that you can get. We drove in a caravan with Jan & Murray Price and had a blast! It makes it very fun to travel with friends. Jeanne Hahn, TETRA Region 7 Director.
Stuart and I arrived in Marfa Saturday, just after lunch. The weather was beautiful and the day was warm for March. The drivers, riders and children had already arrived and were learning about the animals and the location. The children were treated to a talk by a Texas Ranger, who passed around his badge after a discussion of what the badge was made of - a Mexican Peso. I didn't catch his name, but would like to thank him for his time. The open house was a smash hit. The food was excellent and we met many folks from Marfa and the surrounding area. The trail ride out to the MacGuire ranch was wonderful - very picturesque. We saw antelopes, many different birds and the landscape was so unique. The lunch stop at the movie set was awesome. I am sure this is how the west looked in West Texas before the turn of the century. Camping at the MacGuire Ranch camp house was great - a good location, out of the wind, and again the food was great. Stuart and I went on down the road - SH 169 and stopped at the Plata Water tanks and the Harris-Hernandez home, as well as Casa Preida. We saw bobcat prints and plenty of birds and flowers. We visited with the owners of Casa Prieda and drank from their well. They have a store and post office set up in their home, just like it was at the turn of the century. The tour through history was wonderful and included family photographs and history. The Harris-Hernandez house had a special link to the owners of Casa Prieda. The vistas from the road were truly West Texas. Once we made it to the Big Bend State Park Road/Casa Priendo road campsite - the location was great. I would like to personally thank the ranch owner for allowing us to camp here. The sunsets and sunrises were magnificent. The quiet at night was awe inspiring, as were the view of the stars. The final ride into Big Bend state park was awesome - the hills made it hard for some of the wagons, but I doubt that anyone who was on the trip would have missed the opportunity. I would like to thank the boy scout group who assisted. They picked up trash, helped with set up of the camp, helped cook and were a pleasure to be around. I would also like to thank the schools of Marfa, Carrollton and El Paso-Canutillo. I hope they learned a lot about the Big Bend area and will come back to visit in the future. Vivian Harvey, 1st Vice President
When I was at the Marfa Outreach Ride, I was the one to wake the children each morning. I played Eddie Arnold’s cattle call each morning at 6:00 a.m. Of course, this meant that I needed to arise at 5:00 so I could have my horse fed and myself ready for the day. The first night, the students slept on the floor in the 4-H barn in Marfa. I turned the volume up as loud as it could go and wandered around the building until I had made the whole circuit. The next night, I was used to blaring at full volume and I set the boom box right outside the tent of the teacher; she let me know in a nice way that it was a little loud right in her ear. I was more subtle for the rest of the week. The last morning, Saturday, that teacher asked if she could wake the students. She and three girls paraded in front of the tents singing cattle call until everyone was stirring. One group of students came from far enough away that they had to stay over at a state park before heading the rest of the way home. The restaurant where they ate supper had a live band; the students requested they play cattle call and proceeded to sing the words to the whole song. Debby Alley, Activities Director.
My daughter, Erin and I, attended the recent Marfa Outreach ride. We had a great time, and learned a lot about the country out in west Texas. Erin’s uncle lived in Fort Davis, so she knew something about west Texas, but not as much as she would learn.
We took our first horses, her horse, a 20+ gaited Morgan, and mine a grade thoroughbred/quarter horse, 11 years. They are used to riding week long rides and have been on the Abilene to San Angelo stock show and rodeo rides for four years. It seemed to make great sense.
The first night was really cold, and the following morning, all he horses were fresh and frisky. We started out without to many events, only one person came off. We crossed land that was grassy and hilly as we left Marfa, and found the ride pleasant and not very taxing. The camping area was next to the golf course that Erin’s dad and uncle had played, so it felt somehow familiar. It was great to see old friends, and the ride was interesting. We then camped next on the McGuire ranch. The land was now much more arid and rocky. Gone was the grassy areas, and now it was, exposed soil. The time at McGuire was very interesting, as we rode in more hilly, rocky terrain.
Our next stop was Big Bend ranch, our destination. Thus far, our horses had done well, although, they did get loose while behind an electric fence that was not hot. We have camped many times with these horse behind electric fencing, and have never gotten loose. I believe one of us may have forgotten to turn it on. They left our trailer for one close by that was filled with hay and alfalfa. Not to worry, this was only a ranch that spanned 65,000 acres.
We elected to drive through Presidio, rather than take the short cut, so when we arrived, many of the places to park were already occupied, but we found a small patch of dirt to call home, and set up our electric fencing. This was Wednesday. By now, mom, of the Geri and Erin team, had a full blown case of a stomach virus. One of the two team horse care takers was sick. We did not ride on Thursday, and our horses seemed content being left behind. The land at this point is mountainous and is quite unforgiving. Arid, sparse cactus, and the thought of settlers following the historic Alometo trail was almost more than my mind could comprehend. The land bore no vi sable fruit, nothing to hunt, just a vast horizon.
Thursday, my condition continued to worsen, and Erin was up late with kitchen duty. The winds had picked up and as I lay awake in the trailer, I worry about the horses. When Erin opened the door, my first words were, I am worried about the horses and I have a bad feeling about the wind. Be certain to tie them or make certain the fence is hot. Well, Erin said the wing nut flew off the charger, and the horses were not tied. The fence could not be made hot, and they were not tied. I should have gotten up and tied them myself, but as I lay there, I thought, they have been fine for two days, maybe I should not worry so much.
Early Friday morning, as I lay in the trailer, I was content as I could here the sounds of horse’s hoofs. Certain they were still pacing, I chocked it up to that and did not get up to check, until I heard one of our neighbors banging on the door announcing that our horses were loose. It was still dark, and they were last seen running through camp, at a fairly high speed. Everyone thought they would stay with the herd. I did until day light, and then I really worried. They were not in site. They were a herd of two, lost on 175,000 acres of vast high desert.
Friday was fraught with worry, Erin mounting a search party and generally, I was just sick. The game warden was contacted, and he called DPS who sent out the helicopter. They found two horses in a herd of seven that matched the description. Erin hiked into the herd with the boy scout troop leader, and found those two horse matching our description, but they were all mares, our horses were geldings. The Serna folks from El Paso, Rudy Avilla and Eddie, started tracking. They found tracks that followed the Alometo river bed, in the direction from were we had been looking. Everyone in the Predisio area was notified of our lost horses. We were doing all that could be done. We were scheduled to leave early Saturday morning, and it looked like we would leave with an empty trailer. Our reality had set in, and it was very unpleasant. Our horses were gone.
When Saturday morning arrived, I talked with the Cibolo Creek ranch manager, Bobby Thorpe, who, it was said, knew more about this country than just about any one around, and if they could be found, he was the person who could. Erin hoped for more, and we were able to organize a search party with the assistance of the fabulous men from El Paso, Mr. Serna, Eddie and Rudy and Candy Bradford, with Texas Parks and Wildlife and Erin. They all saddled up, Erin riding one of Candy’s horses, and split into two groups, circling the area tracked the day before. I went back to track the band of mares, thinking that maybe they had joined them overnight.
W. C. Collins, one of the wagon drivers, lent Erin his field glasses and trailered Erin and Candy with the two horses to one of the search locations, so it was a real team effort. The El Paso team circled out of camp. About an hour into their ride, Mr. Thorpe called Erin, and told her the horses had been found. It took all five riders two hours to get back to camp.
We all broke camp, and made arrangements to pick the horses up. The horses were found about seven miles away, as the crow flies, from our campsite. Mr. Thorpe explained that he and his wife had been at on of the windmills on Friday, and wanted to be certain it was still working. He sent his ranch hand, Sergio, back to the pump on Saturday morning, and Sergio found two horses, that kept following him around the site. Sergio scaled the windmill to call Bobby, and asked him what he should do. Bobby said to see if the two horses would follow the truck the 2.5 miles back to the ranch house. They did. He penned them and gave them food and water. When we met, Bobby had Sergio trailer the horses out to us, down a six mile road, and we were then reunited. They were really hot and tired, and hungry.
What did I learn? Follow my instincts. I had a bad feeling, and even though I was sick, and needed to act on that. Secure your animals. If that means bringing panels, then that is what you should have. Use a halter with I.D. on them so that if they are found, you can be reached. Always have your hot wire hot. Take a testing meter, to be certain it is working. Be certain your horses respect the fencing.
In land that is this vast, it is better to make certain your animals are secure. Hobbles, high lines, trailer ties. This is something that I have read and heard about, but never expected to have it happen to me. They were lost for about 30 hours, and they were lost on about 175,000 acres of land, with little water and food. Bobby said he never would have expected them to travel that far. Our animals depend on us to take care of them, and for that, our team of two failed. We were incredibly lucky, and we had the prayers of many of our friends.
A big thank you to everyone that helped on the ride, and in the community, including Bobby and Sergio, the boy scouts, the Serna crew, Texas Parks and Wildlife, Zach, the game warden, the Presidio sherriff and others, who I am certain I did not mention, but would like to thank.
Geri Bischoff, Director, Region 10