About three years ago, I saw the Caballos del Sol Benefit Trail Ride advertised in The Trail Rider. I was intrigued, as it was held out in the beautiful red-rock Sedona area of Arizona.†Also, it's held in March, a time where many of us living in the rainy Pacific Northwest are eagerly seeking a warm, dry, trail-riding escape. Last year, I was able to seize my goal with three other girlfriends and make plans to head south to Arizona.
First, we flew into Scottsdale for the Festival of the West, a four-day cowboy-music festival. Then we stuffed all our camping gear into our rented cars and headed north to central Arizona for the week-long 11th annual Caballos del Sol Benefit Trail Ride. It's no longer held in Sedona, as the United States Forest Service has closed those trails to large groups, but in the Arcosanti area, near Cordes Junction, south of Sedona.
We arrived on Sunday, the first day, and very quickly I realized that this was to be the best-organized and best-dressed ride I'd ever been on! There were 120 riders from 14 states and Canada. This ride is designed to benefit many good charities. Diane Lovett is its founder and main organizer, although many others generously volunteer their time and efforts to make it all work.
This time, the ride was held on the EZ Ranch, which belongs to Lester Smith who raises red deer and buffalo. Yes, we did get to ride by these beautiful animals several times! The camp was set up in a large, beautiful, ex-pasture with a few mesquite trees on the banks of the Agua Fria River, within a bowl of huge rocky cliffs. Riders camped around a central "big top" tent, which housed the dining room, dance floor, small stage, and sign up tables. The food was catered, and there was quite a feast at every meal!
This is the first ride I'd been on that had its own portable hot showers. It was an interesting setup designed by a man who took an old horse trailer, plumbed showerheads along the sides, installed a propane hot water tank inside the trailer, and built little stalls out of pipe and tarp. Very ingenious and a wonderful treat after a day of riding in the hot sun! We also had a three-sink vanity with hot water so we could all keep brushed and washed under the big blue sky.
We started every ride around 9:00 a.m. in the delightful Arizona sun and followed a trail boss who guided us around the ranch. My friends and I found our rented horses to be in good shape and well-behaved. We rode through hills, washes, and desert terrain with prickly pear, elkhorn cactus, bunch grass, a few wildflowers, mesquite trees (especially by the washes), big cottonwoods, and a few sycamore trees.
One day, we passed through a narrow canyon with beautiful rock formations. When we reached the hilltop, we could see for miles and enjoyed a nice breeze. It was a delight to look back and see the long string of riders coming along behind us. The landscape below looked like an area "where the buffalo roam."
Every day, there was a planned post-ride activity: a silent auction, a talent show, karaoke, and a gymkhana. Most evenings, we enjoyed live music and Western dancing on the fold-up, portable dance floor.
My friend, Pam, and I had practiced our "act" for the big talent show for two weeks. We were among about seven other talented acts that night. We recited a humorous cowboy poem, told a few jokes, sang I'm an Old Cowhand from the Rio Grande, and yodeled. We were tickled to get second place! We also got better acquainted with the riders who kindly complimented us on our part in the show.
The winning group consisted of about 10 gals dressed in woolly chaps singing Buffalo Gals Won't you Come Out Tonight. The chaps were made by Clyde Edwards of Orem, Utah, a longtime Caballos del Sol rider. He'd brought a selection of his unique chinks, tooled canteens, and other handcrafted horse gear to sell. By the third day, I don't think there was a rider out there without some kind of chaps, and many were sporting Clyde's gear.
On Thursday's Poker Ride, the caterers met us out on the trail in a beautiful shady spot under giant cottonwoods for a barbecued-hamburger lunch. Sue Barr, our entertainer, sang a beautiful rendition of Ghost Riders in the Sky.
As I mentioned earlier, this was the best-dressed ride I'd ever seen! Everyone wore wonderful Western shirts, chaps, colorful silk scarves, and amazing belts and buckles, then dressed up again for dinner in fringed and beaded shirts, vests, and jackets; high-top fancy buckaroo boots; and of course, great cowboy hats, some with lacing all around the brim.
Most of the riders brought their own horses and rigs, but a few camped in tents, like we did. The mornings and evening were cold, but the sun was hot from about 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Pam and I enjoyed singing out on the trail under the wide Arizona skies and making new friends with many trail-loving fellow riders from all over the country.
It was a fun week of Western activities in a beautiful setting, and we hope we will be able to return and do the ride again someday!