The air was crisp on this early autumn morning as I peered out my vacation cabin window. My husband and I had just spent five days golfing and hiking in the quaint town of Graeagle, California. Graeagle is situated in the Sierra Valley with more than 22 lakes, the Feather River, and six golf courses.
On the last day, I had an opportunity to trail ride - something I'd always wanted to do in this picturesque wonderland. (We own two Quarter Horses, and use them for trail rides and the occasional parade.)
In my pursuit of the perfect ride, I contacted three stables. All were closed for the season. I called one more number. A nice woman with a country accent answered the phone, "Red's Meadow Ranch." It was still open for trail rides, so I got directions.
To get there, I went into the mountains, crossing railroad tracks and onto what appeared to be an old logging road. After following this road for a few miles, I turned onto "C Rd," which carried the stagecoach at the turn of the century. After a while, I came upon a sign that proclaimed "Red's Meadow Ranch."
I was greeted by a sweet woman, who informed me that she owned the place and had just turned 87. Her son was saddling the horses, so I walked down the path to meet him. He introduced himself as Rodger.
To my delight, one of the horses was a buckskin. My first childhood horse was a buckskin, and we just recently had to put down Drifter, my husband's buckskin. Surely this must be a good omen. I noticed they had freeze brands on their necks, an indication that they were Mustang in origin. Rodger told me they were pure Spanish Barbs.
Rodger readied the horses for our trail ride, tying bright-orange ribbons on their manes, tails, and saddles. "These are so that hunters don't mistake us for deer!" he explained.
We started out along a fire road with Rodger in the lead. He said in a comforting voice, "Now, I don't want you to worry about the bars. These horses aren't afraid of bars." The bars? Are we riding by a rowdy saloon? Are we crossing cattle guards? Then I realized that Rodger meant bears!
We rode single file. My mount was a surefooted, calm mare. As we rode, Rodger talked about his life. Ten years ago, he decided his "Ma" was getting older and it would be best if he quit riding rodeo and came home to help her. He brought his best friend, Red, with him, and Ma fell in love. She decided to sell her house in town and buy this small ranch, giving all three of them a job. If his mother hadn't fallen in love with Red, the ranch would've never existed, so that's why they named it after him.
Rodger told stories of how he and Red rode rodeo in Montana, Idaho, Utah, and Nevada. Red was one of the best hazers on the circuit. Once, Red had saved his life in the Bitterroot Mountains, and had truly become his most precious friend. I wondered where Red was and if I would meet this authentic cowboy before I left.
We came to a beautiful meadow with a running creek. He showed me a beaver dam made from trees downed by sharp beaver teeth. After navigating through a willow thicket, we ended up on a narrow road that was the old single-gauge Sierra Valley Railroad line.
A man named J.L. Brown got permission to build this line from President Lincoln himself. Brown had started a gold-mining town - called Claireville after his daughter - that once had a larger population than Sacramento or San Francisco. Gold had driven men crazy for centuries, and we were riding through a forgotten California segment of it.
As our ride continued, Rodger shared with me his concerns that Red was going to pass away soon, since he was getting up in years. My curiosity finally got the best of me, and I asked where Red was.
Rodger turned around in his saddle and exclaimed, "Where's Red? You ask where's Red? Well Red is right here!" pointing down to his horse! Of course, Red is his horse! He was a vivid red chestnut with four white socks. It all began to make sense. It turned out that Red was 30 years old and still going strong.
As our ride was ending, we rode by parcels of land that were under development. Rodger told me progress was closing in on Red's Meadow Ranch. As I peered with respect at his kind, weathered face, I was sad for this lovely mountain man.
I can't wait for next summer so I can go back and do the ride to Claireville. I can only pray that Red will be there, waiting to lead me on another adventure.
For more information about trail rides at Red's Meadow Ranch, call (530) 836-1866, or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.