Last Sunday we packed up our horses and joined our neighbors for a trail ride on the Bristlecone Trail, which is found in the Lee Canyon ski area of Mt. Charleston.
The parking area was just under an hour drive from our home in northwest Las Vegas, so it was an easy day trip. The trail is used by hikers and mountain bicyclers as well, and everyone we came across was very friendly and had no problem yielding to the horses. No motor vehicles are allowed.
Our neighbors, Warren & Rebecca, have two little boys who rode double with them. They have a chestnut quarter horse and a black & white paint. They also brought along their dog, Howie. Howie was a pleasure to have with us, always scouting ahead then running back. I joked with the boys that he was checking for Indians :)
Joie and I brought Spencer, too, and he rode behind me. This was our horses' first big trail ride, and I had never ridden double on Viking before, so we were ready for an adventure!
Starting from the end of Lee Canyon Road or from near McWilliams Campground, the Bristlecone Trail is a 6-mile loop that winds around the upper reaches of Lee Canyon. We took the trail "backwards" by starting out at the lower trail head where a wide road makes for easy riding. The elevation here is at about 8,500 feet, so it was a cool 80 degrees compared to the 110 degree temperature in the Las Vegas valley. That was a pleasure in itself.
Viking was true to the attitude he has displayed in the arena, always trying to be first. Every so often I'd have to stop him and let the others catch up with us.
My neighbor pointed out part of the reason for this. A lot of horses (like the three others on the ride with Viking) walk in a stride that places their hind foot right on top of the track made by their front foot. Viking's Tennessee Walker stride places his hind foot a couple of feet past where the front foot stepped. This makes for a long stride! So, it's difficult for the other horses to keep up even when he's not being pushy. We will be working on the attitude, though. It's not very social.
I learned that this wide road part of the trail exists because in 1940, the Works Progress Administration (one of the government-funded programs that put people to work during the Great Depression) was building a logging and fire road over the mountains to Pahrump. But in 1942 World War II began and the project was abruptly halted when the workers were reassigned to support the war effort. The road was never completed, so it suddenly ends and the trail got thinner as we climbed.
This is a beautiful trail, classified as moderately strenuous if you are walking. Switchbacks take you up a rise in elevation of about 1,000 feet. The scenic gray, rocky peaks indicate areas above treeline. As the trail thins, it becomes much rockier for a short distance, but the horses handled it well. Whoops, Spencer! You're sliding to the left!
We took a break when we came to the Bristlecone pine forest area at the mountain peak, which is at about 9,400 feet. The Bristlecone pines are said to be the world’s oldest living organisms. You can't help but feel humble among these trees that have lived for thousands of years.
The gnarly, twisted trunks give evidence to the extremes in weather they have endured.
The moon was coming up when we started down the other side of the mountain. It's a small white speck just over the ridge in this photo:
There are great views of the surrounding mountain peaks, the ski area, and down Lee Canyon. As we headed down, the trail became shaded and even cooler as we passed through a pine/fir forest.
We were surrounded by Ponderosa pines, White fir, Rocky Mountain Juniper, Limber pine, and what's called the Common Juniper, although it is quite uncommon in southern Nevada. It thrives in the northern part of the state.
I was delighted when we came upon groves of Quaking Aspens! They are so beautiful.
Reaching the end of our ride at the upper trailhead, we came upon a stretch of pipe fencing along the side of the trail. I learned it was built in 2007, and is intended to protect a rare, endangered butterfly species, the Mt. Charleston blue butterfly (Plebejus shasta charlestonensis), that only lives in this area. The butterfly is dependent upon Torrey's milkvetch (Astragalus calycosus) upon which it lays its eggs. Hopefully hikers take heed of the fencing and take care not trample the plants. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any of these butterflies on our ride.
Heading back to the parking area, we crossed a helicopter landing area. I would guess it is used for emergencies such as fires and hiking accidents.
It wasn't until we had ourselves and our horses home safe and sound that I considered this fantastic ride to be a success. I am one happy horse gal!
I want to thank my husband for managing to take the majority of the photos while staying on Luke! I also want to thank my neighbors for showing us this trail, and putting up with Viking's pushiness :)