Last October, 23 cowboys and cowgirls from Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, and Georgia embarked on a four-day, 80-mile guided trail ride through the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area. The ride was led by Saddle Valley Campground owner Ed Elam, legendary trail guide Paul King, and horse trainer Bob Roberson, from Pikeville, Tennessee.
Eager and excited, we left Saddle Valley in Jamestown, Tennessee, early on a Friday. Many of the out-of-town visitors had arrived early the day before and enjoyed the clean, comfortable facilities provided by Ed and Teresa Elam’s family.
Lessons in History
The first morning was cool and clear. From Saddle Valley, we rode to Charit Creek Hostel and on to Station Camp East. Howard Duncan, an interpretive ranger with the National Park Service, met the group at Charit Creek in traditional dress, and related the history of the local settlers and long hunters.
The second half of the day, we rode north along the river to Big Island and passed into Kentucky as we traveled on Millers’ Branch Crossing and Laurel Ridge Trail. We spent the night at Owens’ Place after enjoying a hot dinner.
The second day, we rode to Blue Heron Coal Mining Camp in Kentucky for lunch and an interpretive program. The day ended at Bear Creek Horse Camp, where we enjoyed a hot shower, stalls for our horses, and Ed’s pulled-pork BBQ. After all bellies were full, we sat by a campfire and listened to a fabulous interpretive program on local history and gunsmithing.
On the third day, we reached Foster Crossroads midday, then crossed Williams’ Creek, passed through Grassy Fork, then headed back to Big Island, south along the east side of the Big South Fork, and back to Station Camp East.
The camp crew knocked themselves out with chili, hot dogs, and a special cobbler prepared in a Dutch oven. Our special guests, Bob “Red Hawk” Eldridge and his wife, were delightful storytellers, captivating the group with their colorful historical presentation on Native Americans in the area. After sitting around the campfire by the river, several riders enjoyed a moonlight ride.
On the final morning, we crossed Laurel Fork Creek and went up the end of Fork Ridge, where many experienced “the horse ladder” for the first time. From Fork Ridge, we rode to Bandy Creek, the heart of the Big South Fork. Then we headed down the Cumberland Valley Trailhead and into Saddle Valley to end the ride.
This trail ride was an experience that this cowgirl won’t soon forget. The best trails in the country, magnificent scenery and overlooks, good companions, and excellent planning and organization made this an enjoyable and memorable ride.