I'm always keeping my eye out for an adventure, and I found one with Wolfhorse Outfitters, out of Silver City, New Mexico. It's an outfit run by Joe Saenz, an Apache who specializes in taking small groups into the Gila Wilderness.
We chose his Drag the Wolf Tail ride that goes into the Gila National Forest. Named after an Apache War Party code, this ride teaches survival skills. A maximum of four riders go out for at least five days. My friend Sharon and I were lucky; we were the only two people who were on our ride, which we undertook one June.
Light on the Land
Being totally green at packing, we chose to use Joe's horses and equipment. He usually does this ride with only one horse per person. Each rider carries his or her own personal supplies and food for the group, leaving a minimum impact on the land.
However, for our trip, Joe chose to take a pack horse for extra feed, as the grazing was insufficient. We were impressed with the way he left the camps as though no one had been there. He also packed out trash left by others.
We learned about the Apache culture and the edible food in the varied land that we traveled. We saw a cinnamon black bear and came eye-to-eye with a Mexican wolf, probably the second generation of the reintroduced species.
Canyons & Pines
The first day and a half, we traveled through a beautiful canyon with steep sides, crossing streams often. We made camp early enough to unpack our equipment and gather downed firewood. We learned how to make our beds from saddle pads, then went to bed early, sleeping under the stars and moonlight.
We also rode in the high country among huge ponderosa pine, and in the arid high desert with cactus and ancient alligator juniper trees.
For a little more excitement, we dropped down to about 1,000 feet elevation and rode on tight switchbacks. Joe's well-mannered Indian ponies never missed a step.
Breakfast was a variety of burritos and fruit. Lunch was sometimes cheese, crackers, and a homemade salome, with a few drops of honey. And Joe always pulled a melon or other fruit out of his bag of tricks.
Every night, Joe prepared a delicious dinner. One night, he made spaghetti with a sprinkling of freshly gathered fiddlehead fern.
We saw only one other person until we got closer to the trailhead, giving us a real feel for being in the wilderness.
All total, it was a great trip. Joe will make this ride as challenging as you'd like. He also does a variety of day rides and other overnight adventures.
For more information on Wolfhorse Outfitters, call (575) 534-1379 or visit www.wolfhorseoutfitters.com. For more on the Gila National Forest, call (575) 388-8201, or visit www2.srs.fs.fed.us/r3/gila/.