Six months ago my trailriding/camping group made our reservations for our annual week-long trail ride to the Black Hills of South Dakota. This year, we decided to try out French Creek Horse Camp in Custer State Park. My going got a little iffy at the end....the pain I was having in my side was diagnosed as a broken rib, but I finally got an ok to go, and started out 4 hours behind the rest of the group, and connected with them at Wall, where I was greeted and assisted with unloading Bart and getting him watered and penned.
The next day we drove to Custer and set up camp. It was 90+ degrees, so we were delighted to discover that electricity had been installed 3 weeks before, and we could use the air conditioners in our living quarter trailers! We relaxed and explored the campground, then had our bonfire conversations late into the night.
The next day we had a gorgeous ride along a trail with many water crossings which allowed the horses to get drinks in the heat. We rode by buffalo, some of which preferred to lay on the trail, forcing us to ride over the hill to get around them. After 2 hours of riding, we found ourselves clammering up a very steep hill, and had to rest the horses half way up. When we finally reached the peak, there was a complete silence as we discovered that the only way down was a sheer rocky drop with a narrow trail. I was where the trail dropped over the edge, so Bart and I went down first. I talked to him all the way down, encouraging my brave mount. He kept his head down and watched where he placed his feet and slowly and carefully proceeded down the sharp drops with falling, slippery rocks. One wrong step and we could have both gone over the edge. The other horses followed, and we all gave a cheer (and many thanks!) when we all safely reached the bottom. My heart swelled with pride for a job well done by my golden boy.
We arrived back in camp, washed off our sweaty horses, and put them in their pens, and relaxed with lunch, then a swim at a nearby lake. We decided to let our horses rest that afternoon and we played Scrabble, read, went for walks or just napped.
The next day we enjoyed another fun ride, and even had ice cream cones at the Blue Bonnet campsite with our horses. It is an old, rustic area and very beautiful. They offer trail rides, and had 80 horses waiting riders.
We returned to camp, and I turned on the air conditioning and crawled up on my bed to read and fell asleep. When I awoke, I decided to take the garbage out and see what the rest of the group was up to. When I opened the door, Carla was running up to me saying we had to evacuate....the forest was on fire and heading this way! I thought she was kidding until I looked out to see campers putting up awnings, packing up and loading horses! Everyone had thought someone else had already told me! Carla helped me put down my awning and Mac helped me roll up my fencing, and I threw everything in the trailer and got ready to load Bart as we were told to "HEAD OUT NOW!"
Our caravan of 9 rigs headed out together for the buffalo correls. We could see the wall of smoke behind us, and prayed we wouldn't get lost on the narrow road that didn't have room to turn our large trailers around. What a relief when we saw the roof of the forestry building and the heavy buffalo fences appear! We had CBs so were able to stay in communication. We weren't there long, when we were told we had to leave again.....the fire was coming our way and the firefighters needed this area.
Where to go??? We headed out of the park, and one of our group has undeveloped land about 30 miles away, and we were going there when Cindy thought to call Plenty Star Ranch, and for some lucky reason for us, they had room for 9 rigs! We gassed up at Hot Springs, which was earning it's name as it was 107 degrees! We reached Plenty Star to find full hookups and spacious clean covered pens for the horses. We all hugged and worried as we heard that the fire was heading towards the beautiful Blue Bonnet area, and we worried for all the horses there that had been waiting for riders this morning.
We enjoyed some wonderful rides at Plenty Star, but the excitement continued as a blast went off near us as someone dynamited very close by and we saw the cloud of dirt go up, and some of the horses really spooked. Mac was having a bad day with his pretty paint, Tiger, and did a lot of backing him up.....and we suggested he get back up lights of beepers put on him!
The last day we rode in the morning, and as Kris was washing her horse, she left a long tie, and stepped on it, frighting her mare who reared, and the rope flipped Kris up, and she fell landing on her wrist which broke in 5 places. I saw it, yelled for everyone, and we splinted it and she left for the ER in Custer.
It was quite an adventurous week, but what I remember most was how everyone was there for everyone else. When I arrived late, the guys all came to help me unload and settle in. When we were evacuating, everyone made sure that the group was all loaded and ready to go before anyone pulled out. We all encouraged each other and watched out as we rode around the buffalo and slid down the "Hell Hill". When Kris was hurt, we all rushed to help her, put away her horses, pick up her brushes and tack, make sure the horses were watered and penned, and someone lent an unhooked truck so they could depart quickly.
Horse camping is about exploring beautiful nature trails, scenery, and bonding with your horse. But it is also about friendships and being there for each other. I treasure the memories of the trips I have taken with my horse friends. We have shared laughter, fear, heat, unexpected animals on the trails, indecision about which trail to take (and sometimes where we even were!), great meals, and injuries. But no matter what is thrown our way, we can always count on wonderful friends to be there for each other, and to overcome whatever obstacle we might encounter. I am so blessed to have friends like these.