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Yosemite- Ten Cowgirls On The Trails- A Blast From The Past


Patt French and Mary Sue pulled out of Vegas, each in their own rig, at 6:15 AM as the radio said the temperature was 107°. Mary Sue missed the turn at the Cottontail Ranch on Highway 95 and pulled a U-turn in the middle of the road to get back where she belonged. We pulled into Bishop, CA, at 11:30 AM after driving Route 266 - the road from hell. As we approached the turn onto this road, the sign said, "Not recommended for large or heavy vehicles." Hmmm… But we had been told to come this way, so we headed on up the hill. Patt said after driving 15 mph in 1st gear for 3 hours, "That makes Tioga Pass look like a picnic." It was very hot in Bishop, but we had a shady place to park at the fairgrounds, and the horses had nice roomy pens. The rest of the girls arrived at 4:15 PM, and we soon all went out to dinner. Patt's electric retractable steps to her motor home would not retract, so she called a phone number on the fairgrounds bulletin board, and before long, a fix-it man showed up on his bicycle. For $60, he soon made the steps good as new. He said he was an evacuee from Hurricane Katrina and that he liked it in Bishop and thought he'd stay. We wondered how long he'd stick around once winter set in. Think he is in for a shock.

JULY 16th 2006 – ARRIVING

Getting up Tioga Pass into Yosemite's Tuolumne Meadows campground, situated at 8,600’ feet in elevation, was easy compared to the twisting, winding, steep road Patt and Mary Sue had driven the day before. However, navigating the narrow road thru the campground was another story. Our camping area was at the back side of the regular campground, and it was a single-lane, bumpy narrow road beset with people walking slowly with no concern for cars or rigs, cars left parked too close to the road, dumpsters that begged to be whacked with a bumper, and other cars trying to come past us from the other direction. What a mess, but we all made it. Once into our horse camping area, some inconsiderate or just uneducated hiker had parked his van in the middle of our parking spot, and he was far, far up on the mountain. We had to wait for him to hike back down hours later and move it before we could get all the rigs into place. We all were ready to strangle him.

But Billie had brought her propane grill from home and cooked hamburgers for us all for dinner, and the errant van driver was soon forgotten. All ten of us women had made the trip from various states and gotten into camp with no problems. Dusk: Our friend Peter, who had camped here two years earlier with his horse, was right about the mosquitoes. They were horrendous. Tuffy was appreciative of the fly sheet Mary Sue had brought for him as well as the fly mask with ears. We discovered the "Wipe," which comes in a green plastic bottle, worked well as a spray if you use plenty of it, recommended by farrier Rose. We had been told the temperature would get quite cold overnight, but it did not, only making it into the 50s. Nevertheless, Tuffy was warm and snuggly in his insulated canvas blanket by morning.

JULY 17th 2006 – DAY 1 YOSEMITE

Fifty-something degrees at dawn slept well. Patt wasn't feeling well and was sick overnight, feeling better this morning. She's cranky, though. Can't blame her. We have ten women in our group, ages 48 to 78. This is a good bunch. Everyone is experienced, as are their horses and mules, and we all are getting along well. We rode out a little past 9 AM underneath a brilliant blue sky, not a cloud anywhere. The temps were cool enough for vests, but these soon came off. We crossed our friend Peter's first bridge without incident and followed the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River most of the morning, then took the Ireland Lake trail to Fletcher Creek trail on to Vogelsang, which I will explain in a minute. We were soon headed to the top of the mountain and had lunch next to a roaring stream as it rolled downhill at a furious pace. We continued to climb and got up to where snow obscured the trail as it went over the top of the mountain. Hmmm… what to do now. Patt and Kay went looking for it and found it none too soon since we were at 10,500 ft and storm clouds were brewing. Somebody mentioned she didn't much want to spend the night up there, although the views were magnificent. We had to ask our mounts to jump up onto a rock to resume the right path since snow hid the correct route, and Donna's mule didn't want to go. However, he didn't want to be left behind, either, so up he came. We rode past several beautiful small lakes but had to cross some flat wide meadows with lightning on everybody's minds, so with permission from everyone, Patt sped Summer up and away we went, trying to outrun the approaching storm.

We soon came upon what I at first thought must be a mirage. This was Vogelsang, a bustling tent village under construction, still very high in the mountains. Vogelsang is one of five high Sierra tent camps where tourists can make reservations (a year in advance) to spend the night and be fed without having to lug a tent and food up the mountain. Instead, all they have to do is get there, hauling their sleeping bag, a long but spectacular hike. With the snow finally out of the way by mid-July, mostly young college students were busy putting up the tents for the season. Everything had been taken up by pack mule. I couldn't help thinking how much my son would have loved this job when he was younger and single.

On our way down, traveling the Rafferty Creek trail, we donned our rain gear. The rumble of thunder was continuous, and a light rain was falling, but thankfully we had no lightning. We didn't stop or get off our horses for five straight hours trying to outrun the storm, a good deal of this at a trot or single foot. Our rear ends were glad to see camp. We rode from 9 AM to 5:20 PM, nearly eight and a half hours. "ON PURPOSE?" a friend asked upon hearing this after I got home. He was just sure we must have gotten lost to have ridden that long, but no, we wanted to see all this and had to make that loop to do it. We loved every step of the way. That night Kay cooked great pork chops on Billie's grill, now being stored overnight in the back of a horse trailer after Patt warned Billie the bears might come in overnight and lick it. You should have seen the look on Billie's face when told that.

JULY 18th 2006 - DAY 2 – YOSEMITE

Will it rain today? Could. It is cool, cloudy, and damp. We sure don't want to see a thunderstorm out on the trail. We decided if it was raining this morning, we'd go be tourists, but it wasn't at 6 AM, so we rode. I started out with just a western shirt, but the air was so damp my shirt soon felt damp, too. But it warmed up, and then it didn't matter.

Patt told me not to bring drinking water since potable water would be available in camp, so although I had bought plenty and planned to bring it, I took half of it out and only brought 2 gallons. But I tried the camp water last night, and it tastes so strongly of chlorine; it's just awful. I had expected sweet mountain water, but yuck, what did they do to this stuff? I can't believe Tuffy is drinking it. I sure wish I had the rest of my water that's sitting at home. Another lesson learned.

Rode out at 9 AM. We had a nice ride today in cool cloud cover but no storm till after we got in at 2, and then it was pleasant thunder in the distance and light rain. Great napping weather. We rode over some neat bridges and got pictures of that. It is disconcerting, however, when the river is raging beneath you, and your horse insists on looking over the edge instead of where he is going. Just follow the horse in front of you, Tuffy! Please! We continued on around Lembert Dome, one of Yosemite's enormous granite mountains, to pretty little Dog Lake, where we had lunch. If we got away from the water, there were no bugs.

At lunch, we had fun taking individual pictures and even got Kay to put on some lipstick. She looked great! On the way back, we got a tourist to take a group picture of us by the river, although chaos mostly reigned, and we had trouble getting all the horses and riders lined up right. Trying to get ten women on horseback to all straighten up at the same time can be difficult. These didn't turn out. We would later have better luck on another day after attempting this several times. Practice does make for better organization. Later Patt and I unhooked and drove thru the tourist campground to the store and post office, bought trinkets and a few supplies (bottled water), and mailed postcards. Going to "town" tomorrow and will play tourist.

JULY 19th 2006 – DAY 3 – YOSEMITE

I had to turn the heat on this morning for the first time - amazing and wonderful since the rest of the West is sweltering under a terrible hot spell. I love getting up in the morning and putting on a flannel shirt! I should have bought sweet rolls at the wonderful bakery in Bishop for a chilly morning like this since they would sure be good, but we girls are always watching our weight, ya know. Now that I'm home, those darn sweet rolls are about all I can think of! Good thing they are many safe miles away. Eight of us played tourist today and drove to Yosemite Valley. Wow, what a place. I wish we could have gotten closer to Yosemite Falls and Half Dome, but they were impressive from any angle. We had fun in the gift shop posing with the stuffed bears. There were soon too many people around, so we left at 1 PM before it got any more crowded, getting very hot, too. The temperature was headed for 101°, and it was much cooler in camp since we were a whole lot higher.

Back in camp, the rain began to fall at 3:30, and the thunder in the distance was so nice. This was Karen's night, so we enjoyed her very good taco salad with all the fixin's. Donna brought homemade chocolate chip cookies for dessert.

Kay's refrigerator quit when we got in on Sunday, so she moved all her stuff into Billie's frig. Billie and Karen didn't go to the village with us today because they'd seen it before, so they stayed in camp and kept an eye on the horses. They took a little ride up to Elizabeth Lake, where the skeeters nearly ate them alive, so they came right on back. They were shaking their heads at the hikers they passed in flip-flops and tank tops. It amazes us how dumb inexperienced people can be in the woods. These people were probably never seen again because surely the bugs carried them away.

After dinner, another little shower came up as we sat around the campfire, built in a regulation pit, so everybody scattered, a real party pooper. Because it rained some every evening, we hadn't had much of a bug problem in the camp, but I'm glad I got a good fly sheet and fly mask with ears for Tuffy, and then sprayed on "Wipe" and continued to work.

JULY 20th 2006 – DAY 4 – YOSEMITE

Another bright sunny morning, dress-up day. No grey T-shirts and ball caps today, girls. We looked nice in cowgirl shirts and cowgirl hats, but nobody had given the girls the red shirt lecture. They know it now: every picture needs somebody in a red shirt and another person with a red bandana or red cantle bag or SOMETHING to make the pictures pop. Just don't everybody wear red at once. It turned into a super-duper picture-taking day, too.

We rode out at 8:30 and were back by 3:30. This ride was a ten! Oh my. The first part of the day was just absolutely thrilling. Beautiful, sunny weather and a flat, shady, rockless trail started us off. Deer grazed in Tuolumne Meadow as we crossed it. We enjoyed the Tuolumne River on our left, and later... I don't even know how to describe the exultation we all felt as we soon found ourselves riding alongside a series of powerful waterfalls and rapids. We hadn't ridden too far when we came upon two men on horseback who were on their way back, having already ridden the trail we were headed down. There was something about them that I couldn't pinpoint until we talked with them a little and realized they were fairly traumatized. They had made a loop ride and were committed to come up the Tuolumne Falls Trail that we were on in order to return to their point of origin. We soon understood what it was about them: they had been scared to death by this ride. They advised us not to go. The trail on Monday had been "Rocks 101," but it was agreed today's Tuolumne Falls trail was "Rocks 750."

Great work had been done to almost pave parts of the trail with river rocks, some about 8 inches in diameter and sort of flat on top. It was not smooth going, though. These were giant cobblestones. We did a lot of climbing over slick rock granite paths as the horses tippy-toed across it, all while the river roared to our left, and then we crossed a couple more bridges, and the river was now on our right. These wooden bridges were about 4 feet wide with "railings," usually about halfway up to a horse's knees. Some were about 6 feet above the water, but one was more like 9 feet. Don't trip, Tuffy! When we came to the bottom of the largest and most powerful falls, Tuffy did a doubletake and just stared in amazement, mesmerized. The noise was deafening. He is not accustomed to white water, and this waterfall was huge. He was surely thinking, "Holy horse patooties, somebody 's gonna be in big trouble for leaving this bathtub running!" I had a difficult time pulling him away as he just couldn't take his eyes off it. The water didn't just fall but bounced, giving off lots of spray and adding to its size. I thought it was marvelous. We continued on, crossed the river twice more, then had lunch at another high Sierra tent camp, Glen Aulin. Here the head lady came out to give each of the horses a slice of apple she'd cut up for them. Yum, yum, these guys aren't spoiled at all.

Now heading back up the same trail, we asked a passing hiker if he would take a group photo of us all together. This time we got it right and lined up pretty straight. Practice does make perfect. When he was finished, his wife began applauding all of us. She just thought it was great that we girls would do this ride "all by ourselves." She clapped and clapped. We passed several hikers who had the same thoughts and expressed them to us, amazed that women could do this and do it so well. "And you're not exactly spring chickens, either," one of them said to me. Ha-ha, fella. Another commented, "You look like the real thing!" I told him, "Well, we ARE the real thing." Yessirree, Bob, spurs, and all.

So, the first 5 hours were fantastic, and then the thunderstorms hit. We rode in wet and cold, dodging lightning, which, thankfully, wasn't right on top of us. But it was close enough to have us hiding in clusters of smaller trees for a time, trying to avoid it as we crossed Tuolumne Meadows, scooting from one short cluster of trees to the next and hoping the lightning would go for the tall, all by myself trees. We tried to wait it out, but we were freezing and soaked, and the darn storm just went on and on and on, so we took a collective deep breath and headed for the forest on the other side at a good clip. Billie's horse was shivering and mad and tried to buck, so we had to keep it to a fast walk, but the other horses and mules did fine. Tuffy was a real trooper, did everything perfectly in the worst conditions. He was actually warm when we got in. And I was so thankful for my nice warm camper/trailer! Love it. Thank you, George (my husband)!

We got hailed on twice in the same storm, and then as it passed, another stronger one moved in. As we rode through the stables on our way home in the rain, one of the wranglers came out to talk to us in the drizzle. He told us one of his women wranglers had had a close call the day before. She had been leading a string of dudes in on the same trail we had just come in on and wasn't 100 yards from where we stood when lightning struck a tree only 75 feet from her. Her mule must have felt the electricity thru its shoes because he started to spin and wouldn't stop, just kept on spinning and spinning. She got dumped but, luckily, was not badly hurt. He was telling us this as the storm is still going on around us, and we had yet to ride across wide-open Tuolumne Meadows. His parting words to us were, "Be safe." Right. So, as we rode off, one of our ladies launches into all her lightning horror stories as we tried hard to ignore what she was saying. There's always one, isn't there?

As I wrote later in my journal, coffee at my side and Tuffy bundled up in his heavy waterproof blanket w/ a fresh flake of hay; the rain continued to pour out a rhythm on Bertha's roof. Big Bertha: that's my trailer's name. Doesn't everybody name their vehicles? Thunder still rumbled through the mountains. It was a soggy evening, but I loved it. Couldn't stop thinking about our wonderful morning by the river and falls, which seemed to go on forever. Got my money's worth today, boy. Thank you, Lord.

In spite of an Aussie slicker and rain hat, I got quite wet in the storm on the way home, but I had a bathroom and an actual bathtub in the camper to put all the wet gear in to dry. This is such a luxury after tenting for years and years. I will add "umbrella and raincoat" to my bring-next-time list.

JULY 21st 2006 – DAY 5 – YOSEMITE

6:45 AM. It is pouring rain. Patt stopped by a minute ago to inform me that we will wait a while and see if it stops raining before trying to ride. She brought me a couple of paperbacks to read on Tuesday, so they will come in handy, it looks like.

Billie broke the propane tank on the not-yet-bear-licked grill yesterday, so we will drive up to the little store for charcoal and hope it quits raining by dinnertime. But, of course, we are all sworn to secrecy about the broken propane tank: one of those things her husband doesn't need to know.

The store isn't far, but one must drive thru the tourist campground, a real obstacle course. So, we were mighty glad to see workers breaking up and removing a big rock that was waiting to flatten tires or bend a wheel right on the edge of the very narrow passage. I thanked them profusely. Of course, it would have been far easier to move the dumpster to the opposite side of the road to allow more room to navigate. Macho, Macho Man! No offense, boys, but it must have been a macho thing to destroy the big rock instead of simply moving the dumpster out of the way.

9:30 AM, still cold, damp, and overcast. It doesn't look like we're going to ride. Tuffy's getting tired of standing in one place on the highline. Donna's boots dried out overnight from yesterday's ride in the storm, but then Kay dumped the awning's rainwater on them this morning. Oops.

A camp volunteer lady came thru to make sure we weren't wasting water. I showed her a spigot in another area that dripped and told her about the toilet in the public bathroom up the way that uses too much water to flush. We are trying to be good campers.

I had given up on riding today and was looking forward to a nap when some of the girls decided it wouldn't rain any more and wanted to ride. I changed my mind at the last minute and wanted to go, too, but I didn't want to hold them up, so I kept quiet and stayed in camp. However, I read our 78-year-old riding companion Peggy's life story as she had written it and enjoyed it so much. Peggy loved our rides this week. She is a true cowgirl and a sweet, sweet lady. When I read what she'd written about seeing the world through the ears of a horse, it brought tears to my eyes because she had put into words my exact feelings.

The girls rode for less than 2 hours, so I didn't miss much. Patt and I have steak night tonight, so I hope it won't rain anymore. Kay had brought her little dog, Tina, along as she always does, but in spite of being warned not to let Tina off her leash even once, she did "just for a second" at dark last night, and Tina took off after a mystery deer in the woods and disappeared for 3 hours. Luckily, a camper found her and took her to the rangers, who returned her to a very distraught and thankful Kay at about 10 PM. Yet another lesson learned, I hope.

On our last night in camp, we all watched the slide show on Billie's laptop from the photos taken during the week and discussed having tee shirts made to commemorate our adventure and leaving in the morning.


We had a time getting out of the campground on the narrow busy road since we met several big RVs trying to get in on our one-lane road, but we did it. After that, everybody went their separate ways, but Patt and I returned to Bishop, CA, and their shady fairgrounds for the night. We left there at 5 AM the following morning to arrive in Vegas by noon, not wanting to go across the miserable desert during the afternoon heat.

It was a wonderful, fabulous week. Let me leave you with the words of our 78-year-old cowgirl, Peggy Boice Lubel, as she wrote in her life story:

"I love to look at the world between the ears of a horse... Sometimes, riding alone by yourself, you find you are carrying on a conversation with your horse. He has one ear cocked toward you, listening as he travels along. He probably doesn't understand you, yet he is listening to the tone of your voice.

The days are long and miserable sometimes, but he will carry you till he drops. I am sure if it hadn't been for the quickness and intelligence of my horse at times, we both could have been killed.

Even though the world looks tired and troubled now, I am encouraged, for you see, I am looking at it between the ears of a horse."

Amen. The photo below is of Peggy, Tuolumne Falls as it starts to fall, and working our way across slick rock. The End!

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A wonderful story you tell. I horse packed near Yosemite from Cherry Lake up to Kennedy Meadows with husband and another couple. We also got hit by a heavy rain storm with lightning on the granite trail. It rained so much the trail was lost under a huge puddle and had to make camp where we stood, next day we made it to our destination, and oh how beautiful it was. Thank you for sharing your adventure.

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