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Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda

Shoulda joined us, Pinksters! Donalda is my idea of what small town Alberta should be! This little town really “gets it”. They typify one of the slogans that Wild Pink Yonder has used over the years, “Small towns can make a big difference.” They understand promotion (they’re spending millions to bring Stettler’s “Prairie Steam Tours” rail line here) and they understand philanthropy (we’re looking into how to expand Donalda’s participation in Wild Pink Yonder next year). And it’s a cute little town. Maybe the cutest ever. (Am I prejudiced? <grin>) Main Street is divided with a row of trees on the median that runs down the middle. At the end of Main Street they have the most beautiful giant replica of an old fashioned oil lamp … and every night it radiates a soft yellow light that warms your heart and makes you feel very much at home. They are a going concern. Between their ag society and their promotions society, there’s no moss growing in Donalda!

Coulda seen the signs welcoming us back to town and stayed at their magnificent Equine Centre. There’s an indoor arena, an outdoor arena, beautiful, clean pipe pens for the horses, a full kitchen and flush toilets. The whole nine yards! And this facility is pristine. Nothing’s broken (well, except the door handle on one of the women’s bathrooms – Cookie nearly had to spend the night in there!) – and everything is painted bright and shiny. Could not ask for a better facility … and it’s right on the edge of the northern tip of the Canadian Badlands!

Woulda ridden with the very friendly and accommodating ag society volunteers who took us out to see some incredible sights. You ride down into the Badlands valley. On either side, you see hills that have been eroded away over millennia. There are no hoodoos here. (Well, apparently there is one, but it is well hidden.) What you see is layer upon layer of different colours of rock. At times, we’d ride up hills into forests so thick you’d swear you were in the Rockies. At other times, it would be flat and reminiscent of a desert. Definitely different terrain and great riding. I think everybody enjoyed it as much as I did.

So there we were: 14 riders and 4 ground staff (Carole DeSchover [“Cookie”], step son Keven Thomas, our old friend, Hugh Martell, from Vancouver and me). We’re growing in small increments. Cypress Hills had 11 riders. Hinton had 12 … and finally 14 in Donalda. We enjoyed a hot breakfast from Cookie, then hit the trails … came home to a hot meal in the evening followed by a bonfire on two of the three evenings. (On Saturday night, we went to the local bar.) And the weather could not have co-operated more.

Hopefully Donalda is going to turn into an annual event. And hopefully next year you’ll all want to come with us and I’ll have to turn some of you away! (Ha! That’s a problem I’d love to have!)

In the meantime, you really missed a good’r this long weekend in Donalda!

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More of our marvellous weekend — The Hugh Ashwell Memorial Ride and Dinner

It’s not every day that a 75 year old man decides he’s going to be a Longrider for Wild Pink Yonder. And it’s not every day that he does it for two years in a row. But that’s what Hugh Ashwell of Edson did, and, being a gung-ho kind of guy, he didn’t just raise the minimum each year. When you add his two years’ worth of fundraising together, he was (and still is) the highest fundraising Pinkster in the land.

It was Hugh’s intention to ride a third year, but sadly, Lou Gehrig’s Disease (aka “ALS” … amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) struck. It was a particularly fast acting type and our Hugh went from vibrant (in the photo below) to unable to talk … to drive his truck … to ride his horse, Keno. And it all happened overnight. It was heartbreaking.

Hugh Canvas

Hugh passed last November and I promised myself that we’d have a Hugh Ashwell Memorial “something” before the 2017 tour ended.

What better place than at Entrance Ranch, at the gateway to Hugh’s beloved mountains? And so it was.

His widow and a number of other family members came out that day. They had lunch with us and then Hugh’s son, Darcy, saddled his horse. And then he saddled Hugh’s horse, Keno. And finally, he put Hugh’s boots backwards in Keno’s stirrups and his hat that you see in the photo above, on the saddle horn. (Hugh lived in that hat.) And with that, our riders were off for their afternoon ride. Darcy ponied Hugh’s horse for the entire ride.

When the afternoon ride ended, we all had dinner together and talked about Hugh. Someone spoke about his willingness to feed and water horses on the trail. Someone else spoke to the fact that he loved dancing, but couldn’t keep the beat. The twinkle in his eye. His horsemanship. His devotion to our cause. His love of the mountains. It was a lovely evening. When we’d all spoken our pieces, I uncovered a canvas of the photo above and presented it to Hugh’s widow, Barb.

It was a peaceful evening, the kind Hugh enjoyed most. Ride on, cowboy. You were a great friend. You are missed.

 

What a marvellous long weekend (Part 2)

We are nothing if not a democratic bunch. The question on Saturday night was: being as the riding was so wonderful here on Entrance Ranch on Saturday, do we want to bother trailering up and heading off to Willmore for Sunday’s ride? Turns out Willmore is a “bucket item” for some of our riders, so the decision was in favour of Willmore. But, at the same time, a number of riders didn’t want to travel. They’d rather have a nice, leisurely day at Entrance … so that’s what we did; a little of this and a little of that.

In the morning the majority of our riders trailered up and we, the ground crew, had their bagged lunches ready to go early. Off they went with the understanding that they were to be back for dinner at 7:00 p.m.

The rest of the riders had a more leisurely morning and then went with our host, Rocky, for a nice, 3.5 hour ramble around the place. Julia and I (who took our horses for the weekend) were too durned tired to head out when the other riders did, so we hung around camp to do clean up with Kevin and just sit over a hot coffee. Our plan was to go for a 2 hour ramble in the afternoon, which we did. (Truth be told, all three of us were pooped. This going to bed at 1:30 a.m. and getting up at 6:30 a.m. is hard on a body! All three of us went for a late morning snooze!)

What a lovely day! The sun shone, it was warm, but there was a nice, cooling breeze. When Julia and I eventually saddled up, a fellow named Mark, who lives on Entrance Ranch, decided to come with us. Great! A guide! We rode through boreal forest so thick that you couldn’t miss the smell of fresh pine. And then we came to the trail along the ridge over the Athabasca River. Breathtaking. (The second picture wasn’t taken on our ride, but I’ve included it so you get a better idea of the view. You still don’t get the perspective of how steep the embankment is in many places on our side of the river though.)

Entrance 8 athabasca riverbeautiful-trails-and-pink-horses.jpg

Honestly … it’s heaven.

Back in camp we thought we were pretty hot stuff in the cooking department! We made a roast beef dinner with baked potatoes, corn on the cob, green beans, salad and dessert … and the Willmore contingent didn’t show up! Those of us who were there had a feast. Then we held everything over until the Willmore bunch finally showed up at something like 9:30!

But all’s well that ends well. Kevin had decided to wait on cooking their corn and green beans (smart Kevin), and we put the roast in a crock pot.

They put on a lot of miles in Willmore, so dinner was much appreciated, but they were so tired that most of them ate and went straight to bed. It was a wonderful day in God’s country.

What a marvellous long weekend! (Part 1)

Wild Pink Yonder spent the long weekend at Entrance Ranch, just 12 minutes NW of Hinton. It is a hidden treasure, and it’s owner is a real gem. We had eleven riders, almost all of whom were pinked to the nines. (It was heart warming.)

When we finally got away from home (you knew it would be late <grin>), we hit the worst traffic back-up in the history of the Yellowhead … from west Edmonton as far as the eye could see (turned out to be until well after Stony Plain). I could have crawled on my hands and knees faster, so we headed north and travelled on alternate routes, which helped, but made our journey longer. We didn’t arrive at Entrance Ranch until almost 10:00 p.m.

With the exception of Julia and Amanda McPhail (who were with us), all the riders were there already — campsites set up and horses tucked in for the night. All we had to do (“All” … ha hahahaha!) was set up the McPhail’s outfitter’s tent and cots, get their wood burning stove going and put our horses away for the night. That took until 1:00 a.m. Then we all crashed.

Good little cooks that we were, we were up at 6:30 a.m. to get the coffee going and start the grills. Soon enough our riders moseyed into camp for breakfast around a roaring campfire that took the dew off their socks and the chill out of their bones.

The plan was that after breakfast, the riders would go with our host, Rocky, for a two-hour ride around Entrance Ranch. They’d return to camp for lunch and then take off again for a four or five hour afternoon ride. But first, they had to go “pink up” for the pinkification judging.

Man, did we have pink! We even had a horse trailer that had bras tied all over the outside of it … up the ladder … across the tailgate … along the sides. Apparently a lot of people out on the highways honked and gave them the thumbs up. (Next time we’ll have to get them to write “Wild Pink Yonder” on the sides too!) I wish I could find the picture of the horse trailer. It was a classic! But here are the horses and riders. I think the only ones not in pink are our host, Rocky (far right) and his hired hand (second from the right).

all-riders-at-entrance-ranch.jpg

I’m not exactly sure why I don’t have a picture of Tyler. This guy went all out. His hair was dyed bright pink! We asked how he managed it. Turns out he had to bleach his hair out first and then apply the pink dye … so this is not some “It’ll wash out” thing! It’s here for the long run! Way to go, Tyler!

There was so much pink that I had to change the rules! There was to be one winner in the pinkification department. I wound up awarding six!

And then, away they went. From all accounts, the riding (both morning and afternoon) was excellent. Beautiful trails. Tons of forest. Great views of the Rocky Mountains and the Athabasca River down below. This is foothills riding at its finest.

When the day’s riding was done, they put their horses away and came back to camp where we had chili, corn on the cob, Caesar salad and cheese cake waiting for them. We all sat around the fire for a while after dinner, but everybody was pretty tired so they crawled away relatively early.

All that remained was to clean up after dinner, get ready for the morning and slide into bed ourselves. Mission accomplished by 1:00 a.m.

 

We’re going for a Rocky Mountain high!

Pinksters are always asking to go to the mountains, so that’s what we’re going to do! Please join us.

As it turns out, going to the Willmore on the August long weekend maybe wasn’t our smartest decision. <grin> Traditionally this is the busiest weekend they have at Willmore for equestrians and hikers alike (didn’t know that!) But to top it off, Grande Cache runs their “Canadian Death Race” that weekend too! (Didn’t know that either!) People come from all over North American for that one, so finding a non-first-come-first-served place to camp for a group of us was a challenge.

But things are all in place now. We are staying at the beautiful Entrance Ranch, just 15 minutes north west of Hinton and 20 minutes east of Jasper. From there, we can still ride Willmore, but I’m told that the trails on Entrance Ranch are fantastic too. Entrance has a sensational view of the front ranges of the Rockies … and they’ll be much less busy than Willmore. So who knows? Ride Entrance? Ride Willmore? Ride both? We’ll decide democratically once we get there!

You can arrive any time on Friday, August 4th. Our host is “Rocky”, a delightful Norwegian fellow who is laid back and very accommodating. His ranch offers lovely log cabins (that we will not be inhabiting), so expect to see tourists around and about, but he gave up doing horse rides some years ago. The pastures are all ours.

Apparently there is more grass than the horses will eat and we’ll have the use of automatic waterers too. While you’re off riding, your ground crew (that would be my stepson, Kevin Thomas, and me) will move the electric fencing so that when you come in after the day’s ride, your horse will have fresh grass for the night.

As well, while you’re away, Kevin and I will be hard at work creating a gastronomic delight. When you get back after your ride, all you have to do is put your horse away, grab a cold one, kick back and relax ’til supper. This is the mountains, so I’m thinking chili? Our famous burgers? Roast beef? Time will tell.

Please join us. Register by downloading the registration form here and then emailing it along with an e-transfer of $100 to Jane@WildPinkYonder.com. You can download the paper fundraising form in the same place you got the registration form. Or you can do on-line fundraising here.

Your commitment? $100 registration (to cover expenses like food) and $150 fundraising that is 100% tax receiptable.

The highest fundraiser for the weekend wins a Patriot solar electric fencer from Peavey Mart. (Value: $250 … does 10 miles/40 acres.) The highest fundraiser for the summer wins a $1,000 shopping spree at the Peavey Mart of your choice.

PS … as we don’t know when anybody/everybody is arriving, Friday’s meals are your own responsibility. Thanks.

Cypress Hills — Day three in God’s country

He saved the best for the last. Monday morning, off we went for a second day at Dan Reesor’s ranch. This time, instead of heading out to where his cattle range over some 3,000 acres, we headed up … and up … and up. We started on a narrow road that soon turned into a track and then into a trail used by deer.

At the top, we came to the most fantastic field I’ve ever ridden. It was a high mesa that is grazed by cattle and elk and deer. I don’t even know the names of all the wild flowers that were there, but it was a veritable carpet of them like I’ve not seen before. There were the ubiquitous Alberta Wild Roses, but these were a shorter variety — a scant 12 inches tall as compared to the three and four foot ones found in the Edmonton area. There were “Brown Eyed Susans” (or at least that’s what my mother taught me to call them), and much to my surprise, Delphiniums — growing wild! There were other kinds of flowers, but I don’t know what they were. I wished everybody could see this. It’s amazing what Mother Earth shares when we allow her to do her thing!

From the top of this mesa, there is a steep cliff on one side. Dan said that it has been caving in and sliding down for a number of years, but he feels that it is stabilizing now. From the edge of it you can see across a wide valley to another tall hill … and to the right you can see down the valley and out to the plains. In the middle of the field there’s an area of about 50’x100′ that is fenced off with barbed wire. Dan explained that that is a test area that the Alberta government is monitoring to see how much better the field would do if cattle were not allowed up there (or if the cattle, in fact, help, which is Dan’s contention). They know what animals are there naturally by the dung left within the fenced enclosure where cattle can’t go. I laughed out loud when Dan said he’d like to go to the Calgary Zoo and get some ape dung and throw it in there!

I wish I’d remember to take my phone with me when I ride, but I never seem to. This would have been an excellent time to have it. The beauty is beyond words, but in talking to Dan Reesor, he says that Cypress Hills is carrying such a burden of deadfall that it is just a matter of time before the entire area goes up in flames! Apparently Cypress Hills has a bigger burden of tinder than any other forest in the province. They can’t use controlled burning here because the entire region is one long wind tunnel. There’d be nowhere that a back-fire could be started. The only option, then, is “mechanical means” … meaning logging. But this is a provincial park, and can you imagine the outcry if the government started logging? So when asked, Dan Reesor says, if it comes to fire, he’ll cut fences to let his cattle try to get out, load up his horses and his dogs and get out of Dodge. In the meantime, he’s taking hundreds of logging trucks of trees off of his 3,000 acres in the hope that that will help save his land.

Getting back down from that mesa was a trick! Talk about steep downhill riding! Whoa, Nellie! (Or would that be, “Whoa, Dingo”?) It was crazy steep, but as Dan pointed out, this is Cypress Hills, not Cypress Flats!

This was the most incredible ride I’ve ever done. Too bad we had to cut it short so that everybody could get home at a decent hour.

I’d say it was “Paradise Lost” … but that’s only for now. We will be back. Not this year, but we will be back. Count on it. And in the meantime … next stop: Willmore Wilderness Park on the August long weekend. You in?

Cypress Hills — Day two in God’s country

There are a lot of Reesors in the Cypress Hills. As one wag observed “Yeah, we really ought to spray for them”. And as Dan Reesor deadpanned “There are 13 Reesor families here in the hills. If we all worked together, we could be our own Hutterite colony!”

Some years back I went with the Canadian Appaloosa Horse Association to Historic Reesor Ranch. For three days we rode some fine trails. The scenery was terrific and there were historic markers to tell us about the North West Mounted Police’s presence there … and the plight of the Nez Perce Indians. But this time? This time we rode on Dan Reesor’s ranch (further down the same road as Historic Reesor) and the scenery was beyond breathtaking.

The day was hot, but who was noticing? Dan said the bugs were bad, but those of us from the Edmonton area couldn’t get over how few bugs there were by comparison! With a nice breeze, at that altitude, it was heaven on earth.

We rode up hill and down dale and went from one bunch of cattle to the next.  None of the horses were freaked out by the cattle (though my Dingo obviously came from a working ranch because he was ready and rarin’ to go after them). At times we could see forever — rolling high hills with a huge expanse of prairie beyond. At other times all we could see was the hill in front of us or the valley down below. And it was green. Oh, so green! Dan said that given another two weeks without rain, it would become a tinder box, but while we were there it was lush.

Two hours in, we stopped for lunch. At that point Julia Vanderewolf McPhail and I quit the ride to go help Carole and Kevin back in camp so we’d be ready for the riders at the end of the day, therefore I can’t comment on the rest of their ride, but I’ll guarantee it was perfection.

Back in camp, Carole decided it was too hot (down in Irvine — out of the hills), so she put a tarp in the back of her pick up truck and built everybody a redneck pool! Perfection!

Some of us stayed up that night to watch Irvine’s Canada Day fireworks, but many were too hot and tired, so after a delicious roast beef dinner and a couple of brewskis, off they went to bed.

Just another day in paradise.