Friday

Sedona 2015. No. 2. Horsin' Around on the Trail Ride

Riding Lady and John Wayne on the trail

The first thing I want to do every time I go to the States is go riding. There's something really special about riding Western-style that suits me. When I lived in Montana I had a friend who let me exercise his quarter horses anytime I wanted… Ah, bliss.

I've ridden regularly since I was nine years old so, when we headed for Sedona, I wanted to go riding but I didn't want just to trail along nose-to-tail on a bored horse with more than a dozen other people who'd rarely ridden before.

Here, I'd better specify for American readers that I'm referring to what you call 'horse-back riding.' Just 'riding' doesn't cut it over there and for some reason, even with the 'horse' bit added, you guys want to know which part of the horse you need to get onto. But I digress.

I went onto Trip Advisor's Sedona section and asked if anyone knew of anywhere which could help and got a bit of a flea in my ear from one contributor who wanted to know what was wrong with a nose-to-tail ride. Nothing; it just wasn't what I wanted.

The simple answer was 'no' because of all the insurance issues. I once read that riding a horse was statistically more dangerous than riding a motorbike and having fallen off more than seven times — the old statutory 'this is what makes you a horsewoman' amount — I rather concur. But I'm still addicted.
Riding Spuds the Quarter Horse in Montana in 1999.

The next step was to ask around on social media if anyone knew of someone with a horse in Sedona. I thought I'd hit gold almost at once with an offer to take me riding from a lady who worked at a stables who said it would be great to have someone to ride with for fun. But she didn't follow through. So, once we were there, I was looking to find a good ride.

…Which fell into my lap. 

I'll be writing more later on how we got to Sedona and where we were staying but, suffice it to say for the moment, we were staying in a friend's timeshare and, of course, the company running it was anxious to get fresh blood round the table for the big sell. They asked what Lion and I were interested in, we said 'horse riding' and they offered us a ride at a local stables for $73 total as opposed to $95 each if we would turn up for the presentation.

And that's a whole story in itself…

However, we said yes and were booked on a ride with Horsin' Around Adventures at Oak Creek, just down the road, the following Monday. Now I've looked through their website I know I'd have chosen them for myself, particularly for the aspect they offer of Premium Rides which are tailored for the rider's experience. So much for there not being any non nose-to-tail riding, Trip Advisor folk!

However, we were on a simple trail ride together as Lion's not anything like as experienced as I am and I thought it would be a good start as well as a great experience to ride together.

Luckily for us, after a few days of cold and wet, the Monday dawned brightly and we showed up at the Javelina Leap vineyard in Page Spring wine country, Oak Creek, about three miles from our apartment, to be picked up in a van and taken up the dust track to where the horses waited. It's not a very prepossessing area where they are; brown dirt corrals with horses already saddled and waiting. Obviously they don't live there but are brought along according to who has booked.

There were six of us on this ride and Lion was the only man. We were asked our level of experience and allotted a suitable horse. I got Lady, a palomino paint, about 15 hands tall which is a perfect size for me and who was said to be Troy, our driver's favourite of the horses and Lion, who's not anything like as experienced as I am, was given a big gentle bay, John Wayne.

Our guide for the one-and-a-half-hour ride was Clarissa and she made a point of saying that it was fine to hold back and trot at the back of the ride if any of us wanted to. Oh hooray! I double-checked with her about doing it repeatedly and she said, 'Absolutely. We like riders to do that; it keeps the horses interested.'

Isn't it odd how your body has memories? It's fifteen years since I rode Western-style (good grief! Really?) but the second I swung my leg across Lady's back and settled my feet in the stirrups, I got Western-saddle-left-leg-syndrome. I'd completely forgotten that I used to get that! However, a firm but friendly talking-to the left leg, pointing out that I am two stone lighter and a lot fitter now and there was no need for that and, happily, it agreed and gave up the memory.

No one else wanted to hold back so I slipped to the back fairly early on. Lady strenuously objected to standing still and waiting when I first suggested it to her. But once she'd realised that I meant what I was telling her and that I knew how to ride her she submitted willingly enough. And when she realised what I was up to, she decided this was a great idea and was even willing to walk away from the others to get a longer run-up for some good canters. So it was a great ride for me; just perfect for getting back into the Western saddle. And it was a great ride for the others too, happy to get to know their horses and potter along at a walk. Win-win.

The trail wasn't beautiful by Sedona standards. It was out of the area where there red rocks rise and we didn't take a long enough ride to go down to Oak Creek itself. But it was November and the countryside was fairly bleak (although the rains were beginning to bring the desert into a rather reluctant bloom). You can see from the picture at the top what the terrain was like and, on our particular day, there wasn't any wildlife to be seen. But it was still great fun.

I intended to go back, for a longer ride all on my own but events overtook us and there was so much else to do that it didn't happen. But I'd go back there like a shot. Yes please.






Thursday

Sedona 2015. no.1 Sedona itself.

The Bell rock formation, Sedona.
I was going to start by telling you how we got here but that would be daft. What you most want is to see lovely pictures and read fun stuff. So, the story of our November 2015 trip to Sedona simply has to begin with those.

I'll sneak the 'Getting There' blog in second or third having, hopefully, lured you in with the sheer beauty of the place.

VisitSedona.com waxes lyrical about the area in a way that will make the average undemonstrative Brit (my husband) reach for the vomit bucket. It says, 'Sedona exists at an impossible intersection of soul-nourishing wilderness and pampered luxury … start with scenery that makes your heart leap. Sedona nestles among a geological wonderland. Multi-hued formations jut upwards from the high desert floor, creating a vivid, mesmerising setting that changes hourly with the light.'

The annoying thing is that (apart from the pampered luxury bit, which depends entirely where you are staying) they are right. It's bloody beautiful to say the least and despite being deluged with New-Age-Atlantean-Ascended-Masters-wanky-bollocks about healing energy vortexes — they don't call them vortices for some reason — it has got amazing, genuine healing vortexes. I'm not what you'd call especially psychically sensitive but I can spot a powerful place when one hits me, especially if it stops me in my tracks when I'm least expecting it.

The wonderful orange tors are coloured by hematite (iron oxide) — or in my husband's terminology 'rust.'

Yep, that's it. Sedona is rusty. That's what makes it beautiful.

It's at the base of what's called the Mogollom Rim, an escarpment running through the middle of Arizona.  There are three types of rock: sandstone, basalt and limestone and the tors are formed as the softer sandstone erodes away. There are hundreds of walks where your eyes will just gorge themselves on geological gloriousness and it truly is worth taking each morning morning and afternoon just for the changes in the colours.

A friend on Facebook commented that she'd been to Sedona before it became a tourist trap, implying that it was better then. Well, the town itself may indeed be one of those and it's certainly got more than its share of therapy centres, shops loaded with dream-catchers, crystals, more-or-less genuine Indian jewellery and more gluten-free cafes that you could shake a smudge stick at … and its teeming with long-haired folk wearing purple embroidered clothes with too many buttons but, frankly, I'd say the whole area is absolutely brilliant. I'll tell you about the fudge shop later.