The second week of the Masters of Foxhounds Association’s Hark Forward Western Tour (a continent-wide event over the 2017-2018 season to raise money for the new MFHA headquarters) has been an adventure! We left the Kansas prairie on Monday, March 19, to drive 12 hours and over 740 miles to Santa Fe, New Mexico. We drove through snow, endless fields of gigantic windmills, and complex feedlots. We traveled up to about 7,200 feet in elevation when we unboxed the horses at Hipico Equestrian Center, which is also the home of the Caza Ladron kennels.
On Tuesday, we went on a mounted hound exercise with Caza Ladron members. The country was really rocky and full of cholla cactus and juniper trees. There were multiple signs warning about rattlesnakes, but to Allison Howell’s relief we didn’t find any. We did some shopping in Santa Fe and found a store that had more than 2,000 pairs of cowboy boots!
On Wednesday, the masters of Juan Tomas Hounds outside of Albuquerque invited us to their home on Field Ranch. Adren Nance, MFH and huntsman, warned us that the road going through the Indian Reservation was not paved. He said simply that there was “11 miles of bad road.” What an understatement. “Washboard” has a new meaning for me now since we could have had the perfect James Bond martini in the truck; we were definitely shaken and not stirred.
The next day we hunted with Juan Tomas just outside a federal prison that just happened to be the spot where the “Breaking Bad” television series was filmed. Adren said there was a reason why they filmed a show about meth labs at that location, because it was a favorite among the local meth cookers and drug cartels to utilize. Due to that, he made sure that anyone staying at the trailers was armed.
The country was steep and vast. The hounds got on two coyotes that day, and they had to be watered after every run because it was so hot (about 72 degrees). The field got a front-row look at each chase because there was nothing to block the view of the pack hot after the coyote.
The country is deceptive — from a distance it looks like the valley is flat. However there are steep arroyos, or gully washes as we would say in the south, that come out of nowhere when you are galloping across the desert. I was in the Polaris ATV again that day because the elevation was taking my asthma to school. But just because I wasn’t on a galloping horse dodging and leaping terrifying arroyos doesn’t mean that I wasn’t seeing my own life flash before my eyes. Sometimes being in a vehicle without a brain or a self-preservation instinct isn’t a great idea. We went up what I would call a twisty “goat trail” that was steep on both sides and so narrow that the Polaris’ tires barely fit. There were no trees to block the view of other unfortunate vehicles that had flipped off this trail to crash to their inglorious deaths far below. I don’t think that I would like to repeat that experience any time soon.
After that, we left from the meet to haul five hours to Flagstaff, Arizona. The AirBnB we had rented for the night was unique, and not in a way that will endear it for a high rating. It was a house with two bedrooms (with beds that felt like hammocks), but in the detached garage were four queen-sized bunk beds. There was a pool table – but it was missing the cue ball. The second bathroom was an outdoor trek to… a shed. Judith Craw said, “I guess AirBnB is a lot like online dating. You never know what you’re in for until you meet!”
The next morning, we met some of the Grand Canyon Hounds members at the Rock Art Ranch (the location of the last U.S. Cavalry engagement with the local Indians) outside of Winslow for a day of coursing (hunting jack rabbits with sight hounds).
Jack rabbits are very large rabbits that are very fast. We hunted with five sight hounds, and they got on four jacks. It was so fun to see the jack turn back and forth, trying to trick the sight hound to overshoot the line. Each time the jack would lose his pursuers, the sight hounds would come right back to the foot followers. As we hiked we found lots of Anasazi pottery shards, but no arrowheads.
After the sight hounds were worn out for the day, and we had walked 4 miles, we visited the Chevelon Creek Canyon on the property. When you descend down into this private canyon to the creek below, the walls are full of petroglyphs, ranging from Anasazi (about 1,500 to 1,800 years old) to the Basket Weavers and the Archaic drawings (about 2,000 years old). Everywhere you looked there were glyphs of big horn sheep, elk, people, snakes, etc. That was an unreal experience to see firsthand.
To cap off this week of adventure in the high desert for us Southerners, we attended Grand Canyon’s closing meet just a few miles from the Sunset Crater and Waputki Pueblos, in between Flagstaff and Winslow. This country had lots of visible prairie dog holes (which, in all honesty, were not as bad to ride in as the hidden armadillo holes of Mississippi) and cinder rocks. Cinder rocks are black and red lava bombs from the ancient volcanoes that erupted all around this area. Every hill you see is a volcano that erupted only once. The high, snow-capped peaks are volcanoes that erupted countless times. So this meant that the crunchy, crispy cinder rocks were everywhere.
I did ride this day, and my horse Phillip has never seen so far. I was cautioned that some hunt horses, no matter how made they are, will panic and bolt when they can see the vast openness for the first time. But Phillip was a pro. He avoided most of the prairie dog holes (he only found one at a canter), but the cinder rocks took him by surprise.
This hunt was one to remember for all. We hit on a coyote in the first 15 minutes of the meet for a wild chase across that openness of the high desert valley. We raced up and down the extinct volcanoes, through cinder rocks, sage and holes. My Phillip was on a loose rein the entire day, while I grinned from ear to ear as we flew around the country. In the end, we accounted for three coyotes in about four hours of hunting. We all agreed that this hunt will be remembered as one of the best in our careers.
On Sunday, some of us went on to Temecula, California, to the Santa Fe West Hills Hunt, but I stayed another day in Flagstaff with the Merle-Smiths. We toured the nearby Sunset Crater and Waputki Pueblos on a rare slow day. Our next stop is Tejon Ranch in California to begin our hunting tour of wine country.
So far we have traveled about 2,000 miles in 10 days over four time zones. And we still have 20 days left to go!
Gretchen Pelham has joined the MFHA’s Hark Forward Western Tour for a once-in-a-lifetime trip across the western United States. About a dozen hunt members from all over the southeast converged at Belle Meade Hunt in Georgia to begin a month-long caravan that will cover about 7,000 miles and travel to Mission Valley Hunt Club in Kansas, Caza Ladron and Juan Tomas Hounds in New Mexico, Grand Canyon Hounds in Arizona, Tejon Hounds and Santa Ynez Valley Hounds in California, Red Rock Hounds in Nevada, North Hills Hunt in Nebraska, Arapahoe Hunt in Colorado, and finally, Bridlespur Hunt in Missouri. The Hark Forward initiative consists of friendly competitions and events nationwide to connect foxhunters, celebrate all aspects of the sport, and to raise funds for the renovations of the MFHA’s new national headquarters in Middleburg, Virginia. You can read previous installments here.