Winter Travel into the Horse Ranges

February 15, 2009

We were supposed to be on a wild horse photography adventure to Adobe Town, Sand Wash Basin and the Little Book Cliffs with 3 other wild horse lovers/photographers this long weekend, but the Colorado winter weather nixed the trip. It’s been since October since we’ve made it out to see the horses and I was SOOO looking foward to this trip, however, it is important to pay attention to weather and road conditions when venturing out to these remote areas. We’ve been stuck in the horse ranges by both rain and snow before and they can be pretty stressful situations, unless you’re prepared, and even then, it can be what I refer to as, “more excitement than I signed up for.”

Contacts in Craig, CO said the HMA roads were impassable even with chains at this point. Unless the roads are frozen (so you know all winter trips are COLD), they’re pretty much impassable and you just don’t attempt it.

Going over Rabbit Ears Pass into Craig, CO

Going over Rabbit Ears Pass into Craig, CO

Last year, even when we thought the roads were fine, we fell through what we figured must have been a wash out area in the road that the snow had drifted into at Sand Wash Basin. There have been many trying situations while out in these ranges, but this particular trip had me really worried about Tom’s safety. (We hadn’t seen a soul all day and there were no tracks in the road). It didn’t look like much when we got out to see what had stopped our forward motion, so we unloaded the dogs and started digging thinking it wouldn’t be long before we were on our way again. It was about noon on March 3rd, 2007. (We had plenty of food, clothing and cold weather gear, so we were prepared to spend the night if we had to, but it really wasn’t part of the plan). I made a call to my Mom to let her know where we were and what had happened (the nice thing about Sand Wash is that there are cell phone towers out there and you typically have good coverage) so someone would know to come looking for us if things took a bad turn.

We didn't think we were in too much trouble here, but the drift area below our Jeep was deceptively deep.

We didn't think we were in too much trouble here, but the drift area below our Jeep was deceptively deep.

Tom is working at the end that wound up falling pretty deep into the hole.

Tom is working at the end that wound up falling pretty deep into the hole.

The more we dug underneath the Jeep, the further it fell into this “hole.” I quit taking pictures shortly after we discovered it wasn’t going to be as easy as we thought – but the images are still pretty vivid in my mind. Tom didn’t have waterproof clothing and we didn’t have a tarp, so he was getting pretty wet through his efforts to free the Jeep. It was about 19 degrees and there was wind of course. It was COLD! Every time we thought we were finally to the bottom of this hole, the Jeep would drop down some more until it was actually sitting dangerously cock-eyed with the rear end sticking out and up. This is when I really started to worry. Tom had to get underneath the Jeep as it sat in this precarious position to continue digging.

Our dog Brihten tries to help Tom while little Sage plays in the snow.

Our dog Brihten tries to help Tom while little Sage plays in the snow.

Tom digs out while Brihten and Sage enjoy the wintery playtime. Where's Kaylen - probably at my heels as she's my shadow.

Tom digs out while Brihten and Sage enjoy the wintery playtime. Where's Kaylen - probably at my heels as she's my shadow.

We tried the chains we’d bought for this trip. They didn’t fit, even though the specs said they would. (Mental note – make sure chains fit properly before you need them!) I called a tow company thinking we now needed some professional help to avoid any mishaps. I was told that no one in the area made “off road recoveries.” Huh? Not good news. I called my Mom again to keep her aprised. I told her it looked likely that we would be spending the night right where we were and not to worry – we’d be fine. Mom, in turn, called my brother Chris who looked up our exact location on the internet – cool how you can do that now (always have a good map with you!).

Tom decided he’d try jacking up the Jeep to level it out and possibly give us more traction. We also unloaded everything from the back (all of our supplies, the cooler, etc.) in an effort to eliminate some weight. Watching Tom with a very unsteady, whimpy, factory-provided jack trying to lift a vehicle in that position made me VERY uncomfortable. (We now carry a sturdy “handyman” jack with us). What would I do if something went wrong? No one was there to help. I was told no one would come. I forced myself to keep a better picture in my head and went about grabbing all the loose sagebrush I could find (for traction). The dogs seemed happy enough to be following me around, but even their little feet were starting to get cold. The sun was going down. I thought out a plan and when I got back to Tom, I ran it past him. (It seems that when we get into these situations, Tom and I always work well together and keep our heads – I think that’s the biggest reason we always manage to get out safely!).

I figured we had one opportunity left to get ourselves out before I would insist that he get out of his wet clothes and we’d hunker down with the dogs inside the Jeep for the night. (I’d experienced a hypothermia episode with someone before, so I knew it was something I needed to take into account as we watched the day coming to a very chilly close). Tom agreed. So, we got everything in place and prepared to give it one last try. I got behind the wheel and Tom got in the front to push me backwards. He made one last comment as I started up the Jeep – if I felt myself budging at all, gun it and don’t stop. I nodded, said a little prayer and put it in reverse. I couldn’t believe it – we were moving! I floored it and the Jeep and I flew backwards about 50 yards before I finally braked. We did it!! We still had to go back and get our gear (took a few trips), but we were hopeful we’d make it out of the range yet that night. The sun went behind the mountains. It was almost 6:00 – unbelievable timing. I called my Mom to give her an update and that’s when she told me that Chris had called the local Sheriff’s Department and they had sent someone out to look for us. That set off a relay of phone calls to get the deputies called off, but I was sure grateful someone was at least attempting to check on us! (Thanks for the assist Chris).

After loading up the dogs and all our gear, Tom tried to get behind the wheel to drive out, but his pants were frozen and he couldn’t sit down! That made us laugh a bit nervously while we waited until he “thawed” out enough to finally come to a sitting position in the seat. We still had to backtrack at least an hour to get to a main road and it was dark except for a full moon. Tom had used a GPS device to track our path in, but I argued with it at one intersection on the way out. I just KNEW we needed to turn right when it said to turn left. How does that happen?! I don’t know why, but Tom decided to turn right (I am lucky to possess a pretty good sense of direction that he’s come to trust I suppose) and that led us out. We noticed new tire tracks turning around in the road about 1/2 way out and assumed the Sheriff’s deputies had gotten the dispatch that we were okay right about there. We thanked them out loud for their efforts.

We drove for over 2 hours with the heat on full blast to the motel in Craig. I didn’t think either of us would ever feel warm again, but after hot showers, we were good. Tom never ceases to amaze me either. It was only Saturday – would I like to try Adobe Town on Sunday for some winter wild horse shots since after all that time at Sand Wash Basin, we hadn’t seen a single horse? Gotta admire his fortitude…and of course I took him up on his offer. 🙂

Mare and foal at Adobe Town, WY

Mare and foal at Adobe Town, WY

A stallion runs over the snowy ridge - Adobe Town, WY

A stallion runs over the snowy ridge - Adobe Town, WY

Mare and foal - Adobe Town, WY

Mare and foal - Adobe Town, WY

Small family band - Adobe Town, WY

Small family band - Adobe Town, WY

Mare and youngster - Adobe Town, WY

Mare and youngster - Adobe Town, WY

Unusually colored band stallion - Adobe Town, WY

Unusually colored band stallion - Adobe Town, WY

Heading home from Adobe Town, WY

Heading home from Adobe Town, WY

4 Responses to “Winter Travel into the Horse Ranges”

  1. TJ Says:

    Wow – even though you’ve told me that story, it still sounds crazy! I wish we had been able to get out this weekend, but I’m looking forward to a yet-to-be-planned trip!
    TJ

  2. pnickoles Says:

    Crazy, scary and now something we can laugh at. 🙂 Every adventure adds something to our list of things we need to bring and lessons learned. I’m looking forward to our future trip as well. Hopefully soon!

  3. Julie Smith Says:

    Pam, you better keep that hubby of yours–FOREVER! You folks just aren’t right out there. We get over an inch of snow around here and they close school!

  4. pnickoles Says:

    HA! Well, I think he’s a keeper Julie…for many reasons besides getting us out of some hairy predicaments! 🙂


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