El Mariachi and Hope – Springtime in Arizona

April 5, 2010

Our departure to Arizona didn’t seem certain when we started for the airport. There was a winter storm warning in effect and the early morning ride to the airport was a little tense with the sideways blowing snow. But, we boarded on time and it looked like we were about to go from snow to sun in just a couple of hours. We were delayed at bit while we went through the de-icing procedure (never experienced that before!), but despite the weather, we had a smooth and uneventful flight.

This trip was going to be extra special because we were bringing my niece Ariel along as well as my Mom, who is now in remission.

Upon our arrival, we met up with long-time and dear friends, John and Judy Austin. They winter in Tucson, so they were able to follow us out to the ranch to meet Michael and the horses.

You have to drive your vehicle through the creek to get to Michael's ranch. This was the first time we've seen it with the water running. Arizona has gotten a lot of rain so far this year.

This is the creek that runs through Michael's property.

Our first view of the horses. L-R: Hope, Little Boy and El Mariachi

It was so good to see Little Boy standing with El Mariachi and Hope. When Michael’s mare, and Little Boy’s constant companion Samantha died in December, Little Boy went through a very rough period. He was off his feed, got sick and Michael worried that he might lose both of them. But, he seems to have turned a corner and he’s hanging out with the two wild horses more who seem perfectly happy to have him around.

Hope and El Mariachi

It wasn’t long before Michael came down from Wolf House and joined us all at the barn. Of course, we were equally as happy to see him too! 🙂

Michael with Tomas

L-R: Mom, Judy, John and Michael (with Tomas)

L-R: Me, Michael, Mom, John and Judy

Ariel with Little Boy

Little Boy, Michael and Ariel. Little Boy is so sweet. Here he's using Michael to rub his head on.

L-R: John, Michael, Ariel and Tommy (taking photos).

Ariel and Tomas

Tomas wants just a little taste of Ariel's shirt

Handsome boy

Tired of posing...

We hung around the barn for quite a while and then the horses decided to venture out onto the rest of the property.

Hope hides amongst the cacti

Shy girl Hope

Little Boy

We were a little early for most of the desert flowers, but we did see some blooming already

More signs of Spring. A nest with eggs wonderfully protected in a jumping cholla cactus.

It was so nice to see the horses's creek flowing. I know they must enjoy it too.

Hoof prints!

Tomas next to a Saguaro cactus

Peeking out at me

A horse can really hide in all that vegetation

Hope is such a pretty little mare. Love her sweet face, her big, soft eyes and her cute little white eyelashes.

Playfully biting El Mariachi on the leg

After visiting with the horses for about an hour, John and Judy headed home while the rest of us went up to Wolf House to relax and spend some time with Michael. He’s so interesting and always wants to know how we’re doing as well. It was fun to see how comfortable Ariel was with Michael too. She’s very outgoing and seems to engage people easily. I was happy she was able to come (though we missed her twin sister Tai and fiance Kirk!).

We were all beat, so we left for our motel just before dark after saying goodnight to the horses.

All of us managed to get up early Saturday for morning light photos back at the ranch. Early morning and late afternoon are the best times to photograph and are my favorite times of the day anyway.

I just can't take too many photos of this gorgeous horse

Ariel takes her Grammie down to the arena to see the horses

Tommy decided to take a short hike while we visited with the horses

Tomas is such a character. He just has to touch or taste everything.

What a goofball

After visiting with the horses for a bit, we all headed up to Michael’s studio to see him off. He had been invited to share an “incredible” experience with his long-time friend Kevin Costner who was performing with his band “Kevin Costner and Modern West” in Germany and Slovakia. All you can say is WOW to that, right? I’d be gone too! (Modern West also has a Facebook page – http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/kevincostnerandmodernwest?ref=ts – and guess who signed on as a fan?).

Mom with Michael

L-R: Me, Ariel, Michael and Mom (with Diana and Scout).

Michael and Tommy standing against the truck that Michael drove out to the Black Hills of South Dakota to film his Academy Award winning movie, Dances With Wolves.

(Upon his return, I asked Michael about his trip and he shared this with me: “Kevin Costner’s Modern West is a unique blend of great star power from Kevin and magnificent, inspiring music from a band that plays as if there is no tomorrow. Although they have drawn large crowds in America their recent tour of Europe has never been equaled according to foreign promoters. Modern West played almost thirty shows in six weeks in virtually every country. Each performance drew between 1,500 and 2,000 viewers. Many came to see Kevin Costner but all the young and the old were blown away by the thrilling music and singing Kevin and Modern West bestowed on them. I was given the opportunity to see the last five shows of the tour…four in Germany and one in Slovakia. Each one was remarkable in many different ways but at the end, what they played and sang on stage made memories that will last. Kevin is currently involved in several different films but Modern West will play a few shows in America and Canada through the rest of 2010. Music has been this writer’s greatest inspiration and Modern West is deeply connected with all the rest that have filled my heart and soul with belief in life.”)

This photo hangs in Michael's barn. It was taken at the Academy Awards in 1991. It took a tumble and is a little bruised, but a memory like this one looks good in any condition. L-R: Jim Wilson, Kevin Costner and Michael Blake with their Oscars from Dances With Wolves.

Before Michael left for the airport, he suggested that Tom, Ariel and I check out the “grotto” which was just outside his property in the national park. Michael said it was a very unique and beautiful area along the creek. The three of us grabbed some drinks and our cameras and with Diana as our guide, we started following a path that would lead us to the fence line.

Ariel and Tom - Tom was attacked by a Jumping Cholla cactus on the way. He said it really did seem to jump out at him and then it just stuck to him. Michael's friend Rick (who was taking care of the critters) helped Tom rid himself of the prickly aggressor. Of course Ariel and I taunted him about the ambush afterwards.

Our guide, Diana

Looking back at the ranch - the arrow points to a tiny El Mariachi walking along the creek

El Mariachi and Tomas

Looking back towards the ranch from the national park trail

After we hiked way past the grotto, we finally turned around and eventually found it. Diana is looking at the grotto area, but it's still pretty hard to make out.

Ariel and Diana at the grotto. What a wonderful reprieve for a black dog in the desert - even though the temps were perfect during our stay (in the 70's and low 80's).

Me and Ariel at the grotto

Me, Diana and Tom

Diana in the lower left corner looking towards the ranch

The hike to the grotto was a wonderful way to enjoy the surroundings when it wasn’t blazing hot outside. It was nice of Michael to share his little treasure with us.

On our way back to the motel, we took a scenic drive through Saguaro National Park. I’d hoped to see both a Gila monster and a desert tortoise, but I was told it was still a little early for the Gila monster to be out and about. Maybe next time. It’s a beautiful drive if you’re ever in the area.

John and Judy shared a very good Mexican restaurant with us Saturday evening. Family, good friends, good beer, margaritas and food. Perfect way to end the day.

Sunday morning, we left Mom to enjoy a leisurely breakfast with John and Judy while Ariel, Tom and I drove out to see the horses. We were meeting a new friend and her daughter at the gate house to the ranch.

I had “met” Cindy Cartwright through this blog. She’d made a comment on a post about the horses (she lives in Arizona) and we corresponded back and forth (we’re Facebook friends as well where Cindy is a very active animal welfare advocate). Cindy told me about her beautiful Mustang mare Sierra that she had rescued along with another horse. I had hoped to photograph her mare while we were visiting. Tragically, Cindy lost her Sierra just two days before we arrived. I didn’t even know what to say when she shared her heartbreaking news. I knew the loss was devastating. Despite the circumstances, Cindy still wanted to get together, so I asked her if she’d like to come out to the ranch to meet the horses.

Read Cindy’s touching story of Sierra with many photos here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stillintime/sets/72157623766338432/

Good morning boy

Ariel and Little Boy

Cindy's daughter Jacky, Little Boy and Ariel

Jacky with Tomas. Jacky is a real horse and animal lover.

Tom gently rubs Little Boy's eyes for him. He likes it!

Watching the horses enjoy the morning together

Ariel gave her cameras a real workout. I was proud of her!

Our new friend Cindy.

Cindy, Jacky and Little Boy

Jacky with Little Boy

Little Boy

You can barely see his hooves in the air, but the arrow points to a rolling El Mariachi

All together grazing

Using Little Boy as a scratching post

Sharing a drink at the creek

Back at the arena

Michael was very generous (as usual) with Ariel and gave her several of his books. She finished this one, Like A Running Dog, and started on Dances With Wolves while we were there. She's an avid reader and writer. And, Michael has a new fan.

Jacky with Timid

How can such a pretty girl...

Make such a face!

We crammed alot of activities into the limited time we had, so after visiting with Cindy, Jacky and the horses for a couple of hours, it was time to pick up Mom and drive over to the Santa Rita mountains to share lunch with Marianne Blake and the kids (delicious home-made bread and chicken – yumm!).

Lozen with her brother Quanah and Lucky. Look how big Lucky is getting!

Marianne and Rosebud

Rick shoes the famous Breeze as Cowboy (the bassett hound) supervises.

Having been shod, it's time for a bath!

Lozen and Ariel love on and admire Breeze

Monahsetah riding Burito who is AKA Don Rito or just The Don. He's a Quarterhorse, trained for roping and cattle. He's about 12 years old.

Rick surprised Ariel when he told her to climb aboard Breeze and go for a ride with everyone. Ariel has two horses of her own so she wasn’t afraid to take him up on his offer.

Monahsetah, Lozen and Ariel take off for a ride around the property

Marianne (on Rosebud) and Quanah (on Cookie)

From Marianne: “Cookie is about 8 or 9. She’s Quanah’s horse now and he likes to call her Massive Mama. His fear of riding Massive Mama vanished after a couple of minutes on my back pasture and they are now a terror. Although she is trained, has been ridden a fair amount (Rick rode her a couple of months before Quanah started on her) she has never enjoyed being a riding horse until now. It just breaks my heart (in a good way) to see the love my boy and Cookie share. He can’t keep his hands off her and she just can’t get enough. Just goes to prove that horses react to patience, love and true happiness.”

Lozen on FrostBite. Frostbite is about 4 years old. Marianne told me Frostbite's sire was Blue Dot, of the Valentine Quarterhorse line and her mama a great draft horse. Frostbite is really starting to enjoy riding, outings and human love.

Mom and Tom watching all the horsey activity

Ariel and Breeze

Breeze is around 15 or 16 years old. He’s a Paint/QH, famous (in most of Tucson) for his speed and heart. He’s a sought-after cow horse and, in his younger days, received a 2nd place in the Women’s National Barrel Competition. Breeze was also the co-star in Michael’s documentary, “The American West – On The Road With Michael Blake.” Check out the film photos featuring Michael and Breeze at the link below: http://michaelblakesamericanwest.com/The_Program.html

Doesn't it look like she's having a great time on that horse?

Ariel said that Breeze was the best trained horse she’s ever ridden. What a treat. (Thanks Rick!) She also commented how sweet the girls were to her; asking Ariel if she was okay, did she want to trot, etc. and how cool it was to see the whole family riding their horses together – how much fun that must be to enjoy on a regular basis like these guys do.

Another full day, but we still wanted to go back to the ranch to say goodnight to the horses. We arrived in late afternoon and of course, the horses thought it must be dinner time so they started towards the barn in a hurry.

El Mariachi and Tomas

Hope and Tomas

All four feet off the ground! He's flying!

Such a pretty mover

Hope rubbing her itchies away on El Mariachi

Hope sportin' a new doo

It was Monday already – the time had gone by so quickly. We made one last trip out to the ranch to see the horses.

El Mariachi finds a tree to take care of an itch

It was so interesting to watch the following interaction between El Mariachi and Tomas. It tells me that El Mariachi must truly be in a good place in his head if he’s playing, and comfortable enough to do so while we observe. Mutual grooming and playtime. A joy to watch.

Tomas came over to see what Ariel was up to. He's always curious and interested in people.

The horses wandered out of the arena and down to the creek area as we were getting ready to leave. I followed them down the road a bit and took the last two shots of El Mariachi before we said goodbye and headed to the airport. He posed beautifully for me.

I left the ranch feeling very grateful to Michael (again) for giving the horses such a peaceful existence. I spent enough time with them to see that they’ve adjusted well and seem very content in their new home. El Mariachi appeared to be much more relaxed, he’s carrying a better weight and seems to have willingly taken on both Little Boy and Tomas as his herdmates. Although El Mariachi has lost his freedom out on the range, thanks to Michael’s generosity, he’s still able to have what he probably values almost as much – a family.

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(Photos are for viewing purposes only. Images are copyright protected and owned solely by Pam Nickoles Photography. No reproduction permitted. Feel free to share the link, not the images.)


Michael Blake’s books are available through Hrymfaxe LLC (Marianne’s publishing company) and there’s the added bonus that Hrymfaxe will donate 25% off the retail prices of all titles by Michael to charities listed on the site (if you’re a rescue or an organization of any humantarian cause, be sure to apply for this very generous opportunity!

22 Responses to “El Mariachi and Hope – Springtime in Arizona”

  1. LoriProphoto Says:

    O M Gosh Pam I am finding it difficult to find words to express how much I enjoyed reading this and seeing all the photos. Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous, they are looking wonderful and it was great to see you all horses and humans having such a wonderful time!!!!

  2. Sandy Elmore Says:

    Thank you for sharing. It is always so great to have an update on the horses and see such wonderful photos. 🙂

  3. Barb Griffith Says:

    Wow Pam! Thank you so very much for sharing your latest awesome family and horse reunion in Arizona. El Mariachi and his friends looks great and very happy! It truly is a gift to me to read your blog and see your amazing photography. You are blessed with many talents, and people and horses who appreciate you. Thank God for people and friends like you and Tom.
    With love and gratitude from your friends,
    Barb & Rick Griffith

  4. TJ Says:

    Love, love, love, LOVE these photos and your story of your trip. Just as I was thinking what beautiful eyes Hope and El Mariachi have … there you were talking about it in your post. (Grey has white eyelashes, too. :)) I’m so glad you and Tom and your mom and Ariel were able to make the trip down to see Michael and the horses and other critters – and thank you so much for your report! It’s just gorgeous – the horses are gorgeous – and I’m so happy for this chapter in their lives!

  5. Pam, All these photos you have shared! Just a wonderful immersion in that beautiful land, the water in the creek, the lovely details. Hope’s eyes and her beauty coming out. El Mariachi expressing himself more. There is no fear, no worry. The little band has a contentment. i love the feet in the air! Made me laugh. It must have been magical for all of you to have such a sweet time out in that exquisite desert. thank you, yes, it is hard to express. mar

  6. Joey Says:

    Oh Pam!
    I’m like everyone else!
    I cannot think of a good enough “word” to describe how unbelieveably gorgeous Mariachi and Hope look! (Tomas and Little Boy too!) :o)
    They just have contentment “written” on them both! What an amazing place for them to be living, with such caring, loving people.
    Honest to goodness I teared up a couple times looking at a few of the pictures of Hope and Mariachi, I guess from knowing what they went through to get where they are now.
    Your daughter is beautiful… The apple didn’t fall far from the tree, huh!?
    Thank you so much for sharing such an important, intimate “family” time with all of us!
    I feel so lucky to have “met” you on FB, and also feel like I “know” you already!
    My heart is so happy for you and the Mustangs…
    Mariachi is absolutley breathtaking and Hope couldn’t look sweeter…
    Thank you again…

  7. pnickoles Says:

    Lori – I took so many photos. Hope it wasn’t too many! 🙂 And we did have a great time! So good to see how well everyone/thing is doing.

    Thanks Sandy – it always takes me too long to get a post up after a visit, but I’m glad you enjoy seeing the updates.

    Barb – thanks so much for your kind words. Tom and I feel very blessed to have you and Rick as our neighbors and friends as well. 🙂

    TJ – I run out of words sometimes (not like you) about just how grateful I am to have such a good place for the horses to be. I think they look very happy where they are.

    Mar – that’s what I noticed most. Just how much more relaxed and happy El Mariachi and Hope looked. They’re in a very good place. And, a rolling horse always makes me think of a happy horse. 🙂



    Everyone is right!! Thank a million times over for sharing with us all!! I could look at your pictures over and over!! Will share with others for sure!!

    We are all so lucky to have you to tell all your fabulous stories. Always look forward to what is next!!


  9. pnickoles Says:

    Joey – thanks for all your sweet comments and though I would claim her in a minute, Ariel is my brother Tony’s daughter. My niece. I agree with you though, she’s a beautiful girl and so is her twin sister! 🙂

    Kelly – I’m so glad you enjoy the photos and stories. I love your enthusiasm. 🙂 And, I very much appreciate that you share the stories too!

  10. Billie Says:

    Wonderful photos and story. I am so glad to see them looking so healthy and happy! They are so beautiful. Great to see your mom out and about and feeling well too.

  11. Margaret Says:

    I always love your pics of El Mariachi and Hope. Mostly them seem so content at Michael’s. Kinda like next to their loss of freedom this is the nest bestest thing.

    It’s so cool that Michael did this for you. What a generous man he is! To open his ranch to your horses when they desperately needed a home. And he’s helped them gain the weight they lost at that other place. They just glow with health and vitality.

  12. Valerie Says:

    Thanks so much for posting your pictures and telling us about your trip. I thoroughly enjoyed it. All the human and horse interaction was very wonderful to see. Have a great week.

  13. Karen Says:

    It is really a treat to see these beautiful horses in the AZ landscape. Thanks for sharing your visit and photo’s with us!

  14. Reva Says:

    Wonderful Pictures Pam.
    Looks like you enjoyed every minute.
    Thank you for the nice note.

  15. LISA STERN Says:

    So great to see the pictures and the story to go along with it!!!! Thank you for sharing~

  16. Karo Says:

    Hi, Pam. Cindy forwarded this to me and I have enjoyed the photography and the story immensely. So much love and so much healing 🙂
    God bless you.

  17. Vicki Freiberger Says:

    WOW! is all I can say. Love all the pictures and stories. It is so wonderful to follow you and your family, and get to visit El Mariachi and Hope with you all! Thanks so much for including everyone with your reunion!!

  18. Danita Says:

    Lovely stories…I don’t know whether I cry or smile more when I read them. Thanks for sharing your family with us.

  19. pnickoles Says:

    Thanks everyone for your wonderful thoughts and comments! 🙂 I’m so grateful I get to share these stories with you all.

  20. Jan Says:

    Ahhhh…I do so love ‘happily ever after’…and am enjoying following you around, too!

    Your Boy looks absolutely wonderful, and I think it’s very safe to say that he is one happy, healthy Horse. Not to mention…extremely Handsome! Oh, how I envy Hope 😉

    Thank you, Pam, for keeping us updated, and for giving El Mariachi a life of comfort and care – he IS a true American Icon, and tho he can’t run wild and free – you have found a way to give him the respect he deserves.

    ~ Jan

    …am I up to date yet?!

  21. pnickoles Says:

    Hi Jan and thanks for your note. The horses are definitely in a good place. And, yes, you are now up to date…for now. 🙂

  22. […] the next day, we left the ranch to meet up with a couple more Facebook buddies. We’d met Cindy and Jacky on a previous visit. We piled them into the car at the meet spot and drove on to the Phoenix area […]

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