Riding the Wild West Horseless: A SLO County Resident’s Epic Adventure

“I had it easy with just me in my van,” Margo Anderson relates as she recounts her trip riding and exploring areas of the wild west, horseless. “I could go wherever I wanted to because I was not pulling a trailer and not doing all the things that are required when you bring a horse with you.” Horseless she was, yet her trip was not without horse adventures.

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Riding the Wild West Horseless, the Spark of Inspiration

Having retired from state service in 2018, Margo Anderson moved to North SLO County and rode horses with her friends. A horse trek in New Zealand with Globetrotters ignited a spark to buy a van, fix it up for camping and seek out trial rides in the USA.

She now resides in Los Osos and this summer was the first of hopefully many horseless, horse-related adventures. “My theme was to ride,” Margo explains, “but at the same time enjoy different states, scenery, landscape, and people.” The only date Margo had fixed on a calendar was an Historic Trails Dutch Oven Dinner Ride excursion with a covered wagon in Casper, Wyoming.

And She’s Off Riding the Wild West Horseless

Lake Havasu, AZ was the first stop on the journey. “It was 105 degrees at Havasu in late May,” she recalls, “so I played in the lake at sunset, went to the Elks Lodge on the hill for dinner/drinks and stayed in the parking lot (free) in my camper.” Margo converted her Chevy van into a camper herself.

First Horseback Ride: Georgia O’Keefe’s Ghost Ranch

Her travels then took her through Flagstaff and Sedona, AZ on her way to Santa Fe, NM. Margo was very interested in a ride at Georgia O’Keefe’s Ghost Ranch, in Santa Fe, NM. The Landscape Trail Ride takes place in the actual landscape where artist Georgia O’Keeffe got her inspiration and subject matter for her famous skull and floral paintings. Because the gallery tours were full, Margo booked the two-hour trail ride with a guide and five other riders. 

“We were a small group with a young, but enthusiastic, guide.  Our group set out into the vast landscape O’Keefe painted combined with listening to the stories of her life. Absolutely beautiful. It was stunning,” reports Margo. There’s more to the show at Georgia O’Keefe’s Ghost Ranch with exploring 100-year-old buildings, an interpretive center and a kid’s zone along with a myriad of tours.

Bring Your Horse to Valles Caledores National Preserve

Nearby Santa Fe, NM is the Valles Caledores National Preserve. The name means Valley of the Volcano. Margo was game for exploring this beautiful preserve. Rumor has it that the filming of the cabin scenes from the show Longmire took place in this National Preserve. She drove all the way up to the top where there was once an active volcano. The ranger provided her with a pass to enter the beautiful mountain valley. Here Margo sat on a cabin porch and inhaled the view. 

While drinking in the beautiful scenery within the National Preserve, Margo wished she had a horse to ride. Horses have been part of this landscape for centuries. Actually, there are hundreds of trails horseback riders can explore. Equestrians are welcome to trailer in their own horses and ride for the day. A permit is necessary and horses must be hauled out at the end of the day. 

Horse camping is available nearby at several locations in the Santa Fe National Forest. Jack Creek Horse Camp is the largest option. Consult a map for the specifics regarding the convenience of the horse camp to Valles Caledores National Preserve.

Colorado Calling

With Santa Fe behind her, Margo ventured north. “I drove north to Colorado where I found a campground in the driving rain by chance. The camp host put me in a spot next to a man-made lake full of trout. I am a fishing enthusiast and brought my gear. So, I got out my chair, a glass of wine and my rod and reel. I just sat there and caught a trout!” 

“From there I found out about white water rafting in Buena Vista, CO on the Arkansas River. The people, the food and my campsite on the river was top-notch fun – even getting caught in a hailstorm towards the end!” exclaimed Margo. “It was a spontaneous long drive to a river raft trip that ended up being just amazing.” 

Wyoming Wonders

Next Margo settled in Cheyenne, Wyoming for a few days. “I camped in Cheyenne to enjoy a driving break, swim in a pool, take a shower and sleep outside.” She especially enjoyed going to the train depot downtown. “The plaza fills up with folks on Friday nights for summer concerts. So, I danced for hours!” The date on her calendar for the historic covered wagon ride was coming up. Casper, WY wasn’t far from this resting spot. 

Historic Trails Dutch Oven Dinner Trail Ride

“I was very excited about heading to Casper for the ride on the Pony Express Trail,” exclaimed Margo. The ride did not disappoint, in fact, it was awesome. Before the ride Margo spent time at The Historic Trails Interpretive Center. “I went in and it was amazing. There were re-creations of the old west Pioneers, horses, wagons etc. They show an informative movie every hour. It was worth a visit before this ride.”

She explains the Historic Trails Dutch Oven Dinner Ride here: “The driver of the covered wagon built it himself and it was his third one over the many years. He takes guests down the trail where settlers came west and also along the Pony Express route while telling the history of the migration west and the pony express. I chose to ride a horse alongside so they put his granddaughter on a rookie mule to accompany me. It was hot and dusty but we eventually stopped at a tent for a Dutch oven dinner and yummy cobbler. On the way back I got to ride freestyle over the hills. We all camped right there on the ridge, Epic!” 

Margo would like to return to this special spot again. “The historic trails covered wagon ride has multiple experiences. I only signed up for one. Some of the others look amazing and I would do it in the covered wagon just to hear the stories from the driver a little better than I did on horseback.”

Here in Wyoming some special memories became etched in her mind like: “Climbing into my bed in the van and laying there looking out the window at the vast plains in Wyoming with a full moon.” Margo shares that memory and remarks, “They didn’t have that in the brochure.”

Tips and for Riding the Wild West Horseless

Margo has several trip tips and tricks to share to make the most of an adventure riding the wild west, horseless.

Winslow AZ, “There’s a girl, my lord in a flatbed Ford . . .”
  1. Do your research: I went and picked up a bunch of books and maps at AAA which helped sometimes but mostly I used my iPad navigator which was mounted on the dashboard. I did my research months before I left using online resources and making phone calls. I was also trying to find free or cheap camping with my van through sites like Harvest Hosts, Boondockers, The Dyrt, Good Sam and Elks Lodges.
  2. Look for Horse Related Activities: There are many places that have horses ready for you to ride. Sometimes along your travels you find your favorite place, for example, the Valles Caledores National Preserve. Take notes and plan to go back there with a horse.
  3. Look for Side Trips: To break up the monotony of a long straight highway look for little detours. Margo took a detour off an endless straight highway to explore a town called Winslow Arizona, where the song from the Eagles was written.
  4. Note the Level of Horse Experience needed on a ride: Most of the rides are spent at a walk but some trail rides offer faster paces. Margo relates her experience, “There were riders on the Ghost Ranch tour with no experience. The places that allow horse riding include the level of experience required on their website. Most of these tours are horses walking. Personally, I like to go really fast on horseback, but I knew these rides were going to be informational and one needs to be walking to hear and see. 

Margo Leaves Us with Wise Words

To finish off the tale of her epic adventure riding the wild west horseless Margo shares these wise words: “Many of the a-ha moments in my life involve other people. I’m a people person, but I love to do things solo. I met people from all over on this trip, and I think all were more open and happy than usual because we just came through Covid. 

The one thing that brought me to tears was the kindness I received when the van broke down in Beaver, Utah on the way home. The tow-truck driver dropped me off at campground in his own truck, picked me up and took me to the only gas station who ordered the part. They helped me get a place to stay near the shop, and then worked at night to get me back on the road the next morning. There’s a lot of good out there. Gotta love the USA!”

Photo Credit: Margo Anderson files

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