Sandhills Ride by Horseback

Rosie Rollins
Yellow Spring, W.V.
Photo By Rosie RollinsMaple is all loaded down with saddle, front and rear saddle bags, a cantle bag and tent. The mare is very tolerant ... a wonderful trait in a long riders mount.

Day 9: I rode out back through their ranch and along Route 20 for about 2 miles, then turned north on a gravel road from which I picked up the old trail that Brady had told me about. That was really neat … through cow pastures with water tanks and a few wire gates. No roads or sounds of civilization at all … nice. I was now riding west.

I came out on a ranch that had some horses! Maple said “yeah!” We found a shade tree and stopped for lunch. I found my way out of that field and into a ranch where Jim told me I was welcome to camp. Again, I was able to put Maple in a cool, shady, big old barn where she could enjoy some coolness and shade. I pitched my little tent in a nice mowed area by a gate and cooked my supper. Just as it was ready, about 50 heifers and a bull came up to see what I was doing. I had to move my tent and dinner to the other side of a gate!

Day 10: I rode out at 7 a.m. and got on the paved road to Alliance. Jim had directed me to look for the Alliance Veterinary Clinic that I would see just as I arrived in town. That was very helpful as I was able to leave Maple in a pen there while I did some shopping. Tana got to enjoy the A/C in the vet clinic. Lucky dog! I enjoyed Safeway, a Mexican restaurant, Dairy Queen and cell service!

We had come 95 miles and this was the first town we had come to. I restocked my oatmeal and soup. This turned out to be another lucky day for me; it was the day of the annual Festival of the Fountain.

I walked to join hundreds of other folks in the celebration. The fountain is glorious! It shoots 70 feet high in several different patterns (and colors after dark). It is beautiful. I also toured the Knight’s Museum, dedicated to the military. There was a brass band, a cowboy poet and his wife, and a rock band. Hot dogs, ice cream and sodas too. I walked back to my animal companions and spent the night out behind the vet clinic. They were very nice to allow us to stay and even gave Maple some wonderful hay. When I tried to pay for that, the vet said to just do some good deed for someone else and pay it forward. I did that. Alliance was a fun stop.

Day 11: I rode north out of town at 5:30 a.m. to avoid morning traffic along the paved road. I rode to Ross’ farrier shop (he was the man who had put shoes on Maple a few days before). He directed me across some fields to where I could pick up the county gravel, back roads that would take me north and west.

We had a wonderful ride to Borea on the back roads, heading north and west. I rode into Pat and Bob’s place which was a wonderful stop. Married 62 years, these folks are special. I had to leave there after they fed me delicious meals before I grew too fat and lazy.

Maple, Tana and I were getting used to trains by now, as we were sort of following the railroad north. We had a little set back here when Tana “shaded up” under Bob’s truck and got run over. She got a cut on a front leg which I doctored and wrapped. As she was sore and a bit lame, I asked Bob to haul us north to Hemingford where I could hole up at the Box Butte County Fairgrounds for a few days, letting Tana’s cut heal and I could write several post cards and thank you notes.

Bob took us right to the fairgrounds and contacted the director to let her know that I would be there. Phyllis turned out to be another great contact and help as I camped at the fairgrounds for 3 days (Days 12, 13, 14). She gave me directions for going on northwest.

Day 15: Tana was good to go and we rode out of historic Hemingford (famous since 1800s for alfalfa seed and potatoes) at 6 a.m. after a few days of food and rest. The road to Box Butte Reservoir is paved and I had to keep Tana on a leash for that stretch. Again, it was my lucky day when I met Jeannine and Tom at their ranch just south of the reservoir. There were a lot of storms at night and I was fortunate to get to stay in the ranch house this night and got to meet some of their family. Such nice folks! I was loving Nebraska! Another wonderful feed and accommodation.

Day 16: Jeannine held Maple while I loaded up and I think was a bit amazed at how all the gear fit on top. We rode out at 6:45 a.m. I was now riding along on a gravel road when a man drove toward me and stopped. He asked “Is your butt sore?” I said no and we stood and chatted for 10 minutes. When he found out that I was riding to Fort Robinson, he told me to look up his daughter who works there as a wrangler. I would do that.

We went about 12 miles, heading west, when I spotted a man mowing hay … and he spotted me as well. As it turned out, I rode into his ranch to see if I could camp there. I just kind of hung out by the barns (I put Maple in an empty pen) and waited.

I greeted several people who stopped in … a cattle buyer, a neighbor wanting to use his phone and a weed man. I was the official greeter that day.

Dave drove in on the hay mower about 3:30 p.m. and said that I was welcome to camp overnight. Whew. He went out to bale hay and did so until 10:30 p.m. Long days. I pitched my tent under a carport/garage that night in case of storms.

Day 17: This day began early and with a scrumptious breakfast. Dave had fixed some sausage and eggs and invited me in to eat. That turned out to be a real treat for during breakfast Dave told me about his grandfather, a Basque sheep herder who came to America back in 1912, as a young man. A wonderful book, titled Beltran, was written about him, published in 1979.

I bought a copy of it when I got home and found it to be a wonderful read about a very interesting life lived in the American west. This was a lucky stop for me as a lover of books and true stories about the settling of our great country.

I rode out at 7:30 a.m. after an entertaining stop and good rest for Maple and Tana. Dave directed me to my next stop on the back roads, but I missed a turn and went about 8 extra miles that day. That was not good because it was a very hot day and we did not need extra miles. Totally my fault, but I got to enjoy more nice scenery, old schools and a cemetery along the way. I stopped off at an abandoned farm where I found water and a shady barn for a couple of hours. What should have been a 2-3 hour ride turned out to be about a 10 hour day!

We rode past the Butler Farrier School and on to our next stop at 6 p.m. A long and hot day. I was welcomed by Gloria who had been alerted by Dave that I was heading her way. She was delighted to have us stop and her dog and horses seemed excited to see us ride in.

Gloria has a quaint little house tucked under shade trees and a big red barn and paddocks. This was a welcome sight. We were now on the edge of the pine ridge forest. Yeah … shade at last.

Gloria was so darn nice that she persuaded me to stay two nights. We had a wonderful time visiting and had a lot to talk about. Gloria was from Baltimore, MD, not far from where I grew up and we are both registered nurses and knew the hospitals where we each had worked back east. Small world.

I got a kick out of Gloria as she told me that her children tell her that she lives in the wilderness! My kind of living! I guess they all like city life. Not me. I was able to help Gloria a bit with moving heavy feed bags (horse, dog and kitty) and some house maintenance.

Our dogs had a good time although her young retriever had way too much energy for tired Tana that first day. It was a good rest stop for all of us.

Again, I ate well while at Gloria’s. We were a grateful trio. Once again, it was a lucky stop because Gloria insisted that I stay in the house and we had terrible thunderstorms both nights.