Three Backcountry Horsemen – two riding mules and the other a horse – will come through Moab this week as they traverse the Old Spanish Trail on their way to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The historical trade route was formed in 1829, when Mexicans packed blankets and other woven goods on mules in New Mexico before traveling over rugged terrain to Los Angeles to trade for horses and mules.
Members of the California chapter of the Backcountry Horsemen of America – Jim Clark, riding the mule Chico; Otis Calef, riding the mule Floyd; and Richard Waller, riding the horse Toquima – broke the trip into two segments. Last year, the men rode from San Bernardino, California, across the Mojave Desert to Parowan, Utah – where they picked up their journey this year on Aug. 10, with plans to arrive in Santa Fe on Sept. 16.
The men, plus camp aid, cook and shuttle driver Rod Thompson, as well as volunteer filmmakers Ned and Benedicte Clark, will stop in Moab, where they will rest their animals for the day before heading south.
“We’re retracing the trail,” Waller said. “We haven’t found any evidence that anyone has done it in the last 160 years.”
A town welcome and a chance to meet the backcountry horsemen is planned at the Archway Inn Pavilion when they reach Moab on Thursday, Aug. 27.
Moab resident Elizabeth Eliason said she is a fan of historical endeavors, so when she came across the Backcountry Horsemen Old Spanish Trail Facebook page and the riders’ request for assistance with publicity, she contacted Waller.
“We have an extensive section of the trail here in the valley,” Eliason said. “I knew we (Moab) should have a special greeting as they entered the valley.”
The exact time of the town welcome will not be known until the group reaches the Colorado Bridge river crossing, Eliason said.
Waller said he came up with the idea of the trek because he “likes adventures, and wants to promote the mission of Backcountry Horsemen to preserve equestrian access to public lands.” Backcountry Horsemen of America is a national organization with 200 local chapters in 26 states. Twelve chapters are in Utah.
The purpose of the Old Spanish Trail Trek in the fall of 2014, and the summer of 2015, is to raise awareness of their mission, which also includes helping to maintain trails on public lands, Waller said.
“We’ve done $14 million worth of volunteer work on trails all over the country,” Waller said.
Gina Giffin and her husband Mike Bynum, owners of Walkabout Ranch and Aarchway Inn, will provide lodging for the group during their night in Moab. Both Giffin and Bynum are members of Canyonlands Backcountry Horsemen, a local chapter of Backcountry Horsemen of America.
“We do trail riding, have potluck dinners, and six to eight meetings a year,” Giffin said. “You don’t necessarily have to have a horse to join.”
After the group leaves Moab, it will spend the night in La Sal, at the home of Stephen Schultz, longtime member and current president of Canyonlands Backcountry Horsemen.
The local group works with the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Natural Resources by assisting with trail maintenance and packing out trash from wilderness areas, Schultz said.
“We’re men and women promoting the common sense use of horses and mules in America’s backcountry,” Schultz said. “We’re trying to preserve the historical, traditional use of horses.”
From Santa Fe, the old trail passes through a corner of Colorado, winds up through Moab, and dips down through a small part of Nevada before culminating in Los Angeles. The reason the Old Spanish Trail route veered north through Moab was because it was the best place to cross the Colorado River, Schultz said. Interestingly, it is trails that bring people to Moab these days, he noted.
A film of the trip will be distributed to Backcountry Horsemen of America chapters nationwide.
“It’s a membership recruitment tool,” Waller said.