Dark Areas - Mudholes, A Buffalo, Wild Horses & A Cowboy

Dark Areas—Part One:  Mud Holes, A Buffalo, Wild Horses & A Cowboy

Have you ever looked at a picture of the United States (or the world) at night? It is amazing how the majority of the planet is lit up like a child’s Lite-Brite. Outside of the oceans and the two poles, one has to look closely to find areas devoid of light. As an outdoor enthusiast, I am drawn to the dark areas. Why are they dark? What does the darkness hide? What prevents man with his continual mindset for development from exerting his will on these areas by pouring concrete and installing street lamps? After all, the human race cannot continue to progress without constant growth and development…or so some believe.

What is in the “Dark Areas?” (photo courtesy of Geology.com)

The dark areas for me are a jumping off point for exploration and adventure. Nearly all of my travels and adventures are in these areas where only my headlamp and the starry sky above illuminate the landscape. Recently, my frequent riding buddy and Salsa enthusiast, Kevin, and I ventured into one such area to try to shed light on its secrets. 

Looking to shed some light on our upcoming exploration…

With our El Mariachis kitted out with the usual bikepacking attire and five days of food, we left my truck with many question marks in our thoughts. This particular dark area wasn’t just devoid of light at night, but very little information about it existed on the all-knowing Internet. A Google search yielded little in the way of helpful information. It was a dark spot in the electronic super highway. What would the terrain be like? Rideable? Or not? Where was there available drinking water? Given road and trail conditions, how many miles could we hope to cover in a day? After pouring over some less than detailed maps and surfing our way around Google Earth we created a tentative loop that we thought was doable in the allotted time we had. Now it was time to go see what was out there.

Loaded and ready for the unknown...

Soon after leaving the truck, the rough pavement ended. It would be the last time our tires would feel the smoothness of asphalt until a short three miles of deserted county road in the middle of our loop—over 100 miles into the trip. As our gravel road wound upwards in a steady climb the desert landscape of where we began fell away to a climate of ponderosa pines and aspen. As we slowly gained altitude we had the time to look around and take in what the canyon walls chose to reveal to us. Was that a Petroglyph on the canyon wall above us? Pausing on our bikes, we craned our necks to see if our eyes were playing tricks on us. Yes—a rock engraving by the ancient Puebloans who made this area home so long ago.  There was another one. Wow! This was a promising start to the adventure.

The wonders of the area begin to be revealed…

As the day wore on and the sun slid in and out of the thunderclouds as it sank lower across the horizon, we finally reached the apex of our climb. Gone were the ponderosa pines only to be replaced by sage and tall grasses. We had returned to a desolate landscape. It was time to find a camp for the evening and some much needed water. Peering at our rudimentary maps we spotted a suitable campsite about five miles away near a designated spring. Because of our recent spring rains and the nature of the soil, our dirt road was slowly becoming a rutted, muddy mess—where we had to choose our lines wisely or risk locking up our drivetrains and wheels with the peanut butter consistency mud. It was slow going.

Choose wisely…

With an impending thunderstorm on the horizon, we finally made it to our intended camp. Our spring was dry. Looking around for suitable water was torturous as the only water in the area was from a muddy watering hole for the animals (deer, cows, elk, etc.). It was less than appetizing. Nearly out of water and disgusted by the thought of touching our lips to the water of this mud pit, Kevin and I improvised and used our tarp as a make shift rain catcher to capture the droplets that were about to fall from the sky. For the next hour and half we stood dodging lightning strikes while collecting the much needed rain water. Thankfully the problem was solved for the evening.

Our rudimentary water catcher worked to perfection…

We awoke the next morning to the sight of elk moving down the ridgeline below us and to blue skies above us. Taking a leisurely morning to dry out from the soggy night under our tarp, we pondered our water dilemma. We had a little rainwater left, but we would surely need more to begin the day. A quick look at our maps and intended route yielded no solution. There were no other springs marked along the day’s route. Thoughts of this whole exploration being a futile pipedream began to creep into my mind. No wonder no one is out here—there are no reliable water sources.  We may have to abort this mission.  As it is my nature not to give up easily, I swung my gaze to the watering hole—I think I am going to have to taste its murky waters. Yuck.

Our only option for water:  the mud hole…

Upon filling our water bottles and putting way too much iodine in them in order to prevent any outsiders from entering our systems, we began the day’s ride. Encountering more ruts and mud along the way, we descended down a picturesque ridge peering down into the deep canyons on either side. All along, I kept searching for a pothole of some sort where cleaner water could be found, but the lack of bedrock only gave us more muddy holes. Eventually we came upon a rise and the rough road changed slightly in nature—there was now some sand. The puddles in the road were clearer. It was time to jettison the mud water for some road puddle water. Our situation was a little better.

Filling up…

Our gradual descent continued. Whoa.  That is a big cow standing in the middle of the road. Wait a second. That can’t be?! As Kevin slowly rode forward, the massive buffalo lifted its head up as if to say, “What the heck are you guys doing out here?”  We hadn’t seen another person since leaving the truck the day before and here we were face to face with a wild buffalo. Where did it come from? Quickly scanning the surrounding sage and grassland, there were no other animals to be found—just our lone figure of western heritage standing in a deserted dirt road. Our “Dark Area” was turning out to be full of surprises. 

Hello big friend…

Slowly, our friend turned his back on us and began rambling down the road away from us—in the direction we were travelling. Giving him ample room, we followed him for a quarter of a mile before he veered off of the road and into the sage. Shaking our heads in disbelief, we said goodbye to the unexpected encounter and continued on, wondering what would be next. 

Not too much later we had a decision to make. We were at a four-way stop. To our right and left were what looked like well-travelled gravel roads—though we hadn’t seen a soul yet. Straight in front of us was a rocky doubletrack that our map showed leading to a river valley. This two-track was on our intended route, though we didn’t know if it truly descended into the valley and if so, was there a rideable trail down there? Would we have to backtrack or bushwhack for hours on end? Given that this was an exploratory trip, there was no time like the present to find answers to our questions. Onward.

As we continued forward our doubletrack became littered with horse manure. That’s odd—as we haven’t seen a single fence line in miles and miles. Rounding a bend, I looked up to see a string of horses galloping away, except for one lone proud stallion. He galloped towards us as if he knew us. Stopping suddenly he pulled up short and dropped his head towards us three times while snorting loudly. We stopped our forward momentum and watched the spectacle—not knowing if we were about to be charged. With the flick of his mane he turned and raced back to his crew and they galloped away stopping every once in a while to take a bead on us. First, a buffalo, and now wild horses. What an amazing place!

Some more wild friends watching our every move…

Our doubletrack ended at a point high above a lush valley of grass and wild flowers. It was spectacular.  In its depth we could see a ribbon of singletrack heading in the direction we needed to go. Looking carefully, I found the beginnings of our trail veering to the left off of our point. Wahoo! We were not going to have to backtrack.

An unexpected bonus:  singletrack in a lush valley…

The riding in the valley was spectacular. Our El Mariachis ate up the trail and we made good time riding through the sea of flowers. As we approached a blind corner in the canyon, we both were startled by the sound of thunder, yet there was not a thundercloud in the sky. Rounding the bend, we saw dust trailing yet another herd of wild horses. They were in full gallop, their hooves sending crescendos vibrating across the canyon walls. Once again, a lone guard approached us. After three head bows and snorts, he was off.

Riding among the wild flowers…

At the head of the valley, we intersected a well-travelled road. There was, however, still no sign of human passage. Turning right we climbed up out of the canyon and began a loop to what we hoped would be another interesting spot on our route: an old corral. After climbing up to a ridge, we made a quick descent into another canyon. As we rode into the valley floor, we saw our first human of the trip: a cowboy riding a horse. Stopping next to him, I inquired if there was any water nearby. He replied in Spanish that there was “agua sucia” just up the way. Utilizing my rudimentary bilingual skills, Albo, our new Peruvian cowboy friend, and I had a great conversation about his travels to the states and my own in his home country. The conversation resulted in my holding “Negro,” his horse, as he ran back to the nearby ranch house to refill my hydration pack. We now had clean drinkable water. Our day was ending better than it had started with regard to our water situation. Our choice to continue with this exploration was a good one.

My new friend: Negro…

After settling in for the night, Kevin and I sat pondering the events, sights, and sounds of the day: Mud holes. Elk. A lone buffalo. Wild horses. Singletrack. More wild horses. A Peruvian cowboy. Clean drinkable water. What a day!  We drifted off to sleep with little comprehension of what day three had in store for us…

The final rays of sunlight for the day. What will tomorrow bring?



This post filed under topics: Bikepacking Brett Davis El Mariachi Explore Overnighter Sponsored Riders

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Brett Davis

Brett Davis

I grew up in a military family where we moved 13 times before I left for college. Consequently, I have the continual urge to explore and travel having climbed, kayaked, and biked all over our amazing planet. My passion for the outdoors drives me to seek out adventures which often times combine multiple modes of travel or activities (i.e. biking to a wilderness area and then backpacking in to climb a high peak). "Keeping life simple" is a guiding motto of my life and for me, bike travel epitomizes simplicity.


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JoeyDurango | June 23rd, 2015

Nice work Brett!  Looks like a kickin’ adventure…

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chach | June 23rd, 2015

Google “Dark sky preserves” or “Dark sky parks”

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Tapdip | July 29th, 2015

Waiting too long for part two! Please post it!

Kid Riemer

Kid Riemer | August 9th, 2015

Taddip - Part Two tomorrow morning.

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