“No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.” —Winston Churchill
One of the most enjoyable ways to explore the high desert — or any terrain — is on horseback.
Relax in your saddle, become one with the horse, and drink in the beauty that abounds in this desert-mountain wilderness.
A recent transplant from coastal Orange County, I’ve been eagerly familiarizing myself with Palm Springs, its neighboring towns, and nature at higher elevations. A lifelong lover of horses, riding is a preferred mode of transportation. Not only because I feel a sense of freedom in the saddle, but can also cover a lot more territory in a shorter time.
The high desert is dotted with horse ranches, but word on the reservation led me to Crazy Horse Ranch in nearby Morongo Valley — located along the western edge of the Mojave Desert and to the north of Coachella Valley. The ranch, boasting epic views of the San Bernardino Mountains, is owned and run by Wyoming native, Jacklyn Wilson (pictured below), who takes a gentle approach with her 30-plus horses.
Employing what she calls the “suggestion versus submission” method, it’s incredible to see how the horses follow her command at a mere whisper or light hand gesture. If you’ve seen Buck (the 2011 documentary profiling trainer Buck Brannaman), you’ve seen how this works.
Upon pulling up the rocky dirt road to the ranch (look for two large-scale horse statues at the entrance), Jacklyn will equip you with all of the essentials — a helmet (optional) and a saddled-up ride. She’s also happy to teach you how to groom and tack your own horse, if you prefer — just request this ahead of time.
“All rides are private, so we can do whatever the guest wants,” Jacklyn says. One-on-one or small-group rides also allow her to choose a route — one of about six trails she treks regularly — that best suits the riders’ experience and ability.
More than a scenic jaunt through the backcountry, the trail ride is an educational experience, too, thanks to Jacklyn’s extensive knowledge of the area’s ecosystem. As you move along, she’ll point to plants along the way.
“That Jointfir contains ephedra, and is used by Native Americans and herbalists in tea and other beverages,” she informs, as she lets her horse stop to snack on the prickly-looking shrub. Riding along, she raises her arm and points to a Joshua tree: “One of the yucca plant’s many uses it to treat joint pain and inflammation.”
In addition to several bird species, coyotes, mountain lions, bighorn sheep, black bears, and roadrunners are a few other creatures known to roam this land. Keep a camera around your neck or in your saddlebag, so you’re ready to photograph anything that enters your frame.
At the highest point of your adventure, about halfway through, you’ll stop to rest. This is a great opportunity to appreciate the view, and have Jacklyn take your photo on horseback, a picturesque landscape in the backdrop.
Back at the stable, it’s your choice to turn over the reigns and bid adieu, or stick around and help clean up your horse. Brushing these gentle beasts can be a therapeutic experience in itself, so I recommend spending more time and turning your partner out to pasture before you go.
Crazy Horse Ranch, 50440 Cheyenne Trail, Morongo Valley; 760-831-6450; crazyhorseranch.biz
IF YOU GO
GETTING THERE: From Palm Springs, take Interstate 10 West to the Yucca Valley/Joshua Tree/Twentynine Palms/CA-62 exit. Twelve miles up scenic 62, turn left onto Big Morongo Canyon Road (a cluster of mailboxes mark the road entrance). Drive a mile, and turn right onto North Star. Drive slowly along this rocky dirt road until you arrive at Cheyenne on the left.
WHAT TO BRING: A wide-brimmed hat (if you don’t plan to wear a helmet), sunglasses, a canister of water, and a camera. Wear sunscreen.
FUN FACT: Horses eyes are on the sides of their head, and therefore enable them to see nearly 360 degrees at one time. They have binocular vision, and can also see different things in each eye.
ALSO TRY: Jacklyn also offers private moonlight horse rides, which include a ranch-style dinner.