Wagons ho!

Horsing around in the Old West is a fun way to travel

Teton Wagon Train and Horse Adventure / Photo by See Jackson Hole

Wagons ho! Ride ’em cowboy! I sat uncomfortably on the plastic airport chair waiting for my flight, smiling all the while. How was it that — at my age! —  I was sitting protectively lest my saddle sores hurt even more? Well, pardners, it was this way.

I wanted to try something different, something unique, something remote. I wanted to get away from the usual, the sightseeing, the cruising, the fine dining, well, fast food anyway. And that’s  just what I did on a vacation that took me back in time to an activity I’d only dreamed of.

I started in Jackson, Wyoming — a tourist town to top all tourist towns. On a summer Monday, I was clean and fresh from a shower, and for three days my credit card and I had been in and out of every t-shirt shop in town. It was time to get out of town and stop spending money.

Four days later, there was no doubt where my bedraggled self had been. I’d been trail riding in the Tetons, moving from camp to camp by day in a covered wagon. But there was a smile on my face — it had been wonderful!

The horseback riding

Jeff Warburton, who with his brother Chris owns Teton Wagon Train and Horse Adventure, picked me up at my motel after breakfast that Monday. We drove through Teton National Park, turned onto a gravel road, and then onto a worse road before arriving at Calf Creek, the first of three campsites on this trip.

That first day, a string of saddle horses reminded me I hadn’t ridden in many years. I imagined broken wrists and back pain.

Chris is the brother who handles the rides and horses. On the first ride, I was glad for the leisurely pace of the gentle horse he’d assigned me. By the second day, he stepped me up to one with a bit more spirit and by day three, when my horse did a little jig because he didn’t like the horse next to us, I was in control of the horse instead of the other way around.

Well, on day four when they said the second trail ride of the morning would include cantering time for those who wanted to — I was torn between wanting to give it a shot and wanting to to rest the saddle sores that had come with the territory. My saddle sores won out, and I went on the first ride.

All the trails wound through beautiful scenery. Chris pointed out birds, flowers — and the black bear that crossed our path.

The wagon train

Then there was the wagon train experience. I’ve been told my great-grandmother made one of the last wagon train trips from Missouri to California. I thought of her often as dust powdered my hair and face and clothing and the bumpy road bounced me every which way. As we moved on the outskirts of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming within the Targhee National Forest, we experienced a small taste of what our ancestors experienced.

Our Conestoga wagons, unlike theirs, were outfitted with padded seats and had rubber tires in place of old-time wooden-spoked wheels. Two teams of raft horses pulled each of our two covered wagons and a chuck wagon.

After a morning wagon trip through pine woods where we could sometimes see Grand Teton Mountain in the distance, we’d set up camp near a mountain lake. Friendly young wranglers helped us set up canvas tents that had been custom made by Chris Warburton in the traditional style of those used by Western sheepherders and cowboys.

Camping experience

Around camp, we could practice roping an iron calf with a lariat. Canoes provided trips on the beautiful mountain lakes. Clean up? A dip in the cold mountain water afforded a quick bath. (Port-a-potties in camp took care of other necessities.)

The chuck wagon and cooking fire, like the kitchen in a house, became the center of interest as hearty meals simmered in Dutch ovens over open coals.

Around nightly campfires, Jeff and Chris told stories of Old West history and pioneers; they recited poetry, played guitar and sang cowboy songs. There was a visit one evening from Indians, and one night a mountain man came looking for a wife.

The quiet nights sleeping in tents were broken only by the sounds of loons on the lake and an elk bugling in the distance.

The details

I went on this trip solo, but I felt quickly at home with others in the mixed-age group. In the group of 19 guests, eight were children six to 12. Two of them had joined their grandparents who were on their fifth year doing the trip.

Nature, the best attraction yet created, kept the children occupied and interested, and at no time did I feel the trip was being dominated by the whims or whines of children.

You don’t ride? Jeff says people come on the trips and never ride horseback — they just absorb the beauty and enjoy the forest scenery, good food and pleasant company. Admittedly a shower felt wonderful on my return to Jackson, but it had been a grand adventure venturing into the past and living a simpler life in our great West.

For information, contact Teton Wagon Train and Horse Adventure at 1-888-734-6101 or online at www.tetonwagontrain.com.

By Janice Doyle. This article first appeared in the May 2004 issue of Minnesota Good Age.