How to Get a Horse Fix on Poncha Pass

I’ve been horse-crazy since I was a kid. With long blonde hair, I pretended to be a Palomino. And my bedroom was full of plastic horse figurines. (They were collectibles, ya know.)

When we went to our Camp as kids, my sisters and I would gallop stick horses through the pines, whinnying and tossing our manes. We’d even snort, paw the ground and rear up on our hind legs. I took my horse fix any way I could get it!

That’s why it was such a gift when my sister asked me to go horseback riding during a recent family reunion. We drove up to Poncha Pass near Salida CO and pulled in at Granite Mountain Outfitters. A nice lady named Sue is the owner.

It’s been years since I’ve ridden. In fact, the last time it was mosquito season and we herded cows through the sage and all over the ranch. I couldn’t sit down for days and kept swatting at flies.

Anyway, we told them about our riding experience and Lisa was paired with a quarter horse named LeRoy. I ended up with Houdini…

…a mule.

Now before you go and get all judgmental, you should know that Houdini is one talented critter, fully capable of opening any gate. In fact, we were told that Houdini recently opened seven gates and let out so many cattle, it took hours to round them all up.

So I swung into the saddle and sat proudly upon my mule.

Poncha Pass CO horseback ride

And off we went with our personable guide, Andrew. Just us and the great outdoors! We rode through meadows with wildflowers, tall stands of aspen and an old logging camp. No stress and no noise.

Granite Mountain Outfitters Poncha Pass CO

Except for my mule. He liked to groan. He did it trudging up the hills and he did it when “nature called”. No braying. No snorting. Just groaning.

But he was sure-footed as a goat.

When we got to the mountain top Andrew took pictures of us from every angle.

Granite Mountain Outfitters guide Poncha Pass CO

Every angle.

Laura Benjamin Poncha Pass horseback ride

Then Lisa’s horse took a selfie. (That’s her line – not mine.)

LisaHorseSelfieJun2015

On our way down there was more groaning. This time it was from me.

“Um, Andrew? How much longer till we’re back at the ranch?”

Bones in my bottom were competing for attention with the spectacular scenery. The late afternoon sun lit up a few deer butts on a distant hill like spotlights in the sage.

Everything glowed. I wanted to bottle it.

LauraPonchaPassBackJun2015

Then all at once our two and a half hours were over. I dismounted my mighty steed and dropped to the ground with legs quivering like jello.

It was one of the most memorable rides of my life. The good folks at Granite Mountain Outfitters delivered a little piece of heaven that day.

I got my horse fix on a mule.

And I tossed my mane a little as we drove away.

Facebook Brought Us Together Across the Miles

The most wonderful things came as a result of the wildfire. (Can you believe it’s now two years since the fire?) There are many stories and surprises I could share with you, but here’s one that was such a coincidence and a blessing.

Cabin Mama Blog by Laura Benjamin

After the fire, a business colleague was following posts on my Facebook page. He was also friends with a woman who used to live in Black Forest, but had moved to Maine many years earlier.

He must have told her about me losing the cabin and perhaps forwarded one of my pictures or stories to her. Turns out, she used to live in my cabin years earlier!

Would you believe it? There’s TWO Cabin Mamas!

This lovely lady, nick-named “Lady Di” by her friends, emailed me and told me all about the improvements she and her father made to the cabin over the years. She also subscribed to my blog and sent me this picture taken of her outside the cabin.

Lady Di at Cabin

How cool is that?

But it gets better.

During the year we were having our new home built, I received a package from her and a note. She explained that when she was getting ready to move from the Black Forest to Maine, one of her friends took the street number plaque down from above the garage and said she should pack it. Lady Di told her she’d never be able to use it again. It wasn’t likely she’d ever live at a house with those same street numbers.

But her friend said, “Take it anyway. You just never know when you might find a use for it.”

So, inside the package was the street number sign made of ceramic tiles that used to hang over the top of our garage door!

Street Sign

(street numbers smudged out)

I was so touched she would do something so very kind. Who knew when that cabin was burning that I’d soon be connected with and blessed by the former owner? You just never know when serendipity will impact your life. And it’s usually the small things, the thoughtful things, that mean the most!

Lady Di Pic

Lady Di – the other Cabin Mama!

Facing Our Black Forest Wildfire Debris

It’s hard to believe so much time has passed. It’s now been 20 months since the 2013 Black Forest Wildfire killed two people, burned over 14,000 acres and destroyed 507 homes, including our 1924 log cabin home. 

Black Forest wildfire near Firehouse on the Run BBQ

(Above) Wildfire burning behind my brother’s business, consuming our cabin.

(Below) As the flames engulf where our house once stood. Video from Wayne Laugeson.

So, let me catch you up on the story.

After we viewed what was left of the cabin and my brother’s house, we stopped at the town center where Red Cross folks were handing out shovels, ash sifting screens, tarps and other supplies. What a great group of people. I wish I could have been more sociable, but I felt like I was in a dream – basically pretty numb.

Black Forest Fire Red Cross Volunteers

The next few weeks were a blur. I had to meet with the insurance company before any of the debris could be collected or removed. We had The Hartford and our adjuster was very thorough and empathetic. He took a ton of pictures and measurements. I had been cautioned not to consider him a friend and keep things professional. Overall, they were fair with us – certainly not Santa Claus – but fair. I had a notebook where I wrote down everything he told me, so I wouldn’t forget. My mind was like a big black hole.

I took advantage of the offer for volunteers from Samaritan’s Purse to sift through the debris for us. The day in July they showed up, it was in the high 90’s and everyone had to wear a hazmat bunny suit for fear of asbestos. Those people were saints! They encouraged Mom and I to sit back under the shade and let them do the work. Every once in a while a volunteer would bring over a “treasure” they’d found to show me. They asked where any important items might have been located in the house and stacked everything they found in piles. They raked the mounds of ash into piles as well.

Dishes debris Black Forest wildfire

They were dripping wet under those hazmat suits. And at the end of the day we formed a circle in prayer. They gave me a Bible, which each one of them had signed. They stressed they weren’t doing this work so I would donate, but it was something they each felt called to do. Teams of volunteers do this kind of work throughout the U.S. and internationally when there are disasters. I’ll say it again – they are saints!

Samaritan's Purse Volunteers Black Forest Wildfire

There was very little left intact after the fire. Many of my depression glass dishes melted together. Our cast iron skillet that had been on the stove was warped. Imagine how hot the fire had to be to do that! My son’s military dog tags survived, as did some teacups and coffee cups, ceramic Christmas angels and ornaments. (Perhaps a spiritual message?) What we saved from the fire fit into three 5-gallon buckets and some of that was broken glassware and oriental blue dishes I thought I might create something with in the future.

One of the most surprising discoveries were the two ceramic decorative houses my Mom and Dad had given me. They were sitting on top of the stone fireplace mantel, totally intact with only the paint bleached from the fire. Just think of all the burning logs and roofing that fell from above when that fire swept through. And these two little houses survived without a scratch on them. I use one of these houses to close my keynote speech on the fire. Audience members are pretty amazed at how something so fragile could be so resilient. It makes a great analogy for how we humans survive troubling times.

Ceramic house survives wildfire

So, you see, going through the fire itself was one hurdle. Then you had the cleanup and all the decisions about what to do with the debris. There was a lot of metal: the woodstove, twisted water pipes, garage equipment, refrigerator, hot water heater, furnace, washer and dryer, stove and the innards from my Mom’s piano (THAT was a big loss). Thankfully a very dear friend volunteered to collect the metal and after his days and days of hard work, we took it down to the salvage center where we were astounded by the amount of metal from the fire. The number of burned out cars and trucks alone was amazing.

Black Forest wildfire salvage

After that, I could interview and contract with the debris removal guy to haul everything else away. I wanted the place cleaned up as quickly as possible. I wanted the mess gone. The insurance company required me to get bids from three contractors. It was hard to figure out who to go with; I’d never done this before. Once everything was hauled away I went out there and noticed the stepping stones that formed a path in front of the cabin now led off into an empty space. Perhaps it represented our future – yet to be determined from the absence of our past.

Stepping stones after wildfire

The last step was tree removal. Fortunately, trees out front on the majority of our property were spared. The fire had only singed them and the Forest Service guy said they’d bounce back. But the trees along the side of the cabin and in the back were “toast”. We had to remove about 45-50 trees, big ones and little ones, haul away the slash, cut up and stack the trunks. My “woodsman” was kind enough to carve a cross with his chainsaw out of one of the bigger trees. These crosses cropped up all over the forest as people cleared their property. It was a sign of hope.

Cross carved from burned Black Forest trees

Coming next: we rise from the ashes