By: Lance Kinser
Last August I took my family on a riding vacation to the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico. My wife and I had both ridden a little and our two children (Adam, 10 and Sarah, 12) have had lessons off and on for the past two years. We were looking for a real Western adventure and a chance to expose the children to the beauty of nature.
We flew into Albuquerque and it was a two hour drive to Truth or Consequences and then another two hours of mountain driving to the ranch. Although the road was slow going, we enjoyed spectacular views of mountains and canyons. We even spotted a massive bull elk in one of the valleys.
We arrived at Geronimo Trail Guest Ranch at about 4.30 in the afternoon and were warmly greeted by the owners, John and Linda Massie and the wranglers, Dan and Tabitha Holland. We were escorted to our cabin which was very roomy and comfortable. It was decorated with a western motif including steel cowboy art, branding irons and southwest bedspreads.
The kids were anxious to meet the horses so Dan and Tabitha took them down to the corrals. Adam got a pretty bay gelding called Morgan and Sara would be riding a sweet little appaloosa mare named Shortcake. Everyone helped feed the horses their hay and before we knew it, the dinner bell rang and we all marched up the dining hall. We gorged ourselves on grilled steak with baked potatoes and salad, when we thought we could eat no more Linda brought out cherry cobbler with ice cream. This was to be the first of many fantastic meals which included salmon with mango salsa, baked pork chops, enchiladas and rice with a colorful and tasty array of desserts and sweets. We never went hungry and the kids were always accommodated if they preferred something different.
The next morning, we saddled up and rode through some of the most amazing and untouched country I have ever seen! Our horses were steady and trustworthy and handled the rough terrain like pros. The history associated with the area made the riding even more fun. The wranglers were very knowledgeable and pointed out various plants and trees and had great stories. We rode past an old homestead where outlaws had killed the owner and eventually lost the property in a card game. Then, we made our way up a steep canyon and had an incredible view of the Gila River and the border of Old Mexico. My wife was a little nervous about making our decent into the canyon but her horse, Rio, never faltered and we were soon at the bottom. We were all amazed that we had managed to tackle the ride and we smiled and laughed as well looked up to where we had ridden for the past two hours.
From there, we followed the river another 20 minutes or so where we tied up the horses and enjoyed a picnic lunch of chips and sandwiches with cookies. Soon, we remounted and followed the river another two hours home. The scenery was unbelievable! The walls of the canyon stretched up 200-300ft above us and we splashed through the river many times along the trail. It was fun to think about riding over the same territory as Billy the Kid and Geronimo.
For the rest of the week we were able to ride as little or as much as we wanted. We decided when we wanted to ride or hike or eat. It was a very nice departure from a tourist type guest ranch where everything is scheduled and planned for you. We rode over all kinds of different landscapes including flat green mesas, high on top of the mountains, following the river in the canyons and through fields of wildflowers. One day, we all enjoyed a treasure hunt where we followed a map and had to solve riddles until we came to a real Native American dwelling where a 'treasure' of gold coins, bandannas and other goodies awaited us. The kids had a great time! Another day we had a mock rodeo where we played games and competed on horseback. In the evenings, we enjoyed playing cards and sitting around the campfire. Dan taught Adam and Sara how to twirl a lariat rope.
One of my favorite parts of our stay was our hike to the Native American dwellings. We all climbed in and out of the homes built into rock walls. We could see where their fires once burned and were amazed by the writings and pictures on the walls. We found pieces of black and white Mimbrenos pottery. The whole experience gave all of us a new appreciation for the history of the Native Americans.
Geronimo Trail Guest Ranch is truly a very special place. I cannot say enough about the hospitality of the owners and wranglers. We came strangers and left as friends.