Category Archives: Tales of the Sage

Stacy Creek IMO vs. The Mormon Cricket Migration

Stacy Creek IMO

Cowboys and Horses of Western Film

“Which way is north?”


Idaho Mounted Orienteering (IMO) – “Trail riding with purpose.” Competitors, either individually or as a team, compete to find five hidden markers using a compass, topo map and bearing clues. The “mounted” part requires the sport to be completed via horseback.

It all seemed right up my ally. I spend most of my waking moments on horseback, I love searching for “treasure” and it seems I have a knack for finding lost things. I am also directionally challenged: Never have a clue where I’m at, how exactly I got there or how to get where I think I might want to be.

I joined IMO in part to learn how to use a compass in hopes it would help with my navigationally challenged brain. Knowing better than to set out on my own and risk being placed on the SAR most wanted list – I joined the IMO veteran’s team: The Circle Four – consisting of Jones, Dusty and me.

It’s like being forced to stare at a crooked picture on the wall with your arms tied behind your back. I could not tolerate 3 members in a team titled “The Circle Four.” Jones tried to quell my OCD my telling me the reason behind the name was not member number – but their unfortunate tendency to “circle for-ever” in search of the markers.  I’d later come to learn the accuracy of that statement!

Regardless, my disorder required the addition of a fourth member: Fellow mounted shooter and traveling partner – Karen Kelley. I knew Karen would make a valuable addition to our team. She has a great sense of direction, loads of common sense and is a total kick in the butt.

Most IMO teams put on at least one ride a year. The Circle Four team picked June 23rd as ride mangers. We had scouted the area above Mann Creek Reservoir in previous years. A cool, mountain location with a loop trail system and adequate parking were the main requirements. A year earlier, Jones and I had ridden a loop we thought would fit the bill.  The loop starts NE from the gravel pit (basecamp), winds along Stacy Creek to where it pours into Mann Creek and loops back up Adams Creek back to basecamp. Perfect.

Jones, Dusty and I rode the loop a couple weeks prior to the IMO. It was a little longer than we thought – but still within the 15-18 mile average of past IMO rides. They’ve cut down on the distance the last few years to try and encourage new riders to join. Some of us are just the opposite. We feel that if you are going to haul your horse 100 miles – you want to get in a good days ride. Despite the longer distance, the loop was such that you really can’t get lost (well, I could – but that’s another story.)

The trail along Stacy Creek needed work. Low hanging thorn brush and downed logs made it difficult to pass. We used Jack as our measuring horse. If he couldn’t go under a low hanging limb – we cut it out. Dusty whipped out a serrated hand saw for the task. He might as well have brought a spoon. Dull as a hoe. I found a smaller, sharper saw in my saddle bags. (I really do keep everything in there including the kitchen sink) Between the two of us we managed to clear what had to be removed. I’d go back a later day with a chainsaw and remove a log that posed a safety issue for horses.

Figuring out the logistics was a little like herding cats. Karen and I travel a lot during shooting season. Trying to figure out a day for all of us to meet up and set the ride was a challenge. Eventually we had to settle on setting the ride up in phases. Phase 1 would be Dusty and Jones setting markers #4 and #5. When Karen and I had a chance – we would set markers #2 and #3. Marker #1 is always set in camp.

In the meantime – we came up with a theme, prizes and a lunch menu: Cowboys and Horses from the old Western Film and T.V. Dusty and Jones made cut outs of Trigger, Buttercup, Silver and Chubs. Other props included The Lone Rangers mask, Tonto’s headdress, Hoss’s boot and Flicka’s shoe. Even the infamous can of Beanee Weenee’s made an appearance as “A cowboy’s breakfast” at bearing clue for marker #1. Kind of brings a tear to my eye. *sniff sniff*

Dusty and Jones made awesome prizes for 1st. through 6th place: handmade soup and cracker bowls fired in their kiln. Very talented people.

Being my first IMO as a ride manager – I wasn’t sure where to begin. Luckily, Jones’s natural leadership skills kicked in to high gear. Karen, having the nicest handwriting, would be official score/record keeper and certificate maker extraordinaire. I’d be responsible for cooking tacos for 35 hungry IMO’ers. This could be interesting. My idea of cooking consists of popping a can of Beanee Weenees for lunch. If it’s snowing out – I might warm them over a fire.

I jumped on-line and googled taco recipes for a large group. Always the overachiever, the big G offered hundreds of variations of taco ingredients from chicken to turkey and from ground beef to ground buffalo. Too many options fries my brain. I opted to wing it. How hard can it be; a little ground beef – some onions, a few spices – roll it all in a flower tortilla and call it good.

The big day was nearing. Karen and I opted to haul the horses up Thursday evening after work to reserve the area and set up camp. Jones and Dusty planned to come up Friday morning with the four wheeler. If anybody needed rescuing – we had the four-wheeler for the sections of motorized access and the horses for non-motorized.

Finding a spot to drive stakes for portable pens in a gravel pit are limited. We found the only spot you could almost pound a stake to set up pens. Unfortunately, this is the same spot Jones had planned to park the IMO “office.” As they pulled into an alternate spot- the right front tire hit a sharp rock blowing the tire. It sounded like an A bomb going off. I’ve never actually heard an A bomb – or a tire blow – but I’m guessing neither get much louder. Holy Cow.  The good news: Karen and I had experience changing flat tires from the previous IMO. Between the four of us working like a well-oiled pit crew (not really – we sort of suck at it) we got the tire changed and Dusty on his way down the mountain after a new tire. Dusty doesn’t really do cell phones. Jones swapped his flip phone for her smart phone armed with my contact information.  That probably would have been a better idea had I thought to keep my phone on me that evening. Sorry….

Karen and I saddled up to check on our markers at #2 and #3. Jones took off on four-wheeler to check on #4 and #5 while Dusty went in search of the nearest commercial tire.

Unbeknownst to me, somewhere before marker #2 I dropped my TOPO map. I was fairly sure I could remember where I placed the plates (markers) without using the map. We would look for it on the way back. Karen wasn’t with us when we set the markers. We figured if she could find the bearing points without the map, the IMO’ers should have no trouble. Going off just the clues I remembered – Karen found “Trigger” tied to the bent over tree west of the trail and “Buttercup” hiding behind the willows south of Trigger.

We found marker #3 without incident and raced back to camp. Literally. Jane and Jack got into a bit of a race on the way home. My right arm is now 3 inches longer than my left from dragging J’Lo behind me. We were also trying to stay ahead of the storm that threatened most of the way home. Pretty sure we were running INTO the storm – but whatever. It was fun.

My map lay in the middle of the road 50 yards from maker #2. What was left of it.  Apparently Mormon crickets love the taste of a freshly printed TOPO map. They had eaten all around the edge and through the middle in several spots. Creepy little buggers. Back at camp, Jones relayed a similar experience with the crickets who’d eaten all the way around poor Chubs. Creepy little buggers.

A couple teams pulled in Friday night to camp for the weekend. The rest would filter in by late morning. The markers had been checked and verified – the flat tire replaced – the port-a-pot set up for the weekend and I was almost convinced I had enough taco meat for 35 people. The Circle Four Team members slept soundly in their LQ’s in anticipation of the day ahead. At least until 4:00 AM when my horses broke loose and Jack decided to play king of the gravel hill. Crazy horse.

Saturday morning teams signed up for their check out times as other early birds processed through clock-out. Dusty gave his ride manager speech to each team. “Leave gates as you find them.” “This is a more traditional IMO. Read your TOPO map. It can be ridden as a loop and the loop is at least 15 miles.”

I’m not going to lie. I was a little worried the teams might find this ride too difficult. I’m new to IMO. The rides I’ve been on have averaged 10-12 miles max. The roadrunners (those teams known for their speed and sweeping in and out) would have to slow down, study the topo and really search for the bearings using the clues. They were not all noticeable from the trail. I felt better when Karen was able to find the bearings from the clues only, but still…

The first teams back was Jesse’s team, The Brush-poppers. Known for his “Blow in, Blow up and Blow Out” technique – I wasn’t surprised to see him a bit disgruntled. Normally Jesse and his team fly in the day of the ride – swing on their horses – grab a map and take off in a cloud of dust. They exit pretty much in the same fashion – stopping long enough to grab the 1st. place prize and maybe something to eat if Atul looks hungry enough. Not this ride. They had several strikes against them from the beginning. One of the members had to be at work that afternoon. There was no finishing this course in an hour and a half no matter how fast your horse can run. Unable to find Marker #2 – the Brush-Poppers turned around at marker #3 and came back. Jesse informed us that our “landmarks sucked.” I don’t think it was any consolation to him when I reminded him that Karen found them without the aid of a map. To his credit – he admitted that he just didn’t have the time to look that hard. Well, that’s a bummer.

Karen and Dusty checked in trail weary teams one by one.  The majority were back by 2:00 o’clock – just in time for pot-luck. I was relieved to discover that 10lbs of hamburger will indeed feet 35 hungry IMO’ers.

One team remained out. Happy Trails had been out over 5 hours. While more than capable and experienced IMO’ers – we decided to send out a search party. Dusty and Christine took the four wheeler and I saddled J’Lo. I’d ride down Stacy where the four wheeler couldn’t go and they would cover the rest. Two miles from Stacy I get a text from Karen saying the team had checked in between 4 and 5 and were fine. The girls rode into camp all smiles no worse for wear. They had tried a short-cut that did not pan out. It took them over some steep, but beautiful country placing them in 6th place for their efforts.


Out of 9 teams – only three found all five markers:

  1. 1st place went to “Shade Hunters” (LauraJean, Shane and Ellen) finding all 5 markers in 3 hours 24 minutes and 51 seconds.
  2. A close second went to team “Renegades” (Christine and Lee) finding all five markers in 3 hours, 36 minutes and 13 seconds.
  3. “Hot to Trot” team (Raina, Rita and Darrell) came in 3rd finding all 5 markers in 4 hours, 9 minutes and 25 seconds.
  4. The “Donner Party” (Kathryn, Barry and Tracy) finding 4 markers in 6 hours, 19 minutes and 50 seconds, came in 4th One member lost a hoof boot – but with a name like Donner Party – I think we can all agree a lost hoof boot was the least of their worries.
  5. “Die Hard’s 2” (Candy, Mike and Zack) pulled off a 5th place win finding 4 markers in 6 hours 40 minutes and 42 seconds.
  6. 6th. Place went to “Happy Trails” mother/daughters team (Evelyn, Robin and Patricia) finding 3 markers in 7 hours, 26 minutes and 39 seconds. Had that shortcut panned out – those ladies would have brought home 1st. place AND been IMO rock-stars.


Circle Four, Renegades and Shade Hunters stayed over Saturday night and rode Sunday to pick up the markers and props. We hashed over what we thought went well and what we might improve on for the next IMO. Most of the teams appreciated bringing back the longer course. TOPO reading skills were definitely put to the test and parts of the trail were technical with low hanging branches – narrow trails, creek crossings and a mud bog that probably ate Kathryn’s hoof boot.

All said and done – most agreed that it was a successful IMO through beautiful country (with the exception of the gazillion Mormon Crickets – creepy buggers) good food and wonderful friends. And…to top it off as Karen would say:  “Nobody died.”

That my friends – is success.

Karen’s very sassy granddaughter. <3


Post IMO: I hiked back up Stacy Creek the next week and am happy to report Kathryn’s hoof boot was found. Aside from being covered in a  gazillion Mormon crickets (creepy buggers) – the boot was unscathed and will be returned to its owner at the next IMO.

















Trail Log: 1-26-2018

  • Trail: Twin Springs – Owyhee desert
  • Miles: 13.66
  • Max mph: 16.8
  • Ave mph: 4.2
  • Riders: Self – Blake
  • Horses: Jack and Felina
  • Dogs: Shade, Hank and Remi

Notes: One of the funnest days on horseback in a long time. Spent the say with my son riding, discussing life, relationships and God.

Click here for full blog piece….Sitn_Pretty

and here for more pictures:

Crazy Lady Creek

I wrote this 4.5 years ago after a bizarre encounter below Steck Park. The mystery was unsolved at the time I posted it. I’ve completed the story and republishing now to keep from repeating myself.

Click the link below:




The Seven Stages to Disaster

The little mare, folded in woven wire, lay in a heap along the fence-line; her sides heaving with panic. I ceased to breathe and felt my heart pounding in my throat as I took in the scene before me. Her legs contorted in an unnatural state – none of which appeared to be in the right position. My own panic threatened to overcome the ability to assess and ultimately remedy the situation. Dear God – am I really going to have to put my horse down?

I managed to pull myself together struggling to mask the panic in my voice: “Hey baby-girl –you’re ok…easy…easy girl.”

J’Lo raised her blazed head and nickered. I didn’t have to be a horse-whisperer to recognize the desperate plea for help. The look of terror in her soft brown eyes broke my heart.

I backed away slowly, “Don’t worry girl….I’ll be back.”  I turned and sprinted toward the house. With fencing pliers and halter in one hand and my cell in the other, I dialed my neighbor: “Can you come down here right away… my horse is caught in the fence.” I didn’t have to wait for a response. He would be there.

By the time I returned, J’Lo had managed to lunge to her feet. The woven wire encircled each leg to just below her belly. Her right-hind was tethered by wads of wire lodged between her hoof and shoe. I talked in as soothing tones as I could muster while slipping the halter over her nose. I stroked her neck, sides and legs all the while cutting wire away a section at a time. It’s a bad situation to be in no matter how you slice it. You are in the middle of a thousand pounds of muscled-panic entwined in 20 feet of wire. A wire capable of slicing horse and human flesh to the bone. One wrong move and you’re caught in the chaos of horse flesh and hell.

Of the dizzying images and thoughts racing through my mind while waiting for help to arrive – one thought stood out above all others: This was no freak accident. I remembered something I read on the definition and probability of “freak accidents.” Do they exist? Perhaps, but they are rare. There is an interesting theory on the subject in regards to catastrophic plane crashes in the book Outliers by Malcom Gladwell: “The typical accident involves seven consecutive human errors. One of the pilots does something wrong that by itself is not a problem. Then one of them makes another error on top of that, which combined with the first error still does not amount to catastrophe. But then they make a third error on top of that, and then another and another and another and another, and it is the combination of all those errors that leads to disaster.”

It was this thought process that caused me to ponder the seven steps leading up to J’s avoidable accident. While I don’t consider all of the seven items necessarily error’s – I do believe each step contributed to the accident.

  1. A broken water pipe: Our seven steps to disaster begin with one of the worst winters in Washington County’s history resulting in a broken water pipe at my home. Due to the unusual accumulation of snow and freezing temperatures – I had to wait until the snow was gone before digging up the yard to look for the leak. Once the snow retreated in late March – I began to dig in the general location of the leak. My neighbor had hired a backhoe to do some work on his place. The backhoe operator offered to dig up the leak on my place. Unfortunately, we hit two sprinkler pipes, the electrical conduit and numerous roots in the process. The decision was made to stop digging with the backhoe and pretend like the leak was all in my head. Unable to convince anyone that the continual running of the pump and seeping water was indeed a leak and not a faulty foot valve – I would have to prove my theory by digging the hole by hand.
  2. Eye witness to neighbor kid chasing horse: Digging in soggy clay through layers of tangled root system takes time, patience, a strong back and a sense of humor; only the latter of which I possess. I had to turn the pump off before digging so it doesn’t fill up the hole with water. When tired of digging – I turn the pump back on to water the animals, flush the toilets and jump in the shower to wash off the layers of mud covering from head to toe. I took the afternoon off work to accomplish these tasks and prove my theory that it was indeed a broken pipe and not a figment of my imagination. Like who imagines their pump running and water seeping up to the surface in the exact same spot for 6 months? I will admit to having an active imagination – but it usually involves horses, waterfalls and Sam Elliot. Anyway, because I was at home and working outside – I happen to see the neighbor’s horse running around in a frenzied state; the neighbor boy hot on his heels with is AK 47 airsoft rifle. Feeding off one another as horses often do – J’Lo was also running around like a chicken with her head cut off. Now, I really like the neighbor kid. I’ve known him since he was a little squirt that showed up at my house offering to do my dishes for banana bread. I’ve known him long enough to know that he doesn’t lie – he just avoids the truth at times. I’ve asked him if he shoots at the horses and his response is usually the same: “Did you know the Nazi’s used the same stuff in gopher pills to gas the Jews?”
  3. The locked gate: I thought it best to lock J’Lo out of the big pasture and keep her close where she was safe from neighbor kids and Nazi’s. I brought her into the pasture beside the house and locked the gate behind her. She wasn’t thrilled being separated from the only other horse within 40 acres so I tossed her a flake of hay to keep her occupied while I went back to work.
  4. The dreaded awning from hell: If it wasn’t bad enough I had to keep the water shut off to avoid filling up the hole – it continued to rain – soaking the ground and myself. My sister had given me a “Quik Shade” awning as a gift for helping her move. This seemed like the ideal situation to put it to use. Of course – it doesn’t come with instructions. Assembling that thing was like trying to solve some form of sadistic Chinese puzzle. Nothing “quik” about it.  J’Lo would walk by and snort as I wrestled with the finger pinching monster to no avail. After watching a YouTube video on how to set it up, I managed to get it placed over the hole. Not nearly as easy or as quick as the Asian guy in the video, I might add.
  5. The absence of Sir Dee Jack: While J’Lo can be intolerant of other horses – she is rather fond of Jack, her hunky buckskin version of Sam Elliot. Unfortunately for J’Lo, Jack has been at Buckskin Bootcamp trying to discover his inner shooting horse potential. According to his drill Sargent – Jack’s not fond of boot camp, with or without being fired off – but that’s another story. Horses are herd animals. Without Jack here to keep J’Lo safe from AK 47 wielding neighbor kids and horse eating awnings, she’s been pretty skittish. If something spooks her, she has to settle for running to the neighbor horse for comfort and trust me – he’s no Jack… or Sam.
  6. The forgotten gate: Between awning wrestling, wallowing in the mud and swearing – a lot – I forgot to open the gate I’d shut to isolate J from the neighborhood chaos. My first clue should have been her frenzied fence pacing and longing glances toward the neighbor horse. Instead, I remained focus on the task at hand: Proving to my neighbor that IT nerds were ever-bit as smart as mechanical engineers and that this was not a faulty foot valve – but a break in the pipe.
  7. The big one: Everything came full circle when the storm hit. My neighbor sent me a text: Take cover girl – here comes the big one! I dropped the shovel and ran for the house. Within seconds, sheets of rain poured from the sky. Tornado like winds picked up the awning and tossed it into the tree. I caught sight of a streak of sorrel buzz the pasture between flashes of lightening. J’Lo was fast approaching mach-1. If I could learn to shoot fast enough to keep up with that I would be a level 6 in no time! It was then I remembered the closed gate. I raced toward the gate seconds too late. I could no longer hear or see J’Lo. The next sight of my beloved little mare would be of her piled in a heap entangled in wire.

It was the execution of these seven events that I believe led to J’Lo’s harrowing encounter with the fence. Had any one of those events been removed from the equation, I think it’s very likely it would not have happened.

If the pipe hadn’t broke, I wouldn’t have been home that day to witness the horses frantically running from the neighbor kid. There would have been no reason to separate my horse from the neighbors pasture. Had Jack been home – J’Lo would not have tried to get back into the pasture near the neighbors horse. Had I not shut the gate – she would have had a clear path to the pasture instead of running through a wire fence. Had I not put up the awning to cover the hole – it would not have blown into the tree scaring her half to death and causing her to bolt into the fence. Quite the tongue twister: If not for the wind that blew the awning that covered the hole that scared the horse that crashed through the fence that…


Kort arrived within minutes of my call. He took over meticulously cutting away wire as I distracted J’Lo. Scared as I knew she was – she barely flinched; a result in no small part to being hobble trained. He slid the last chunk of mesh from under her belly and peeled back the remaining section of fence still attached to the railroad ties. It took several tentative steps to convince J’Lo she was free from the entanglement. I watched every step she made from the pasture to the dry-lot – willing her gait to be sound.

While Kort pried the remaining wire from between hoof and shoe, I examined her for injury. A superficial cut running diagonally across her chest was the only evidence of the ordeal. I cleaned the wound with iodine, sprayed it with Vetericyn and turned her out to pasture. Without a doubt we had dodged a bullet.

As I watched her walk to the end of the pasture I thanked God for always watching over me and my animal family. Without Him – I know the outcome of this, like so many of life’s adventures, could easily have had a more tragic ending.

My little sorrel mare lifts her head from the new spring grass and gazes into the far distance for what seems like a thousand miles. I know what she searches for. Does she know that he’s coming back? I walk with treat in hand to reassure her. She gently nibbles the cookie from my palm as I pat her neck. “Don’t worry baby girl – he’ll be back.”

Snow Shovels from Heaven


It was getting more difficult to look for the silver lining in this winter as I sat in my car, stuck in a snow drift waiting for the grader to clear a path. With that said, I believe adversity is relative and any situation could be worse if given enough time and opportunity. Cupped hands covered my frozen ears stinging from the 30 mph frigid wind and blowing snow. Like holding a seashell to your ear – ocean sounds filled my head. That’s when it hit me. The silver lining: The risk of a shark attack at this particular time and location has been drastically reduced.

Click here for the full story


Gunpowder, Pendleton and Poop.

Gunpowder, Pendleton and Poop.

wy_cropI sat hunched over the reloading bench meticulously seating Circle Fly wads into brass loaded with canon grade powder and .45 magnum pistol primers. Reloading is to me what I assume knitting is for the crafty: relaxing. My mind is freed from the swirling cyclone of troubling current events and day to day fodder that clutters the human existence.

A repetitive, uninterrupted motion of my left hand sweeps the casing from the holding brick to the drill – the slot-machine action of my right hand seats the wad. I am lulled by the slight crunching sound of compressing powder. The waft of spent gunpowder and Hoppers #9 are aromatherapy to my senses.

Click Here for the full story: gunpowder



Trail Log: 8-28-2016

  • Trail: Whitefish horse camp – Pacific Coast Trail – alternate loop
  • Trail miles: 8.7
  • Ave mph: 3.1
  • Max speed: 8.7
  • Horses: Jack and J’Lo
  • Riders: Janine, Linda and Mildred


Trail Log: 8-27-2016

  • Trail: Whitefish Horse Camp – Met-Wind trail to Suzanne Lake and Darlene Lake Deschutes Nat. Forest.
  • Trail miles: 13.35
  • Ave mph: 2.7
  • max speed: 7.5 mph
  • Horses: Jack and J’Lo
  • Riders: Linda, Janine, Mildred, Sherry, Nora and Bev



Trail Log: 8-26-2016







Trail: Whitefish horse camp.  Met-Wind trail to Summit Lake (Crescent Oregon)

  • Total Miles: 13.60
  • Ave speed: 3.2
  • Max speed: 10.1 mph
  • Horses: Jack and J’Lo
  • Riders:  Linda Erickson – Janine Townsend, Mildred, Bev, Nora and Sherry

Notes: Erickson and friends annual horse camp-out.

Trail Log: 8-10-2016

  • Trail: West Yellowstone – Continental Divide Trail
  • Total Miles: 13.48
  • Ave speed: 3.1
  • Max speed: 7.6
  • Horse: J’Lo






Notes: I won my class! Diamond P. host donated a vest to all the winners. Looking forward to it. Awesome shoot…