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.