REAL RIDES - Horseback in the Sierras

by Louis Bignami

Horseback rides run from urban parks to Sierra pack trips. You can take a day ride at the Bonanza Ranch near Lake Tahoe. You can ride in Golden Gate Park or near the ocean in LA. Equestrian lessons, from three eventing through dressage to polo, abound. However, working rides offer a different perspective.

I learned this years back when we moved horses and cattle from California’s Central Valley up into the Sierra pastures and pack stations. You can still find authentic trips like these if you search.

One of the best is the spring or fall stock drives to and from the Sierras out of Rock Creek Pack station near Bishop. They’re not quite weekends -- you need to arrive Friday and the drive ends Tuesday at a banquet. They’re not for those who’ve never been on a horse before. But if you are a riding buff, have a teenage daughter or other horse addict in the family, you’ll score massive points with one of these trips.

Rides move stock between the Owens Valley and High Sierra. You need not be expert, but must have some time in the saddle. You start early in the morning after a huge camp breakfast and end the ride early in the afternoon when its still cool. There’s time to rubberneck, fish or simply rest one’s fundament.

Logistics are easy. You turn up with duffels and a sleeping bag with its air mattress and bring alcohol if you need it. The packer, who supplies a checklist of things to bring, supplies tents, copious chuck wagon food, ice and snacks. Packers wangle the stock. Set up the tents, offer riding lessons as needed and make the trip a pleasure.

You get a horse and saddle that fits your needs and ability level. You also get picked up or delivered from either Bishop or Mammoth Lakes Airport or the Greyhound Bus if you opt not to drive.

There’s no better way to get an idea of the old trail rides that with a horse and cattle drive like this. It’s a wonderful immersion into cowboy lore. Of course, other trips out of Rock Creek offer fall color and access high country lakes. Like other packers Rock Creek offers guided and unguided visits into the back country that are a wonderful introduction to the High Sierra.

Rock Creek Pack Station, Box 248 Bishop, CA 93515

Summer Phone June 15-Oct 1 619-935-4493

Winter Phone 619-872-8331