In the mid-1980s, my cousin and I packed into Yosemite National Park on horses for two weeks. We went over the Hetch Hetchy Dam and headed up the hill for Wilmer Lake. I rode drag (last) and ate a lot of dust.
After several hours, we stopped at Beehive Meadow for water. An icy spring bubbled right out of the rocks. Off to the east we could see billowing smoke from a fire burning in the park. As we continued up the trail, we passed through old gnarled trees, many splintered after being hit by lighting over the years.
When we came to the end of the ridge, the trail dropped straight down through boulders. The descent was called The Golden Stairs. I just leaned back in the saddle and let my horse pick its way through. About halfway down, we heard this roar. We looked up and saw two jets flying right over our heads at treetop level. It scared the dickens out of the horses and us.
We rode for miles. Every so often we’d come to an old barbed-wire fence. We got off, opened the gate, passed through, closed the gate and rode on.
On the way, we saw a mule staked out. It had been attacked by a mountain lion. The mule was so torn up, it couldn’t make it out. The folks left it there with medication to treat its wounds. They came in daily to care for the mule. When the animal healed up some and could walk out on its own, they led it out.
We rode all day until we got to Wilmer, a beautiful mountain lake. The next morning, since we were the only ones there, I took my clothes off and lay down in the stream by camp.
I heard a noise behind me and turned around to see a group of folks on mules and horses. “Howdy,” they said. “Howdy,” I replied.
They set up camp next to us, across a small stream. I got dressed and walked over to meet them. Their party was led by “Shrimp,” who was 6 feet, 6 inches tall. All these folks were in their late 60s and early 70s. They had three huge Missouri mules, the biggest I’d ever seen. Shrimp rode one.
Shrimp asked us if we wouldn’t mind telling any park ranger who came by that some of the stock was ours. Parties were limited to a certain number of “heartbeats” (stock and riders). They were over; we were under. “Of course,” we said.
They invited us over for dinner that night, and we ended up eating with them every night for a whole week.
Three of their party were from Los Angeles and involved in the movie industry. One gentleman, whose name I cannot remember, wore an ascot and had steely blue eyes, as handsome as could be. He’d been in movies with Ronald Reagan. Another couple were LA real-estate developers. Shrimp and his wife owned land on Lake Tahoe.
The food was, without a doubt, as fine as I had ever eaten. Beef, pork tenderloin with gravies, lamb, shrimp, crab, lobster tails, steaks that melted in your mouth. They had a half-dozen gallon jugs of various whiskies. We ate and drank every night and listened to amazing stories.
They treated us like their kids. We were in our 30s.
I had packed my raft in. They’d been coming in for years but had never seen anyone bring a raft. The real-estate developer, who loved to fish, asked if he could use my raft. I made sure the raft, pole and tackle were tied up right in front of their camp.
The week flew by. As they were packing to leave, we went over to thank them for their hospitality. Shrimp got up on a log, then onto his giant of a mule. He leaned over and handed me a piece of paper. He said in about six weeks they were all heading over to President Ronald Reagan’s ranch to spend a week there with Ron and some other fine folks, eating and drinking.
“Here’s my number,” he said. If I could get away and fly to San Francisco, he’d pick me up and I could spend the week with them on Ronald Reagan’s ranch!
But I’d spent all I had on this trip. I thanked him for such a generous offer and said I wasn’t going to be able to make it. I wish I could have met President Ronald Reagan.
Without a doubt these were some of the finest people I’d ever met in my whole life. We all shared one passion: riding horses and packing in the mountains.
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