Horseback: California’s Sierra Nevada

Strike gold on this multi-day ride that mirrors Yosemite’s beauty (minus the crowds).

American Cowboy Picture
Kennedy Meadows Resort and Pack Station, which opened in 1917, is in the heart of the Sierra Nevada mountains at 6,400 feet. The Bloom family has operated the resort for more than a decade and breeds, raises, and trains about 250 horses and mules here. A mix of Quarter Horse, Standardbred, and Percheron, these sturdy horses are ideally suited for the steep, rocky terrain. They’re also even-tempered enough for the inevitable encounters with the area’s deer, bear, mountain lions, and marmots. All the tack for the horses and the mules are made and repaired in the saddle shop at the Kennedy Meadows pack station, as well.

“This place is everything Yosemite is in terms of scenic beauty and geology, minus the mass commercialization that is Yosemite today,” says Kennedy Meadows Owner Matt Bloom. Twenty cabins surround a main lodge, and the corrals are bordered by the Stanislaus River on one side and the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the other.

The first day of the signature six-day Gold Rush Ride started early with an eight-hour, 23-mile ride over a 9,500-foot pass to Huckleberry Lake. Pancho, one of the wranglers, lead the way on my trip with nine mules on a rope—each mule carrying 150 pounds of gear for the week stashed in leather pack bags covered with canvas tarps, which were box hitched or diamond hitched to sawbuck packsaddles. Our guide, John Rosica, carried a .44 Magnum pistol (for black bears), a large and small Bowie knife (for chores), and a wealth of wilderness and equine knowledge. He was a true Nevada-born buckaroo, with a flat-brimmed hat and laced up packer boots.

An alpine and sub-alpine lake at 8,200 feet, Huckleberry teams with rainbow, German brown, and brook trout, and riders were casting as soon as we dismounted. Our 12-person group slept in comfortable canvas tents (large enough to stand up in) on cots covered with warm sleeping bags and white linen-covered pillows. We rose each day with the sun and ate Dutch oven-baked muffins and amazing breakfast burritos to fuel up for big daily rides from Huckleberry Lake. The terrain was sometimes very steep and narrow, but I was always confident in my horse, which had been doing this since birth. I’ll never forget the days of riding through meadows, under waterfalls, and over mountain passes. Steak dinners cooked over an open fire never tasted so good.

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