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City of Rocks National Reserve
Images by Merri Melde


At camp

On the trails

Day 1's 30 miler

Hillbillie Willie and the Magic Bubble at City of Rocks 2023

June 9 2023
by Merri Melde

Best! Ride! Ever! (Again!) on Hillbillie Willie the Standardbred!

I spent two hours in the middle of the night before Day 1’s 25-miler at City of Rocks*, when I should have been sleeping, worrying about the start. We’d be starting on a single track for a hundred yards - not ideal with a crowded field of 20 or 30 horses. Was Willie going to be a firecracker or would he be calm? I want calm starts. Would other riders be running up his butt? I don’t like that and it’s not safe. Would he be trying to run up the butt of the horse in front of him? I don’t allow him to do that because it’s not safe, but sometimes it takes a lot of conversation and effort with Willie to give the horse in front of him space, and sometimes miles for him to calm down.

And what about that gnarly awkward 4-strand barbed wire gate right by a nasty cattle guard, which was just another hundred yards up the single track trail? I could see all kinds of pileups and accidents there if nobody was manning the gate. (Every other year at City of Rocks, we could leave that gate open. This year, some renegade cows on the wrong side of the fence deemed the gate had to stay shut.)

And, Willie’s bestest bud DWA Barack would also be doing the 25-mile ride*, and Willie can get a little squirrely when he knows Barack is on the trail and not right with him. And so I worried, while my prime sleeping hours ticked away.

Really. I just wanted a good safe fun ride. That’s it.

Read more here:

Camp: We'll be renting the same basecamp as in years past, large fields on both sides of the gravel road. We haul all of the water for horses to camp, you will need your own potable water.You do not need certified weed free hay in camp.
Basecamp is at 5000 feet, this is a high elevation ride!

From Boise take I-84 to exit 216 (Declo); go south on Idaho 77 to Conner Creek Junction, then southwest on the Elba-Almo Road.
One mile south of the visitor center in Almo, PASS BY the intrance to

2022 City of Rocks Pictographical

by Merri Melde-Endurance.net

For the 12th time, Endurance riders gathered near Almo, Idaho, for the City of Rocks Pioneer Endurance ride, to tramp in the footsteps of pioneers on the California Trail and Boise Kelton Stage Route, through City of Rocks National Reserve and Castle Rocks State Park. This is a bucket list ride for many Endurance riders, but if you don’t believe me, come next year and see for yourself.

Here’s a brief pictograph of this year’s 3-day ride, June 3-5.

Let’s start off with volunteers. We could not put this ride on without our super volunteers. This would be like an Oscar speech where you try to thank each individual, but you’d miss someone and feel terrible about it. There were so many people who helped mark and unmark trail, kept water troughs filled in camp and on trail, and ran the vet checks.

But special shoutouts go to Ann Kuck and Barb McGann, pictured up top, long-time Endurance rider and local SWITnDR (Southwest Idaho Trail and Distance Riders) members, who came again to help the ride, and got to slip in a couple of trail rides.

And also special shout out to Kimmie Brown, who showed up without a horse specifically to help, which she did non-stop all three days of the ride (and before and after).

What started out as snow (!!!!!!!!!!) the weekend before, when we arrived, and lingered on the trails up to Indian Grove at 7500’ while trail marking, turned into a gorgeous, not-hot, not-thunderstormy, not-windy ride weekend!

And the flowers had no objections to the weather. The Arrowleaf Balsamroot was riotously out of control.

And speaking of trail marking, never fear, everything was clear as mud on paper, but clearly marked by your ride manager and hiker team(s), and easily interpretable while riding!

Howard and Stacey Kent enjoying trail riding at City of Rocks

DWA Papillon, former breeding stallion for DWA Arabians, now 11 years old and in training in a second career as an Endurance horse with Connie Holloway, comes to Ridecamp for the first time. Here he’s gazing on Hall of Famer Fire Mt Malabar!

And speaking of Fire Mt Malabar, 23 years of age and what a stunner! He finished the 50-mile ride with Naomi Preston on Day 1. I’d give you his stats but the AERC website is under re-construction right now! Here Malabar is pictured with Lee Pearce.

Another stunning accomplishment. Cindy Bradley and her Morgan, Bogar Tucker, reached AERC’s Century Team club: Cindy is 80, and Bo is 23. woman+horse age is over 100!

Kitty Giles and QCDX Piccadilly (Lady) were the only horse and rider team to do all 3 days of the LDs. Congrats!

Nance Worman and Smokie were the only horse and rider team to finish all 3 days of the 50s! Congrats!

And best of all, I got to ride Hillbillie Willie day 3 on the 25!

Hillbillie Willie and DWA Barack saying goodbye to City of Rocks till next year!

Junior Endurance Rider Kyla Law Debuts Rock Horse Art at City of Rocks Ride

by Merri Melde-Endurance.net
June 11 2021

If she hasn’t already caught your eye at endurance rides as the tall, confident, 13-year-old pig-tailed pilot of a Hackney pony with an outsized personality, then it’s her burgeoning - as of last weekend - rock horse art business that will really stop you in your tracks.

“I started painting these rocks for fun,” Kyla said, “because my sister wanted to paint. Then I was thinking, why don’t I just paint horses because we’re at a Ridecamp.” That was at City of Rocks Pioneer endurance ride in south-central Idaho June 4-6.

Dave Rabe saw the first fun rock painting she created of a gray horse, and since he had two rather famous gray horses, Cheys Cocamoe Joe and White Cloud at his trailer across the field, he bought it for $20.

“And then I thought, why don’t I paint people’s horses because then people would want them more.” Next she painted a rock for Naomi Preston and Lee Pearce of their horses, (Hall of Fame horse) Fire Mt Malabar and JAC Winterhawk. (top picture)

When I saw that rock, I made a beeline for Kyla for my own rock painting of Hillbillie Willie. It was good timing, because after that, the word got out.

Kyla takes a profile picture of her subject, finds a big flat rock (“sometimes that’s the hardest part!” - but luckily City of Rocks had just the right kind of rocks scattered around our Ridecamp field), then she sequesters herself with her acrylic paints for around an hour to produce a unique, one-of-a-kind piece of art specific to the ride and horse(s) that’s guaranteed to delight its new owner.

She paints for fun, and for the pleasure she gives her clients, but it also serves another purpose.

“It’s so I can raise money so that I can pay for my horses’ shoes. Because if I don’t pay for them, I don’t get to ride them.”

Kyla has two horses, Prancy (Velvet Prancer), a saddlebred bay, and the aforementioned Flash (Piece of Perfection), the now-12-year-old Hackney pony. Kyla’s goal this year is riding the Tevis Cup with Flash.

“Flash is crazy. He has a huge personality. And he LOVES to run fast and he loves to win and he’s funny. And we share a really big connection with each other,” Kyla said.

Sheila Wetter had bought Flash several years ago and recruited Kyla to help break him. “He wasn’t even saddle broke. So we just worked from that, and when I was finally able to ride him, I couldn’t even talk while riding him or he’d spook. So we had to work all through that.

“And we were moving to Utah from Washington state, and I thought, I can’t lose him, because I love him so much. Because training together, we just grew a huge connection.”

She asked her mom and dad if she could buy Flash; they approved and she raised the money to buy him in 2018. Kyla started endurance riding when she was 9, and has ridden 915 AERC, EDRA, and WDRA miles. She and Flash finished the Scottsdale ReMarkable 100-miler last December, and they are focused on the July 24th Tevis Cup.

“I know that my pony can do it,” Kyla said. “And it’s a huge ride and it looks really fun to do, and this year is free for juniors.”

Kyla loves custom painting her rocks with people’s horses, and it kept her busy during City of Rocks, and is likely to keep her busier at future rides. But get your order in early and be patient, because that won’t interfere with what she’s really there to do. “I have to ride!” she said.

If you want your own custom rock, you can get in touch with her mom, Natalie Law.

Or, Natalie says, “I guess the easiest way is to find the little black pony. And you’ll find Kyla.”

2021 City of Rocks Pioneer: Great Trails, Great Tevis and AERCNC Training

by Merri Melde-Endurance.net
June 10 2021

This year's edition of the City of Rocks Pioneer endurance ride in south-central Idaho - the 10th year/11th event, or thereabouts - provided riders and horses with the ambiance of plenty heat and wind and dust throughout the 3-day event!

"Great Tevis Cup conditioning," said first time City of Rocks rider, and 24-time Tevis Cup finisher Kathy Perry. And great prep for the AERC National Championships in Montana next weekend. A few people were going on from City of Rocks to there.

From the always-changing weather (maybe heat or cold or snow or rain or wind or dust or all of the above in one weekend) to the elevation change (basecamp at 5500' with climbs up to 7500' on some loops), it's always a challenging ride. But lest you think only Arabians can handle it, a variety of breeds took on this year's ride, including Quarter horses, American saddlebreds, mustangs, Missouri foxtrotters, Tennessee walkers, a Standardbred, a feisty Hackney pony (hopefully Tevis-bound with his Junior rider Kyla Law!), and not one, but two Icelandic horses!

And always, the good trails and beautiful scenery left several more people saying it's one of their favorite rides anywhere in the country. The trails you ride through City of Rocks National Reserve and Castle Rocks State Park offer the same breathtaking views that pioneers gandered at 150 years ago as they headed West on the California Trail on horseback and in covered wagons.

More than 70 riders hit the trails each day. The familiar face of Christoph Schork added 3 more wins and Best Conditions to his long resume, aboard GE VA Blizzard of Ozz (days 1 and 2) and GE Haat Wheelz (day 3). On the LDs, Greg Mayer and Khlua & Cream won Day 1, Carol Bischoff and Kenlyn Struts won Day 2, and Simone Mauhl and Boogey got first and Best Condition on Day 3. Carol and Kenlyn Struts got Best Condition days 1 and 2.

City of Rocks is the first in the Idaho IronHorse Challenge - 12 days of 50's or 25's in 4 Idaho Pioneer rides (next is the July 3-day Top o' the World in Spencer, the September 3-day Old Selam in Idaho City, and the October 3-day Autumn Sun in Gooding) for one horse-one rider.. or a combination of horses…. or whatever challenge you are up for! Good swag goes to those who accomplish IronHorse or IronButt challenges.

8 horses and riders completed all 3 days of 25s, including Junior Kinley Thunehorst and her Missouri Foxtrotted Lady. 4 horses and riders completed all days of 50s: John Stevens and Lil Dude AA, Elizabeth Grimshaw and Prinzymess SPS, Nance Worman and Owyhee Smoke Signal, and Virgina Jenkins and RA China Doll.

And even though we were completely wiped out after this year's City of Rocks ride, never fear because ride manager Regina Rose was already making plans for next year's edition!

Come join us for this spectacular ride at the City of Rocks National Reserve and Castle Rocks State Park. The park has amazing rock formations and scenery, as well as a rich pioneer history which you will experience on the trail. We will have marked Trail rides as well as 25 and 50 mile rides each day.

COVID-19 will of course affect the ride: we will have certain safety protocols and precautions that you will have to follow... see below.

In normal times thre are plenty of things to do for families and fun. Durfy Hotsprings has swimming and soaking pools for every temperature preference (be sure to bring your swim suit!). Try the Great Pizza at Rock City, and explore the trails and scenic spots. We will let you know if these places are open!

Basecamp is a large field adjacent to the City of Rocks National Preserve, elevation 5500 ft. The trail footing in this area is very good, with just a few rocky sections - it is NOT a rocky ride! City of Rocks is known for its botanical diversity - you'll see cactus, pinion pine, sagebrush, aspen and sub-alpine fire - all on one day's ride! The wildflowers should be in full bloom in June!

City of Rocks/Equestrian Campground. Instead, continue straight south onto dirt road, and you'll shortly see Ridecamp on your right - Castle View RV Park.
From Pocatello and Idaho Falls, take I-86 and I-84 to exit 216 and proceed as above.
From Salt Lake City take I-84 to exit 245 (Sublett/Malta) then head west toward Malta.
Turn left (south) onto highway 81 for .2 miles to Highway 77, then turn right (west). At Connor Creek Junction, follow directions above toward Almo.

Trails: The trails are challenging with elevations up to 7500' Day's 2 and 3, and 6700' Day 1. Footing is very good though, very little rock (except for the scenery), some gravel road, lots of single track in the mountains and jeep roads and cow trails through the BLM land.

2020 City of Rocks Pioneer Ride: Endurance in the Time of Coronavirus

by Merri Melde-Endurance.net

It was 10 years ago that Steph and I were driving back from the Big Horn ride in Wyoming, and we detoured through City of Rocks National Reserve in the bottom of central Idaho, and Steph said, "Wow, this place is amazing, we should put on an endurance ride here!"

Because what ride manager doesn't think nothing of (first of all) ride managing a new multi-day endurance ride and (second of all) putting on a new one that is 4 hours away from home where you have to organize and pack and load all you need for 10 days of camping in the heat/wind/rain/cold/dust and setting up ridecamp and designing and marking trails and riding them and of course doing the reverse at the end of the ride.

City of Rocks Pioneer endurance ride was held this year for the 10th time in 9 years (one year we also hosted the National Championships), and Steph passed over the ride manager reins to Regina Rose this year. Regina had the added bonus of trying to navigate post-COVID-19 lockdown state, county, local, and AERC regulations, as all horse sports had shut down for months. City of Rocks was one of the first rides to be approved to start up again by AERC, after Regina put together a Covid ride plan designed to keep riders and veterinarians and volunteers safe during the event.

And, being one of the first rides to happen again post-Covid lockdown, Regina had so many riders enter that she had to close entries and start a wait list. Since the normal ride meetings (as well as communal meals) were verboten under the new ride rules, riders who pre-entered got the added bonus of a 34-page (homework) packet that included all the ride information they'd need. (And if you didn't enjoy your reading homework, imagine what fun it was for Regina putting the Covid plan together.)(And when you asked Regina a question, her first response was, "Did you read your rider packet?") :)

Some of the new rules under the Covid-19 plan for riders included wearing face coverings, either masks or bandanas in the vet check (all vet checks were conveniently in ridecamp) or, in the case of Dave Rabe, his tank top, which he doesn't wear half the time anyway when the weather is warm. :), spacing out in the pulse down areas, spacing out in the 4 staked-out vet lanes while waiting to vet your horse, hand sanitizing stations for volunteers and vets, and for washing stethoscopes and hand-held heart monitors between each use. Riders had to pre-register online (probably the hardest part!), and they received their awards as they arrived at Ridecamp.

Any minor inconveniences riders might have had with the new Covid-19 protocols were over-ridden by the thrill of the opportunity of being back on the endurance trails. Of course the scenery at this ride, and the challenge it provides you and your horse makes up for most anything. I overheard several riders proclaiming it one of the most beautiful rides they've ever done.

It's not an easy ride: basecamp is at 5500 feet, and you'll climb to 7500 feet - sometimes on each loop. Jeff Stuart rode the 55-miler on day 2, and he told Regina, "Man, you took us up to Mt Everest!"

Day 1 had 124 starters (76 in the 50 and 48 in the LD), day 2 had 97 starters (44 in the 55 and 53 in the 30), and day 3 had 68 starters (29 in the 50 and 39 in the LD).

We had many new riders to City of Rocks, some of whom had this ride on their Bucket List, some from as far away as California. We had a number of Hall of Famers/Pard'ners Awarders - humans and a horse - join us: Joyce Sousa, Hal Hall, Dave Rabe, Naomi Preston, Suzy Hayes, Gina Hall, and Fire Mt Malabar.** I rode day 3's 50 on Hillbillie Willie, and he ogled these famous riders on the trail, and he said hi to his mentor, Uncle Mal.

Also present at the ride this year was: WIND. The whole 10 days we were there. There was so much strong wind that any coronavirus particles blew to Iowa. The wind could be described in the words of a famous family mountain climber, John Melde (yes, my older brother), "This howling wind - aw c'mon, it's just air in motion, or is it - relentless, cutting, chilling, biting, freezing, pushing, shoving, tearing, ripping, rending, swirling, roaring, wailing, maddening?" Yes, it was all of those. But the rain (and snow up higher) did hold off until Tuesday morning after the ride! And no thunderstorms this year!

We did have a rider, Kim Elkins, lose her tacked horse in the park on Day 2's LD. On the subsequent days many people volunteered to look for the horse, on horseback and on foot. A super special shout out goes to the Church family in their search efforts. The family showed up to ride the LDs, and they stayed on for days after the ride ended, to search for the horse, on horseback and foot, every day, sometimes twice a day, in wind and cold rain storms. The horse had not been found as of a week later, but there are rumors that it may have been found by someone not connected to the endurance ride. We are awaiting further word on that.

In all it was a successful return to endurance riding in the time of coronavirus, and the new Covid-19 regulations for endurance rides were simply not a big deal for riders and volunteers.

**Here's the detailed list of 'Famers!
Joyce Sousa (Hall of Fame horses LV Integrity 2015 and Jim Bob 2005, Pard'ners Award with Jim Bob 2001)
Hal Hall (Hall of Fame person 1999, Hall of Fame horse El Karbaj 1978)
Dave Rabe (Hall of Fame person 2009)
Fire Mt Malabar (Hall of Fame horse 2018, Lee Pearce and Naomi Preston)
Naomi Preston (Hall of Fame horse Mustang Lady 2001)
Suzy Hayes (Hall of Fame horse Kootenai Zizzero 2011, Pard'ners Award with Kootenai Zizzero 1997)
Gina Hall (Pard'ners Award with Fire Mt Destiny 2015)
...and I hope I did not miss anybody!

Previous years, photos and stories:





2013 AERC
National Championship



Circle Creek High Trail Video by Merri

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