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Loose Bob & the Mountain Unicorn


6/15/10, Priest Lake, CO - We had our ups and downs pulling today, but the lads put in an exemplary performance, trekking 18 miles, while gaining over 2000 feet in elevation.

This morning, I waited until 8:30 am before hitching up. There was quite a lot of morning rush hour traffic, and I wanted it to die down before braving a 7 mile stretch of Route 145, that had no shoulders. I started the day with Doc and Bill hitched up, and they were all full of the green alfalfa from the night before, especially Doc,  When I stopped at the store in Sawpit, he started walking off with the wagon before I had finished getting my groceries.  I talked about this in yesterday’s blog.  This was a case where I tied the lines back wrong!  So I ran outside, yelling, “whoa”.  Doc looked over at me and sublimely said, “Hey, let’s get the show on the road.”

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Having a cup of coffee at the first morning break.

The boys were feeling their fresh alfalfa and trotted most of the way to our turn off to the Ilium Valley. Just before we turned onto the road, a hitchhiker pointed out to me that B.O.B. didn’t have a bridle on. Apparently Bob had broken the bridle somewhere in the preceding 5 miles.  He was so conditioned to staying on his one corner of the trailer, he never strayed enough that I could tell anything from occasional glances out the back window of the wagon. I did a quick fix on the halter, and we were back in business.

The Ilium Valley is beautiful, but it’s ‘Day Use Only. There are only a couple of places where it would be possible to camp with horses, so that made it Okay with me.  I set my sights on Priest Lake, a few miles north of Lizard Head Pass for the night.

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“A series of Beaver Ponds, set in a diversion channel from the South Fork of the San Miguel River.  14,000 foot, Mt. Wilson is in the background. This is typical of the scenery in the Ilium Valley.

The Ilium Valley ends in a large canyon headwall.  I had been told that the steepness (grade) of the hill wasn’t too bad, but people who drive cars often don’t fully appreciate how steep a hill is.  I started Doc and Bill up one 15% grade hill and they got over fine. But on the second hill, they played out short of the top.

Just when I was about to try and swap to a unicorn hitch, two nice fellows came along in a van and offered to tow me up to a flat spot.  I accepted their kind offer, and hooked up my towing strap to the bumper of the van.  With the horses pulling also, we made it up a few hundred yards to a flatter spot in the road. Then I went about the task of changing harnesses and lines around to support a Unicorn Hitch. I knew that if I was going to make it up the canyon headwall, I would need all three horses pulling the wagon.

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Doc and Bill living the good life - Now this is the way they like to pull up a steep hill!

As I was swapping harnesses and lines around, a photographer from the Telluride Newspaper showed up to take some pictures. Talk about good timing - I haven’t had a Unicorn hitched since last December. He promised to send me some pictures, which I’ll post on a later blog.

I was a little apprehensive about how the hitch would go, but I shouldn’t have been. They marched right out like they were only hitched in a Unicorn yesterday. There was about 500 feet of steep vertical to climb, but they did it without a break.

When Doc is out front, he’s a very proud horse.  When he’s pulling a the leader, he always has his tail up and walks with a little bounce in his step. With a couple of line slaps on Bob’s butt, they were all leaning into the harness and pulling well.

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Time for a breather after making the top of the canyon headwall.

After catching their breath, the lads pulled out onto route 145. They were doing so well, I left them in the Unicorn. I was thinking to myself, that there probably hasn’t been a Unicorn hitch, pulling a wagon, on a busy highway, down a narrow road, in a mountain pass in more then 60 years. It’s about the second hardest type of hitch to drive, and is seldom used today outside of a show ring.

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Getting ready to pull out on State Route 145/

As we were pulling up route 145, I noticed an amazing number of people that were stopping to gawk and take pictures.  I’m guessing that a hitch with tandem horses, draws at least three times the amount of attention that I get when I drive a single pair.  One guy was even standing on the roof of his truck’s cab to get the ‘ultimate shot’.

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The lads, framed by a very large granite peak.

Tonight, I’m settled at the Matterhorn Campground, near Priest Lake. Mike, the Attendant, and his wife are from Indiana.  They’ve gone out of the way to ensure that the lads and I are happy and have what we need.

Tomorrow morning, I’m going to leave the Amigos hitched in a Unicorn, as we finish climbing the hill up to Lizard Head Pass.