No Horsin’ Around on Billy’s Last Ride

crossing_the_pecosThere are times when I really hate Billy the Kid.

Such as now, head aching, hearing my horse’s hooves thundering in the distance and looking up to see B. Rex Buchman staring down at me from his saddle, desperately trying—but, alas, failing—to stop that grin from stretching across his face.

Well, this is the Billy the Kid Trail
Ride, or The Trail of Billy’s Last Ride (www.billythekidtrailride.com; 505-392-1224), and the story goes that Billy got bucked off once himself during his escape from the Lincoln County Courthouse in 1881. Then again, Billy wasn’t loping across New Mexico when he tasted gravel.

Well, this ain’t my first rodeo. And, seeing how what hurts most is my pride, as soon as wrangler Dickie McIntosh brings back my horse, I’ll mount up again.

The point I’m making is that this horseback adventure isn’t for everyone. If you’re imagining a leisurely walk on Ol’ Gluebait over a smooth trail and bunking each night in a lodge that would make Ben Cartwright (Bonanza) envious as Miss Kitty (Gunsmoke) hands you a margarita in the Jacuzzi, then mayhap you should pass on this one.

This road trip goes where often there are no roads and the ground is hard. And while the grub is wonderful, the bunkhouses—when there are bunkhouses instead of tents —are spartan, dusty, spidery.

“This is the only ride that I get to bond with every rider,” says Wally Roberts, the cowboy cook of High Country Trail Rides, who ramrods the annual event with Kim Chesser, cowboy, owner and operator of
the Burnt Well Guest Ranch (where accommodations are anything but spartan, dusty and spidery) in Roswell.

“At the beginning of the ride, they are just customers,” Roberts goes on. “But by the end, they have become my closest friends that I care deeply for. This ride is one of the hardest rides for the riders, and because of this, I will probably never see most of them again.”

It’s more endurance ride than trail ride: Better than 125 miles, rain or shine, over the Capitan Mountains and through a seemingly endless expanse of rangeland.

Historically speaking, the trail Billy took after his escape is open to debate, but this is the Kid’s country. You spend many hours in the saddle, relying on the hospitality of area ranchers (much as Billy did, providing he wasn’t rustling their stock) and finally fording the Pecos River near Old Fort Sumner, where Billy is buried. You see a lot of country you’d never know existed by zipping down U.S. 285.

The ride was organized in 2002 as a two-man vacation for Buchman, then a program director/agent with the De Baca County Extension Service, and Tim T. Hagaman, who owned the Wortley Pat Garrett Hotel in Lincoln. Since then, it has grown “to preserve the history of the Western lifestyle” and is open to a limited number of paying customers with butts tougher than leather. This year’s dates are April 21-29.

You can sit out any leg you want to, and the folksy Chesser concedes that some stretches aren’t much fun. There’s a pride factor, however, in finishing with your saddle pals. There’s a pride factor, too, when I see a rider’s horse bog down on a Pecos sandbar on the last day of the ride. It’s probably not Western of me, but I can’t stop that grin from stretching across my face when he bails off.

Sure, the sandbar’s soft, but in my devious mind: HA! I’m not the only one who tasted gravel on this ride! Somewhere, I bet Billy’s grinning, too.

Road warrior Johnny D. Boggs recommends the Ellis Store Country Inn in Lincoln and Fred’s Restaurant and Lounge in Fort Sumner.

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