Ramblings of an Editor

From the Desk of Shannon Schraufnagel

The West & Trail Shots


The first time I headed west was in 2002. Jason, now my husband, took me out on a 10-day adventure. We drove through Nebraska and stopped a few days in the Medicine Bow Mountains up above Laramie, Wyoming. I’ll never forget the feeling of riding in snow in August near a beautiful mountain lake!


We rode through some of the most beautiful country – through Engleman Spruce and Ponderosa Pine, along snow filled shadows and sunny mountain sides. We fished for trout and explored St. Alban’s Chapel. It was a wonderful experience.


*Photo of Briana Malmquist at Eagle Cap Wilderness in Oregon giving love to her trusted trail dog.

From there we headed up to the Big Horn Mountains up above Buffalo, Wyoming. I fell in love with Buffalo and I left my heart in the Big Horns. I’ll never forget the magnificent views from the Circle Park trailhead where we camped for a night...


We were supposed to stay there for several nights but the first (and last) morning we woke up snow was coming down in heavy fat flakes and wasn't letting up. Jason had been snowed in up in the mountains once already on a hunting trip, he wasn’t about to have that happen again with his horses in-tow.


*Photo of Dan Stewart and his wife in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming with Swift Creek Outfitters. They took a vacation without their horses and suddenly felt the need to get on the back of a horse, so they did! And Dan said it was well worth it.

But the night before we left, we took a quick ride around the area and I was stunned into silence… I’d never seen anything so beautiful before in my life.


There is something about the mountains, about the wide-open valleys, the vastness that just captures your soul. It's thrilling to be able to look all over but your eyes can’t seem to find an end to how far it can see and all it can see from one vantage point.


By this time in my life, I had been raised in the Midwest and ridden in other states such as Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina.  There are places in those states that can equally take your breath away but for different reasons…


*Photo of Johannes Slabbert riding in the Sage Creek area in Montana, one of his favorite places to ride. Mitch Lambath snapped the photo.

Riding in the Smokies outside of Gatlinburg was an awesome experience, like being in a magical forest!  With all its greenery, trees, vines, wildflowers (oh, the Mountain Laurels!), and the wild streams and rivers that seem to run in all directions no matter where you venture to. Because of its thickness of the forest, when you do find an overlook, it’s like finding a waterfall! It’s a treasure.


But the experience you have of winding through the magical forest of trees and vine is an experience in and of itself.


*Photo of Linda Hamrock and Dooley on one of their many grand adventures in the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Her friend Kari Thomas took the photo.

Cataloochee National Forest was another great ride just on the backside of the Smokies in North Carolina. The historical buildings are pretty awesome, and you can ride your horses to all of them, not to mention all the elk and the awesome trails.


Then there was the Big South Fork in Tennessee which we rode the south end… that was a very cool trip with really unique landforms that were fun to ride to like the Double Arches...


The trail meandered through dense forest that turned into a narrow path with drop-offs on each side. As the trail wound down to the right you realized you had just been riding on a natural rock bridge, an arch, and you wound down under the bridge where there was a double arch… pretty awesome to experience that. And waterfalls, rivers, streams, and some great trails. 


*Photo of Meg Armistead riding through Fisher Towers near Moab, Utah. Jeffery Roberts snapped the photo.

Each of these rides I loved and cherished and I could easily write another article on how awesome those trips were. But, for me, there was something completely different about getting out into those big, massive, majestic mountains out west…


I can’t quite explain the feeling you get when you realize you might be the only person within miles and miles of wilderness. 


You can look across a valley as your eyes scan up the side of enormous mountains, where trees look like pepper flakes because they are so far away, or you can wind through a forest with 200’ tall trees… it all makes you feel very small.


*Another photo of Meg Armistead on a pack trip near Soccoro, New Mexico. Tara Low was lucky enough to take this photo.

When I saw the top of Cloud Peak Wilderness, shooting up above Circle Park, I was pretty sure and still am that God’s heart rests on top of those mountains.


I haven’t made it further west than Idaho or further in the southwest than central Colorado (yet!) but I'm guessing when I look at amazing photos (like all these great photos from our Cover Photo Contest for this month that weren’t quite a fit for the cover photo but still worth sharing!), others get the same feeling as I do... Riding out west captures something in your soul. 


*Photo of Natalie Beecher on Boney Joe riding the Pacific Crest Trail in the San Gabriel Mountain Range, California. Her friend Julie Bradley snapped the photo.

There is just something special about out west. Maybe it’s because I grew up watching westerns and idolizing John Wayne… But I think for a horse person there is a heart connection to the west that’s born in us. I think part of it is the reason we love horses and especially trail riding…


There’s a freedom in it. We feel an independence on the back of a horse you just can’t get anywhere else. And when you see those vast views, majestic mountains, and wide-open spaces you feel a similar freedom, a similar independence that you just can’t feel anywhere else.


There's an openness out west that's hard to explain.


Now, "Out West" might not be where everyone wants to live forever, but I can promise you it will be a place that will forever stay in your heart if you ride in it. 


*Photo of Tina Louie riding Jewel near Sedona, Arizona with a rare dusting of snow!

If you haven’t ridden way out west yet I challenge you to do so. You’ll never regret it. From The Black Hills of South Dakota to the Rockies in Montana down to Colorado, and through the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona and everywhere in between – you’ll never run out of wide-open spaces and heart-stealing views.  


I caution you though – if you’re anything like me you might just fall in love with it and find yourself moving thousands of miles just to live out west… but, if you do, you’ll never regret it!


If you have been one of the blessed ones to ride out there – we’d love to hear about your experience! We’re always looking for good trail stories and photos. If you’ve never written anything before, don’t worry about that – I can walk you through it via email or a phone call. I love unwrapping stories from our members! And I’ll help you with the editing.


I hope you enjoy this Issue of “The West” ... I sure am!


*Photo of Mandy Gagliano standing near the iconic Mount Rushmore National Memorial in The Black Hills of South-Dakota. Mandy’s husband Jared Gagliano took the photo.


Blessed Trails,

~Shannon Joy Schraufnagel


Shannon Schraufnagel is the Founder & President of HTCAA | Horse Trails & Camping Across America and the Editor-in-Chief of The Trail Journal. She grew up in Wisconsin, riding and showing American Quarter Horses in 4-H, Open Shows, as well as Breed Shows. When she started trail riding and camping with her best friend Jason she fell in love with it - and her friend! They married in 2004 and in 2012 she created a Facebook group for trail riders just "for fun", which has now become the #1 Trail Riding Resource & Largest Trail Riding Community in America! She loves her HTCAA Members, her husband, and all her critters. She enjoys hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, and of course trail riding in God's creation. She and her husband live in Wyoming.

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