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Horseback at the San Rafael Swell in Utah: Riding through Merry-Go-Round and Poor Canyon

I felt like a cowboy from the old west as I rode through the San Rafael Swell, following creek bottoms through brightly colored mesas and cliffs, exploring areas where old mines were booming long ago and viewing wild horses. Be sure to check out the Doarama under Maps and Profile for an amazing 3D timed view of this ride. It is my coolest Doarama yet!

Where: Bureau of Land Management, San Rafael Swell Wilderness
Distance: 11.46 Miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Range: 5,060’ – 5,369’
Date: October 26, 2017

In last week’s blog, I shared information on the adventure that I took with Hondoo Rivers and Trails, viewing of wild horses and riding through the fall colors on the San Rafael Swell in south central Utah. This area has beautiful red mesas and big views, not surprising because it is next door to Escalante Grand Staircase, Capitol Reef and nearby Bryce and Zion National Parks. In this week’s blog, I am sharing my favorite ride on one of the five days that I rode.

I couldn’t not have had such an enjoyable adventure without the help of my horse on this trip provided by Hondoo and her name was Sawdust aka Sawdie.

A weak front had just passed by and although it didn’t rain, it delivered some serious wind the night before and left behind some beautiful clouds to contrast with those colors and blue sky.

We started seeing fresh signs of horses as we continued along our intended direction for the day but Sawdie spotted the wild horses long before I did.

As we rounded the bend, we could see them and stopped to admire them as they kept a watchful eye on us. They did not move and we continued on our way, giving them as much distance as we could in that wide canyon bottom. We ended up slowly and quietly walking by them and on.

Our ride led us through canyons that had been carved by waters long ago, lined by textured red walls.

We offered our ponies a drink whenever we crossed a creek.

Photo by Adélie L’Helguen

This was the first time that Hondoo had led a ride through this area this year and in three different places, some work had to be done to make make our trail a bit safer for our ride.  Clearing rocks from the trail or removing small, fallen trees as demonstrated by Topher, was much appreciated.

One of the reason that I loved this ride was because of the diversity of the country that we rode in. We had some steep sections to ride up or down. We also rode through high grass, sporting a bright yellow fall color.

Who can resist a photo op when they see one?

During the week, we passed by many old, long abandoned uranium mines. During World War II, uranium was mined for the Manhattan Project that produced the first atomic bomb, and in the 1950s a uranium boom brought hundreds of prospectors and miners to the area.

As we finished up our ride, our final stop was at this old mining building, all alone. I couldn’t stop my imagination from coming up with scenarios on its life.

It was time for us to head back to camp after a long day of riding through all kinds of country and getting to see those wild horses while we were on horseback was a real treat!

I had such a fun time on this trip. No cell service, no internet, no news of any kind helped create the atmosphere for this week of riding and camping in this wild country. I imagined bad outlaws holed up in this country where no one would find them. I imagined the Native Americans living along the creek with their families, hunting and raising their crops. It is a very special place to visit and I feel very lucky to have discovered Hondoo Rivers and Trails to guide me. They have several other trips that sound very interesting and I am pondering another trip with them. In case you aren’t interested in doing the camping thing, they also have Inn to Inn trips where you stay in a hotel and 1 days rides. If horseback riding is not your thing, they also have many Jeep tours and hiking tours. They know this country like no one else and I was so impressed with their light on the land approach to adventuring with a group. Thank you Hondoo for the most excellent adventure!

Maps and Profile:

July 26 San Rafael Swell Ride Doarama

Relief Map of Ride



San Rafael Swell Wikipedia

Hondoo Rivers and Trails

San Rafael Swell Map

Utah Parks

Prior Blog in the Area:

Horseback at the San Rafael Swell in Utah: Fall Colors & Wild Horses November 5, 2017

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