High Desert Life

by Miles Hutchins

Well now, pilgrim, ridin’ a horse at 10,000 feet can be a real challenge, I can tell ya that much right now. But not near as much of a challenge as it is to get to that, pardon the pun, elevated height.

Let me explain.

Even before moving from Redmond to Mexico some nine months ago, Bobbi and I set a goal to see the monarch butterflies just prior to their trek toward Canada in March. And by the gollies, we did it on March 13. It involved taking a four-hour bus trip from our home in the lakeside area in the state of Jalisco, to Morelia, a beautiful colonial city of a million residents, in the neighboring state of Michoacán.

Bright and early the next day, we got on the bus headed toward the butterfly hangout, a hundred miles or so from Mexico City. Now Morelia is 6,399 elevation, and after another four hours on our home away from home bus, we finally reached the parking lot, some 9,000 feet elevation, at the base of a mountain. About like being on top of Mt. Bachelor.

We gazed at our surroundings and saw houses, pastures and fields that looked a little like the opening scene from “The Sound of Music,” or at least an Alpine community. No snow covered peaks as in Central Oregon, just a high up viewpoint of scrub trees and houses and fields, and above us fir and pine tree covered hills beckoning us to climb, baby, climb.

Looking forward to getting on a horse upon which we would negotiate the big uphill challenge, we bravely set off on foot to meet our new best equine friends. Huffing and puffing in the rarefied air, we trudged on.

And on.

And on.

Were the horses hiding? No, they were just an uphill hike nearly a half mile away. What a relief to finally climb aboard our steeds, led by their owner/wranglers.

Fortunately, there was a “loading chute” device for us to ascend for ease in hittin’ the saddle. Then upward and onward over a well-worn trail. Since I was the last of our 20 some hikers/riders, my wrangler thought it best to catch up a bit by offering encouragement to his horse. He stripped a small branch of its leaves and handed me the quickly designed riding crop.

Oh, my, is this really a good idea? Bobbi offered her assurance that the wrangler wanted me to touch the hind end of my mode of transportation, but only lightly. Deferring to her equine knowledge, I obeyed and the results surprised me as the horse virtually broke into an uphill trot.

Bobbi was behind me and, with eagle eyes, had told me to hang on with one hand to the plate-sized Mexican saddle horn, and the other to the saddle at my rear, which conveniently had on opening just for such a purpose.

Finally, John Wayne rides again!

Bobbi was doing her best to document this adventure by removing her iPad from her back pack, while maintaining proper posture on her horse. Amazing, to me at least, she was able pull it off. After a climb of a mile or so, we were helped to dismount.

This was as far as the horses were allowed to go in the sanctuary of the Monarca Mariposas. Back to hoofing it but now at an elevation of 10,300 feet. Oh, for a bottle of oxygen to supplement the water.

We walked down a trail a half mile or so and finally hit the jackpot. Glorious butterflies greeted us first a few, then by dozens. We were in heavily-forested country surrounded by the longed-for monarchs. Familiar pine and fir, but at over 10,000 feet,

An emotional experience for us and others on this quest because the ancient indigenous peoples of this area, and many of us moderns, believe that the monarch butterflies are really representatives of souls of our deceased loved ones.

Stayed tuned, next time I’ll tell you about the trip back down off the mountain.

— Miles Hutchins is a retired former Redmond resident who grew up in Central Oregon and now lives in Mexico. Contact him at milesredmond@gmail.com .