Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Sleigh & Trail Rides in Garden Valley

After getting kabibbles of apples from the photographer,
Duke and Rocky smile readily at the camera, with
mom, Mary Jo Dawson.

  A family sits inside the hut, warmed by the stove, hot cider, and the bright red tablecloths. Outside, nine-degrees are chilling noses and causing Duke and Rocky to stamp their hooves and snort out clouds of hot breath--ready to go.

  Groups of fun-seekers are dividing themselves into the two sleighs, bundling up and snuggling together. Then they’re off, creating a Currier and Ives picture against the rise of the fir-covered mountains.

  Mary Jo Dawson leads in the first sleigh, holding the reins of Duke and Rocky. “They are my babysitter team—super gentle,” she says, “I’ve rented the land from John Tucker and Jim Mills, and we don’t go by the river because it’s too dangerous for the horses. We drop hay from the wagon and elk come in to feed, so patrons get up and close to them…but just when you think the elk are trained, they don’t show up--which reminds you they’re really wild.”

  Dawson has been running Garden Valley Trail Rides for a long time, but this is the first year she’s offering winter sleigh rides. “The trail rides are a hard business,” she confides, “I don’t really make enough to cover the hay. I was dreading the decision to do this in the winter, with the cold and having to use different teams—I keep the same teams hooked up all day in the summer. Surprisingly, we’ve had wonderful weather, with no wind—just gorgeous—and I’m making enough to pay for the hay all year! Hubby is happy, horses are happy, I’m happy. It took me forty years to figure it out. I had thought maybe I should start a non-profit…now it pays for itself.”

  Dawson has 5,000 sleigh rides booked for the season, most of which she attributes to Groupon, a deal-of-the-day website that features discount gift certificates. She says she encourages patrons to visit Crouch and directs them to use Old Crouch Road, rather than the Middle Fork. “That way they get to see some of the old homesteads, the new library and cross the river on the old bridge—it’s a taste of the history.

  “I also have a deal with Wild Bill’s Coffee and Bistro, and business has been good for him. I’ve found that 75% of the people that come for the trail rides don’t know about the town of Crouch—they have no clue it’s here.”

  Garden Valley Trail Rides are available from May to the first week of November. Dawson says the rides are geared for inexperienced riders and can be taken for one-and-a-half hours or three hours. She has twenty-two horses and eighteen trail horses, which she says are all very gentle.

  The rides begin on the north side of Banks Lowman Road, across from Schoolhouse Gulch. They stick to old logging roads, with no vehicles allowed. “The creek runs through July,” says Dawson, “and the trails have wild life and great views.”

  While the snow and chill are still here, you can find Mary Jo Dawson and her sleighs, by turning down the Severance road, on the south side of Banks Lowman Road ~ look for the signs. She is expecting a fancy, vis-à-vis sleigh for Valentine’s Day, so romance will definitely be in the wintry air that week. For reservations, call 208-462-3451.

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