After signing the obligatory if-you-die-no-one-gets-sued waivers, we were each issued a saddlebag to hold our water bottles and cameras while on the trail. Those who wanted one were free to select a helmet, also. One of our Guides (Jill) used some mystical combination of the rider's size and temperment to match each person to a specific horse. In all, the entire process took (maybe) 20 minutes to complete.
Once everyone was mounted up, we all received a quick lesson on how to ride a trail horse. It's at this point where I should come clean: my expectations for the morning were pretty low. First off, my experience with trail horses was such that I fully expected to fall asleep somewhere on the trail. Secondly, my kids both ride horses regularly - one of my brats being a competition show-jumper. So my fear was that they would not have a thrilling experience on the RCL 'back forty'. Remember this.
Off we went, single file, down the trail that these horses knew so very well (my steed, Rebel, included). Within 10 minutes, 3 things became apparent. One, the scenery around the RCL spread was absolutely stunning to a SW Ontario boy like me. Second, the horses would require some amount of rider control. And third, the trail was actually much more challenging than I had even hoped for.
A gentle part of the trail.
For 2 hours we followed the rocky, twisting trail. Up the hills and down the hills we went - sometimes steep and slightly thrilling, sometimes gentlly rolling. The horse knew the way, of course, but that did not prevent the occasional stumble and slip on the rocky terrain - just to keep things dangerous for teh tourists. All along the way, our Guides kept everyone safe and entertained with stories, jokes, and genuine interest in their charges.
Cowboys and Cowgirls need to rest, too!
It was a pretty great morning, and I was sad to find the creek we were following (in the water, that is) would lead us back to the stables. We brought our horses into the corral where the Guides instructed (and assisted) everyone in the delicate dance that is 'dismounting a horse'. I bid so long to Jill (slyly palming her a tip) and we shuffled back to our room to clean up before heading to the RCL BBQ area for lunch.
The afternoon took us back onto the ABD agenda: rafting on the Colorado River! Dan and his coach drove us all down to the put-in spot up-river from RCL. There we were met by our rafting Guides who helped us all find the proper sized life-jacket (no helmets needed that day). We split our small group between 2 large rafts - each with one ABD Guide and one rafting Guide.
Being late in the season, that stretch of the Colorado was pretty shallow and devoid of white-water (late Spring/early Summer are better times). That, coupled with very strong headwinds, meant we would all be doing a lot of paddling through the afternoon. Lest anyone feel sorry for the likes of me, our rafting Guide (Malaya) had the hardest job of all: manning 2 long oars from a perch on the stern of our raft.
Water warfare on the mighty Colorado River.
Over the span of a few hours, we paddled a bit, rested a bit, looked at stunning vistas, and took a lot of pictures. As is rafting tradition, we tried to make life difficult for the other raft by splashing and catcalling when the opportunity arose. A few paddlers even braved the chilly water - some, like Guide Chris, even trying a backflip off the bow! But eventually the fun had to come to an end, and there was the put-out spot with towels and a coach waiting for us. It was back to the RCL - and time enough to prepare for the evening's ABD Farewell Dinner.
Since we had a few hours of downtime, our small ABD group had an impromptu party on one of the room's patio. We had all made purchases at the RCL Winery (in addition to wine they sell various cheeses and crackers) and so we pooled our goodies for all to enjoy. We tried to coax Guides Mike and Chris to join in the fun, but there are rules about drinking with Guests and so they had to politely (and reluctantly) decline to join our party. Nevertheless, we all had a great time (the wine didn't hurt) chatting, laughing, and watching the kids do the same.
Come 7pm, we all filtered over to the Dinner being held in the main lodge. There was a buffet of sorts, with steaks cooked to order for each Guest. The laughter continued (as did the wine) as we sat down at the long table that had been prepared for us. We even had old-tyme country music supplied by the RCL owner's son, Devon Dixon, and his guitar!
Kids eat first in the Old West, I guess.
After dinner (and a few speeches), we all moved to the adjacent banquet room where a screen and projector had been setup. At our Guides' urging, each family shared a few personal thoughts about the trip we shared. It was a remarkably poignant time for some of us. We were a small group and had gotten to know each other pretty well because of that. And for some people in our group, the trip had been a once-in-a-lifetime (or maybe first-in-a-lifetime) experience. Whatever the reason, it was a moment I'll not forget.
Afterwards, the obligatory 'end of tour' slideshow was played for us - with lots of "ooohs" and "ahhhs" from the audience. It was beginning to feel like the trip was over. The evening, however, was not!
We all moved outside to an awaiting campfire - complete with all the fixin's for s'mores. Also waiting was Devon (and his guitar), who seranaded us with a medley of countrified Disney songs. We ate, we sang songs, we looked at the sugary-starred night sky, and I wanted to stay there for a very long time...
Devon Dixon in the dark.
By 10pm, the group broke up as people drifted back to their rooms for what would be serious packing for the day ahead - the day we would all go home.