Back in the Saddle 4-13-2007

Awesome Adventures lets clients leave behind the neon glitz

By: Anne Burke

Dave McKinley sits astride his horse and peers at us from under the brim of a black felt cowboy hat that looks to have seen a thousand miles of dusty trail. He’s wearing snug-fitting Wrangler jeans, a western shirt and a two-day stubble. Ringlets of dirty-blond hair fall to his shoulders, Buffalo Bill-style.

“What it takes to get them goin’,” he drawls, “is a kick and a kiss.” We are eight city slickers saddled up for a morning ride at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, just west of Las Vegas. “Red Rock,” as the locals call it, may be Vegas’s best-kept secret. Just 30 minutes from the Strip, it’s a wonderland of rust-colored sandstone cliffs, spiny yucca and manzanita.

We’ve been living the Vegas high life: blackjack tables and hip nightclubs. But on this cloudless morning, we have stumbled out of bed at 6:30 a.m., and now find ourselves out here in the stark Mojave Desert. We awkwardly adjust our rear ends on our saddles and make an effort to grip the reins like we know what we’re doing. Among us are young newlyweds, a mom-and-daughter duo celebrating birthdays and a civilian contractor recently returned from Iraq. We’re excited to hit the trail but unsure how this equine adventure will play out. Most of us haven’t been on a saddle in years.

McKinley makes his howdy-dos using his showbiz name, “Winkie Williams,” the moniker he uses as a gunslinger in a local Wild West show. This morning, McKinley is the greeter for an outfit called Awesome Adventures, which operates a horse-riding concession at Red Rock.

McKinley assures us that riding a horse is as easy as driving a car: All we need to do is tap a stirruped heel on the horse’s hindquarter, pucker our lips and make a kissing sound. I’m dubious. McKinley obviously hasn’t fought traffic on the 405. Nevertheless, I nudge my horse, Brownie, with the heel of my hiking boot, and she falls into line behind her equine brethren as we head off at a gentle, clippety-clop pace toward the steep canyon, layered in red, orange and tan rock.

McKinley stays back, leaving us in the capable hands of a trail guide named Ian Crumpley, aka “Oklahoma Slim.” Crumpley is pencil thin and wears wire-rim glasses and leathered chaps. He fills us in on the local lore. This used to be part of the Old Spanish Trail that led commercial opportunists, slave traders and mischief makers from Santa Fe to Los Angeles during the 1800s. After the turn of the century, moonshiners plied their trade here. So far, this sounds not so different from the shenanigans on the Strip.

Our ride is over in about 90 minutes. At the ranch, we’re handed box lunches of sandwiches, chips and soda. After lunch, we wander over to a small horse arena to pat the neck of Samson, the resident stud, and his daughter, Cleo. A few of us take snapshots behind bars at the Wild West jail. There are also old steer heads where you can try your hand at lassoing, but we leave that for the next trip.

A shuttle returns us to our hotels before noon, leaving the afternoon free for a quick nap and some sightseeing on the Strip. For late risers, Awesome Adventures offers an afternoon ride that concludes with a campfire supper, fire conditions permitting. Clients are back at their hotels by about 6 p.m. Awesome Adventures, owned by Las Vegan Susan Thomason and her business partner, Stoney Ward, offers activities for visitors who want to leave behind the neon glitz to explore the desert Southwest. Clients can drive a Hummer in Red Rock and Eldorado canyons, steer an ATV outside the Valley of Fire or navigate a Seadoo on Lake Mead. All outings include roundtrip hotel transportation.


Awesome Adventure

Sun-Up Horseback Ride: $119 per person; cowboy dinner ride: $149 per person. Price includes roundtrip shuttle transportation from client’s hotel.

Commission: 15 percent