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
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
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.
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