We carry an atlas gazetteer for each state we ride through. They show all kinds of tiny dirt roads, back ways, and old settlements that most maps don’t have. It gives us short cuts, smaller roads, and more options than a regular atlas. Usually, it is a great benefit.
Sometimes, it lends itself to more adventure than we had planned for the day.
Take today for instance. (Remember- this happened a week or so ago- we are riding through Illinois in real time.) It was a lovely sunshiny day. We were finally on the road again. We’ve spent more days in the last month being sick and hurt than riding east. So it was a good day for a pony ride!
We were feeling high on our horses as we followed the windy dirt roads through the forest and hills of the Ozarks. We even had to break out the brichen and breast collars for the first time since the mountains in the Rockies! I was taking pictures of flowers, Richard was videoing, and we were enjoying watching Bella splash through every creek and pond in sight.
Then we came to a choice of turns. Hmmmm. We hadn’t been paying super close attention to the map or time (to estimate the distance we’d rode) so we really weren’t sure where we were. Logic would say we turn right- east that is- but it looked like a driveway into a horse ranch. The only contradicting thing was the official weight limit sign on the bridge over the creek. So we continued around the bend to the left. Within a couple hundred feet, we were going west. Definitely not right. So we sent out a scouting party (me on my indian pony Apache) to see if there was life at this horse ranch that might point the way.
I stopped at a cute little old house/cottage type thing where a very nice man greeted me. He hardly knew what I needed before he was inviting me inside for lunch, a bathroom break, a bed for the night, anything we wanted. I hollered to Richard who came back and we tied all the horses to his fence. Turns out we were in the ‘booming metropolis’ of Ashley Creek. Apparently, it actually used to be a small town. In fact, this house was the original homested, but the horse hanging out next to a barn across the ‘street’ was labeled “Harness Shop.” I don’t think that shop has been open for business for quite some time!
After an impromptu sandwich lunch filling our bellies, and Bella helping herself to all of his dogs’ food, we were left with a new friend and helpful directions. Turns out this ‘driveway’ was indeed a road.
It was not the weirdest road yet.
Shortly after passing through the ranch, we came to our next turn. We nearly passed it except for the suggestion of watching for an old sign post that looked like a too-tall hitching rail and the fact that the watch suggested we had gone the proper distance.
This turn also looked like a driveway. It had private property markers on both sides (most roads do around here), but no signs that it was a private road. Plus, it was on the map!
So we took it. Then we came to the kind of gate that is meant to be pushed through without getting out of your truck. Out west, those are usually on public right of ways. We hesitated. It was a LONG way back to go around and the next road (that actually had a name on the map) was JUST down the hill.
We plunged ahead. The road turned to a four wheeler trail. After crossing a few creeks, we were beginning to wonder. Then we saw a horse pasture up ahead. The road looked like it went right up to someone’s house.
Great- it’s a driveway.
Wait… it didn’t go into the fenced yard. We hesitantly inched forward not wanting to trespass.
Welllll… it did go by the house- so close we could have watched TV through his windows! The house was right on the corner of the next road.
Phew! I don’t THINK we were trespassing…. but it was a tiny right-of-way! No wonder the locals had no idea where we were talking about when we told them our route!
The next road wasn’t much better. If you didn’t have four wheel drive, very high clearance, and driving nerves of steel, you weren’t making it. Period. The road crossed THROUGH (with no bridge) a river- TWICE! Not a creek- a river! And yet it was labeled as a county road!
That road, however, led us to the remote Ozark home of a retired couple who gave us permission to camp in their cattle pasture next to a river. We roped off a corner and were able to let the horses stay loose for the night.
After fighting off this field’s overpopulation of ticks, we fell asleep in the warm spring air to the sound of crickets and a multitude of frog voices croaking their river lullaby.