ELLENSBURG — Has anyone ever yelled at you to “Get a horse” when you’re out for a bike ride? I thought of that comment when I encountered horses and wagons on the Thorp-Ellensburg segment of the cross-state John Wayne Pioneer Trail on Sunday.
The John Wayne Pioneer Wagons and Riders Association is making its annual trek from Easton to the Idaho border at Tekoa over the next couple of weeks.
The equestrians like to go out for an long journey every year, as well as draw attention to the rail-trail that they hold near and dear.
This year’s pilgrimage involves a half dozen wagons pulled by horses, accompanied by some 100 riders astride horses.
This is the 33rd annual expedition by the group of horse and trail enthusiasts. Some years they start in North Bend, other years in Easton. They always head west to east to avoid being buffered by headwinds for days on end, and they always make the Idaho border their final destination.
One of the wagon drivers, Tom Short, had stopped his flag-festooned rig at the trailhead in Thorp. He said the group had made their way from South Cle Elum — through the two tunnels along the Yakima River — to Thorp Mill the day before. On Sunday they were staying at the Ellensburg fairgrouds. After riding in the Memorial Day Parade on Monday, they would head to their evening camping spot near Kittitas.
Short says the participants go as far as they can by horse and wagon. They have to carry the horses and their rigs on trailers at trail gaps at Interstate 90, the Columbia River, and a couple of locations in eastern Washington.
Hikers and bicyclists are welcome to join up and camp with the annual caravan.
Short’s son, Andrew, was tagging along for a few days on a mountain bike this year while his family rode in the wagon. He told me their logistics of crossing the state.
All the participants have trailers for their horses. Those trailers and camping vehicles are gathered at the evening campsite. In the morning, the travelers drive their trailers and motor homes to the next campsite, board a school bus back to the previous night’s campsite, and then ride the horses and wagons down the John Wayne Pioneer Trail to that night’s campsite. They hopscotch across that state this way, never going more than 23 miles a day.
The ride isn’t just an adventure for those in the caravan, but it’s a way to draw attention to this amazing, but sometimes neglected, trail. One of the association’s goals is to encourage more campgrounds and services along the trail.
Currently, four primitive camping areas are located on the trail between Rattlesnake Lake and Keechelus Lake. The Easton State Park campground also can accommodate trail campers. Association members make special arrangements for overnight stays along the trail.
This year’s overnight camping areas are: Easton, South Cle Elum Depot, Thorp, Ellensburg, Kittitas, Vantage/Wanapum Dam, Warden, Lind, Ralston, Revere, Ewan, Malden, Rosalia, Tekoa.
It’s no coincidence that this group carries the same name as the trail.
A plaque at the Kittitas Trailhead tells how R. “Chic” Hollenbeck played an instrumental role in convincing the state to acquire the railroad corridor when the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad abandoned it in the 1980s. Hollenbeck, an avid outdoorsman and horseman, admired the actor John Wayne and founded the wagon and riders association in the actor’s name, according to Traillink. When he lobbied the state to buy the abandoned railroad property, he also lobbied that it be named for the late actor, who had died in 1979.