I don’t remember ever being more excited about anything than finding this secret hideaway today. I’m sure there are other things that have sent me flying high above the clouds—like when Chad first gave me this spot where Riley and my house now stands. Or especially when I saw Taffy for the first time.
But those are all little-girl excitements. Thinking I found gold with Cory one spring when I was nine was the most exciting thing that had ever happened.
But I’m grown up now (so my birth certificate tells me. Way past eighteen years old). And I’m sure having my own little baby someday will outshine any new foal or a few gold nuggets. It will be the most exciting and happy moment ever, but right now, this adventure with Riley is high on my list.
For one thing, the idea that he knows a spot on a ranch when I feel I know every inch doesn’t sit well with me. I need him to prove it to me. It might—but unlikely—be someplace beyond our borders in open range. Then I could save face.
Yeah, I doubt Riley is confused by ranch borders.
I tied our lunch bundle to Shasta's saddle horn and climbed aboard. For a wonder, Riley told Tucker to stay home. That's a first. Riley's small, loyal collie is always at his heels. But I didn't question it, although Tucker looked mighty forlorn lying down on the porch with his head on his paws. Poor, lonely thing.
"We'll be back soon," I promised the dog, but he didn't even wag his tail at my words.
We rode for a long, long time. For most of the way I recognized markers—a tree once zapped by lightning and now blackened and dead. A rocky outcropping in the shape of a giant ants’ nest. The huge log lying over a now-dry creek bed (the end of September is a time of dry creeks and springs all over the foothills).
I knew these landmarks well and told Riley so. And I smirked a little to myself too.
But he kept Dakota at a steady pace. I nudged Shasta to keep up.
Pretty soon Riley pulled Dakota to a stop and pointed toward the northeast. “See that row of striated rocks a few miles away?”
Sure I saw them. “Those the Banded Rocks,” I said. “I always wanted to see what was on the other side, but there’s no way through them. You have to go around. Cory and I did it once a long time ago.”
Riley’s lips twitched. “And?”
I rolled my eyes. “There’s nothing beyond that row of towering rock formations than more foothills. And dull ones too.”
My tone told my sweet husband that I’d been there already. Nothing new here that I haven’t explored to the last pebble.
Riley didn’t say anything. Instead, he nudged Dakota into a lope and headed straight for the Banded Rocks. I followed along on Shasta, but some of the sunshine had gone out of this adventure. Even the possibility of “I told you so” didn’t make me feel very happy. I had been looking forward to a truly secret place I had never explored.
We finally came to the row of rocks standing like a tall, broken fence. I looked up. Yep, same rocks.
Riley dismounted. So did I. There was no shade here, and I didn’t see any trees nearby. Good thing we'd watered the horses a short time ago. “Where are you going?”
“You’ll see. Follow me.”
Puzzled, I grabbed Shasta's reins and urged him along.
Instead of taking an old animal trail that circled around to the back—a fair distance and one I was not looking forward to, especially since I knew what was on the other side—Riley headed straight for a narrow gap between two of the enormous, striped boulders.
He passed by the gap and ducked behind a third boulder. Where in the world was he taking us? This trail went nowhere. Cory and I had once spent a full day poking our noses into and around the piles and piles of rocks, to no satisfying end.
But I followed him. The gap went several yards and then bang! There we were staring at a rock face. “Riley,” I began. “I told you. These trails lead—”
“Oh, ye of little faith.” Riley chuckled and tied Dakota to the half-dead branch of a scrawny pine tree that seemed to be growing straight out of the boulder.
It wasn’t. The tree grew between the cracks, but there was barely enough dirt to hold its meager roots in place.
“Tie up Shasta and come along, my doubting Thomasina.”
I laughed at the way he turned Doubting Thomas into a girl’s name and did what he said.
Riley grasped my hand and led me past the horses. He took a sharp left that looked like it went to another dead end. Actually, it really was a dead end. But just before we bumped into another rock face, Riley turned right.
By now I was hanging on to his hand for life. This was a rock maze, a labyrinth suited for the Minotaur of the old Greek myths. Where was my ball of string when I needed it? For the first time, I had an inkling that perhaps Riley was telling the truth.
For sure I had never explored the innards of this rock jungle. And I would not have been doing so now if Riley wasn't giving my hand a tug every few minutes.
It was cool as an autumn evening in the shadow of the Banded Rocks. Scattered droppings along the way told me that rodents and small creatures claimed this place, but chances are that nobody but Riley had entered here since the Creation.
All of a sudden, Riley let go of my hand and dropped to all fours. “It’s a tight squeeze,” he told me, “but it’s not far.”
Whatever that meant.
Riley vanished into a narrow, rocky tunnel. Did I want to follow? Absolutely not! But neither did I want to be left behind with shadows and animal scat.
I went down on my hands and knees and gingerly followed my brave leader through the narrow, natural opening through the rocks. I admit my breath was coming in short little gasps. I don’t like tight, enclosed spaces.
It wasn’t dark. As soon as Riley passed through, light poured into my face. A dozen crawling steps and my head emerged. Riley reached out and helped me stand up.
I gasped in wonder and delight . . .
Well, again this entry took up four or five pages. And as fast as I scribble, it’s not fast enough. The light’s gone and Riley’s asleep. I’ll have to finish up my journal account in another entry.