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Our Horse Tour of the Sierra Nevadas Went Better Than, You Know, That Other group

Photo by Danny V
Photo by Danny V

The entire purpose of a family vacation is to create some memories for the kids. Our recent adventure, dubbed the Quest Out West, created some of those memories that we’ll remember and cherish for a lifetime.

One of the highlights of our vacation that took us to Las Vegas, the Hoover Dam, and ultimately relaxing at Lake Tahoe, California, included a horseback adventure in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Our daughter was especially excited about the sunset ride near Truckee, Ca.

Something about this route was niggling at me but I couldn’t figure it out. It wasn’t a bad feeling, just odd.

It was nearly an hour into the trip up the slopes and through the streams of that Sam, our guide, asked if we’d ever heard of the Donner Party. That’s it! We were traveling the famed Donner route!

My sons, who were pulling their horses near me asked in a whisper, “Dad, what happened to the Donner party?” Not wanting to elaborate I simply said that some early pioneers who were trying to reach the Pacific fell on hard times up here. “But was it really a party?” Nope. Parties have cake and happy people. 

Danny V
Danny V

About 10 minutes later, my 10 year-old asked if a bear ate the Donner party. I replied, “Worse. Much worse.”

For those who need brush-up on this tragic story, it was a group of explorers led by George Donner and James Reed in 1846-47. They pulled their wagons through the Utah Salt Flats, crossed into Nevada, and set up a camp in Truckee, Ca. When they’ve rested for a spell, they set off west across the Sierra Nevada mountains where a snowstorm socked-in the party of 87 people. Not many survived that winter up there. The ones that did resorted to cannibalism. It went down as one of the most bizarre events in California history.

Thankfully, my kids forgot about it and focused on the setting sun. I knew their curiosity was burning and they asked again on the ride back to the cabin. This time I told them. My wife was looking at me like “Gee, would you like to describe the effects of Chernobyl next, Dad-of-the-Year?”

Overall, I would highly recommend the sunset horse tours at the Piping Rock Equestrian Center. The guides are top-notch, friendly, and offer some of the most stunning scenery you simply can’t see from a car.

Finally, that heart-breaking moment when my daughter had to say goodbye to Eclipse.

Danny V
Danny V

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