Monday, June 14, 2010

Pony Express gallops through Utah

The staked-out horses, mail saddlebags and camp cooking made Sunday morning at the Willow Springs Ranch a lot like old times. Very old times. Dozens of Utahns, Nevadans, Wyomingites and other Western history buffs congregated with RVs and tents around a clapboard shack that 150 years ago served as a horse and rider station for the short-lived Pony Express mail service. Trail enthusiasts make the ride between St. Joseph, Mo., and Sacramento, Calif., each summer in 10 days -- by sun and moon -- with little fanfare. But this year they're doubling the time so they can stop to celebrate the anniversary. What killed the labor- and horsepower-intensive enterprise after just a year and a half is still poking through the door in the shack. A few feet of telegraph wire, the same that made east-west communication lighting-quick beginning in 1861, coils from the air through a peephole and hangs over a dusty desk in what's now part storage shed and part family museum. A saddle rots next to an unused bed. More than 600 riders will participate in the ride, which this year moves west to east. Each wears the blue jeans, red shirt and yellow bandana of the historic rider. Most will ride about two miles before trading off with other enthusiasts, said Les Bennington, the National Pony Express Association president, who lives in Glenrock, Wyo. Some will ride faster than 20 mph, but most trot along at half that speed or less. In 1860 and 1861, Bennington said, the original riders would gallop 10 or 12 miles at a time on mustangs before reaching a new station and switching to a fresh mustang. About every 60 miles they would come to another station, where they passed off the mail to a new rider and waited for incoming mail so they could remount and head back the other direction...more

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