SHOSHONE • “We’re headed up to Idaho to ride that lava trail. Good friends, good horses is all you need, so listen to my tale,” musician Dennis Knill sang while sitting on the ground, finishing his breakfast of bacon and hash browns.
Knill had a lot more to sing about on Sept. 12, as he ate with other riders dressed in chaps, cowboy hats and boots. Steam from their hot meals curled in the chilly morning air as the crew of 30 prepared to hit a trail peppered with lava rocks north of Shoshone.
The day before, Knill was behind the wheel of his vehicle for 14 hours, driving from Phoenix to Shoshone to attend the second annual Lost N Lava Cowboy Gathering and Trail Ride. He invited his wife to come along, but she didn’t like the idea of not showering for three days.
“She’s a city slicker. Me, I don’t mind getting dirty and smelling,” he said.
Knill attended last year and said it was like three days in heaven. “I never had more fun in my whole life, so I came back.”
The musician uses the experience as inspiration. Though folk music is his roots, he has always loved cowboy music.
“Last year I was so jazzed by this that I wrote a song called ‘Lava Trail,’” Knill said, then finished the song: “No better place than in the wild to hear that cowboy tale.”
Shoshone resident and trail boss Lundy Flick said the point of the Lost N Lava Cowboy Gathering and Trail Ride is to give people a Western heritage experience — and, hopefully, inspiration.
The group planned to camp out for two nights, Sept. 12-13, tour Idaho’s Mammoth Cave and then head back to town for the cowboy gathering, which includes vendors, food and entertainment, Sept. 14-16.
“You work from daylight to dark,” Flick said. “And then you have a meal and talk about the cow that got away or somebody who got bucked off.”
He added:“There’s interesting stories to be told and heard.”
And the participants are people from all walks of life who love riding horseback all day — even if they don’t have a horse.
Judy Wampler from Ketchum attended because she wanted an adventure. Wampler didn’t have a horse or someone to come with, but that didn’t stop her from joining the ride.
“I’m a loner, a stray,” Wampler said with a laugh. “I hope they don’t make me walk.”
But Wampler found a comfortable seat on the back of a flatbed pulled by two draft horses named Joe and Benjamin and their owner, Shoshone resident Eric Barney.
To anyone who saw this group cutting across the sagebrush and lava rock landscape, it might appear they were early pioneers headed north — if not for the green portable toilet pulled behind the flatbed.
The high-pitched jingle of bells hanging from Joe and Benjamin signaled the group was coming. The bells aren’t mere decoration; Barney said that back in the day they were early warning systems for people traveling at night or in mountainous areas.
Carolyn Phillips of Buhl rode in a Meadowbrook cart pulled by her horse Sonic. Last year she rode horseback; this year she decided to save her butt. The only worry she had now was whether she packed enough clothing.
“I sure like the beauty God left,” Phillips said.
Also catching the riding bug last year was Clement “C.J.” Fitzgerald, 10, of Shoshone.
This year, Fitzgerald didn’t want to ride in the carriage; he wanted to ride a horse. So all year he learned how to handle and care for a horse. His payoff was this week’s journey.
Fitzgerald had been nicknamed “Little Mary” by the older cowboys — because that’s what the youngest is usually called — but now he rides with a different name.
He finally earned his cowboy name. And as he trotted by on his horse, he pulled up his shirt to show the belt around his waist with “Big Larry” imprinted on the back.