As seen in The News-Herald – By Paris Wolfe

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Six months after our trip to Phoenix I can meditate to memories of a horseback ride through Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. Led by Robert Pablo, a guide with Chuck’s Trail Riding Adventures at the Koli Equestrian Center at Wild Horse Pass the ride lulled me into peaceful state.  It’s remarkable because I never really cared for horseback riding. I see it a little differently now.

Robert’s father Chuck Pablo worked at the Equestrian Center before taking over the trail riding business in 2002. For his enterprise he brought in 27 new horses—draft horses, quarter horses and mustangs. Robert and other guides lead small groups of riders on trails through 1,000 acres of ancient tribal lands on the Gila River Indian Reservation. The entire reservation, home to Pima and Maricopa tribes, covers 372,000 acres about 20 miles from downtown Phoenix.

Our private ride wasn’t so much breathtaking as breath settling.  Something about the wide open scenery and the steady pace of my horse slowed my thoughts and breathing. I was simply in the moment.

With that calm came awareness of desert-dwellers like coyotes, jack rabbits, roadrunners and quail. Chuck says riders may spot snakes in the summertime, and those lucky enough may see a bobcat lounging in one of the spindly trees.

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The highlight, though, was the muscular and elegant herd of wild mustangs. We were lucky enough to observe a gangly three-day old foal gently nuzzled next to its mama. These horses embody the romance of a wild, free Southwest perpetuating itself.

Chuck estimates that several herds – a total of 1,200 to 1,500 wild horses – roam the reservation. Most are uncomfortable with humans and hastily retreat.  Our herd of about two dozen that has become accustomed to human exposure.  And so Robert and his horse came nose to nose with one of the herd, creating a rare photo opportunity.

For those who want more than a gentle ride through the desert, Chuck’s Trail Riding Adventures offers private lessons, cattle drives, wagon rides and dinner experiences. These can be done as individuals or groups for entertainment or special events.

During winter months rides are available throughout the day, while summer’s heat restricts them to early morning and late evening.

After the ride we toured and lunched at the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass in Chandler, Arizona and also on the reservation. A virtual museum, the 500-room resort was custom-designed to honor 2,300-years of Maricopa and Pima heritage. Even the pattern in the rugs depicts tribal motifs.  The four-diamond resort actually has a Cultural Director — Rosie Rivera  – to interpret the culturally significant artifacts, pottery, basketry, headdress, calendar sticks, landscaping and decor.

If only we’d had time for dinner at Kai, the only AAA Five-Diamond & Forbes Five-Star Award-winning Native American restaurant in the country.