The Pony Express rides again
2,000-mile journey a ‘magical’ connection to the American West
Mike Luers, the man in charge of treating the Snyderville Basin’s wastewater, found himself alone in the west Utah desert at 3 a.m. last week, sitting on a horse and waiting to pick up the mail.
It might sound like a strange dream, but Luers was very much there in reality, part of an annual Pony Express reenactment that Luers and his fellow riders say connect them with a chapter in the nation’s history that captures the popular imagining of the American West.
“After getting dropped off, I stood there with my horse for an extended period (of) time. During this time, I truly experienced what it must have been like to ride back in 1860,” Luers wrote in an email to The Park Record. “The silence was noticeable except for the pack of coyotes howling nearby. The Milky Way was brilliant! The temperature was in the 50’s. Then you realize that you are on your own, in the dark. No room for any missteps or mistakes.”
Luers was one of 17 riders on one of three Utah-based teams that carried a “mochila” filled with legal U.S. mail across the state on its way from Sacramento, California, to St. Joseph, Missouri. The journey covers 1,966 miles over 10 days, with riders leapfrogging each other along the route in 2-mile bursts, riding day and night. The mail reached St. Joseph on Saturday.
The route crosses Utah from Ibapah in the west to the Wyoming border in the east. It passes from Emigration Canyon through Henefer and Echo, into Echo Canyon toward the Wahsatch exit of Interstate 80.
Luers and the rest of team 3, headed by Pony Express historian Patrick Hearty, took the western leg of the trip, from Ibapah to Simpson Springs. Luers said the temperature ranged from 52 degrees to 104 degrees and that the excessive desert heat slowed them last Sunday afternoon.
Greg Dupratt, another member of team 3, said the experience gave him a sense of what it must have been like to be a Pony Express rider. He said there were periods of loneliness and boredom when he was waiting in the middle of the night for his turn to carry the mail punctuated by the excitement of the run itself, all while experiencing the harshness of the elements and the physical toll of riding in the desert.
“The real (Pony Express) riders were hard men to match a harsh land,” he wrote in an email to The Park Record.
The Pony Express ran for only 18 months between April 1860 and October 1861, according to the National Pony Express Association. But it was a flashpoint of excitement as railroads and telegraph lines fought to connect the two coasts of the United States. Despite its short run, it lives on as an emblem of the West.
Cynthia Furse was part of team 2, which took the mail in Salt Lake City and carried it to the Wyoming border, across Summit County. She said the mail was running behind schedule when they received it, but her team handed it off to the Wyoming crew on time.
In an update on the association’s website, Furse wrote that the half-moon reflections in the Mountain Dell and East Canyon reservoirs were beautiful company on the ride, as were the hoofbeats that echoed off of Echo Canyon’s tall, straight sandstone walls.
“The moon shadows, well they’re blue,” Furse said in an interview last week. “They run right alongside you, of course. They’re magic.”
Furse, who has a doctorate in electrical engineering, called the ride “a great fantasy” that has captured the imagination of generations.
“Riding a strong running horse in the cool light of the full moon, with the blue moon shadow running pace beside you, the leather slap of the bag and drumming hooves the only sounds, racing with coyotes, deer, wild horses, it’s a trip back in time,” Furse wrote in an email to The Park Record. “It’s magical. The horses love to run. I do too.”
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The Summit County Fair returns this week.