One day each spring, the streets of Maybell come alive with the clip-clopping of hooves on pavement, the smell of horse-flesh and the rising dust as 500 horses are driven through the town's main street.
And every spring, Queeda Mantle Walker gets excited at the thought of returning to Northwest Colo-rado, near where she was raised, to participate in the annual event.
Growing up on a secluded homestead along the Yampa River gives Walker a special appreciation of the rugged country where her parents, Charley and Evelyn Mantle, carved out a living.
The Mantle Ranch was established in 1924 between Blue Mountain and the Yampa River, and Queeda's father, Charley, captured and broke horses on the ranch for decades before electricity and roads came to the area.
The Mantle children all learned to ride at a young age, and horses were the transportation of choice for getting around Northwest Colorado.
Drive a tradition
Each spring, the Sombrero Ranch, owned and operated by Rex Walker and his family, holds its annual roundup of horses that have been wintering in Browns Park.
Queeda's brother, Pat Mantle, also was an original partner in the ranch and horse drive.
The tradition that began in the 1960s continues 40 years later, and has even become somewhat of a tourist attraction.
"The guests start arriving on Wednesday. The more experienced will gather the horses," Walker said. "Everybody is involved in the drive. Some are pretty exhausted by the time they get to Maybell."
The guests include a number of family friends, including some that have been coming for years to help with the drive. Others are paying customers, getting a feel of the old-west lifestyle by spending some hours in the saddle on a real horse drive. Many reserved their place on the drive more than a year ago.
Early on the morning of the drive, people begin to line the main street of the small town 30 miles west of Craig.
Maybell Park is transformed into a carnival atmosphere for the day of the drive, with food booths and live music to entertain spectators.
Kids' games and roping and wrangling demonstrations also are scheduled for Sunday.
The drive through Maybell occurs on Sunday, May 6, and the horses are scheduled for a 10 a.m. arrival. But they are not always predictable. Two years ago, a storm scattered the herd, causing a sizeable delay in their arrival.
New this year are plans to stop the drive in Maybell for watering of the horses and to allow photographs to be taken. Details still are being worked out, but temporary corrals likely will be located near the park.
Mark Bishop is in charge of getting the horses moved from the wintering grounds in Browns Park to the Sombrero Ranch east of Maybell. He will have some help when it's time to mount up.
"There will be about 25 of us from Sombrero," Bishop said. "Part of the group includes lifelong friends that come to help us."
While Bishop oversees the horses, Cody Walker will take care of the many people involved in the event.
The drive covers 50 miles, and it is exciting, hard work for the cowboys, but it also is special for unsuspecting people just passing by.
"It's great for people who haven't seen it before," Bishop said. "People driving down the highway are in awe. They're hanging out of the car taking pictures, and it takes a while for 500 horses to pass by you."
The horses are destined for dude ranches and riding camps across Colorado and in Wyoming. Some are for public riding, and some for private.
"A few go to private individuals that prefer not to feed horses all winter," Bishop said. "They might have two or three for their family to ride."
Some Girl and Boy Scout camps offer Sombrero horses in their riding programs.
The horses also are offered for hire at the rodeo grounds in Steamboat Springs each summer, another tradition begun by Pat Mantle many years ago.
"Every horse is ridden once when we get them to Craig," Walker said. "To remind them that they are back to work."
The horses also are shod and cleaned up before being sent off to work.
Queeda Mantle Walker
Walker looks forward to the steak fry at the big gulch ranch on Friday before the drive. It's a chance to visit with the guests and friends, she said.
The daughter of the Mantle homesteaders also is the author of a book detailing life in Northwest Colorado as she was growing up. It was a time when wild horses were usually closer than the nearest neighbors, and company coming for a visit was reason to celebrate.
While Walker plans on signing her book at the Maybell Park when the horses pass through town, she knows of one spot she would really like to be when the animals arrive.
"About a mile from the ranch, the horses start nickering. They're getting excited and thinking about oats and summer," she said. "They start the drive all wild-eyed after being free all winter. Now they know it's time to get to work."
Dan Olsen can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 207, or email@example.com.