Great American Horse Drive thunders its way through Maybell
May 6, 2018
MAYBELL — On any other Sunday, it would likely have been a quiet, sleepy locale, but May 6 wasn't any other Sunday, and as the clock ticked inexorably toward 10 a.m., Maybell Park teemed with people.
Some browsed through the various craft booths and displays that had been set up for the town's annual Heritage Days festival, while others reclined in lawn chairs or perched on the tailgates of pickup trucks, basking in the mild spring sunshine, sipping bottles of water or iced tea and visiting with old friends.
But the bulk of the crowd had gathered outside the rail fence that encircles the park, where they packed both shoulders of U.S. Highway 40 from one end of the tiny town to the other.
"Are they coming now?" a little girl asked as she tugged incessantly at her mother's finger.
"Not now," the mother answered. "Soon."
This child's question gave voice to a tangible air of expectancy that rolled through both the town and the thousands of people who had descended upon it, and at 10:36 a.m., the question finally got the answer everyone had been waiting on.
"They're coming," shouted a woman, who brandished a camera with a lens that looked more like a telescope, and with those words, all eyes turned westward.
A group of mounted drovers came first, waving to the crowd and throwing handfuls of candy to the children. Some twirled lariats as they rode, and one rode dressed as Zorro.
After the first line of drovers came the horses — some 460 domestic equids on their way from Sombrero Ranch's winter range in Brown's Park to their summer home, a few miles west of Craig.
The 2018 Great American Horse Drive had arrived.
A spring tradition
According to the Sombrero Ranch website, the Great American Horse Drive — a two-day affair that moves a herd of between 400 and 600 Sombrero horses through miles of open range — has been a spring tradition in Moffat County since 1959.
"This year, we had about 460 horses," said Sombrero General Manager Don Broom. "It's about 60 miles, by the time you get it all said and done."
The drive is partly a matter of practicality; the horses must be moved. Yet, they could be moved by trucks and trailers, and this is the way they will be returned to Brown's Park in December, Broom said.
"It's a lot nicer weather in May," he quipped.
But there are other reasons for making the spring move in a more traditional way.
For one thing, Sombrero now offers a limited number of paying guests the opportunity to join the drive and share in an authentic, Old West adventure.
"It's been 20 years that we've done it with the guests, but it's been going on a lot longer than that," Broom said.
For another, the annual drive has become not only a beloved Moffat County tradition, but also an event the attracts visitors from across the country and around the world.
"We realize that this has become a big deal here in Maybell, and as a ranching people, we know it's of interest to Moffat County, because it brings revenue into Moffat County, and it brings revenue into this little old town of Maybell," Broom said.
He acknowledged there had been two minor mishaps involving riders along the way, but added that neither rider had been seriously injured, and both, he said, had rejoined the drive after being medically cleared.
"You know, when you trot for a long time, sometimes you get to where you get tired, you know, and if they do come off, we have to check them out, just to be safe," Broom said.
After a brief rest stop at the eastern limits of Maybell, the drive got underway once more.
Noon was fast approaching, and the herd and its overseers still had miles ahead of them. But Broom said the biggest part of the journey was, by then, behind them.
"Yesterday (Saturday) was kind of our longer leg of it, so we got about another 18 miles to go," he said.
He said he expected to cover those final miles that afternoon and have the horses into their summer home by the end of the day Sunday.