North of Susanville, California about 25 miles on 395 between the Caltrans Rest Stop and Spanish Springs Ranch is a little sign on the highway shoulder that simply states “Campground”. Turning onto and following the dirt road another seven or eight miles one will find the Ramhorn Campground complete with horse corral, picnic tables, barbecues, pit toilets and “animal” water from both a piped water system and a stream that flows between campground and road edges.
Administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Ramhorn is one of those little-used and little-known campgrounds where an individual, family or even a club can go for horsecamping, riding and relaxing. With a maximum stay of 14 days it is a “no fee” campground. In other words, it’s free.
The Campground itself is spread over about three or four acres. There’s plenty of room for trailer parking but only a few trees to high-line from. Most of the trees are junipers along the Campground’s western edge below the rim rock canyon wall.
The eastern side is open meadow setting so horses that won’t fit in the horse corral will have to be either placed in a portable corral, hot-wired, tied to a trailer or placed on a grounded picket line. The entire Campground is fenced with split rail along the front and four-strand barbwire along the other three sides. Cattle guards protect the entrance and exit of the circular driveway.
The horse corral is limited in size to about three, maybe four, compatible horses. Five or six horses can be tied to the rails inside the corral but it would be a tight squeeze especially at feeding times.
To get out of the Campground since it’s completely fenced and cattle guarded along the road, one has to exit and enter the drop wire gate at the back corner just beyond the pit toilets. The trail follows along the top of the rim rock canyon which borders the west side. Suddenly the trail will end and you’re on your own in selecting the direction you may want to travel.
One can turn east and work down and across the stream to the dirt road which continues on past the Campground. Following the road is the easiest route because of the rock conditions. But regardless of the direction traveled, a compass and a map from the BLM office in Susanville (705 Hall Street) is mandatory!
The country is basically lava, juniper, sand, sagebrush and a lot of canyons. You can start out in one direction only to ride a few hundred feet and come to a deep crack in the rocks which can be neither safely stepped or jumped over because of the unstable footing on both sides. Other times, one can ride up into one of the numerous rim rock canyons rising to over a hundred feet high on each side to have it suddenly narrow and then completely close ahead of you. And in some situations what may look like a vast flat of tabletop lava will suddenly drop off to a stream and meadow several feet below you. To get down, one has to weave and wind through and over broken rocks. It’s the type of country that can be a real challenge to ride. The type of country one can quickly get turned around in because one rim rock canyon will suddenly look like the one you just left!
Shoes are mandatory for horses! Even then, broken slaps of lava rock will often flip up or tip “dinging” an ankle or a leg. Both Bud and Sig learned after the first couple days of riding to watch where they put their hooves and on more than one occasion they would stop, look the rocky surface over and then detour another way. Sometimes they would even start out on to a surface and then stop, turn or back up to go another route? Why? I’m not sure except they seemed to have become what one local rancher referred to as “rock wise. The horse soon learns where to put his feet to keep from getting whacked with a chunk of lava rock.” And on some rides I was just as happy to let Sig pick his route especially when the hardened lava rock flow suddenly took on an eerie, hollow sound as we moved over its surface.
Water for people has to be hauled in but there’s plenty of animal water. Numerous springs, streams and standing pools of water were located for the horses to drink from during our rides but for us, canteens or bottled water were packed in the saddlebags.
We came upon numerous unshod horse tracks and droppings. At one time we spooked a small band of wild horses in a little meadow below us as we rode up to the top of a rim rock. About ten grazed peacefully below us until they heard us talking. suddenly in one mass of horseflesh they dashed down the meadow, leaped a spring and disappeared down the rock canyon. We marveled at how easily they navigated the rocks and watched as they disappeared down a trail that upon inspection, I wouldn’t even walk down on foot!
Wild horses are one reason the Campground is completely fenced. This is too keep animals from coming into the campground. One morning we heard snorting and whinnying to look out the camper window to see a bay-colored wild horse standing on the rim rock wall above the horse corral intently studying Bud and Sig. Bud was the one doing all the whinnying as if to say “Come on down”. But the horse kept his distance. And he disappeared when Den, my husband, stepped out of the camper to try for another of those wild horse pictures.
Weather conditions can get hot but the nights cool and a few thundershowers may even erupt from what may be a clear blue sky. Summer blankets were used a couple of nights. Mosquitoes were common as were horse and deer flies.
Staying ten days we had the complete Campground to ourselves. Neither other horsemen nor just campers entered. But, during hunting season the BLM stated the horse corral is often full so it’s best to either call or drop them a note to find out if it’s available PLUS what the weather conditions may be.