Sunday, November 13, 2016

Western States Trail Ride and Last Chance

By Miralee Ferrell

I've been fascinated by horses all my life, and I've owned them for 44 yrs, so you might understand my interest in what used to be called the Tevis Cup, now the Western States Trail Ride. It all started 61 years ago, and it encompasses 100 miles of somewhat rugged territory, in the state of California.

Walt Tibbitts and Ruff Spots Banner at Watson Monument 

It starts in California, near the town of Truckee, across the crest of the Sierra Nevada near the Squaw Valley Ski Resort, traverses through El Dorado County and ends at 5:15 a.m. near the fairgrounds in Auburn. There are two mandatory 60-minute holds for rest and veterinarian evaluation, one at Robinson Flat (~30 milepost) and the other at Foresthill (~70 milepost). There are many other points along the trail where veterinarians evaluate the condition of the horse including the finish. Each rider who completes the 100-mile course within the 24-hour limit and whose mount is judged "fit to continue" can elect to receive a silver Completion Award Buckle.

Me and my husband this used to be the main street of Last Chance 

Steep canyon route to Last Chance
Imagine my surprise when visiting the ghost town of Last Chance, California a few years ago, while doing research for my book, Finding Love in Last Chance, California. My husband and I flew into Sacremento, then drove to Auburn, then up through Foresthill, then another 1.5 hrs up into the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the old site of the now demolished town of Last Chance. 

We drove up there with a Forest Ranger who offered to help undertake my research, as he was also a lover of history and knew a lot about the area. He showed us maps, took us to the spot that was once a booming mining town, and walked us down a trail in the woods to an amazing cemetery with 150 year old tombstones from the old town. It was a fascinating journey and even more so when he pointed down the gravel road which was one the main street of Last Chance, and told us the Tevis Cup riders would bring this area to life once every year. 

We walked part of the trail that used to be the mule-train trail winding along the mountains between Foresthill (where the old Wells Fargo station still exists and is now a private residence), and saw where not only the Tevis cup competitors ride but pioneers making their way to the silver mines and a new life in Last Chance. What a fitting name for new hopes--for many, it probably was truly their last chance to turn their lives and fortunes around. 

I loved researching this book and the area, and I wove a lot of the actual history into the story. Here is a little statistical history of the ride from Wikipedia, in case you might find it interesting. Winning riders were divided between 30 men and 31 women (counting three years when there were ties). Of the winning horses through 2014, 74% have been geldings, 20% mares, and 6% stallions. The average age of the horse to complete the ride first is 10 years old, with the oldest being Hadji Halef Omar at 22 (2014) and the youngest was Chief at 6 (1962).

Miralee Ferrell is a best-selling, award-winning author of 20 novels, including the recently re-released and re-titled novel, Finding Love in Last Chance, California. Three of Miralee's books have been optioned as movies. She also has a 5 book set of middle-grade horse novels. 

First published as Love Finds You in Last Chance, California
It's 1877 and Alexia Travers is alone in the world. Her father has died unexpectedly, leaving her burdened with a heavily mortgaged horse ranch. Marrying one of the town’s all-too-willing bachelors would offer an easy solution, but Alex has no interest in marriage.
Instead, she dons men’s clothing and rides the range, determined to make the ranch a success on her own. Help arrives when Justin Phillips, an acquaintance of her father’s, comes to Last Chance with his young son. Justin'’s and Alex’'s combined effort to save the ranch quickly turns into a fierce competition between cowboy and tomboy. 

But when disaster threatens Travers' Ranch, they must work together to save someone they both love. Can these two independent people learn to depend on God —and on each other?

Finding Love In... is a series of full-length romance novels, historical, contemporary, or suspense, that give readers a peek into local life across the United States. The novels are uniquely set in actual American locations that inspire romance and are just plain fun! This means that each fictional story draws on the compelling history or unique character of a real place.


  1. I've lived my whole life in California and I have learned so many things from this blog about this state that I never knew about. These are familiar towns to me, but in name only. I am truly grateful for this blog. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Hi Debbie, it's so nice to meet you and I truly appreciate you stopping in and leaving a comment. I loved visiting Auburn, then driving up to Foresthill and on up another 1.5 hrs to the site where Last Chance once boomed. The history there is amazing, and it added so much to my book.

  3. Interesting information about California. I've only visited California one time. Your book sounds like a fantastic read.

  4. What a fascinating research trip for you, Miralee! Wow. Those tombstones in among the trees ... all the stories in that place. Thanks for a fascinating way to start my week. Happy trails ;-)