Saturday, December 26, 2009

Roar of a King

We took a family ride out around St George's replacement airport early this morning. A certain anonymous daughter of mine threatened to delete any picture I took of her riding my jack, Rusty. Being the oldest daughter and all, I thought she might enjoy her first chance to ride him (I don't let just anyone climb on my prize ass.) But the morning light was so good, the jack so majestic, and Kailee so cute on him, I am loathe to keep the pictures from the world...

To hear Rusty bray is a magical experience. To feel him bray under saddle is a soul stirring encounter with a king of beasts. His deep, tone-clear baritone pierces the hidden chambers of the human heart, bellow after bellow, until finally, he shudders with a surprising sub-base growl that sounds more like that of an elephant. Glad you took the chance and climbed up there, sweet kid. Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Embrace Warming: ClimateGate Disappointment

You know? I'm feeling a little let down these days. I was really hoping global warming was for real...for two reasons. First, we aren't supposed to get winter in St George--we live in a snow-bird mecca that is known for its balmy weather. But it has been exceptionally cold and snowy here for the last few winters. Second, we have property that we hope to build on someday in one of the coldest parts of the state. So with all the talk about how CO2 emissions warm the globe, I was doing my dutiful best to drive the wheels off my truck, dragging my horses all over the place and commuting to work, one tank of fuel after another. Heck, I even bought 3 beef cows to fatten up for slaughter that will eat about 8 or 9 thousand pounds of corn by the time they are ready for the butcher. Between their corn-intense diet and their fragrant flatulence, cows are better for global warming than cars, according to some scientists. If that weren't enough, St George city planners have repeatedly stressed that we who live on acre sized properties add to urban sprawl, which increases traffic with its attendant energy use. I thought I had all my bases covered--a one-man mission to reduce brrrrrrrrrr.

Then came the bombshell-revelation that the whole stinking Global Warming thing is a hoax. ClimateGate. If you are unawares, just Google it, or pay attention to the news. Its a big enough story to leave a big foot print in cyber-space for many years to come. Like a kid who just found out Santa Claus is fake, I now must face life knowing scientists are just a bunch of politicians that have no regard for the truth. I guess it is time to resign myself to normal ebbs and tides of cooling and warming. And I might as well get myself a little fuel-miser car for my daily commute. I mean, why waste all that fuel if it ain't going to help?

The snow really is pretty though...

Preston and I took Kailee and her two friends riding to the Snow Canyon overlook. When we got to the edge, Preston exclaimed, "Dad! Is this heaven?"

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Feminine: Power to Move Minions

It is no secret around here how much we detest the lack of common sense. Nor is it a surprise that we despise Government's cultural tendency to fall into the temptation of tyrannical turpitude.

St George is busily building a replacement airport behind the ridge line that separates it from the Little Valley where we live. From the moment we moved here in 2001, we have playfully ridden, hiked and crawled all over this ridge. Watching the airport come together from this vantage point has been particularly fascinating for our whole family since they began construction 1 year ago.

Early this morning, Brother Mike, Neighbor Brad Griffith, and my Sweet Wife joined me on a round trip ride that takes us over the ridge in view of the airport. It had rained overnight and St George had that wet-desert smell which consists of a recipied blend you find nowhere else: creosote, mesquite, sage, and red-sand mixed with a hint of Pine Mountain's heights. Getting outside was irresistible.

On the final leg home, we crossed over the only road currently open to the airport before coming off the ridge on the single track trail that gets so heavily used. Brad and Brother Mike went across first, about 30 yards ahead of Chantra and me who were moving a bit slower. As Brad and Mike continued along the road's shoulder, and we approached our crossing, an official St George City truck topped with yellow lights, came up from below. The young city employee who was driving stopped along side of Brad and Mike, leaned out the window and declared in an authoritative voice, "Hey! You shouldn't be up here on this road!" (Not true, plus we crossed at a safe, visible intersection in this still remote, right of way.) He waited for us to cross and angrily shook his head at me while giving me a black look before turning to Chantra who followed behind.

Descending the hill, Brad, Mike and I laughed out loud, wondering what it is that makes a low-level government employee throw the weight of his ASSumed power around like some sort of stooge, as if we had committed high crimes and misdemeanors. From behind, a somewhat perplexed Chantra declared, "I didn't realize he was mad...? He just stared at me and SMILED as I rode by."

Remind me not to leave you home anymore, Hon.

(The irony? Today's paper warmly invites the public to ascend this road and watch the airport's progress in an effort to grant full governmental transparency.)

Monday, November 9, 2009

I Almost Lost My Ass

My Ass nearly fell off a cliff today. In fact, it was closer than nearly.

The Haslem trail is hard work for horses and mules, but for a jack, it is nigh impossible. The valley floor and most of the ascent to the mesa top is covered in deep, powdery red sand. With his small, narrow hooves, Rusty negotiates the Warner Valley sand dunes like a transvestite in stiletto heels. By the time we hit the top, he was dog-tired and fagged-out. I had even gotten off to lead him most of the way up the steep parts of the trail. The going was slow and my partners waited patiently, sometimes helping to push/pull Rusty over some of the technical spots.

Dr. Steve Carr, a Spokane, Washington Veterinarian and his two brothers Tyler and Jeff wanted to experience the high-angle thrills of the Haslem trail. They drove up from some meetings in Las Vegas this morning for the outing. I have known Dr. Carr since my missionary days in Boston, and we studied together for some of our undergraduate work at BYU. Little Preston and Jim Wallick (who helped build the Haslem trail) were along too.

After lunch at the top, we started picking our way back down the honey-combed sandstone ledges. The trail skirts a short, rocky outcropping and scampers over three boulders that overlook a tapered drop off below. Crossing the boulders is the only way down. Rusty decided he wasn't going to traverse the boulders or step over the fissures between them no matter how much we cajoled, pushed, pulled, or cussed. Finally, he tipped over onto the gently sloping edge of the cliff--tired, weak from fighting us, and breathing heavily on his side. After a rest, I gave a mighty pull on his lead rope to help him get up. Before he could get his front feet firmly beneath him, Rusty's back feet slipped against the rolling downward edge and he fell back on his side--this time gravity prevailing. Rusty slipped off the edge. Every single muscle in my body screamed with agony as I gave them all to the lead rope in my hands. It was a tug of war with life and death. Somehow, with strength not my own, he stopped. Only his head was topside, his body hanging against the vertical side of the cliff. And I had exceeded my limits.

Thank goodness for Jim Wallick and the Carr brothers. At the moment I thought I couldn't hold on for another instant they rushed over and grabbed the rope. It took all five of us pulling in unison, just half an inch at a time, to pull Rusty back up on top. After hauling him to safety, we all stood in welcome relief. Rusty just laid there groaning.

Back on his feet again, all five us us dragged, lifted, and pushed Rusty over the 3 boulders. For the rest of the trail, he was a perfect gentleman and after leading him off the steep stuff, I ended up riding him back across the sandy valley floor to the trailer. It was a near death experience for Rusty, and the sight of him falling to the cliff's rock strewn bottom still feels real in my mind's eye hours later.

So, following such a tale, I need to certify here that no animals or asses were harmed in the creation of this post. But it was close. My ass has never been in such a tight spot.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Grand Canyon Tricks and Treats

So Preston, how would you like to go trick-or-treating in the Grand Canyon this year? I know a line-cabin where we might find some candy. "But Dad? There won't be very many houses down there..."

The only time we like dense neighborhoods around here is when we are trying to maximize the candy return on a costume investment. But for Preston and me, it was going to be the Mud Springs line-cabin for Halloween, and it is about the only game in town for countless miles of Grand Canyon Country. Mud Springs cabin is an old prospectors haunt where the Hughes and Snyders layover as they move their cows in and out of their winter range in the lower elevations of the Grand Canyon. After 80 miles of tortured dirt road in an old truck and stock trailer, and another 10 or more miles down the vertically-indulgent Dan Sills trail on mule, the saddle bags better be laden with candy for the trip back home.

We were there to round up last spring's calves and bring them back to town for weaning and sale with Dan Snyder. We spent the weekend helping Dan fix the spring that had stopped filling the stock tank, gather the herd, and pushing them back up the Dan Sills trail to his ranch on top. Preston did a mans work on his little mule without much complaint. Minnie Pearl took good care of him, even when he fell asleep in the saddle.

It was a pretty good trick to find a bag of Halloween treats in the lower reaches of the Grand Canyon. It was an even better treat to spend Halloween cowboying with my little pard.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Unscripted, Part 1: The Lost Sister of Canyon de Chelley

"We miss the trips we used to take before we had horses and mules," complained the kids. "Then, Mom and I will take you on an old-fashioned, Great American Road trip," I replied. "We will point our pickup toward Four-Corners and drive for 3 days, following our curiosity to what-ever tickles it. But there is one condition... no iPods, no console-videos, and no sleeping during daylight hours. We will only take you if you'll sit up, look out the windows, and ask yourself 'why?' as we drive along."

Its great to be the holder of the car-keys. After some sub-audible grumbling, a deal was struck. And off we went on a magnificent adventure, full of wonder and familial felicity. We left with 2 coolers full of food, a little camping gear, and no itinerary. We came home a better family, with stories we couldn't have orchestrated better if we tried.


She was born in the mouth of one of Canyon de Chelley's fingers to traditional Navajo sheep herders. Elverna's mother and grandmother were talented rug makers who eked out a living trading their handy-work. Their art was created from scratch in those days: the wool carded and spun into yarn, the dyes all made from the traditional plants in their world, and the rugs hand woven on looms, one strand at a time. She began to learn from her mother and grandmother very early--perhaps as young as age six to weave the Navajo way.

Life on the reservation was rugged. Elverna's father abandoned the family before she was born and she would never meet him until the age of 15, just before his passing. They lived the old way--no electricity, no indoor plumbing, and primitive housing. Elverna, her sister and brother had to carry water a quarter mile for their daily use. For schooling, they had to get up at 3 or 4 am and walk 2 miles for the long bus ride to the boarding schools in Chinle and Many Farms, Arizona.

I was thirteen when she came to our family. In 1980, Elverna's mother placed her and her older sister into the LDS church's Indian Student Placement Program that ran from 1947 to 1996. Elverna spent the next 3 school years with our family, going back to her own family each summer. During those years, I was entering my semi-rebellious teenage stage and she was just the Navajo girl from someplace called Chinle, Arizona towards whom, I was ambivalent. She was often homesick and a little angry that her mom had "given her up," but her time in Mona with our family was pleasant and she made several friends.

Elverna spent a fourth year on the placement program somewhere in Arizona. Meanwhile, her family got pushed off of their traditional land in the mouth of Canyon de Chelley by tribal elders after fueding with some neighbors. Eventually, after a time of being displaced, her Mom and Grandmother settled in government housing in the small reservation town of Navajo, New Mexico.

Traditional Navajo rugs are worth their weight in gold. It is an art that takes years to master. The intricate, hand-woven designs in these rugs, and the ability to reproduce them seem to be genetically encoded in the Navajo. Elverna inherited the art from the Ancients, and benefited from generations of skilled weavers in her family. With self-effacing humility, she explains that she doesn't have a website that shows her rugs, but if you will just google her name, you will find her work. She is good. She doesn't harvest her own wool any more, but she colors her own yarns from dyes that she, her mother, and her grandmother make from ancient recipes. A 4x6 rug made by Elverna can fetch 20-30 thousand dollars in the retail market.

Thanks to the modern miracle of the Internet, my sister Shellie found Elverna on Facebook just a couple of months ago. We discovered that our foster sister was living in Flagstaff, Arizona, and I plugged her phone number into my cell phone, vowing we would look her up the next time we passed through her town.


The wind was blowing Friday afternoon as the kids took turns standing in all four states at once for pictures. There isn't much more to see at Four-Corners monument and a couple of hours of daylight remained, so we huddled up to decide where to go next. We had seen the signs for Canyon de Chelley along the highway and I had heard it was worth a visit. The GPS pointed the way and we found our selves driving over miles of primitive dirt roads across the reservation. The radio blared a mix of country music and Native American chants, the DJ speaking mostly Navajo. We were indeed off the beaten path and our position began to feel eerily remote--the older boys questioning the wisdom of following the GPS this way. Eventually we hit pavement again and it started to dawn on me that we were headed into Chinle, Arizona. As soon as we found some cell service, I called Elverna to surprise her that we were in her old stomping grounds. Turns out, Elverna was headed through Chinle, towards Navajo, NM as well for a weekend with her family. And our unscripted road trip was about to become a family reunion with our sister that we hadn't seen for 26 plus years.

After we met up that evening in the parking lot of the local gas station in Chinle, little Preston declared, "Dad, Elverna doesn't look like a real Indian." Oh really! Why not? "She doesn't have braids, feathers, a painted face, or a bow and arrow." Three generations of Navajos laughed appreciatively the next day as Elverna related his astute observation to her family, and her 87 year old grandmother, eyes aglow, gave Preston some wisdom from the ancients in a tongue we will never understand, but with love that never needs an interpreter.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Soaking up Wilderness in the Winds

As the firelight faded about 1:00 am Wednesday morning, and everyone crawled into their tents, I found myself sitting on the ledge overlooking Crescent Lake. The night was completely still and bathed in starlight, a blackened silhouette of peak and pine cutting its jagged break across the heavens. From my granite seat, I watched an ancient drama unfold in the mirrored black depths below. Reflected there, a portion of the brilliant night sky danced and shimmered in the water. Winged Pegasus lept across the raging current of the great Milky Way River, which flowed out of the dark pines on the far shore. A billion points of light spilled from the Big Dipper and slowly revolved around Polaris, the North Star. A Still Small Voice breathed, "They are mine and I know them." The river across the meadow rumbled and a chorus of frogs cried, YOU ARE PART OF THIS! My heart begged the question of the ages, the question coined by the Psalmist:What is man that thou art mindful of him?

Call it Mancation. Or call it double-dipping. I don't usually get two good trips like this in a year, (the other being the Uintas). But Neighbor Jim ran out of the Windrivers last year, mosquitoes nipping at his heels, before he got to see them. He insisted that we try again later this year after the bugs vanish. Last year was so good for Brother Mike and I, in spite of the bugs, that we eagerly agreed to go back with him. In fact, the only relief we got from the mosquitos last year was after dark, so we stayed up for the star-show nearly every night. Looking back, I'm glad we stuck it out--seeing the milky way reflected in Crescent Lake as I described above was a moving experience. What we saw in the daylight this year as we logged 69 miles of riding was equally moving. We followed our GPS and a lot of game trails through the lakes nestled in the peaks of the Great Divide. The granite spires of the Winds literally steal your breath away while your soul involuntarily leaps for joy.

The fishing was fabulous. We sat in one stream on our mules and caught brookies from the saddle as fast as we could release them.

There were three of us. We rode in on six mounts: three mules and three horses, each of us riding one and leading one with our gear. We walked out with four: three mules and one horse--and the horse was lame due to a deep cut on her back leg. One of the tricks to taking stock into the wilderness is orchestrating their care. With all the work they do, they need plenty of graze and water. And because of herd dynamics, some can be loose only when the others are tied. We have to figure out who can be loose together and who might run off if their pals are loose too.

Our last night, Neighbor Jim left his two horses loose for just a moment after graining them. Brother Mike and I each had one loose and one tied. At the edge of darkness, Jim's horses slipped silently away, my Molly following. Jim noticed immediately and took chase without a word to us. 20 minutes later, I sensed something wrong--I couldn't hear Molly's cowbell anymore and Jim wasn't in his usual seat at the fire. Thank goodness my Molly has an insatiable appetite. A mile later, Jim caught her when she stopped to eat, but his horses had vanished into the darkening woods like they were on an urgent mission. Early the next morning, he and I rode 9 miles, tracking them until their prints disappeared in a morass of cow tracks.

We ended up double stacking everything on the four remaining animals, and hiking another nine miles out on foot, Mike's horse limping all the way (we packed her light). We then spent a couple of hours in Boulder, WY connecting with the locals for help in finding Jim's horses.

There is one thing about the wilderness... there is no safety net. Speaking of the WindRivers, Finis Mitchell said it best: "In Wilderness, man learns to have faith in his Creator."

By the way, Happy sweet 16, Justin. We celebrated with you--courtesy of the wind Gods who smiled on us and delivered these balloons.
9/22/2009 UPDATE: Jim went back to the WindRivers this past week, and rode over 30 miles looking for his horses. No luck. He also visited with the locals, the brand inspector, and several ranchers who graze the area where we lost them. No luck so far.

Wonder where your balloons went after you let them go?