Sunday, June 7, 2009

Calf -n- Carry

In the bottom of a steep ravine, a small stand of cedars offered the only shade for a mile in any direction. Molly picked her way down the bouldery walls, slipping and sliding in the loose rocks. We were hunting cows in the lower benches of the Grand Canyon. With summer nearly here, it was time to gather the cows out of their winter range land and push them to the cooler, upper plateaus that are now part of the Parashaunt National Monument.

Sure enough, I could see cattle, camouflaged among the shadows of the rugged, boulder-strewn ravine floor. With an infinite number of hiding places in the vast reaches of this shelved, ledgy country, I felt relieved to find four heifers seeking coolness under the protective branches of this solitary cedar grove. Finding the whole herd on round up day ain't easy.

As I carefully made my way toward the cows to get them moving, I noticed a little black calf wedged between two boulders. From the looks of things, it had probably been born that morning, but was unable to get loose from its position among the rocks. I got off Molly and carefully freed the calf from its trap. It was full of life, but unable to stand on its own.

I tied the calf over the saddle and started pushing the cows out of the ravine toward our gathering spot a couple of canyons over. The cool of the morning was wearing off. My spurs jingled and the calf bawled its slobbery cry as we scrambled up the loose hillside. We made our way through yucca and sage to the assembling herd in a large flat at the mouth of two canyons. The other cowboys were converging there with the rest of the herd where they had to be sorted. One herd would go up the steep and ledgy Dan Sills Canyon. The other herd's trail to the upper plateau follows the long and rocky Andrew's Canyon.

The calf in my saddle would never survive the treacherous ride with the herd that was going up Dan Sills Canyon. So we left it with its mother near a watering hole where she began to encourage it to live. If it does, the mother will bring it up the trail on her own when it gets strong enough.

Men as tough as the rocks in the canyon own these ranches. They are Arizona Strip cowboys with generations of heritage and experience to guide their survival. The land they ranch on is as thirsty and unforgiving as it is beautiful. Many of these cowboys are my neighbors. They live in town (sometimes), and drive nearly 100 equipment-eating miles of nasty dirt road each direction to-and-from their ranches. No one lives permanently on the Strip any more.

Denice Hughs and his two sons, Dusty and Cody, pushed their herd up Andrews Canyon. I rode with Dan Snyder, pushing his cows up the Dan Sills trail. Pushing a string of animals up a steep, nearly single file trail is akin to pushing a rope. It took a full day to gather the herd, then make the slow climb to the top. After fire grilled steaks and a night of deep and sound sleep under the stars, we spent the next day working calves. They all had to be roped, branded, ear-notched, and the bull calves--castrated.

Dan is a gentle giant of a man. Even in the midst of the danger and aggravation of our weekend drive, I never saw him raise his voice in anger or heard him curse. I've known him for nearly 12 years and can say the same thing looking backwards in time. I've watched him return good to those who have done him ill, and I've seen him treat others fairly even when he thought no one noticed. We all should have, and be that type of neighbor.

I hope that little calf finds its feet and joins the rest of the herd in Pin Valley on the Snyder Ranch. T'was an honor to work next to such fine men.


Amanda said...

Wow I am so glad you found the calf and I hope it makes it. Your photos and story were wonderful. It is beautiful on those canyons.

Nicole said...

What an adventure! I don't know if you saw the comment I left after your last comment on my blog, so I thought I'd put it here: My mule project is in a powerpoint, I could email it to you if you want.