Monday, April 15, 2013


This amazing contribution comes from my good friend Steve Westhoff who is as real a cowboy as I have ever met.  I have laid it out exactly as it came in the email to me.  Stories like this need no embellishment.  Enjoy!  --pgooch

Parker and Mitch, my two younger sons roped “Belle” and I branded her with an iron heated in a fire. We tried for 3 years to catch her from the first time we saw her. We put a bell on her neck so she would be easier to find and catch in the future

“Fifty” Adventures

            A collection of true stories experienced while owning a public lands ranch in southern Utah on Fifty Mile Mountain. Cattle ranching with nothing to assist you other than horses, pack mules, dogs, and ropes on roughly 60 square miles of roadless desert wilderness has it’s challenges and rewards. Sometimes it’s hot and dirty, and sometimes it has amazing adventures.Fifty Mile Mountain is really a mesa that runs from Escalante, 50 miles to the Southeast, almost all the way to Lake Powell. Since it is a mesa, the sides are nearly vertical and half way up there is a bench that is about a mile wide that goes all the way around the mesa about 1000 feet below the rim. When we go there, we drive 42 miles down the Hole in the Rock Road and park below the Middle Trail, (the mesa is so steep only 5 trails have ever been made through the cliffs). We use the middle trail on the north side. Where we park is at 5000 foot elevation. We ride up through the cliffs and across the bench for about 2 hours to get to the top at 7400 foot elevation. The top is fairly flat and averages 3 miles across. I put some of my favorite pictures on the internet a few years ago, (they are still there at However, unless you know the stories behind the pictures, they don’t have the same meaning. So, now I am writing the stories to go with the pictures. I am calling my collection “Fifty” Adventures and I titled this story, “Airtime”. It is one of my favorites.

Satellite view of the Fifty, the green pin is Hole in the Rock Road, the red pin is Rock Creek and the blue lines are the trails we use.

     One time in April of 2012, my son, Mitchell Westhoff and I, Steve Westhoff, were riding across the bench between Mudholes and Blackburn Canyon and got ourselves in a situation where we had to do some "airtime", to get the job done. Let me explain.

On the bench, looking down into Rock Creek, Lake Powell in the distance.

     For years we have taken the cows off the back side of the Fifty, down Mudholes Canyon and along the bench for about 6 miles and into a big, 15,000 acre canyon called Rock Creek and a smaller canyon half way to Rock Creek called Little Valley. There is nothing little about Little Valley when you are looking for a cow because it is still 7500 acres. We usually put the cows in Rock Creek and the bulls and horses in Little Valley in November and go back and get them in March and April. Usually around New Years, I get my friend Dale to take me flying, as the snow is usually too deep to get there by horse back and Dale likes to fly and will take me in his plane if I will buy the gas. Somewhere around $45.00 will pay for a 2 hour round trip to look at the cows in the middle of the winter, not a bad deal.
            Part of what’s great about flying with Dale is he and his Dad used to own the cattle permits on Fifty Mile Mountain and the canyons on the back side and he can tell you all about the old days while you are flying. Well, one time after Dale had had his morning coffee, he took me flying and he was saying how when they owned the Fifty, one of the cowboys was chasing a wild cow trying to rope it and as they were running through the brush, he realized the cow was going out on a point where there was no way off. For sure he was going to get his cow now! The cowboy sped up, but also, the cow realized she was on a point and rather than get caught she jumped off the end, and rather than let her get away the cowboy jumped his horse right with her and as the story went, roped her in the air! When they hit the bottom, however far down it was, he was able to hold on to the rope and tie it around a tree before the cow could get her feet under her.
            I kind of raised my eyebrows when I heard this story wondering how much of it was true but I remember reading about the cowboys in Canyonlands cornering a wild cow on a ledge trail that went down to the Green River and rather than be caught, she jumped off the ledge to her death. I had also heard the story about Mac LeFevre chasing a cow in the bottom of the Escalante canyon and the cow jumped over a ledge into Lake Powell to get away and Mac jumped his horse right over the ledge into the Lake right behind her and swam out around her and brought her back. Also, the first wild cow that Parker, my youngest son, caught on the Fifty, back when he was 15 years old, the dogs had chased the cows up on a rocky point and when we rode up, the cow threw herself off the back side and I remember watching her spin around doing 360's on her side, instead of end over end, as she slide down the slick rock about 30 feet to the bottom.
This is Parker when he was 15 years old. He roped this calf, tied it to a pole that was laying in the corral and let the calf drag it around to teach it to lead, then Parker led him off the mountain the day this picture was taken. Proud Father in the background.

      So I guess the story could be true, but Mitch and I think we topped it because we caught our yearling bull at the edge of a cliff and ended up castrating it in the air! Here's what happened.
            In April 2012, right after Mitch finished his second year of college, I needed somebody to help me get the last cows out of Little Valley and Rock Creek and Mitch came down to help. We rode over the top and down Mudholes Canyon all the way to the floor of Little Valley. Then we rode into the box canyon we camp in and the 3 cows we were looking for were in it! Well rather than camp down in the heat, with the gnats already out, we gathered up the cows and rode right back up on the bench before dark. That night we camped at the spring at the mouth of Mudholes Canyon figuring we would go into Rock Creek the next morning. We had two pack horses and a mule with a harness on and we were leading them across the bench. We were riding through the trees and we came around a corner and there were about a dozen of my cows shaded up under some trees.

My cows started out as a herd of Longhorns, I have been using South Poll bulls, (Red Angus/Hereford crossed), since 2005 with great results.

     I stopped to look them over and saw one of my yearling steers that I had not been able to catch last fall.  I was wondering where the yearling bull was that I was also looking for that is usually with the steer. Well, after being satisfied all the cows were doing well, we started on and the next corner we went around, there was that little bull, breeding one of my cows.  I tell Mitch, "We can't have this because we are going to have a January calf now". (Since our cows are out on the range 12 months a year and are never fed hay, we try to wait until the cows have been on green grass for 50 days prior to calving. The desert feed is sufficient for a dry cows maintenance during the winter, but a cow’s nutrient needs double from 30 days prior to calving and for 60 days after, so to time calving with the spring green-up, mid-April and May works best for our ranch.). So Mitch and I decide we need, (it was not a want but a need), to tie up our extra horses and rope this bull and make him a steer.

From Grand Bench looking over at the south side of the Fifty in the background.

     It is some pretty rough country where we had found the bull and pretty brushy so we put on our chaps, take the rifle scabbards off our saddles so they won't get torn off as we ride through the brush, tighten our cinches and take off after the bull. He weighed about 600 pounds and was expert at ducking through the brush and under the trees. We each had a chance to throw our ropes at him but could not quite catch him. Finally, we are running him down a small ravine with Mitch right behind him and me on top of the ridge trying to keep him down in front of Mitch. This ravine poured off a 200 foot tall clay bank that wasn't straight down but was steep enough that you could barely keep from falling if you were using your hands and your feet. So, as Mitch was chasing this bull down the ravine, right when the bull hit the edge of the drop off, he stopped, and right when he stopped Mitch threw his rope, and right when the rope settled around his neck, the bull jumped.
            I was on the other side of a tree and didn't see it happen, but Mitch yelled out "Dad, Help!" I'm thinking to myself, "When one of my boys yell for help, as independent as they are, we’re both in trouble". Anyhow, when I get around the tree and see Mitch standing there by himself, I ask him, “Where is the bull?” Mitch says, “He jumped over the edge.” I say, “Where is your rope?” Mitch says, “It's on the bull”.
            We tie up our horses and walk over to the edge and there is our bull, wearing Mitch’s rope about 30 feet down, standing on a big rock about 4 feet wide and sticking out from the cliff face about 8 to 10 feet. 

This is the bull Mitch roped and the rock he was standing on
     We started laughing, asking ourselves, "What are we going to do now". Mitch got out his camera and took some pictures. We finally schemed up a plan, (Mitch's idea), that if he jumped down, caught the end of the rope and jumped down along the close side of the rock that was sticking out, that the bull would likely jump off the rock on the far side, if he did, Mitch would dally the rope around a boulder. I was on the cliff above the far side of the rock, and if the plan worked I was going to jump down and tie up the bulls legs and castrate him and turn him loose.
            Well, for the most part, the plan worked, but when the bull jumped Mitch already had him dallied up so he was hanging off the rock on the far side and under me. He was in the fetal position with his front legs and was trying to take the pressure off the rope with his back feet. He didn't look like he was planning to kick so I jumped down, whipped out my knife and castrated him in the air in less than 30 seconds, maybe less than 20 seconds. I yelled for Mitch to let him go and as he slid by I pulled the rope off of his neck. The bull went all 200 feet to the bottom, half sliding and half walking.

This is the clay bank the bull went down after we castrated him.

     I worked my way around to a ridge and was able to climb back up. I got out my rope and tossed one end of it down to Mitch so I could pull him up. We laughed and laughed saying, "Did we really just do that?" I don't think the bull even knew what happened, because next time we saw him 3 days later, he was with the same cow again.

Another view of the rock the bull was standing on.

     When we used to go with Quinn Griffin, whose family owned the grazing permits on the Fifty for 37 years, as we would start to ride out each morning, he used to say, "I wonder what adventure awaits us today?" It seems the Fifty is always good for adventure and that day Mitch and I sure had more adventure than we expected. 


Click here to for "The Cowboy of Wildhorse Mesa" that I wrote about Steve in 2008