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Soul of the Desert

New Mexico

Am I the Only One?

When I went through security at the airport, my backpack was marked for special checking. I had to FIND an agent and ask when I could get my bag because it was sitting behind a special plastic partition, waiting.

The agent told me it had been selected because I was carrying something that wasn’t allowed in the airport.

I couldn’t imagine what that might be. It’s a brand new pack so it was highly unlikely that I had left hiking supplies in it. When I hike, I sometimes have odd items. (And back in the good old travel days I used to carry all kinds of tools in case of an emergency. One of those was a neat Leatherman knife that had all kinds of gadgets on there to save my life!)

The agent put my pack on a machine where the contents were viewable by his x-ray machine. He picked up some kind of a special wand thingie. He questioned me while he opened the main compartment:

Are you traveling with anything sharp?

“Not that I know of.”

Out came my peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

“I brought my lunch,” I said helpfully. “I don’t think there is enough jelly on there to tip the “too many liquid ounces.'”

“No, there was just something in here they didn’t recognize on the main pass.” Out came an apple. Followed by an 6 ounce round of Edam. Or maybe it’s 8 ounces, but it’s not like I was planning on eating the whole thing in one sitting. Next came a package of home made sugar cookies, 6, if you must know.

“Wow,” the agent said.

He started to put his wand in and it hit the other bag of cookies. He pulled those out too. His eyebrows had left his face. He then peered inside as if he expected more!! HMPH.

“Food is expensive in the airport,” he acknowledged.

And apparently not readily recognized on x-ray. Am I the only one who travels with food??? He had to have help getting it all back in there. Not a very efficient packer, if you ask me.


Y’all know what life is like on the ranch because you read the blog. When I fly to visit my parents, it’s a 3 hour drive from the airport to the ranch. There are often stops and delays for projects no one told me about. We’re crossing miles of open desert. What if Dad suddenly decided to just go rock hunting or something??? Of course I carry food. You never know what might happen when you’re with my family–or how long it might take. Good thing he didn’t have to go through my suitcases. There’s food in there too.

Posted: December 13, 2016
Filed in New Mexico, Travel, Walks in Life

Best Soap

All righty then. I went down to take Mr. Snuggles an apple this afternoon. Mind you, I know he planned on chewing on ME rather than the apple, but I’m on to his wily ways. I gave him the apple BEFORE entering the pen. Then when he turned to nip me, I grabbed his halter. I told him VERY clearly, “There will be no biting and no drooling.” He understood.

I washed his eyes (he has allergies) and kept hold of his halter. He didn’t fuss. I swear he’s easier to handle than Leo the Cat. There is no handling Junior the Cat so I know he’s easier than Junior. Eventually, he wanted to finish his apple pieces, so I released his head while I gave him a bit of a brushing. He ate his apple and instead of grabbing my arm, he went for the bottom of my pants, smearing in a good bit of apple juice. “MR. SNUGGLES.”

His teeth firmly on my sweatpants, his eyes rolled back to watch me. I am surprised he did not laugh out loud. I retrieved his head/halter. When I went to his other side, that horse tried to kiss me! YES, HE DID. RIGHT IN THE FACE. I am a horse lover, but that is SERIOUSLY taking things too far. “NO!!!!!” GAH. ICK. GAH.

We had another discussion about his bad habits. He understood me quite well, I assure you. Horses are very smart. I could also tell by the look in his eyes that he was biding his time.

I finished all his checks and brushing and slid out of the pen. He had dropped his apple on the ground when he went for my pant leg so I slithered one arm in to put it in his tray. GAH. With a huge slurping noise, he left horse drool ALL OVER MY SLEEVE. It is utterly disgusting. Some sort of mix of hay, apple and horse drool. DISGUSTING. When I asked my mother what was the best laundry soap to clean horse drool, she laughed. Couldn’t even speak. Yeah, just you wait. Mr. Snuggles will get you.

I told Dad about the horse trying to kiss me. Do you know what he said? Can you even imagine? “Oh yeah. I’ve been teaching him that. I make horse blowing noises at him and lean in like I’m going to let him kiss me. But I’m too fast. I get out of the way.” ARE YOU CRAZY?? Of course he is. Who teaches a baby horse that kind of disgusting trick???? UGH.

So now I have a perfectly good shirt with horse drool all over one arm. I don’t know how to get the stain out. Gross.

Posted: February 22, 2017
Filed in New Mexico, Walks in Life
Tags:, , ,

Busy Week

Well, I had to say goodbye to Mr. Snuggles. It was pretty cold when I walked down to tell him I was headed back home. He had his nose buried in his grain, but after some coaxing, he came over to see me (only because I had peanuts on offer. I’m not fooled. No horse is going to leave his grain just to get a nose rub). He’s having a fine time and growing fast.

While at the ranch I helped install two toilets (three if you count the fact we had to do the one twice. Well, actually we did it three times so I guess that is four toilet installs.) I have quite decided that I don’t like toilets, especially installing them. Leaky things, they are. At one point when Dad was on the floor between the toilet and the wall to tighten bolts, he got stuck. Yup. He was wedged in there pretty good. He doesn’t bend or sit up as easily as he used to, and he can no longer raise his arms above his head. He couldn’t get purchase with his legs either. I had to grab his ankles and yank him out of there. Only I pulled a little hard and his shirt sleeve got caught on the toilet bolt. So then he couldn’t squish his way BACK up far enough to get it loose. We were about to cut the shirt off, but I decided to just heave-ho him back in there. He was not particularly appreciative of my helpfulness, but I *did* get him out of there. It wasn’t my idea for him to get stuck. It certainly wasn’t me who didn’t bolt the flange down to the floor when the house was built (the thing was spinning like a frisbee in flight. That doesn’t make for a very steady toilet install. No wonder the old toilet came loose and started leaking.) Personally, I thought one of my brothers should have helped with the toilet tasks, but they were suspiciously absent. Hmph. I have my revenge planned…

So back in Austin the sun is out, and it’s almost 28. That’s up from the 19 it was when we got up. Winter is here. In case you haven’t noticed! I think I’ll just sit in my chair and drink hot cocoa all day.

Posted: December 19, 2016
Filed in New Mexico

Cattle Prod – Back on the Ranch

I recently visited my parents in NM. There were the usual chores, but on Friday, it was supposed to rain or snow–a much needed event in what has been a terrible drought. Unfortunately as it started to threaten rain, Dad remembered he had left his welder uncovered out on the ranch. The drive out there is about one and a half hours each way.

Well, it’s never good for him to go alone, so in the truck we went. The roads aren’t paved and a lot of the time the term “road” is very questionable. There are 3 gates to get into the property and then two more used to separate the grazing pastures. In NM, grazing even 20 cows on a thousand acres has been a trick. There hasn’t been rain, which means no grass grows. Trees are dying. Many ranchers are getting out of the business entirely. It’s expensive to feed cattle when you can’t graze them at least a little bit. Dad goes up twice a week to check on the cattle and to pump water. We have two main water tanks. We have earth tanks too, but they have been completely dry this year and last. There wasn’t even mud on the bottom.

When we arrived at the corral, Dad said, “This is GREAT! The cows are coming in there. I need to take two calves back. We’ll have to go back and get the trailer!”

Wait a minute. Did we just drive and hour and a half to get here, and now you’re telling me we have to drive back to get the trailer?

Yes, that is exactly what he was telling me. Argh.

“I’ve been trying to get the cows to the corral for over a week without bringing the horse up here.”


We drove over to the welder and covered it. Rain spit on us now and then, and it was cold, about 35 to 40 degrees out.

We went back to the corral to separate the two calves from the other cows. Dad told me to guard the gate. This means I stand with it open, and he herds the cows he doesn’t want out the gate. In theory. Getting just the ones you want out is trickier than you might think. I asked Dad, “What is the plan?”

“You just stand there. I’ll herd them out.”

“Okay.” This seemed sharply lacking in detail to me. I am a planner by nature. I want to know exactly what is happening so that I can form contingencies, plan A through plan F and so on. Maybe this really would be that simple. I didn’t remember it being that simple growing up, but maybe the cows were smarter now.

The first two went out easily. The next was a bull, and he was more than suspicious of me. He headed for the opening, but along came a calf, one we wanted. I ran with the gate to close it. This is not a small gate so when you want to shut it you have to move FAST. Faster than a running bull.

“Let the bull out, but not the calf!”

They were right together and the calf ran faster. I clapped at the calf to get him back and closed the gate. Silly guy ran right into the fence and bounced off.

Rather loud cursing followed. “I told you to let the bull out! Do just what I tell you! Don’t start thinking and getting fancy ideas! And don’t be making loud noises!” The man was yelling at the top of his lungs. This means that people in Utah probably heard him.

Dad chased cows around the pen and eventually separated the two calves. “SHUT THE GATE!” he yelled. “HURRY UP! Both of them! Can’t you do any thinking on your own? DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU EVERY LITTLE THING??”

Wait just a minute…I thought I wasn’t supposed to be Miss Idea over here…and what second gate? I don’t see a second gate…you never mentioned a second gate in the ‘plan.” Oh, THAT gate. Now WHY didn’t you tell me you were chasing them in there? I thought the plan was to LEAVE them in here and get all the others out. I didn’t even KNOW there was a narrow pen over there!!! He had added the entire corral since the last time I was up here.

Dad may be old, but he is used to moving fast. He jumped after the calves and shut the other gate. “I thought you knew what you were doing,” Dad muttered.

I could have pointed out that I didn’t need to know what *I* was doing, I needed to know what *he* was doing. Hmph.

Dad eyeballed the truck, wondering if he could convince the calves to stay in the back. It has high sides added, but no top. Calves that get spooked might try to jump out. In the end, we decided to head back and get the trailer.

It wasn’t terrible; just a long drive home and back. My job was to manage the gates, put the truck in four wheel drive (this is a manual operation involving turning a dial on the front wheels) and guide the truck to the cow ramp. Getting the trailer in place was the lengthiest operation because it had rained some and was getting muddy. Dad jackknifed the trailer once, but we were lucky. No damage.

Eventually we got the little guys on. I put away a side gate we had used to close a gap on one side between the trailer and the ramp (This prevents them from trying to squeeze their way to freedom). “Side gate” means we rigged a spare ladder that was at the water pump station. Because I was carrying this long ladder, I was not watching where I put my feet and managed to step directly in a fresh cow paddy. Just lovely.

The weather was worsening. What had been spitting snow was now a mix of sleet, occasional rain and wind.

On the drive back, I got out at the first gate, and my hat blew off. The truck grill caught it. Good thing. It was really Dad’s cap, and I borrowed it from his other truck for this event. I recall some sort of instruction about, “Make sure you put it back. I need to have it in there for when I need it.”

At the next gate, it started hailing the very second I got out of the truck. It stopped almost as soon as I was back in. The third gate–the wind blew it open as we approached!!! Too bad that it hit the sandy hillside and bounced back before we could actually get through the gate. The fourth gate, a wind gust took that hat and blew it to Utah or maybe Mexico. I was busy with the lock and never even saw it leave.

“What happened to my hat?” Dad said as I climbed in the cab. “You lost it this time, didn’t you?”

“No, the wind took it. I had nothing to say about it.”


True story. I couldn’t have caught that hat. I never saw it leave.

We made it safely home and Dad installed the calves in their new corral. As I cleaned my boots, I realized I had mud all down one pant leg. I washed up and started on dinner. Just another day at the ranch, but I’m really glad I had those boots on. Wear your boots people. Life is often full of shit that is unavoidable even when you know it is there.

Possible related book: Soul of the Desert Soul of the Desert is a novel about survival, hope and overcoming impossible adversity.
(Click on the tag “ranch stories” in the lower right of this post for more stories about Dad and the ranch!)

Country Life

There’s nothing quite like hanging laundry on a cold morning before you rush off to town. I took half the clothes out and slapped the sheets across the line to spread out later. Fixed the rest of the bundle to the clothesline and went back inside for the rest. Finished fixing those on the line. My hands were freezing. By the time I went to straighten out the sheets, it was too late. They were frozen rather solid…I guess that is what happens when you try to hang laundry first thing and it’s only 32 degrees out!!!

Posted: February 25, 2017
Filed in New Mexico, Walks in Life

Cowboys Don’t Sunburn

You know those nice cover shots on romance books where the cowboy isn’t wearing a shirt? Or those shots where he’s standing in his boots on the porch with nice clean jeans? Fiction. TOTALLY FICTION.

If you ever wondered how cowboys avoided sunburn back before sunblock I can tell you the answer. When you’re out ranching, whether by truck or horse, the first thing you encounter is gates. You have to dismount or get out of the truck to open and close gates. If you’re on a horse, the horse tends to stir up dust. If you’re in the truck, the truck wheels let loose a powder dusting as it eases through the gate. The person opening the gate gets a fine covering of delicate sand across every spare inch of her person. Nature’s sunscreen.

When you throw hay out the back of a truck so that you can entice the cattle to the corral, you get large bits of hay, dust and dirt showered across your person. More natural sunscreen. By the time you leave the ranch for home, you are actually wearing the equivalent of sunblock 152. Trust me, I calculated it on the last trip. There was enough dirt on my person to start a garden. And at the end of the day, if I’d had the energy to prop my boots on the porch railing for a picture, I guarantee you neither the boots nor my jeans were pristine. Those cowboys on the covers are TOTALLY fiction.

Posted: March 1, 2014
Filed in New Mexico, Walks in Life


We don’t get a lot of snow in NM where my parents live, but we always feel lucky when winter drops some much needed moisture in the desert. I was visiting recently and, as you can see, just such a snow arrived. While it was much welcomed, we had to attend a funeral the next day. New Mexico is rocky. It is mountainous in many spots, including the rather large hill/mountain where the cemetery is located. We weren’t certain we’d be able to make it up the graded road to the top even with four wheel drive because of the snow. The snow usually freezes overnight and forms a layer of ice which can make four-wheel driving dangerous and unpredictable on steep inclines. The road to the cemetery is a steep incline. It’s lengthy too, especially if you’re contemplating walking it.

Not to worry, we can certainly all walk. Well, yeah, it’s quite a hike. We called everyone and mentioned they’d need good shoes because even if we made it to the top, it would be muddy and rocky on the way to the gravesite. It was a private funeral so a very small crowd was expected, but…two of the ladies showed up in heels and at least two of the men wore dress shoes. For the love of Mike (as Dad would say and I have no idea who Mike is) why in the world would you wear heels out to any cemetery? But especially one where “path” equates to “forge your own, watch out for other graves and there will be boulders?”

This was a family affair and I think everyone had been up there before…one person in heels had to stay back at the camp, but that was okay because someone had to set out the food and keep an eye on preparations. Well, okay two of them stayed, although one was my Mom and I know she has appropriate boots.

We all made it, although I suspect a couple of shoes, maybe more, are permanently ruined from the damp and mud. Dad didn’t have to use his winch to pull anyone out of any bad spots (but he did have it ready to go, but he’s that kind of guy.)

Me, I wore bedroom slippers. JUST KIDDING. Wanted to see if y’all were paying attention. I wore my seasoned hiking boots.

From a head stone:

Rest in Peace

Wayward wanderer, as you pass by
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, you soon will be.
Prepare yourself to follow me.

One Day you’ll be just
a memory for some people.
Do your best
to be a good one.

Posted: December 4, 2011
Filed in New Mexico, Walks in Life
Tags:, ,

Hiking in NM – Gila

View of the Gila River

View of the Gila River

It’s all downhill until you have to hike back out. Urgh. I can walk downhill for a long time, even a steep incline for quite a while without getting tired. Of course, if the sun is hot and I have to hike back OUT with it beating down on me, I’m going to suffer.

I tried to find quiet hikes along the Gila River–lots of shade. But there’s also lots of water, which meant taking off hiking boots, wading across thigh-deep crossings in some places, dry feet. Hike more, repeat.

So Dad chose a mile hike that was pretty steep. Gorgeous views. Not too hot starting out. But man. Hiking back out was a real experience in sucking oxygen. After all was said and done, I was downgraded. Remember my last trip home when Dad called me a city slicker four or five times? I didn’t even make it that high on the career ladder this time. After the hike, Dad declared I was a “candy ass.” Sigh.

img_0112 Partway down.

img_0109 This shot is about halfway down where things leveled off a bit.

img_0118 Flowers

I Did Not Go Hunting

Bear Print

Bear Print

As y’all know, I often visit my parents at the ranch. I was there last week. One of the mornings, not bright because it was too early to be bright, Dad asked if I wanted to drive over to the nearest ranch area with him.

“Okay,” I said. “Let me put on my boots.” It seemed kind of early to me since the sun wasn’t up yet, but many things happen early on the ranch.

When I came into the kitchen he said, “Did you eat breakfast?”

“Well, no. I just got out of the shower. I haven’t even had my tea. But if we’re just going to check the cows or water, we’ll be back shortly, and I can eat then.”

“You better eat something. I want to walk around and scout.”

“What?!? Wait…what do you mean scout?” My eyes had been sleepy, but they went wide with sudden suspicion.

“In case there are deer.”

“We’re going hunting?!?”

He shook his head and put his cap on. “No. We’re just going to walk around.”

“Don’t we have church in a few hours?”

“Yes, but that is…” He studied his watch. He calculated. He tilted his head and then tilted it the other way. “Almost 4 hours.”

Four hours? That was cutting it close. It was more like three hours, and if we hurried we’d make church. I got my boots on, crammed a half a tortilla down, guzzled my tea and went out to the truck with half a banana in my hand. I wore my mother’s orange knit cap because I may not be the brightest candle in the dark, but it seemed to me that since it was hunting season, even though other hunters aren’t allowed on private land, that didn’t seem to stop some bullets from crossing now and then. I wanted to make sure I did NOT look like a deer.

When we arrived at the dusty hillsides and arroyos on the ranch, Dad drove like a grandfather who had all day to get somewhere. This slow pace was because we stopped frequently to study the shadows between the squatting oaks and junipers. Sometimes we paused so *someone* could lean out the window to identify possible deer or cow tracks.

When we reached the far side of the ranch, we got out of the truck. The morning was as quiet as a graveyard with nothing much moving except a gentle breeze. Dad strapped on a long knife, checked to see that he had his hunting license in his pocket and grabbed a rifle complete with a giant scope.

We started up the hill, and I asked a question about the fence line. “Shh. You have to be quiet,” Dad said.

“Well,” I whispered, “We aren’t hunting.”

“Nope, but you don’t want to scare the deer.”


We hiked around not hunting, stopping to look at tracks to determine how old they were. When we came across deer poop, *someone* had to pick it up to see if it was fresh or dried or just how dried it was. I was not that someone because I was not hunting.

We followed trails for an hour. Didn’t see a thing. The further we got from the truck the more I wondered to myself, “If I see a deer, should I tell Dad?” I mean, we were getting mighty far from the truck and there were some big hills. If he shot a deer waaay over here, who was going to drag, haul and carry it back to the truck??? Hmm. But if I didn’t say anything, and he saw the deer after I saw it, would he know I saw it first??? Hmm…

We continued to traipse about. The morning was quite beautiful for a hike.

Dad finally paused and studied the mountains on either side. After a bit he said, “Well, we should head back so we’re in time for church, don’t you think?”


He started walking again. Now, far be it for me to point out to Dad that the truck was back the other way. He knows those hills better than the back of his hand so he knew darn well we were still hiking out and away. We continued on for the better part of another hour before turning back.

As we turned, he shushed me and knelt down. I got myself down too. When you’re “not hunting,” you always follow the actions of the leader with the gun. He searched the terrain across the arroyo through the scope. Two steps forward, more scoping. “There might be something. Let’s move.”

“Let’s move” meant that instead of a slow hike, we hightailed it back across those mountains like our butts were on fire. Dad began laying out possible paths that a deer might take from that hillside. “Could go down into the riverbed or might go towards the truck.”

We continued to move and he continued to speculate and scope things out. Eventually we made it to the truck, but we never saw any other hints. We even made it to church, but of course, I had to shower all over again.

Next year I’m going to tell my brothers to visit during hunting season. Let them “not” go hunting with Dad. Hmph.

Possible related book: Soul of the Desert

Maria Schneider is the author of the Sedona O’Hala humorous mysteries and the Moon Shadow urban fantasy series. You can find her books at Amazon, B&N, Kobobooks and other book retailers.

(Click on the tag “ranch stories” for more stories about Dad and the ranch!)

Lost Cow

So, y’all remember last time I visited the ranch, I had to look up calf pulls. Well, never mind if you don’t remember. It’s a new year now and Cow 5 is due to give birth. Dad checks on her every day. At least he did until she decided to disappear somewhere on 300 acres of catclaw (thorns), rocks, scrub, cacti, and low trees. Since I was visiting, I helped search for her a couple of times. The first time was at eight at night. Yeah, most people go to a movie for entertainment. We go wandering the desert looking for a cow.

The lower reaches in the mountains are the most likely place to find cows as they are generally lazy during the day and they hang out under trees until things cool down. We drove through the riverbed from one side to the other. Half the cows in that pasture mooed at us from there (about 5 cows, 4 of which have calved already). But there was no Cow 5. So we went up the side of a hill. Near the top Dad said, “I haven’t been up here in a while. I don’t remember where the road is, and I can’t see it.” EYEROLL. He insists on calling any dirt rabbit track that he’s driven on a “road.” As far as he is concerned road = Spaces with no large trees and rocks the truck can probably drive over. My philosophy remains: IF YOU CAN’T SEE IT, IT IS NOT A ROAD.

Across the ridge we drove, very slowly. We checked the canyons on either side, but no Cow 5. We repeated the exercise the next morning. Since I’m a city slicker, we headed out at 6 a.m. rather than the rancher’s preferred 5 a.m. Alas, Cow 5 was nowhere to be found so we headed to the far ranch to do some other chores. Other chores included picking up rocks from the “road” to protect our spines from severe bouncing and lengthen the life of the truck tires. I probably only walked about a mile and we stopped throwing rocks once it got too hot about 10:30. Well, unless there was a really large boulder, in which case, it had to be rolled aside. We would have changed the oil on the generator out there (it’s attached to the pump to pump water into the tanks for the cows), but Dad didn’t have the right wrench in his toolbox. Don’t ask me how that can happen. He had both metric and US standard wrenches along with a few other goodies, but the bolt refused to be turned. Just like always, Dad had told me we’d be back at the house before lunch. Just like always, I made burritos, which we ate under a nice shade tree. After lunch, we pitched a few more choice rocks out of the way and came back to look for Cow 5 again.

My favorite line from the two-hour search: “There’s no road down this ridge, but I think the truck will make it back out. I’ve found cows down here before. The problem is that it’s easier to see open spaces for the truck on the way down. Going back out, you can never see how you got down here.”

He was right on all counts. I couldn’t see much of a way in and the way out was even sketchier. Dad’s definition of “open spaces” = Watch your arms and the side mirrors because we might have a tight squeeze to get through. If you see a dropoff warn me because if the truck slides sideways it can be very dangerous.

We still didn’t find Cow 5. I guess I know where I’ll be at five or six tomorrow morning.

Possible related book: Soul of the Desert

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