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Soul of the Desert

New Mexico


I was just finishing up watering the cow this morning when Dad drove up. “Want to come and check the water at the Noonday with me? I need to see if the bull is there.”

“Sure.” I had my shit kicker boots on because to water the cow you have to enter the pen. I did have my nicer sweat pants on because I was only planning on watering the cow and the garden. I hadn’t had breakfast either.

Off we went. The bull was not at the tanks. Why would it be so helpful? That meant we counted cows and headed over to the other side of the mountain pass to check the other side. There are really two sets of mountains here (this is the nearby range, not the far ranch). The bull wasn’t at the water tank on the other side of the mountains, either. This side is fairly steep, but don’t despair. What follows are Dad’s comments as we searched.

“I made a half-ass road to get up this hill.”


“I’m not sure if the road goes to the right or left of this tree.”

DOES IT MATTER??? If you can’t see it, what is the point???

“I’m going to build out this road on the end to go all the way down to the arroyo. I won’t be able to drive back up it, but I can get the truck down it.”

That should give you an idea of just how steep some of these hills are. One way–because sliding down is always easier if you can see what you’re going to hit.

Up on the next ridge:

“I’ll drive as close to the edge as possible so you can see down into the canyon better.”

Gosh, Dad. Favors like that simply aren’t necessary. I’ll just walk.

“I don’t know where that bull is. I’ve never gone over the top of this hill with the truck. I wonder if we can make it. It looks clear.”

Not that we could see OVER the top. Noooo, that doesn’t happen until we actually top it and the truck points DOWN. I thought it didn’t go too badly, though. Not until we had to go back UP the downside. Going down the truck didn’t slip. Going up was all about grinding rocks and slipping sideways. Even Dad said, ‘Shit” twice. That was followed by:

“I used to enjoy riding up here in the truck. Now that I’m old I feel every bump and every rock.”

That’s not because you’re old, Dad. I can feel them too because there is nothing but bumps, rocks and banging into the door and window as you try to hold on.

“Oh Shit,” Dad said again. “I just went over fresh cow shit with the back wheel. Now the bumper and tire is going to be full of cow shit. I’m going to have to wash the truck.”

Whatever, Dad.

We did not find the bull. So we’ll have to go back out again when it cools off. Cows and bulls sit under trees in the midday heat, which makes them impossible to see. They are merely dark shadows in the shadows off in the distance. Sometimes you get lucky and they are along the dry riverbeds where we take the truck, but it’s not worth driving out there much past 11. We looked for over two hours. We counted cows three times because we overcounted at one spot and had to go back to verify the actual number at the first tank after double checking the ones in the sandy riverbed.

When we got home, since I’d already showered first thing in the morning (fool) and then hiked about looking for a bull, I gave El Paso his bath. Then I took another shower. If we go out again tonight, I’ll be taking a third. It’s not that I have to be pristine all the time, but I was hot, sticky and smelled like cows and dog. It’s also impossible to get a comb through your hair after driving around for two hours looking for a sneaky bull.

Posted: September 13, 2017
Filed in New Mexico, Walks in Life
Tags:, , ,

Down the Rabbit Hole

So, I’m visiting the parents on the ranch again. Dad and I went to look for cows on the far ranch. You know the place. Fifty miles past the middle of nowhere, no good roads. Dad decided I needed to learn to drive out there (again. You will recall the last time he decided this, he let me drive for about five minutes before declaring I was trying to kill him.) It rained recently, so many of the main dirt “roads” were full of ditches where the water had carved out a rocky path. Just remember, ladies, when you’re asking for equality, it isn’t always a boardroom job. No, we have to be equal when it comes to cows and roads too.

I was doing pretty well, bouncing us along about five miles an hour or so. I switched into high-gear 4 wheel drive when we reached the ranch part. I know the general route and know where the gates are. Hint: If you are on gate duty, the way to tell which way the gate opens is to note where the truck stops. If the truck stops with enough room to open towards the truck, it’s going to open that way. If the truck goes all the way up to the gate, it opens the other direction. There is no other obvious way to tell. If I am driving said truck, I just GUESS.) Dad didn’t complain much about the extra walks to the gates and on the bright side, I didn’t run over Dad or a gate!

When we came to the spot where the earth tank had run across the road, I asked about putting the truck into low-gear 4 wheel drive. “You don’t need it,” Dad said. “But I don’t know why you’re in drive instead of 1st gear. You drive like the neighbor. I think it’s easier in first gear.”

Well, if he’d MENTIONED that, I guess I’d have been in first gear. FINE.

We made it through the running mud puddle. I was pretty pleased.

On the other side, up an incline, we found a set of cows. “STOP!” Dad yelled.

“GAH!” No, we weren’t under attack, but apparently he had determined we were as close as we’d get before they ran off so he wanted to stop to note the ear tag numbers. It hardly seemed like an EMERGENCY stop order to me. We were only piddling along anyway. SHEESH.

We counted cows. Then the cows wandered into the road in front of us. Mind you, some of these cows stand taller than the front hood. Sometimes they stop. In the dirt road track. See, I don’t appreciate this because I like a tiny bit of momentum for the hills. “Just push them with the truck,” was Dad’s advice.

I honked the horn. The cow didn’t like that. She skittered forward three or four steps before glancing back and…stopping. I moved forward and honked. This time she decided to stand her ground and invite her calf to hang out as well. OH FOR THE LOVE OF. I tapped her with the truck grill. So far as I know, the only purpose of a truck grill is to tap cattle to get them moving. But I see a lot of these truck grills in Austin. I know all those trucks don’t have to worry about cows. Yet they all have grills. Why???

Anyway, Cow 19 decided she’d move. She took her calf along with her.

“Stay close, or she’ll stop again,” Dad advised.


That worked until we came to the bull. The bull was facing us and is larger than the cow. Less pleasant looking too. Big black face. Giant face, in fact. “Get out of the way,” Dad called out the window.

The bull looked at him and gave this kind of nod and a snort and moved aside.

We all know that if I had politely asked that bull to move, he’d still be there blocking the road into next week. Dad is the cow whisperer in this family and I can pretty much guarantee that bull would have just stood there looking at me for a week, maybe two.

This sort of searching for cows and jotting down their tag numbers continued until we arrived at the water tank an hour or so later. There, we checked the water levels and took a short break before Dad said, “You better let me drive. It gets rough from here.”

WHAT??? And those roads were what? Freeways???

If it had been anyone other than Dad, I’d have rolled my eyes and made a smart remark. I also wouldn’t have believed whoever came up with such a ridiculous sounding lie. I kept my mouth shut and got in the passenger side.

The first part wasn’t too bad if you don’t count the spinning wheels, the rocks sliding out from under the wheels and the fact that the road by the river had grass so long, we couldn’t see the actual road. When we had to cross the running creek, boulders had rolled down and there were potholes the size of the tires.

“I’m not sure I’m on the road anymore,” Dad said. “This isn’t in very good shape.”

“I guess it’s the road now,” I said.

“Yeah,” he agreed happily. “If we aren’t stuck, it’s a road.”

That pretty much sums up Dad’s definition of “road.”

We went by the cabin, still looking for more cows. There were none to be found. Past the cabin, there is a fork in the road. You can take the low road or the high road.

“With the rain, I wonder if we can make it up the high road,” Dad said. “We should be okay, but I guess we’ll slide back down if not.”

Ah, words of reassurance. Dad is such a comfort.

We started up the first rock, some sort of gate into the road from hell. The truck was working pretty hard at this road, but we weren’t moving very often. It got steeper and rockier. “I guess I should have let you drive this part so you’d learn.”

“I know how to drive up this road,” I replied through clenched teeth. “You take the low road.”

He snorted at my lack of enthusiasm.

The first time the rocks went out from under the wheels, we didn’t actually slide back. We just pedaled in place and at least one of us prayed. The rocks rolled under the wheels as if we were on some kind of churning balls. They moved, we didn’t. The tires were grinding, but they held.

The second time it happened, the truck slid sideways and then refused to continue climbing. Dad said, “You let it roll back a tiny bit until the tires grip and then you go again.” He demonstrated by easing up on the gas, letting the truck roll backwards as he worked the brakes with the other foot. It would have been more impressive if I’d heard the rest of the instructions, but I was praying too hard to actually catch whatever it was he was yelling against the sound of sliding rocks, grinding tires and revving engine.

Dad kept up this type of survival driving the rest of the way up the cliff. He had the GALL to start WHISTLING. There I was in the middle of the fourth Hail Mary and he seemed to think this was some kind of fun! Whatever, Dad.

We weren’t having much luck finding the cows. We went over a hill, across a valley, back around and to a lower road. I think it’s the other end of the low road that we should have taken instead of the high cliff road, but I’m not positive. “I guess we should take that and see if we can find the rest of the cows,” he said. “We need to brand the last four tomorrow.”

So we started on the low road, only then there was another fork in the road. Yes, of COURSE he took the high road! HMPH.

It wasn’t actually bad though, not compared to the other one. Not until he asked, ‘Is that a road there?”

“No,” I responded without bothering to look. My road philosophy differs from his. Mine is: “If you can’t see it, it isn’t a road.”

“Oh, you’re right. Here it is.”

No, it wasn’t. We just veered off into a bunch of brush that didn’t have an actual tree in the way.

“I haven’t driven down here in a long time so the road is hard to find.”

He meandered along a completely unmarked tiny rabbit trail. I just kept my mouth shut and looked for cows.

“I don’t think they’ll be down here. I don’t see any fresh tracks or cow dung.”

Well, so what? I hadn’t seen a road and that hadn’t stopped him either!!!

We went round and about and then came to a spot that seemed impassable. “I’ll turn around here. Did you see any fresh tracks on that ant mound back there?”

“No, there were no fresh tracks.” This was a true statement. I’d seen the ant mound because it was the only sandy area visible. The rest was covered in grass, weeds, trees and cacti.

“We should probably drive closer and check.”

Well, since roads weren’t a requirement, why not????

He backed up, made a circle, did this and that and we were on our way. We got over to the ant mound by driving over two small oak trees, and taking a tree branch on both windows/mirrors at the same time. Note: While watching for cows, you must also watch for trees that jab inside the window.

There were no fresh tracks and no cows and no cow dung. He drove a bit past the mound so that we could get better visibility up the side of a nearby hill, but no luck. He turned around.

We drove out a few yards and found the ant mound. Dad stopped. “Where did the road go? Is that it?”

“No.” There was a huge rock just past where he was pointing. We hadn’t gone over anything that large because we wouldn’t have made it.

He drove some more.

“Is that it?” I pointed to a small tree. “We went over a small tree or two.”

“I don’t remember that tree.” He drove up to the tree. “Yeah, this could be it, but I don’t remember that tree. Maybe this is it.”

Another few yards and suddenly a huge tree loomed. Rocks jutted out like some kind of wild graveyard. “I don’t think this is it,” Dad said.

“Look there,” I yelled. “It’s a rabbit.”

Dad gave me a surprised glance. “That’s just a jackrabbit. So what?”

“So you took a rabbit track down here. Ask the rabbit. It knows this track.”

Dad snorted. The rabbit hopped away. Dad drove to the right until we hit more trees. “This isn’t it either. There are no truck tracks from us coming down this way. Now we’re lost.”

Technically, we weren’t lost. We knew right where we were. We even knew where we wanted to be: The top of the hill. What we didn’t know was HOW TO GET THERE.

He got the truck turned around and we headed in the general direction of the ant mound. The rabbit appeared again. “Follow that rabbit,” I said. “I’m telling you this is a rabbit track!”

Since the rabbit was in front of us, Dad followed the rabbit. When it veered left into the brush, Dad stopped and looked that way. “Yup, this is right. I see the tracks.” He meant the truck tracks, not the rabbit ones, but really, what’s the difference???

Saved by a rabbit. Unbelievable.

The adventure continued as we hunted cows. At one point, Dad had to back up a very long way because we went down a road that he decided wasn’t going to lead to cows and there was no place to turn around. This didn’t even faze him. CRAP. I can barely drive half those “roads” while looking straight ahead. He backed that truck up like he was still going forward. I’d have ended down the side of the hill even on the best of the “roads.”

Yeah. I learned something all right. FOLLOW THE RABBIT!!!

Posted: September 8, 2017
Filed in New Mexico, Walks in Life
Tags:, , ,

Waking Hours

Dad called the other day. We chatted about this and that (yes, cows came into the conversation.) Dad mentioned that he was worried about his health because he accidentally slept all the way to six two nights ago. *headdesk* You see, Dad usually gets up at four (and this is a concession to getting up at 3, which he did in the summertime for years to beat the heat.) He gets up at four, makes breakfast and then reads his prayers. He used to be out of the house feeding animals by five, but these days, he putters and snoozes until six. Well, of all things, he didn’t wake up at four the other morning. To hear him tell it, he had one foot in the grave and the other was sure to follow shortly (as in, any minute.)

I think we had this same conversation a few years ago when he decided not to get up at 3 anymore. (He still gets up at 3 or 3:30 when he has to go up to brand, so don’t panic and start dialing 911.)

It is true that he has slowed down. He’s 79! He used to get up at 3 and be out of the house by 4, up at the far ranch by 5 or 5:30 (depending on what had to be fed at the house) and then cut wood for six hours. Well, he can’t take that kind of schedule anymore. Strangely (according to him) he can’t stay out splitting wood past nine o’clock anymore.

I’ve pointed out numerous times that he doesn’t have to split wood anymore. They do have central heat now. But he does it anyway and sells the wood to the neighbors who don’t have such heating. He says the neighbors are old and who is going to cut wood for them if he doesn’t help the one or two old widows who have always bought wood? He also claims it gives him something to do. Because yanno, a garden, feeding three cows at the house, fifteen cows at the near ranch that require watering in two locations, twenty-five cows at the far ranch, branding, keeping up with truck maintenance and yard maintenance really isn’t enough to keep a man busy…

Don’t worry. I reassured him that it was okay if he slept until six. He disagreed with me, but I told him so long as it didn’t happen more than once or twice a year, it was okay. He just grunted.

Gotta love him. What else can you do???

Posted: June 23, 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

Meet Mr. Snuggles

(Click the picture for a larger image).
Mom and Dad have a new companion. Dad bought a six month old colt at the auction a few months ago. I’d been hearing updates, but neither parent disclosed the horse’s name. Of course, as soon as I met the little guy, I knew his name was Mr. Snuggles. He came right over, his head about the same height as mine and nuzzled my hand. I had treats of course. He loves to be brushed, and he loves to follow us around. Like most horses I’ve known, he sniffed my hair to make sure it wasn’t some sort of special hay. After Mr. Snuggles sniffed my hair, he rested his head on my shoulder for just a tiny bit. He bopped me on the shoulder too. I think that means he wants more treats.

We were chatting about the horse at dinner, and I mentioned his name must be Mr. Snuggles. Dad about spit his food out. Mom started giggling. “I love that name,” she said.

Dad: “His name is NOT Mr. Snuggles!”

Me: “Yes it is. I asked him and that is what he said.” I lost it to a giggling fit at that point. Mom was already nearly falling off her chair. Dad just sat there looking insulted.

When Dad’s friend came over the next day Mom mentioned I had named the new horse Mr. Snuggles. You have to remember that Dad is a tough guy. His friends are all tough guys. They swagger around like the old days as if they still have holsters and guns at their hips. Friend looked at dad. “Are you really gonna ride a horse named Mr. Snuggles?

“HIS NAME IS NOT SNUGGLES,” Dad declared, just short of a rebel yell that could be heard all the way to California.

Mom and I were happily engulfed in giggles. “Is too,” I said. But I was already walking away fast. You just don’t want to stick around too long with that kind of explosion waiting to happen.

I just love Mr. Snuggles. He’s a great little horse.

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

El Paso Goes Undercover

Apparently El Paso thought it might be easier to catch rabbits, skunks and squirrels if he disguised himself as a cow. That’s the only reason I can think of that he would roll in cow urine and manure. There can’t be any other reason, unless he thought that, like Downy, it would get rid of the rest of the skunk smell. We didn’t have time to give him a full bath (You don’t even want to know how fun and messy that is. It’s like walking through a car wash without the car. Instead of coming out clean, you’re wet, smell like dog and are well covered in dog hair.) He resisted being washed off with the washcloth until he figured out that hey, maybe getting rid of that smell wasn’t such a bad idea. He wasn’t going to earn treat unless he got washed off, either. What is wrong with that dog?? I thought dogs had these super sensitive noses!!! Apparently El Paso just isn’t that bright. Hmph. He really doesn’t make a very good cow.

Posted: September 12, 2016


I hab a cold. By head ib draining about 50 gallons a minute. Who invented these things anyway???

Two days ago, the dogs ran off. All day. We had to go searching for them. Dad yelled about how inconvenient it is to have dogs. Dad said we shouldn’t have dogs. The miscreants finally came back at dinner time. Isn’t that just like a dog? They didn’t get to go on their run yesterday due to their naughtiness, so El Paso caught a squirrel. Being a dog, he refused to give up his “prize.” Mom really is too old to be trying to outsmart the dog, and she certainly can’t outrun him to get the squirrel and dispose of it. Dad’s comment: “Well, I can’t get those squirrels. Too small to shoot and I don’t like them because they eat the tomatoes in the garden. At least that dog is doing something to earn his keep.” You will note the contrast to the earlier, “We shouldn’t have dogs.”

I am telling you, if it isn’t lost cows, it’s lost dogs. What with all these events I somehow caught the nastiest cold on earth. My head has swelled at least three times normal. I hope it’s not the flu. I hope it is gone by noon.

Posted: September 11, 2016
Tags:, ,

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

Dad Called

I always get the most *interesting* phone calls from my parents. Today, Dad called.

“Can you look on the internet real quick and tell me the going price for a six foot windmill with a twenty or twenty one foot tower?”

Me: “Uh…”

“I have a guy who is interested in buying mine, but I don’t know what they cost these days.”

Yeah, sure dad. I know right where to get THAT info. Google was very helpful with 6 foot tall GARDEN decorative windmills…too bad he wanted to know the price of a real windmill. While I typed in variations of “windmill” and “cattle” and “pumping water from a well with a windmill” Dad told me all about how the windmill had to be a certain size depending on how far you had to drill to hit water. “Uh-huh.”

“Do they have to be prices for a windmill in New Mexico?” I asked.

“It doesn’t matter. It can be a Texas windmill.”

By the time I found the info, I had given up on location. Windmills are so expensive, the places that still have them include shipping as part of the price!

The last time he called, he wanted to know something about calf pulls (contraptions for helping to deliver a calf). Oddly enough, that info didn’t come up all that quickly on the internet either. I wonder what normal families talk about.

Possible related book: Soul of the Desert

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