Mike Moutoux's Ranch Notes
The wilderness is mostly a place for peace and quiet, but a recent roundup of cattle in the Pecos Wilderness in northern New Mexico was quite the opposite. I hate to point out failures, but perhaps the following account will give you some idea what the cowboys were up against and elicit sympathy on the part of the reader. Or laughter; it’s okay, no one was hurt in the disaster that awaited us.
After a hearty breakfast, we headed up the mountain to look for the 40 some cows that had been grazing up there for several months. The horse I was on, Gringo, was familiar to me, so I was surprised when he started crow-hopping between a steel pole corral and some boulders just as we were getting started. I elected to step off and led him to an open area and tried again. Nothing---he got whatever it was out of his system. We rode up into the Douglas Firs and aspens under bright blue skies and found the cattle about 9:30. All was calm and I pulled out a camera to collect a few photos. Things looked to be in great shape. With a plan and eight good hands to put it into place, we started pushing the herd towards the trail we would use to take them down.
Before we started a small group of hikers appeared and stopped right where we intended to go. These cows see hikers up there all summer—it should be no big deal. The cows started moving as planned, but as soon as they hit the timber lining the trail about a dozen broke off and ran into the aspens with half the cowboys in pursuit. It is quite impossible to beat a stubborn cow in cover like that. Every fallen aspen was leaning on its nearest neighbor in just such a way as to let a grown cow and her calf slip under, but not a horse and rider. I heard a lot of branches snapping, and cowboys yelling and soon we were all separated and had no idea what the others were doing.
Eventually each cowboy chasing cows in the timber decided to let them go and rejoin the main herd which we could only hope at this point was just ahead on the trail. Turns out there were more hikers on the trail blocking the way and taking photos of the drama unfolding. The cows on seeing this would bolt back the way they came and I reckon there was some more chasing and cussing. I myself never saw the main herd again. I waited where I knew they should be coming down and they never came. When I got to camp I found another cowboy who had to walk out when his horse played out. Neither of us had cows. And that’s how the next hour or so played out: cowboys walking or riding out with no cows shaking their heads; their horses all sweated up and wore out.
The aspens had turned from green to yellow and it was gorgeous up there. I made some new friends and took a few photos. My favorite shots were of one of the cowboys and his daughter that loved to ride. They went out in the evening just before sunset and I grabbed some portraits of them. And no one got hurt---always a possibility when trying to get through the timber like we were. None of that made any of us feel better about the gather, and we are anxious now to settle the score. We will probably wait for the weather to turn colder and let those cows wish they were somewhere else than high in the mountains. Maybe then they will cooperate. Maybe next time, I’ll have photos of corriente cattle in the pens.