National Geographic : 1950 Apr
Ii SOn r .11 " < " STAIOTEMILES :\ Drawn by Iarry S. Oliver and Trvin E. Alleman The Sheep Trail Zigzags Across 200 Miles of Arizona Wilderness Twice a year thousands of migrating ewes follow the Heber-Reno stock trail. Each spring they quit the desert floor near Phoenix and seek cool pastures in the White Mountains. In autumn they retrace the course. Their "highway" is a narrow, pathless strip of public domain and private range so tangled with canyons and escarpments that herders often get lost. Rams travel by truck and train. Literally, the bridge was a countinghouse. At noon we filled our plates with frijoles, mutton, and pan biscuits, and for an hour the men wove woolly yarns about the trail. This was the herders' last social fling for weeks. Bridge Shakes; the Herd Stampedes Presently Rosalio opened a corral chute leading onto the bridge. The herd leaders hesitated, but the impatient woolly mob stam peded them onward (page 476). Shakily hung from cables, the bridge writhed and trembled, terrifying the sheep. Running, pushing, and bleating, they raced two abreast in a runway designed for single file. When they approached solid ground they leaped for joy, circus-fashion (page 464). Burros showed fear of the vibrating span by freezing in their tracks. It took the herders half an hour to tug them across. Now good-byes filled the air; the herd was off into the wilderness. We stopped at 9 that evening. Pablo hob bled the burros, opened the pack boxes, gath ered wood, and lit a fire. Canned corn, fri joles, coffee, and midday's remaining biscuits made our meal. Sorghum syrup was dessert. Then we tossed the scraps to the dogs, Boots and George (page 474), and washed the dishes. With his flashlight Rosalio checked the herd, bedded down around camp. It was 10:30 before we fell into our bed rolls. Campfire lit a circle around us. A 40-foot saguaro cactus stood watch on our left.* Opposite it a scarlet-headed ocotillo, one of the candlewoods, swayed in the breeze like a Hawaiian dancer. All about us was silence, but not emptiness; solitude, but not loneliness. There was no noise or confusion. Civilization's worries faded. A glance at the sky revealed the glory of the desert night. The stars, magnified by clear air, burned in brilliant array. By their light I could tell time and scribble notes. On other nights, by moonlight, I could actually read. We arose at 5 for breakfast of pan bread, stewed fruit, and coffee. With the first gray light Rosalio and I started off with the herd, leaving Pablo to pack the burros. Sunrise brought a cloud of gnats swirling blackly around the tender faces of the sheep. Half an hour of this torment stopped the herd. Each member buried her head in her neigh bor's flank and refused to budge. Rosalio shouted threats to no avail. Nor did it help when he tossed sticks, gravel, and even his blue jumper into the air. Finally he signaled his dogs into action. Then the mass of gnat-pestered wool drifted a few hundred yards and halted again (page 465). * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPIIC MAGAZINE: "Saguaro, Cactus Camel of Arizona," by Forrest Shreve, December, 1945; and "Saguaro Forest," by H. L . Shantz, April, 1937.