National Geographic : 1950 Apr
Arizona Sheep Trek BY FRANCIS R. LINE With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author Rosalio Lucero, the herder. His ravined brown face is a relief map of his Arizona hills. At more than threescore years his hair is still as black as the charcoal embers of his campfires, and his teeth are as white as bleached bones on the desert. Years of lean ing on a herder's staff have sculptured his shoulders into the curve of the staff itself (page 474). Rosalio dresses in dusty bib overalls and jumper, which flap grotesquely as he runs in pursuit of an errant sheep. No, Rosalio does not remotely resemble a hero; yet twice a year he performs a hero's job, guiding his migrating herd across desert and mountains. Heat and Snow Goad the Herd By mid-April Arizona's Salt River Valley is beginning to scorch. For men there are excelsior-and-fan cooling systems, but for sheep, grazing in irrigated fields, the only air conditioning lies in migration. From 1,100-foot-high pastures around Phoe nix the herds start trekking to cool summer pastures above 8,000 feet in the White Moun tains, close to the New Mexico border (map, page 459). For sheep and herders the annual trek means some 50 days of grueling struggle up ward each spring, and an equally exhausting journey downward when autumn's snows drive them from the mountains. Climate's stern demands keep the herds trail bound more than a quarter of the year. The migrants follow the Heber-Reno stock trail, a long, pathless strip two to four miles wide. Here and there the trail is so,tangled that even experienced herders occasionally be come lost (page 458). Only a few weed-grown roads cross the trail along most of its length. For 30 days we touched no private property. Fences are 50 miles apart. On the trail I was to see the seasons re versed within a week, ice succeeding summer's fiercest heat. Lizards sun-bathing in the des ert gave way to deer bouncing through shady forests. Cactuses dissolved into giant pines. To take pictures of the trek, I appeared before sunrise one April 16 at the camp of the Paradise Stock Farm near Chandler, Ari zona (page 460). My gear was stowed aboard a burro (page 477). Our expedition's seven pack beasts were placed in charge of Pablo Chavez, a 42 year-old campero, who was to make our fires, cook our meals, and tend the burros for the next 52 days. Cheerful Pablo had the strength to load and unload his seven recalcitrant bur ros four times a day, and the ability to shoe a horse or dress a wound. As the herd poured out of the home pasture, its owner took a tally showing that Rosalio had 1,547 wards, including a few goats selected for leadership (page 477). All the sheep were ewes, freshly shorn. No rams made the trek on hoof; pampered males went by truck and railroad. Into an unpaved highway the sheep flowed like a river of fleece. Soon 6,000 hoofs churned up a dust cloud which hung over the herd like a lazy balloon (page 463). Ahead and behind, more dust clouds identified other trekking herds. Rosalio, who had to walk with the sheep while Pablo rode, choked on the highway tal cum all day long. By night he was coughing and exhausted. Animal Bridge Spans Salt River Our first stretch of desert, which we entered on the second day of the march, provided re lief, for it was less dusty. That night we camped beside the Salt River and drifted to sleep on the tinkle of sheep bells. In past years herds swam the river, losing occasional members; but we had the advantage of the sheep bridge, a narrow suspension span designed for stock (page 461). When, on our third morning, the herd swung into a corral beside the bridge, Pablo laid out his camp and began cooking in restaurant quantities, for he had extra mouths to feed. First of our guests were the herd owner, his wife, daughter, and son-in-law who drove in with canned goods for the herders and salt for the sheep. Next, a Federal ranger arrived in pursuit of a census matter. As part of the sheep trail crosses the Tonto National Forest, for which the Forest Service charges a fee per head, the bridge provided an opportunity to count the herd as it streamed across. Now another out fit arrived with a herd encumbered with a mortgage. With it came a finance company's agent to tally his mobile collateral.