Though this week has been a busy one, today’s job was our first day of gathering in our “badlands” pasture, and it has been a long day. Gone are the days when we woke up at 3 AM to eat a hearty breakfast and we were on horseback riding out before the sunrise. Now we leave home at 7 AM and haul out in our horsetrailer. The pasture looks terrific, all this rain has the ground saturated and grass growing everywhere. We all went today, Johnny, Vernon, Victoria, Daniel, Brandon, me, Lucas, Elsa, Boomer and Bob. Well, ok, Dally got left at home, but I’m just wanting to have more of a handle on her than exists at this moment! We made it home at 3:30…and were very grateful I had thrown a roast in the crockpot. After a break for lunch we all went our different ways to continue a day of work until dark. We’ll continue this the next couple of days as well. Take a break, giving me enough time to shop and cook and then we’ll brand again on Wednesday. I’ll try to pack a camera and take a few shots tomorrow for sharing. Drifter comes home tomorrow as well, and that is a story for another day.
Some of the girls on the crew…………………………………….some of the guys………………………………………
Our first branding of the year took place last Saturday. Branding is a stressful day. For my husband, he has to gather cattle, branding supplies (vaccine, medicine, barrels, irons, wood, and all the little details) and arrrange the time and place for friends, neighbors, and family to show. For me, I have to worry about feeding 30+ people. We seem to invite more than 30 people…but it has averaged about 25 people who show. Then you have to take into account the weather…if it’s hot, are you going to run out of drink? And those unexpected guests or no-shows. We now have a nice large shop building and therefore electricity close to our branding corral. Back in the day, we branded on the mountain, having to reheat or cook on a campstove or fire…and we were an hour from home if we forgot something! Now it seems so much easier. This year I voted for lasagna… I had escaped from home for a quick trip to Casper and Torrington the days before, and lasagna sounded easy enough to feed the people. Now I have never fed lasagna at branding before, and was a little unsure of the amount necessary for 30 people. But lasagna, garlic toast, salad, orange jello salad (my kids’ favorite), and desserts sounded good. Until Daniel says: “That’s all you’re making? I can eat most of that by myself!” I should have slapped him… but the seed was planted and I got nervous. How much will all those teenage boys eat???? My mom suggested serving the lasagna myself to control portions…but I went with the approach of putting all the other food first, and leaving the lasagna last in line… It worked and the 26 people who ate finished just over half of what I had prepared. Daniel had made me paranoid for no reason! The branding itself went well. We had three new people come with a neighbor…they travel around the country and put on horse clinics with Buck Brannamen and on their own. Rick and Sara were good hands, and her dad Jim was fascinated by the branding. Jim was from Baltimore, and had never experienced the old fashioned kind of branding. Most people have switched to using a branding table – capturing each calf individually by running them through a chute and then squeezing them and flipping them on their sides. It is much less labor intensive. We prefer the old way. A cedar wood fire, metal irons in the fire, two ropers who rope the calves by the heels and drag them to the fire where a pair of “wrestlers” grab, flip, and hold the calf who then gets branded and vaccinated. Though we worry about weather, workers, food, and drink…branding for us is also a fun time. Neighbors helping neighbors. Kids learning from parents and grandparents. Stories being told. Hard work followed by good food. Now we get to do it all over again in a week or so when we do a larger bunch of calves. What will I stress over next time? I don’t know… I haven’t decided what to cook yet!!!
My daughter has completed college and a semester of working as a substitute teacher. She now has applied for various teaching positions around the state, hoping fora small rural school 5th grade position. Since they were almost doubling her rent at the end of this month, she elected to move home and work on the ranch this summer. That meant 5 years of accumulations had to move home. A Durango load last week…a pickup load Monday…a reluctant return to Casper on Tuesday with the Durango. And then it rained. Since there was no hurry to return home, we managed to load up everything and clean the apartment and spend the night at my mom’s house. The next day we took our time… spending a little money around town before we left. We never really gave a thought to which way to take… we had talked about going to Buffalo, and that’s the way we went. Now it had rained in Casper all night and all day, and we had heard of the possibility of snow – but is late May… a couple inches of snow didn’t sound scary. Victoria’s little Focus plodded through the rain. And boy, did it rain! Usually heavy rain lasts 15 minutes in Wyoming… two hours later we stop in Buffalo and it hadn’t quit. The creek in Kaycee was flooding. Each little draw had streams running in them. Some cars we met had snow on them…but onward we went, ignorant of what was to come. Climbing the east side of the Big Horns, we soon met snow. Large flakes drifted down and it was enjoyable…pretty pines and cliffs. I even took some pictures of Toria ahead of me in the snow. Then the snow got deep, and we slowed down, and then Toria took a right turn… and slid off the road. I watched her slide, and tapped my brakes, again, and again. It took about 50 yards for me to get shut down and turn around. Though she was barely off the road, she was definitely stuck… We had bought two new slickers for home, and tried them on immediately for protection from the heavy wet snow. Thank goodness, two National Guardsmen from Gillette stopped and pulled us out and we were on our way again, but Toria’s little Focus was pitiful in the 3 or 4 inches on the roadway. She slipped and slid and went VERY slow. The road got worse and worse. Snowplows passed us, and gave us a short respite, but within minutes it was building up again. A semi was stuck. A RV was overheated. We continued. The snow built up and my windshield wipers started thumping. Suddenly they crossed and quit. Great. Poor visibility, curving roads, slick conditions, and I have to stop in the middle of the road and my windshield wiper comes off in my hand. Now given a normal day, I’d figured out how to replace it, but since I was in this position, I jumped back in my Durango and drove. Two miles ahead is Powder River Pass, elevation 9666, and it has a big turnoff. I hoped the snowplows had turned around there and graded a clear spot where I could pull off and replace the wiper. It was easy enough to wipe a little area clear with my window down and a swift swipe of the wiper. We were only going 10-15 mph… with my defroster on high, it wasn’t too bad actually. But, my luck wasn’t there, and there wasn’t a place to pull over on the pass. So… I had to continue to wipe my windshield clear by hand. If the water hadn’t dripped back down my arm and onto my leg, it would have been adequate. It was slow going and we kept getting passed by faster cars and snowplows, but Toria was spooked and her car was not handling well. Soon a movement caught my eye, and I glanced left. Two moose stood by the side of the road. Since we were just putting along, I grabbed my camera and popped off a quick photo. Look close and you’ll see how heavily it was snowing.
Finally… finally…we got far enough down the mountain that snow turned to rain. Sending up a quick thanks to God and Good Spirits, I thought the worst was over. By then it was dark. Suddenly, Toria hits her brakes and swerves. We are now in Ten Sleep Canyon, and there are rocks on the road. WATCH FOR FALLING ROCK. Great. We make it by the switchbacks, past the ROAD CLOSED blinking sign (thanks to WYdot for not closing it sooner!) and land in Ten Sleep Valley. In the pitch black night, Ten Sleep Creek is roaring, I can hear it through my open window as I continue to wipe my windshield. I’m glad I can’t see it. Being in a narrow canyon with falling rock and flooding creek is more than I want to contemplate. We reach the openness of the valley and I relax. Dang! Watch those deer! I laugh. What else could there be??? Unknown to me, Toria sees an elk, but I don’t… We’re home. A trip that usually takes 1.5 hours has taken almost 4. My shoulders are rock hard, my right hand in permanent death grip on my steering wheel, my left is frozen and soggy. But we’re home. Sigh. The spring blizzard was an experience we won’t soon forget!
It has been forever…and there is so much to tell.
I guess I can start with some of the latest news and work backwards.
It has rained and rained and rained and rained and snowed and snowed and rained here… We’ve had 2 weeks of wet weather, but the last four days have been phenomenal. It is Memorial Day weekend, the first popular camping weekend around here, but most campsites are flooded, or mudded in, or still deep in snow. Our creek is overflowing and flooding various points scattered throughout the ranch, but nothing of real importance. Sites in many towns are flooded though… remember that when you build your dream home ten feet from the creek bank! I have never seen the Nowood flood so much… or Crazy Woman Creek. I wish I’d taken a photo of that, but I was a little preoccupied at the time. That’s the story of Crossing the Big Horn Mountains in a Blizzard on May 22. For a country that averages 12-14 inches per year in moisture…we have almost 2 inches in the past four days. It is green, but soggy!
So much of what we do on the ranch has changed radically from a few years back. Where 3 or 4 families could live and be supported on this place when it began, the ranch supports now supports two. Where the work in the fields were done by teams of horses, large blue tractors have taken their place. Where large strong men once worked as crews traveling around putting up grain, the job is done by two guys and some good equipment.
But some things have remained the same, the need for good horses is one. Horses out here are indispensable. This country is rough. Steep shaley hillsides. Deep cutbanks. Bentonite covered areas made slick with a smidge of rainfall. Horse-sucking bogs that surprise you along the sides of creeks and springs. Distances that force emergency response, if lucky, to an hour. This is no place to have horse problems. Getting bucked off and hurt means serious problems.
The horses you ride have to be trustworthy and solid. A pheasant underfoot or a bull on the fight or an odd shaped white rock must be accepted by your horse. When we find a good horse, they are a treasure. What else could you call a creature you entrust your child’s life to? Unfortunately, good horses seem to get old fast, and of all of our horses, 3/4 of them are old. So we’ve kept our eyes open…hoping to find a good one somewhere…
Well, Saturday in Cody was their Wild West Days with its Top Notch Horse Sale. (www.codywildwestdays.com) We rose early and drove the 2 hours to Cody to preview the horses before the auction. Since the weather had done nothing but snow or rain, Vernon’s farming was on hold, and he could leave. Our number one choice was soon eliminated… cold-backed when first saddled, this gelding was rejected because he might buck easily. This one was similar. That one was too tall. Too young. Too old. Too flashy. (Hey, I like flash too, but we figured the price would be too high on those with “chrome”) Finally we find a red roan mare… too much flash??? She’s gentle and has a good handle. Short. A little pudgy.
The auction comes too soon, I haven’t found all the horses I wanted to look at… and the horses go through the ring. There were a few we were impressed by, how’d we miss those at the preview??? Then comes our little roany friend… we bid, and bid, and bid, and finally quit. We don’t get her. Now what? Do we go home empty handed or take a risk on a horse we haven’t investigated as well? Here comes Winchester. He was on my short list. Called gentle. Looks tall though… Well built. Shiny. Guaranteed to do any ranch job. Do we bid? We better. And we do. And we get him. So Winchester has joined the rest of the horses on Greet Ranch.
Dang, he’s taller than I remembered. Dang, he’s powerful. Dang, he’s a goer. Ummm… maybe the boys should ride this horse and I’ll look for another. We’re still investigating each other. Will he fit in??? We’ll know in a few weeks… But he sure is pretty! Here’s his photo from the horse sale… I’ll take my own photos soon.