There’s a two-lane blacktop that runs by our ranch headquarters, a throwback to what I imagine Route 66 might have been like fifty years ago. For most of the day it’s empty except for an occasional cattle, hay or logging truck roaring past on its heavily-laden way to the auction barns and lumber mills of the Front Range of Colorado. The big rigs are passed by sprightly Subarus sporting the requisite mohawk of a bicycle or two sticking up from their roof. A caravan of RVs may lumber along, towing boats or other vehicles behind, interrupted now and then by the burping chop of a Harley Davidson club.
This highway might seem unique, but it’s not. There’s another even emptier one about 13 miles west of us. Like two long arms passionately hugging the rambling sagebrush hills in between, the two highways meet and cross over in our county’s main, and only, town: Walden. They form two sides of a snaking, skinny triangle, the base of which is a sparsely used dirt road that just happens to start right across from our hay shed.
Whenever I’m heading somewhere southwest of here, I take the cut-off, as we call that dirt road, because it saves me a good 25 miles of driving. In the summer it’s one of the lovelier places in the county, a perfect stretch of open range over which the sinking sun casts long shadows from the icy green sagebrush. As I drive along at a moderate speed, enjoying the roller coaster swoops of the road, it’s easy to spot chalk blue mountain bluebirds darting after flies and to see the flash of scarlet from a pair of redwing blackbirds fluttering among the gently waving willow bushes that line a damp swale. At our altitude of 8,500, the mountain air is fickle. As the sun lowers to the horizon, it changes quickly from the scalding heat of mid-afternoon to the chill of a long, purple/orange twilight. It’s the most beautiful time of day here, the light lazy and spent, the dropping dew raising a cloud of sharp sage perfume, a new hatch of mosquitos swirling and dancing in a dusty golden ray of sunshine.
That particular early evening, coming over a gentle rise, I saw a large herd of Black Angus cows, with their 3-month old calves, speckling the way with their boxy shapes. This being open range they were everywhere, some lying on the dusty road chewing their cud, some nosing for grass in the sagebrush, others wandering about or simply standing still, splotching the road with their batter-like splats of manure. I am one of those who loves the smell of cow manure in the fields. It’s so deeply, richly, intensely cow, it speaks to me of animals living as they should and makes me happy with the state of things. Also true is that fresh cow manure is the gift that keeps on giving. If you drive at speed over a fresh cow dropping, it will splatter the underside of your car, where it’ll bake on from the engine heat, returning to haunt you whenever the underside gets warm or wet, which means virtually every time you drive. I decided to slow down enough to slalom through those cow pies or, if that failed, squush through them so slowly they’d meld with the road and not with my car’s underbelly.
CHECK BACK HERE TOMORROW FOR THE CONTINUATION OF THIS SAGA……….