Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Creek Crossing Adventures

Prairie and Zeb ready to gather
We decided to stay in the canyon and take the cows up Pumpkin Creek for a few weeks since the grass on the Zumwalt is a little slow coming on this year. It was really nice that Prairie and Jon could come home to help gather and herd the cattle the six miles up to Pumpkin Creek.

Mike lines out the plan
Jon hiked upriver and gathered the cows off the bar and headed them up to the bench. Mike and Prairie met him on horseback and trailed the herd north and through the gate, headed up Horse Creek. A soft rain fell off and on all day and the grass felt like it was growing under our feet.

Sara putting on her chinks

Mestizo ready to go

The next day, Mike and I rode up the creek and found the cows most of the way to Pumpkin Creek. They trailed smoothly and by noon we were at the cabin. The only excitement of the day was when Mike and I crossed Horse Creek.

After we went through the gate at Pile Up, the herd trailed off up canyon through the brush. Mike and I climbed down off the steep hillside, looking for a place to cross the creek. Since we hadn't taken the high trail, we were stuck in Pile Up, with its narrow boulder filled draws, dead-fall timber, and thorny thickets.

I found a spot where we could get to the creek and we rode across the first channel to an island. At the second channel, there was an opening on the far bank where we thought Mike had cleared a trail last year. If we crossed there, we thought we could get through the trees and up the steep bank to the road. Unfortunately a tree had washed down stream and wedged in the channel just below the crossing spot.

Mike took a first attempt, but his horse refused to jump out of the creek into the brush on the other side and veered downstream into the logs. After a tense moment of tangled legs and rushing water, he jumped back over the logs and returned to the island. I decided to try another route, heading downstream off the island and sweeping around to the far bank below the logs, where I thought I might angle onto the "trail" from behind a tree.

The water below the island showed a dead spot, still and murky in the otherwise turbulent stream. I knew it was deeper, and hoped the bottom wasn't full of sticky mud. My horse stepped off the island reaching for the bottom. I felt him going down, down, down and then he pushed off hard with his hind feet and propelled us across the hole to the rocky bottom and rushing current in the middle of the channel. I couldn't believe how deep that hole was. We navigated the rest of the channel, picked our way around a nasty staub of a log sticking neck high out of the water, and took the bank with three big leaps up through the brush, a hard left through the rocks and finally we were up on the road. Mestizo was awesome, careful, sure-footed, calm.

Mike followed, but tried skirting the far side of the hole after seeing Mestizo and I drop into it. Amazingly enough, the far side was even deeper. Mike's horse, Zip, stepped into the hole and sunk to the left, losing his footing and almost rolling over in the deep water. He thrashed forward, found the stream bed and shot up out of the hole with Mike still in the saddle, water streaming. They made it across the channel, but ended up at a tangle of trees on the near bank below me. Mike was able to get off and somehow get his horse around a tree and up the bank. Safely on the road, we knew how bad it could have turned out. Zip stood heaving for air and sluicing water with one ear bent so far back it looked like it was broken. It was full of water from being submerged. Then Mike recalled the time Jim Baquet's horse fell crossing Cow Creek during spring run-off one year, pinning Jim underwater until the horse finally rolled free. We knew we wouldn't try a crossing like that again. Next time we'd find a better way.

Jon takes an after lunch siesta
Bear paw prints on the cabin door

 At the cabin, Jon had trekked up into the rims and closed all the gates, so we could just let the cows settle, relax and eat our lunch.

Relaxing cows

Happy mama and calf

Looking north up the Imnaha

Nice valley sunset
As we drove out of the canyon the clouds lifted revealing the beautiful green benches and red rock ridges. By the time we reached the valley, a glorious sunset provided the perfect good-night to a good day's work.

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef

Monday, June 6, 2011

Sharp Minds and Warm Hearts

Last week we had the pleasure of hosting 12 students from Whitman College who are spending a month in Wallowa County studying the concept of "resilience" as it applies to communities and natural resources. 

Communication trailer with satellite link and solar panels

Student tents along the river
The students spent the week in field trips with local residents. They learned about fisheries and Nez Perce history from Joe McCormack. Mike and I spent a day hiking and visiting with the students, sharing information on rangeland ecology and how our small family ranch works. At the end of the week they took a horseback ride to the Snake River with Mary and Nora Hawkins (Del Sol Adventures) and learned about outfitting and recreation in Wallowa County.
Studying plants up spring draw

 Field sketch

It was wonderful to have the company and conversation and to take time to think big-picture and reflect on the changes in our community. The students are collecting their observations and at the end of the month will create a Wallowa County Almanac. I hope we can get together again while they are in the County and I can't wait to read what they write and see their drawings in the Almanac.
Found a rattlesnake on the river hike

Mike answers questions above the cut-bank

Best way to end the day, music and campfire
    From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef