A Close Encounter of the Cowboy Kind
By Sulana Stone
Unexpectantly I find myself in the middle of a cattle round up from the 1800’s surrounded by real life cowboys! How’d I get here?
My sudden predicament is like a scene from the 1960’s TV show, Rawhide. This popular western set in the 1860’s, detailed the dramatic lives of cowboys driving a herd of cattle hundreds of miles to market. And during a camping trip in Sedona, Arizona, I felt I had popped right into one of the scenes from the cattle drive.
The Wake Up Call
I’m in Sedona to guide a man on a solo nature adventure. He’s staying at a resort. I’m camping alone in a canyon at a site where I’ve camped for years. Suddenly I’m awakened by the bellowing of a steer. Peeking out the tent window, I spy her 100 feet away. Her insistent maaw maaaw maaawww seems to be protesting that my tent’s in “her” field.
As fate would have it, the steer bellowing so close to my tent becomes the precursor of events that are to soon unfold.
10 Rugged Cowboys
The cattle call came at 5 a.m. It’s dawn, yet the sun’s soft golden rays won’t slide over the red rock mountains to hit my tent for another hour. Since I’m not meeting the man for the nature adventure for another three hours, I settle back into my sleeping bag for a few more winks.
Clip-clop. Clip-clop. Clip-clop. Clip-clop. The sound of horse hooves clambers down the rocky path that leads to the field where my tent is pitched. There are lots of horses. Dang! I should have gotten up and dressed with the cattle wake up call. Here I am in just a T-shirt and all my clothes are outside my little tent in a duffle bag. Feeling exposed in an almost all-mesh tent, I quickly zip up my huge opaque windows leaving a couple of inches open so I can see out. The horse sounds are on top of me. “What now?” I wonder.
Peering out the window I notice 10 cowboys spread out in a fan shape. They appear to be facing my tent. Three cowboys are sitting atop their horses to the right. Four to the left. And two are 50 feet in front of the tent. The last cowboy seems to be only a few feet away next to my tent in my blind spot. “Well, this is gunna be real interesting!” he remarks to the other cowboys. It seems as though no one moves or speaks for a very long time. Finally, the 10 drovers trot off into the sunrise.
I’m left alone to ponder, “What’s going to be so interesting?”
The Real Thing
These 10-gallon hat guys are real cowboys. Not guides dressed like cowboys taking tourists on an adventure. It’s a blast from the past. These craggy men could have walked right out of the 19th century. They’re dressed in cowboy hats, boots and leather chaps (sturdy legging that go over pants to protect legs from thorny brush). When I notice the lassos hanging from their saddle horns, it finally dawns on me. I’m camping in open range where cattle roam freely in the national forest. And it’s cattle roundup time!
The theme from the Rawhide TV show loops through my mind:
“Move ’em on, head ’em up,
Head ’em up, move ’em out,
Move ’em on, head ’em out   Raaaaw…hide!”
Since I’m familiar with this camp site, I know a corral is just over the hill. I’ve always enjoyed having the corral close by. The rustic corral serves as a relic of a time long past. A simple time. A time when people lived in harmony with nature. People often slept out in the open. Like I was doing now. And suddenly, I felt catapulted back into the old west. It was as if the calendar rolled back 150 years.
A Time Not So Long Ago
The time before planes, trains and automobiles has always felt more real to me. More grounded. More meaningful. It was a time when people, animals and nature were intimately connected. When people read the signs of nature. In those days not so long ago, people read the signs of animal behavior, plant growth, weather patterns to live in harmony.
Reading the Signs of Nature
Ahhhh, yes. Assisting people to read the signs of nature is one of the things I enjoy doing for a living. And a picture is forming from the signs I’ve gotten this morning. The early morning steer wake up call. Authentic cowboys. A well-worn cattle trail snaking not far from my tent. A corral close by. Hello?
If these hardy fellas are rounding up cattle and herding them into that corral, those “little doggies” might not amble down this path as calmly as I’ve seen them do many times in the past. They might run. And they might not stay on the path. My tent could be toast! Perhaps that’s what the cowboy meant by his remark, “This is gunna be real interesting” when he saw my tent so close to the cattle path.
“Head ‘em Up, Move ‘em Out!”
Seems pretty clear that the early morning cattle call was forewarning me, “Head ‘em up, move ‘em out!” And so I pack ‘em up and move ‘em out. Yee haw!