Cowboy Country

The Centennial Valley is not just home to a lot of wild animals. It is not just a spot of nearly unrivaled beauty. It is not just one of the few remaining places in the lower forty-eight where one can step back in time. At the heart of the Centennial survives yet another key element in America's backbone, the cowboy culture. From roughly fifteen large (thousands of acres each) ranches to grazing permits on the Wildlife Refuge (a bonus to both birds and cattle), cattle and cowboys play an important role in the Centennial.

Thanks to the cooperation between our local outfitter (who grew up in the valley and knows more people and more interesting facts than I'll ever garner) and a local rancher (whose family has ranched for years in the area), four of the 'Elk Lake Residents' experienced the Centennial Valley from a different perspective.

Thus, when offered a chance to help move some cattle from one pasture to another - even though it meant merely trailing behind a bunch of noisy cows and then rushing hom to care for our guests - we jumped at the chance. The day began before dawn with a trip to our local outfitter's home base. There we saddled our trusty mounts, put our lunches and water bottles in our saddlebags, loaded up and headed down the valley to the rancher's valley place.

The first leg of the journey found us moving the cattle down the road toward the rising sun. A cool morning, fresh cattle, and the spirit of adventure kept things moving along at a good pace. A few clumps of brush, a few herds of cattle across the fence, and a pair of bulls with 'superiority' complexes added a little spice to an otherwise easy job.

Of course, jogging along on a horse has a way of making the things one ate and drank before mounting up, enter new locations. In sagebrush and grass covered country, a outhouse can be a welcome site. Thus when our considerate outfitter pointed out an outhouse alongside a vacant house, the girls in our group were glad to take advantage of it!

After about four miles we turned north, heading cross country toward our destination. Down a gentle slope we found ourselves in an auto graveyard, invisible from the road.

Of course, cattle being cattle, the knee deep fresh grass was a great temptation. However, with a little encouragement, we were able to keep things moving.

This is where the extra riders came in handy. Not only to keep the cattle moving, but to keep them moving in the right direction.

And, in my opinion, this is where the 'cattle drive' became less like a slow, dusty ride down a gravel road and more like 'fun'.

Of course, those who have moved cattle know, this is no rush job. Cattle need time to move at their own pace - as long as they are moving. Thus there were plenty of opportunities to take a water or snack break or just shoot the breeze.

As we neared our destination for the day (about 8 miles from our starting point), the cattle had finally decided to line out nicely.

Our stopping point - for this day - was just across the lower structure at the west end of the Lower Red Rock Lake.

Now the patience-building part of the job began - waiting for the cows to pair up.

It is funny how a bunch of cows and calves who seem to be content to relax and eat their lunch can decide to head back the way they've come. Thus, we waited for the cows to find their calves and the calves to realize momma was here not back at the home place.

While we waited, we ate.

And watched the 'big boys' re-establish their territory.

After a little more than an hour, the rancher decided his animals had enjoyed enough babysitting. We left the herd, hopefully the 'content' herd, along the picturesque shores of lower lake.

We loaded up and headed back to our starting point.

Back to the 'home place', we learned one more job awaited us.

Would we be willing to ride to the far corner and help gather a couple of bulls who had gone through the fence during the night? Sure! What better way to enjoy a nice day than on a horse's back - sure, we were game!

All too soon, however, our quary was penned. This time we really did need to head back to the outfitter's base to return our trusty mounts, relieve them of their gear, and let them take a break.

Then it was back to the lodge for a quick nap before beginning our dinner preparations. Wow - what a place to live!

Lady of the Lake

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