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Cattle country

On the way to Crested Butte, Jan and I stopped in Gunnison to do grocery shopping, fill up with water, and take care of other errands. It was there that we rendezvoused with our friend Andrea Eagles, who was going to be traveling with us for awhile. Then the three of us headed up into the mountains.

The drive to Crested Butte was both the most beautiful and the scariest mountain driving I'd done in Skylark to date. Oh, the roads were well paved... but they were narrow, with so many 10 mph hairpin turns that the pink route trace on my GPS looked like a section of small intestine.

Intestinal route

And the views on the downhill side were rather blood-curdling for a flatlander like me. No guide rails for much of the way, either. And to put the icing on the cake, it started raining halfway there, so we had to do the worst of the trip on wet roads with wipers thrashing back and forth. I'm sure this would have been very enjoyable in a convertible, on a sunny day... with somebody else driving.

Mountain passes

Needless to say, I was too busy driving to take pictures, but Andrea snapped this sign, which gives a good idea of what we had to deal with. I put my own mountain driving advice to good use! Nevertheless, we finally arrived and found ourselves a Forest Service campsite near the Slate River. I got a prime site, with a perfect view of the stream behind my office windows.

View from office

(Alix loves my office chair, and will jump up there anytime I'm not using it. But she's very polite, and vacates the seat when she sees me coming.)

With my pole-mounted directional cell antenna pointing back down toward the town of Crested Butte, I managed to get decent if not great phone and internet connections.

Slate River campsite

I could sit at my computer and watch the cattle grazing on the mountain slopes on the other side of the stream. (They're just barely visible in this photo.)

Mountainside grazing

But after a few days there, I realized that my site had a serious drawback: the part of the stream right behind my coach was the preferred crossing point when the cattle started drifting over into the campground! I guess it was a case of the grass being greener on the other side. Needless to say, Alix found all this intensely interesting. At first she thought they were huge dogs, and was very wary, but once she realized they posed no threat, she watched them for hours.

Cow crossing

At first the cattle meandered across in ones and twos; then in groups of a dozen or more. They rambled around the campground, leaving large cow-pies at random. We were a little afraid to leave our coaches, for fear of accidentally getting between a cow and her calf and suffering the consequences. Although they appear sluggish, they can move fast when they want to—and a half-ton animal is not something I want to get in the way of.

After a couple of days, a cowboy showed up to herd the cattle back across the stream. I say "cowboy," but he would probably have called himself a cattleman. Nevertheless, he had all the trappings: horse, saddle, leather chaps, the works. He was accompanied by a couple of border collies, who did a very effective job of herding the cattle by chasing, barking, and nipping at their heels. I was impressed.

Cowboy

Within half an hour, he had rounded up all the cattle and herded them back across the stream. This led to something of a traffic jam behind my rig.

Stampede

Yes, that's my rear window frame in these pictures. Cows were casually rubbing against the rig as they passed, causing it to rock. Not a comfortable feeling.

I breathed a sigh of relief when the last of the herd crossed the stream, and the cowboy and his dogs followed... until about five hours later, the cattle began drifting across to the campground again. Next morning the cowboy and his dogs were back and the herding performance was repeated, but that afternoon the cattle returned to the campground. And so it went for the next week. They just wouldn't stay away, and we had to put up with them for the rest of our stay.

Cow #514
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