Dusty Roads and Dandelions

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(aka North Fork Wilderness Owyhee BLM Project Survey)

If one does not count getting lost, a flat tire, broken shocks, two tipped over horses, several impalements and a flyaway awning…one might consider the SBBCHI scouting trip into the Owyhee’s a success.

The objective: Meet with BLM staff at Current Creek to scout area for fence removal project in June. The project will involve the removal 6 miles of barbed-wire in the new wilderness area included in the Owyhee Initiative.

At least we had an objective. An accurate map would have been nice to go along with that objective. Janine and I met at I.O.N between Homedale and Marsing. Our plan was to haul in via the Jordan Valley route. We figured if anyone was going to get lost, it was best to get lost together.  I had the GPS coordinates to the project site; however, past experience with “Dave” the GPS has left me with emotional scars likely to never heal. We were also unsure if the coordinates were to the camp spot or the actual fence. Our plan was to wing it.

Fifty plus miles out of Jordan valley and no sight of the Current Creek sign promised on the map. The map said Current Creek was 40 miles from Jordan Valley and 60 miles from Grand View. “Dave” informed me that my destination had been reached 15 miles back at a wide spot in the road with no signage, Current Creek or otherwise.

I had an idea. I flashed my lights at Janine and pulled over at a spot with a sweeping easterly view. I punched Grand View into Dave; 51 miles to Grand View. How does that work? According to the map, Grand View was 60 miles from the project. We had obviously overshot our destination. We studied the various maps we carried between the two of us and decided we must be missing a section. If we kept going we were going to end up in Grand View.

The map indicated the road we were on was called Mud Flat road. You couldn’t prove it by looking at it. It was neither flat nor muddy. The dusty, windy road full of washboards and potholes had covered the horses in a fine layer of dust. We decided to go back to where Dave had suggested was our destination. No, let me restate. Dave never suggests anything. Dave asserts. Pull over moron; you HAVE arrived at your destination. Sometimes Dave swears at me.

Robbin and Shelly were making their way over the Grand View route. “Here comes Robbin! We are saved! He will know where we need to go!” Robbin didn’t have a clue. What he had was a good size rip in his truck tire. I don’t know who they were or where they come from, but we were mighty glad to see two bikers pull up and promptly get to work changing the tire. They were like the mobile pit crew from heaven. All for the price of a no-bake oatmeal and chocolate-peanut butter bar. Even heavenly bodies appreciate gluten free.

I reconfigured Dave with the original coordinates to the project site. I won’t swear by it – but I’m pretty sure I heard Dave grumble, “I told you so.” The BLM truck flashed their lights for me to pull over. “Yeah, we followed you in here from JV and figured you were lost when you passed the camping spot over an hour ago. Oh, and by the way – we decided not to camp at Current Creek. You will see our trailer where we decided to make camp instead.” Thanks guys! Wait, what? They waited over an hour to come find us? Later we’d learn that if it hadn’t been for Linda Erickson suggesting they search for us, we might still be driving up and down the dust covered hills of Mud Flat Rd looking for a moot point on a map. No cookies for you BLM boys.

Lou Ann pulled into camp dragging a right rear shock. “Am I going to need that and can I get home without it?” Don’t worry Lou; we’ll have that removed before you head home. Who needs Les Schwab when you have Bruce the BLM guy? Bruce expertly removed the hanging shock before the weekend was over. I would have offered him no-bake cookie for his trouble if I weren’t saving it for Chick on “non-gluten free” dessert night. I don’t know what happens to Chick if he eats gluten – but I imagine his head swelling up like a pumpkin. Chick with a big old pumpkin head wouldn’t make for very good photography so I try to have gluten-free dessert on hand whenever possible.

The camping area soon filled to capacity with rigs adorned with BLM and BCHA insignia. You could not have squeezed another rig in if it were a child’s Tonka Truck. Some high-lined while others secured their stock in portable panels and solar powered electric fencing. The sun was setting on the day while dinner baked in the cast iron. Janine and I whipped up a large batch of chicken pot pie for the main course. For dessert, I handed out the remainder of the no-bake oatmeal chocolate-peanut butter bars (minus the one I stashed for Chick) to everyone, including our BLM boys… and all was forgiven.

Saturday morning came way too early. I blame it on the Bacardi and rum Linda forced me to drink the night before. I rubbed my eyes and struggled to pull on my lace-up boots. Tequila might make your clothes fall off, but evidently Bacardi makes your feet swell up. I stumbled outside, crawled up the ladder of Rob’s trailer and threw off a bale of hay. “Good morning Laurie…” Rob yawned. Sorry Rob. It’s hard to be quiet when you’re stomping around on top a steel trailer at 5:00 AM with swollen feet.

The troops began to stir as Rob and I prepared breakfast of bacon and farm fresh eggs. Lou Ann was the last one up. She made her way from my camper and shuffled over to the breakfast table. “Good morning Laurie…can I have my damn boots back now?”  She grumbled. Sure enough, I’d mistaken Lou’s size seven boots for my size nines. I blame that on the Bacardi, too.

After breakfast, 16 humans, 17 horses and a mule headed north in search of a six mile stretch of fence. David with BLM must be in charge. He was the only one carrying a clipboard. He was also the only one without a horse. There are some things that don’t settle right with a backcountry horseman and a guy on foot when there are three extra horses to ride is plain disturbing. Nobody tried harder to talk him into riding one of our spares than Linda. David wasn’t yet comfortable with riding and politely declined. From the gleam in Linda’s eye I knew she would get that boy on a horse before day’s end.

The trail leading to the beginning of the fence ends at a creek crossing. We followed the fence line when the terrain allowed and four-wheeled cross country when it didn’t. The stock picked their way up and down steep, rocky terrain. If the tree limbs couldn’t reach out and snatch the hat off your head, they would poke you in any accessible body part. Rob attended to one such impalement by removing a sliver of wood that ran from Chick’s elbow to mid fore-arm. I was a little disappointed that Rob had him cleaned up before I could get a good picture of blood and gore. Sometimes I think Rob hopes for the chance to break out the chapters’ first-aid kit; “Anybody bleeding? I got sutures!” Wrapped in blue vet-wrap and smiling from ear-to-ear, Chick went about his gluten-free lunch.

 

The six mile stretch of fence ended at the top of a Juniper strewn ridge. 360° panoramic views of deep cut gorges and ornate rock formations showcased stunning high desert country. Bruce pointed out the different flora scattered throughout the hillsides paying particular interest to the death camas and delicate beauty of the bitterroot in bloom.

Either David’s feet gave in or he merely gave in to Linda’s convincing testimony to ride a horse. He climbed aboard Linda’s gentle bay, Rocky. Linda borrowed Jon Seals extra horse, a big Tennessee walker named Scout. David did pretty well, for a greenhorn, and later said he had a new appreciation for the difficulty of the rocky terrain those horses carry us through. We might make a backcountry horseman out of him yet.

I had my fill of the limbs skewering my bad knee. Not one of them came close to my good knee. Oh no, they would aim right for the hole in my knee brace, jab me in the knee cap and wedge between my leg and brace. The handful of Aleve Janine gave me had worn off 2 hours earlier. I tore off the brace and stuffed it in my saddle bag. It wasn’t helping anyway. Pretty sure I’m not making it until November for my knee replacement if things keep going like this. Why can’t a person wait until winter to fall apart?

The last mile toward camp stretched over a four wheeler road through a meadow littered with cattle darting in and out of the trees like four legged ninja! Jack wasn’t the only horse uncomfortable with the situation. He snorted and jigged is way through ½ mile of bovine ninja-like activity. When things finally calmed a bit, up comes the grandmaster of horse-eating terror – bulls. Not one bull TWO bulls vying for the attentions of one apparently irresistible heifer. Anybody that has ridden long enough can feel when their horse is about to blow. Every muscle in their body tenses up and they become a massive coil of tendons ready to explode – and that’s nothing compared to what the horse is feeling! Jacks head shot up in my face –he kept one wide-eye on the trio and the other searching for an escape route. Still suffering from my own case of bovine phobia, I assisted in an escape route that made a wide birth around the love triangle.  Jack could not get to camp fast enough.

Most of the cuisine on our projects could fill an entire blog on its own. Saturday’s dinner was one of our best yet. Fruit, pasta and vegetable salads accompanied a main dish of beef brisket. I tried out a new dessert recipe I’d converted to Dutch Oven: Apple Dumplings made by rolling apple slices in crescents’ drizzled with a brown-sugar and butter glaze. Not exactly gluten free. Chick looked a little sad when I handed him his last square of no-bake oatmeal chocolate-peanut butter.

I snapped a few pictures of the boys sitting around the table playing cards while the girls washed dishes. It makes for fun photography, but in reality, everyone pulls their own weight. Everyone takes their turn at cooking, dishes and various other camp chores. If anyone needs anything – somebody is right there to accommodate.

I took my dog for a walk after dinner. I hadn’t gotten far when someone opened the gates of chaos. Amongst the yelling I heard segments of “It’s Janine’s horse! NO! Oh NO!” Whatever had happened sounded serious enough to forget my knee and make a run back to camp. By the time I got there it was over. Kiger, Janine’s mustang, had gotten himself tangled in the rope and managed to flip ass over teakettle in a perfectly executed summersault. Rob cut him loose from the line no worse for wear. We gave him a dose of bute for good measure and made sure he was tracking properly. Janine, on the other hand, looked as if she could use a swig of Coconut Cowboy.

I shared my camper with Janine and Lou Ann. My knee was throbbing worse than usual and I was afraid I’d keep the girls awake with my tossing and turning. I turned in early in hopes I’d fall asleep before them. It might have worked, too – if not for Lou Ann’s tendency for evening chatter. Lou is not a morning person. She prefers to stay up half the night and sleep until noon. The conversation went something like this: “Blah blah blah…am I keeping you awake? Blah blah blah, do I talk too much? Blah blah blah – were you sleeping? Blah blah blah.” “Lou…shut the hell up and go to sleep!”

If you’re still snoozing when the sky lights up with the dawn, you’re burning daylight; life according to John Wayne. I tried to sleep in but failed. I lay in bed fidgeting. Jack paced nervously in a circle and pawed the ground. That’s not normal. He must be hungry, thirsty or bored. By the time my bare feet hit the camper floor, my horse was upside down with all four legs straight in the air. I grabbed a knife and jumped out of the camper on the run. The rope had pulled tight but I was able to release it without the knife by pulling on the tail end of the quick-release. I pulled on his head. “Get up!” He was just laying their upside down with his eyes rolled back and his hooves in the air. “Get up!” He made very little effort to move. I yanked on the rope again and swatted him on the butt. “Get UP Jack!” With his head free, he was able to lunge himself to his feet. He jumped up and immediately put his head down to eat. “Thank God!” Lou Ann said. “He looked like a bloated cow lying on the side of the road!” Lou can be descriptive at times but that was exactly what he looked like.  I checked him all over for injuries and signs of colic. It appears he tried to roll and got high centered between sagebrush and a large rock. Whatever it was, we didn’t take any chances. Janine gave him 10 cc’s of liquid Banamine and I took him for a long walk. My heart wouldn’t stop pounding for two days.

Dark clouds loomed above us as we gathered beneath Rob’s awning for breakfast. Breaking camp required a systematic approach. One person had to pull out before the next person and so forth. I was blocked in by just about every rig and would have to be one of the last out. Wind gusts kept me company while I walked around camp picking up garbage and scattering horse poop.

The boy’s stood on top of Rob’s trailer wrestling with the awning. Well, that’s a different approach to awning removal. Rob must be trying something new. I don’t think its working. “Hey Rob – why is the awning on top your trailer? Wouldn’t it have been easier to take it apart first?” I got the look that could only mean I’m not nearly as funny as I think I am. Rob said they were putting the kitchen away one second and the next; the wind picked the awning up and flipped it upside down onto the top of the trailer. Old brother wind was just trying to be helpful.

We said our goodbyes as trailers pulled onto the gravel road; some heading west…some heading east. Janine, Lou Ann and I would head east toward Grand View.

The wind had picked up enough that Lou Ann, Janine and I weren’t sure if we would make a day ride. I planned to drive out through Grand View for comparison of the two routes. I had spotted an old homestead on Deep Creek on the way in Friday that needed exploring. We decided to haul the horses to Deep Creek and play it by ear.

A locked gate settled the decision to ride or not to ride. We crawled under the gate with cameras in hand. An old dirt road led to a dilapidated log cabin with a sod roof. I could live here. The cabin sat at the mouth of a deep canyon begging to be explored. We shot pictures of the cabin and what appear to be an old sheep barn and a corral.

In the distance an iron fence encloses a small grave overlooking the homestead and canyon.

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A two year old baby girl kept watch over her family’s ranch. How did she die? Where would life have taken her if death had not snatched her from the living?

We walked back to our rigs more solemn than we had arrived. Janine quietly uttered: “Elizabeth. Her name was Ina Elizabeth.”

Everyone and everything has a story. Every plant, rock, bird and critter that crawls, swims or walks on the earth has a story. What would Ina’s story have been? The formations of Ina’s story began to flow through my veins with the rushing current of Deep Creek. She was born Ina Elizabeth McCoy. Her daddy called her Dandelion. She was born with a mass of yellow hair that stuck out in cowlicks from every direction resembling that of a dandelion bloom.

I barely remember the drive home. It ended up 6 miles longer for me to go through Grand View than Jordan Valley, but faster. It didn’t matter that the drive out was not as scenic as coming in from Jordan Valley. My mind was occupied with a yellow haired spitfire of a girl with a splattering of freckles across cheeks kissed by the desert sun. She pushed her daddy’s floppy felt hat further down on her head and scanned the horizon with deep brown eyes that flashed hues of lilac in the sun. They called her the Dandelion of Deep Creek…and she too, has a story to tell.

The End of This Story

(…and the beginning of another)

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