Tag Archives: Burros

unearthing nowhere

Out there, beyond the road’s end is the beginning of it

Nowhere doesn’t come with a street address. In the American West Nowhere abounds. You can occupy these phantom corners of the globe and never even know you are there. If you have the courage of your convictions, you may take up residence at a Nowhere place of your own choosing.

I have come close to living Nowhere. For a spell I resided in Yuma. I was offered a place on the fairgrounds to park my trailer. Strictly speaking Yuma isn’t Nowhere, but as they say living in Yuma may not be the end of the world, but you can see Nowhere from there. Nowhere near Yuma is less bleak than one might imagine at first glance.

I have had an extended stay in Queen Creek, Arizona. There was a lot of Nowhere near here. Real estate developers noticed and covered much of Nowhere with tens of thousands of homes transforming this emptiness into Somewhere. Not too many of the curmudgeons practicing the fine art of the desert hermitage life felt as if this was the right thing to do with such a glorious piece of Nowhere.

Mood enhancing skylines in the middle of Nowhere

Cherry, Arizona gets as close to Nowhere as you’ll get and still find that this piece of emptiness on earth somehow was named on a map and has been identified with a road sign. You can even look down on this piece of desolation using Google Earth and satisfy your own curiosity regarding what a place in the middle of Nowhere named Cherry might look like.

Getting stuck in the middle of Nowhere can be a misery worse than having a low paying job washing dishes or being on the receiving end of an unannounced visit from a disapproving mother-in-law. I was heading west across Montana in my 1981 Volvo, a good hour from outside Missoula up on top Lolo Pass running along a paved road known as Highway 12. This byway traced the path of the Lochsa (Lock-Saw) River, the very same trail Lewis and Clark picked while making their way into the unexplored west. Clark described this piece of Nowhere as being “steep and stoney our men and horses much fatigued.” Nowhere is obstacle strewn.

This particular Nowhere appeared up on Lolo Pass the moment my alternator failed. I flagged down a car heading west asking if they could send for a tow truck. Two hours later a car passing from the east stopped to tell me that a wrecker was headed from Kooskia. Once I was hooked onto the tow truck then hauled down the mountain to the repair shop, I could officially declare that my being trapped Nowhere had come to an end. Parts for a Volvo alternator aren’t common to anywhere near Nowhere. Parts gratefully would arrive in three days, I was convinced the parts would never arrive, I mean what’s the rush, right? Buddy of mine lived in Lewiston, not too far away. I used all three days recounting how I was convinced that this breakdown had the potential of leaving me lost in Nowhere forever.

In British Columbia I woke up one morning near the middle of Nowhere atop Rogers Pass on the Trans-Canada Highway. Overnight, in the cloak of darkness a grizzly bear had ripped the entire backside of a camper off a pickup truck scaring the hell out of the occupants and but for the mercy of God sparing them their lives. I slept right through the whole darn thing. Flirting with Nowhere in the Canadian Rockies is not to be embarked upon without some consideration to life and limb. The story told in the campground was chilling and by all accounts the grizzly was the biggest damn bear any had ever seen.

Sunrise near Searchlight, Nevada

Nowhere isn’t such a frightful place in every instance. Last week I made a roundtrip between San Francisco to Denver. For three days I traveled with my wife and each night we sampled various flavors of Nowhere. There was one parking lot in front of a closed restaurant located by a forlorn interstate off ramp, another near a piece in the Mojave Nature Preserve to be followed by a snowbound truck stop in a frigid New Mexico. I turned around immediately in Denver. Lot of Nowhere had been in my diet. Drove over two hundred miles on packed snow- and ice-covered roads. Seems like you’ll only find slick highways while you are out in the middle of Nowhere. Almost like nature has a rule about testing a traveler’s courage, testing must be taken while you are out there where there are no named places. The most a misbegotten soul could hope for, to give you some shred of certainty, is the solitude of every now and then a mile marker post.

I had holed up in a field in Ely for the night waiting out a little snow flurry. Morning was clear as a bell. Lot of Nowhere near Ely. White Pine County doesn’t just have Nowhere written all over it, but there are ghost towns, Cherry Creek is one. The haunted abandoned bones of this abandoned mining camp will touch a sensitive Nowhere seeker to the core of their own inner solitude.

Further west I spotted mustang, I counted eight, most were dark bay, then there were a pair hued chestnut and one palomino, a fine long maned horse that wasn’t about to chance my getting any closer.

Burro discovered along highway in middle of Nevada…

Another hour westbound and I slammed on the brakes pulled off the side of the road beneath Woodpecker Peak. Yonder of my truck to the south all alone in Antelope Valley there was a wild burro grazing. This is a glorious animal. Smarter than a seditious Republican and twice as stubborn. I had to raise my voice to be heard, but I spoke with appreciation. Asked questions too. Explained how he was just the second wild burro I’d ever found, and like the first was located smack dab the middle of Nowhere. My burro friend twitched its ears, looked at me several times, gave me a long look too, pretty much concluded I had to be about the stupidest human encounter it had ever had to put up with. I mean this burro understood things, could survive out here on this harsh environment, find food, chase predators off, have fun, go explore, see places, find water, dream of partnering up with a prospector, enjoy exploring, have a relationship with someone completely unsuited to being around other people. I mean the hopes and dreams burros hold deep in their braying heart is a dear and fervent manifestation to roam beyond the barbwire, beyond the cattle grates, to set out each day a free and unburdened beast, no cart to pull, no load to lug, this was a burro enjoying all that is right and good about living free.

For twenty minutes I shared my thoughts with the burro, and the time spent speaking was divine. The encounter altered the quality of my day, I am still under the sway of this burro’s palpable dignity, the inner mortal compass. There I stood, eye to eye, as equals in a way, within me I had a tangible sense of this Nowhere idea being something the two of us could form a bond over, that like me the burro was just as ready to strike out on his own path to go over that next mountain range, to discover what fortunes might await his new next day out there, way out there, beyond the limit, over the horizon in the middle of Nowhere.

mustang and Burro musings

Author in Escondido with his horse

Rounding up mustang and burros when their populations exceed the rangeland’s carrying capacity isn’t a muleheaded idea. If you’ve ever staked out a burro to eat down a blackberry thicket, you’ll appreciate what I mean. Burros come out of Africa. Jack’s and Jenny’s are suspicious animals and know people can be as unpredictable as jackals.

The further you travel into the least populated regions of the American West the more likely you are to encounter overgrazed rangeland. Especially because burros tend to roam deeper into the emptiness, you’ll have to travel farther off the highways into the least visited corners to see what harm the animal can do to the seldom visited places. Javelinas, mule deer, big horn and elk never were meant to be in competition with an African burro and can find their forage stripped right out from their home ground.

Remember just twenty thousand years before now across North America roamed a great many predators, megafauna as they are so adorably referred to by paleontological types, large carnivores kept the small herbivores in ‘checkeroo.’ And that was before the eternally stubborn rapier witted burro arrived from Spain via Africa.

Skippering a sailboat south from San Francisco south to Catalina Island requires preparation, patience and time. You embark not on a date and hour but as the weather allows. You do not travel on one compass heading at one speed, you alter your course with the breeze, you may speed up, decide to decrease sail area to slow down or if conditions deteriorate seek refuge in the nearest harbor. Only a fool is in a hurry.

A citizen living in Tucson, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, or Denver while close to the American West no longer depend upon the place, urban people feed off a dynamic economy. The urban westerner goes camping out in the empty trackless outback, arriving late Friday to fish, hunt and hike and home late Sunday in time for work on Monday.

Rural rascal residents have a more complicated circumstance, scuffing up a living tends to be extractive, focusing on exchanging the value of the natural resources for fiat currency, the almighty dollar.

The carrying capacity of the American West, how many people and animals can be supported out here has long been tipped beyond the fulcrum of natures balance. To my eye the rural citizen starved of access to resources is a more desperate animal with fewer choices. Stuck in the middle of nowhere with nothing is a corner in need of a fix.

Like that a galloping herd of mustang can be heard thundering over the horizon. Fortunate for America, the nation has got near as many able-bodied men and women ready to embark upon right livelihood. Herds of mustang need to be culled, burros too. Getting the animals off sensitive habitat would be good for starters. Preparing the animals ready for adoption requires skilled horsemen, not knuckleheaded desperados but horse whisperers, skillful people from rural communities that have grown up around livestock will know what I mean. Forget about cheap, this is going to take mucho dinero, revenue, spending, dollars, hard earned and supplied by taxpayers, culling mustang and burros is not ever going to be a project that fully funds itself.

We’ve got mustang everywhere, from California to Colorado, from Washington to New Mexico, and with all those animals comes a horseman and an honest day’s work for a wage. Hotheaded cattlemen want the animals off the range. Bolo tie wearing western range managers caught between the anti-tax fervency of the muckamucks and big shots back east find their hands tied behind the famous rock and hard place.

I’m going full blasphemy and don’t get your knickers in a knot, just breathe with the revelation, allow your imagination to run with the coyote and neighbors dogs, let’s defuse this toxic sagebrush rebellion, bring some human horse and burro sense to the moment.

Mustang, are icons of an American West that is slowly getting surrounded, filled up and near ready to collapse. American taxpayers already subsidize fossil fuels out here, we already giveaway our trees to timber companies, we already dole out water rights to growers that ship crops to offshore markets for their private profit pumping the peoples ancient aquifer like there is no tomorrow.

I would propose we set a new and more enlightened agenda. Repurpose tax subsidies, aim our tax dollars to the rural men and women that can help preserve and protect our rangeland.

All weekend long I’ve been driving between Denver back to San Francisco. Every chance I had I spent reading over all these postings about the crisis the American West is having over the out of control herds of mustang and burros.

What to do about the overpopulation of mustang and burro stories are being published far and wide. Noteworthy was how delicate the tapdancing around the topic seemed. Editors from Elko to Provo, Cheyenne to Yuma are careful about what this sensitive issue. Depending upon the publications readership the writers and editors shaped the story to fit the preconceptions, all the old tired out of date assumptions perpetuated by all the locked into their positions and not going to budge one inch types. I mean it makes a man want to spit his false teeth across the room and empty a quart of whiskey so as to settle his risk of tantrum, fits and spontaneous impulse to break his faith in humanity.

Everything and everybody is doing their damned best to protect their turf. “Ain’t nobody giving up nothing for nobody.” You got a water subsidy, goddamn it, I’m keep my fair share. Have a lease on a tract of BLM land, got dibs on those grazing rights, keeping them too. Mineral rights, drilling leases, deer tags and pinion pine nut picking privileges are never to be surrendered.

The draft horse is a working stiff. I had the privilege of being introduced to a team that together plowed 700 acres. The man that managed this team had nothing to prove, working with the animals was a reward unto itself. A draft horse isn’t finding meaning until its harnessed up and laboring breaking stubborn ground apart with a plow from light of day to dusk. Humankinds relationship with the horse is long and storied. Like a sailor the man handling the draft horses has set his own course to go his own way cultivating a crop for reasons beyond merely marking a commodity to market.

The American West is in transition, the tumbleweeds and sagebrush steppe needs its poet cowboy and renegade go-it-my-own-way types. We need to reimagine the place and people, expand our stunted imaginations, and remake this classic in the eyes of a people scrambling to fix the underlying centuries old assumptions that have kept us all tangled up and stuck. Billions of repurposed dollars could do the trick. Better days are promised to those willing to be the change, to embrace the unfamiliar, to preserve what is right and good about what we’ve found out here. This is remnant frontier homeland, a place that deserves protecting, a place worth paying a man a fair wage for a good day of work.