“We should get an early start so we can take our time and see all of it.”
“I’ll make sandwiches and such to bring with us while you’re changing water.”
We hadn’t been up on our summer mountain yet this spring and the stars had finally lined up right so we could make the trip. Winter snow left a huge drift across the road that didn’t melt until the later part of May. Even when the road had opened up, all the rain we had made the rivers swell and our bridge to get across the river and up the mountain was under water for several weeks. We had cow moving to do and brandings to attend and those things were taken care of giving us the window that we needed.
The switch back trip is about a mile up the mountain and slow going over a rough, steep two track road. Once on top we took our time driving the next couple of miles, observing the grasses and flowers and taking note of how the terrain had changed since we had seen it last. There are a couple of key areas we like to look at that give us an idea of what the situation will be when cows come up. They are due to be there the first part of July but it’s a long pull up the mountain and then about a mile to the closest water from there.
The dirt tank we call the Mud Hole, was our first stop and we held our breath as we rounded the corner hoping to see water at the top of its banks. The three small springs that feed it were weeping and had kept the dirt tank full. Grasses were growing up along the springs and around the dirt tank. This will be our 8th summer here and I have never seen grass like that in this particular spot. We poked around a bit and let the dogs play in the water.
The water troughs that are the next stop seemed a little low which had us worried about our main spring. We drove on a ways to discover that the valves had been opened and were filling all the troughs on the line. A waterfall came down from the spring and the kids poked around in a cave they hiked to. I heard a squirrel raising hell under a rock and the dogs went to sniff it out, exposing a rattlesnake!! Husbeast came to take care of the devil worm and the squirrel came running out right at him. He jumped and hollered and I was half way down the mountain before he could explain that the squirrel had come flying out of there!
We carried on with our trip and went to the end of the permit to see how things looked and then backtracked to go over the top of the mountain to finish the second half of the trip. We stopped at a spring to fix a gate the wildlife had crashed through and made the slow steep climb to the top. The road is not maintained and any type of runoff washes topsoil away leaving newly exposed rocks and ruts to negotiate. It’s a 4x4 low range, first gear type climb. Once we made the top and started down the other side, Husbeast walked the Toyota over the boulders and rocks that were on the road. We were crawling down the other side laughing about the difference between practical jokes and fibs when we heard a loud CHUNK. Husbeast said “what the hell was that?!” I got out to look and checked all four tires coming back to the right front wheel. It looked a little too close to the wheel well, but was also in a spot that could have been due to the rut and elevation difference between it and the other tire…
I checked back in and said “I can’t really tell but the right front tire looks a little wrong.”
Husbeast got out and checked and some words that are not PG were uttered. Loudish. A couple times. Bottom line…the wheel fell off.
Last fall, we were driving out of the corral to make a trip out to the cows when the same thing happened. The wheel fell off. A new lower ball joint (this is what I’m told. It’s not because I “know” these things) was required. Once that switch was made we thought we were in the clear. Not so…a few months later the same thing happened in the meadow. This time it was discovered that the bolts from the first fix weren’t right. Take two meant that new bolts went in to the ball joint that was still in tact.
Flash forward to a couple days ago…the last fix was like the shoulder tendons needing fixed and this time it was like dislocating the shoulder. The few thousand miles travelled on a “bad shoulder” finally took their toll (are you still with me? Because I think I lost myself there…). Anyway, the dang thing broke again.
So there we were….basically at the top of the mountain on the farthest side from home facing a long walk back. Husbeast got out the bumper jack and raised the front end to see if he could set the ball back on the joint so we could limp it on home. No such luck however because the ball had turned into more of a pancake. I didn’t see it but that’s what it sounded like when he checked things out.
“So? We get our $hit and walk home?”
I grabbed the lunch bag, sunscreen and bug spray and started handing out water bottles. Husbeast grabbed his rifle and secured the Toyota. We turned around and started hoofing it back up the steep incline we had been crawling down. All the dogs headed out in front of us ready for a grand adventure. At this point we were about 4 miles from the house, as the crow flies. But the elevation changes we needed to make were not cowboy boot and slick bottom shoe friendly. We were up about where bighorn sheep hang out and had to make a several hundred feet descent to hit the cow trail that would lead us the last mile to the switchback. Then we would have to drop about 500 feet in elevation to hit the river and the bridge that took us to the meadow. These elevation changes covered some granite style terrain and caused a lot of slipping and sliding on the way down. We were walking downhill on the road and I was talking to Weebeast when I stepped on a loose rock and my left foot went out from underneath me and my right knee crashed down on a rock. The lunch bag flew up over my right shoulder, launching the bug spray out of side pocket cracking me in the head. My hand caught my fall and my leg went numb from the funny bone zone that the rock connected with. My family wasn’t laughing because my face apparently said I was pretty upset. I definitely wasn’t thrilled, but what my face was saying was that I was trying not to get sick from the pain! If I’d seen what I looked like on the way down, I would have laughed at me…
Weebeast kept wanting to stop for lunch but we powered on past the troughs we had already checked and past the mud hole where we had explored. The dogs swam and grabbed a second wind and we climbed up out of the spring on the cow trail that pointed toward the gate. That is one of the best things about cows…they make some pretty wise choices when it comes to saving energy and getting from point A to point B.
We were pretty happy to make the switch back gate and side hilled down another cow trail to a spot we could lunch and overlook the ranch. The dogs took a nap and we powered up for the remainder of the trip. We made as much of a straight line path as we could and headed for the spot in the low rim rock where two years ago we had seen a waterfall during the spring melt off. The rocks in the rim made a stair step for us to follow. Once we hit the river we started grabbing gears because no amount of bug spray seemed to keep the mosquitoes at bay.
The horses in the back pen who had watched us drive out several hours earlier, looked at us pretty funny when we came walking back in. Then they changed their minds from thinking we were weird, to hoping we were planning to feed them.
We saw some new terrain and had some awesome views, but next time we take a trip there’s a longer check list of things to bring:
Bug spray and sunscreen
A spare vehicle
The replacement parts have been ordered, but I’m thinking maybe they should come with a pair of hiking boots...