012 A Poet Is Born

Formerly there was a six day stretch between watering places at Sycamore and at Tonto Creek, and numerous animals perished. So the forest service piped water down into a large storage tank, variously called Rock Tank or Bushnell Tank, after the ranger who supervised its construction.

Back at Sycamore I had been forewarned as to what to expect from the sheep. But here, I was caught by surprise.

As they approached the Tank, the herd plodded along slowly, grazing when any forage was to be had, heading down into the valley. Then an electric spark was discharged. Rosalio explained it to me later. When about half a mile from the Tank, the lead ewes smelled water. They began a mad plunge forward. The impulse carried to the other animals following behind. Soon an immense stampede of wool was streaming down the hill. Nothing could have stopped them. The pattern of fast-flowing movement was weird —hundreds of gray backs streaming and fanning downward. Where rocks or ravines intervened the mass movement was broken, and a dozen separate threads of gray moving life went swirling forward at frantic pace. Here was something elemental, primitive. It was one of the joyous sights of the trip to see them rush up to the drinking troughs and satisfy their thirst.

Our sojourn at the Tank also held surprises and special joy for me. Again the boss had come with additional provisions, bumping in over a jeep trail from a dirt road three miles distant. And with him were my wife Helen, and our ten year old daughter, Adrienne, who had come in to get a brief taste of the trail and to bring me a fresh supply of film. We camped for the night at the Tank, and they had the experience of sleeping by the fire under the stars and partaking of Pablo’s fine cooking.
As we ate, I told them of my experiences along the trail. Adrienne was so thrilled that she started composing a poem about it. She reworked it later and the next year, when I had written an article concerning this trek for National Geographic Magazine and was going over it with the editor, he insisted on including our daughter’s verse. “She has said it all,” he observed, “in just ten lines.”

Under Arizona’s great blue sky
On winding trails the sheep pass by. Into the valleys, up mountains steep, Traveling steadily come the sheep. Down to the river to water they run,
To conquer their thirst from the long dreary sun.
They wind their way through cactus spines, And journey by forests of tall, stately pines. In mountain meadows then they roam;
And each sheep has earned its summer home.

I had a day or so of homesickness after Helen and Adrienne, and the boss, returned to civilization. For the herd, the herders, and for me these were days of climbing as we ascended by slow stages to the top of Reno Pass, and to one of the finest campsites of the journey. Ahead and below us, spread out for miles, was Tonto Basin, one of the wild sections of America, with a thin silver thread winding through it, which Rosalio told me was Tonto Creek. Barely visible, far to the right, glimmered the upper end of Theodore Roosevelt Lake.

Usually I followed Rosalio and the herd but on the morning at Reno Pass I lingered behind to watch Pablo break camp.

As he drove his burros in — still hobbled — they took little forward jumps with their front feet, looking almost mechanical —like tightly-wound Christmas toys. “You’ve got a bunch of jumping jacks,” I punned.

Pablo grinned. He has an endearing way with his burros. In the mornings he often asks them if they are mad with him, and rubs their noses and only swears at them gently when they disobey.
He likes to tease them and they seem to enjoy it. Before starting to pack, he took a piece of his breakfast biscuit, held it out for a burro to eat, then quickly snatched it away several times before letting him get it. Gently he rubbed the animal’s nose.

Then began the campero’s hardest task of the morning. Pablo has skills as cook, baker, butcher, shoe cobbler, and blacksmith, but none of them takes the strength and expertise which is required to pack his burros twice daily. A dozen pack boxes, along with bedrolls, water kegs, shovels, axes, and endless paraphernalia have to be deftly packed onto the seven animals so securely that nothing will shift or come loose, no matter how rugged the terrain.

These packs, few people realize, also carry most of the personal possessions owned in this world by Pablo and Rosalio. Save for one extended vacation each year, they spend nearly their entire lives camping out, on the trail, or in the northern forests or southern pastures.

The packing completed, Pablo fed his horse some oats which likewise had to be carried on the backs of one of the animals, unhobbled his burros, and started out to overtake Rosalio and the herd.

When nearly down the pass Pablo and I saw a lone rider approaching us on horseback. Pablo recognized him, and as the man stopped to greet us, said to me: “This is Marshall Loveless. He can show you some bears. You two ought to get acquainted. “

At a later time I did become well acquainted with Marshall Loveless and his brother, who lived in a cabin a mile or so from the trail, near the ruins of old Fort Reno. The Loveless Brothers were big game hunters and fur trappers; it is this latter occupation which brought them to this area of the sheep trail. Marshall told me that years before, he had accompanied Buffalo Jones on his famous hunting trip to Africa and had later guided African hunting safaris on his own.

I had no way of knowing whether his statements were authentic. But several years later, after showing my film of the sheep trek at the Santa Barbara Museum in California, Max Fleischmann, the yeast baron, came up to me, and said: “You showed a picture of Marshall Loveless. He was my guide on a hunting trip I once made in Africa.”

Getting down to Tonto Creek from the lower part of Reno Pass required a hideous descent. Once Rosalio, intent on watching his sheep, fell and cut both of his lips severely. In places, nearing the bottom, the going was so steep that we slipped and slid part of the way down. There was another mad dash for water, even more spectacular than those at Sycamore and Rock Tank. There was another road, but no cars came along it to disturb the silence.