013 Killing Heat

It was upward from Tonto Creek — up into the foothills and then over the sky-tabled plateaus of the Sierra Ancha range, over the very top, into the remotest section of the trail. It is a nine day journey from the Tonto Basin to the next signs of civilization, in Pleasant Valley.

It was upward, first through mesquite which was close grown and hard to negotiate, then onto grand wide tablelands, floored with dry filaree and haphazardly sprinkled with palo verde and isolated cactus. The next higher level produced greasewood shrubs, large and slender-stemmed, which atomized the air with their pleasant fragrance. Lizards played hide and seek with Rosalio and me as we made our way upward. Grasshoppers measured our strides, jumping six feet ahead as we came along and then waiting, daring us to step out as grandly as they.

There were two dogs with our herd now, Mulatto’s “Georges” having come in for a few day’s visit. And our own dog Boots was working much better with the sheep. Following Sycamore, Boots had sunk to the nadir of accomplishments as a sheep dog and after a day of uncertainty as to the cause, Rosalio had discovered the reason.

“Boots wants another dog,” Rosalio explained. “What you call it in English? She is warm.”

Boots was in heat.

And now, leaving Tonto and climbing into the hills, Boots and Georges romped gaily into the ravines and up the slopes with the sheep, doing an adequate job of helping where help was needed.

“Georges catched her yesterday,” Rosalio explained seriously. “Now Boots happy. She makes puppies. In about two months, we have some little sheep dogs.”

Our calculations indicated that the blessed event would come around July Fourth. We began thinking up some appropriate patriotic names. The dogs worked so well together that we arranged for Georges to stay with us off and on during the rest of the trek.

Making a giant squared mesa our objective for the night, we saw up on its top the first sprinkling of junipers. The altimeter of changing vegetation was registering our ascent.

The night was warm, the day broke hot, and as the sun climbed so did the heat, working us into perspiration.

At noon camp it was searing hot, with only two thin palo verdes, plus a few scattered low shrubs, to give us shade. Burros, dogs, and humans — each of us has sought a patch of it to bar off as much sun as possible. The heat is beating down from above and flowing up from Tonto Basin. A tent would only trap it. There is nothing to do but sweat.

After eating, we lay in the thin patches of shade, having to let either our heads or our feet project into the furnace of sun rays. Down below, the herd is broken up into tiny bands, each crowded about a bush or shrub, seeking shelter as best it can.

My feet have been in the sun; I pull them in and remove the shoes. One could fry an egg — sunnyside up — on the soles. On the stones about camp the egg would be well done.

We have no thermometer save the rising mercury of perspiration, but it is not hard to guess the temperature. In Tonto Basin it had been 110 degrees and this day is hotter.

The degree of heat which the sheep must endure as they graze, noses to the ground, is revealed in a letter I have since received from the director-naturalist of the Living Desert Reserve, Palm Desert, California.

The letter says, in part: ” . . when the air temperature reaches 120 ° it is quite possible for the ground surface temperature in the sun to reach 180 °. When we hear a weather report on the radio it gives the air temperature five feet above the ground in the shade. Obviously, when you are out on the desert hiking there is no simple way to levitate yourself five feet above the ground in a shady area!”