Steers in the road


“Better slow down a bit. There are cattle on both sides of the road,” I told my brother after we rumbled over a cattle guard and continued down a stretch of paved road in the desert while entering Indian Creek recreational area in Utah. 

By the time we got nearer the group of cattle, one of the beef steers decided it would be better if it ran across the road to sample the sagebrush or whatever it was munching on that side. We didn’t hit him or even have to tap the brakes, but I always find it a different kind of concern when I have to watch out for not only deer crossing the road but cows as well in open range lands of the west. 

On our way out of the park later that weekend, we saw a steer had been hit by some careless driver. I felt bad for the steer and wondered how the rancher dealt with that. I doubt the sheriff in Moab 45 minutes away was made aware of the accident and collected insurance info from the driver.

I had promised our boys that we’d take a camping and rock-climbing trip as a thanks for them helping with putting up hay all summer. Somehow summer passed without any chances for the three of us to get away for a couple days locally. Those teens seem to have some activity or other scheduled every day, and if they weren’t busy, I was. 

We decided to find cheap plane tickets and visit my brother in Colorado in the fall when things slowed down instead. You can get three people to and from Denver for less than it costs to take a trip to Duluth if you know how to pack light. Budget airlines charge extra for everything, but if all you need is a seat and spot to put a small backpack, they are cheap.

It turned out the weather that ended our nice warm fall at home with 4 inches of snow in Minnesota stretched all the way to Colorado and Utah. We had to travel through the mountain passes to get to Utah, and there was a decent amount of snow blanketing the higher elevations. Thankfully, the roads were mostly dry. My brother’s wife had driven through the pass the night before while heading to her parents’ house for the weekend, and it had been nearly a white out. A ski resort was running snow-making equipment on the bunny hill, racing to be the first to open for the season. It was not snowing in the desert when we got to the spot we planned to camp for three days, but it did rain off and on and got rather windy. My brother had warned us that by the time we would leave the desert, there would be nothing that wasn’t covered in fine red dust. He wasn’t kidding. When we went to crawl in our sleeping bags that night, the wind had deposited a layer of sand both on and in our bedding.

The overnight rain turned the sandy dust into a crust that kept it from blowing around but was a bad deal for our plans to go climbing. We went hiking instead and enjoyed the beautiful views of Canyonlands National Park. The rock is a type of sandstone which becomes dangerous to climb when wet because it can break off. Sandstone is a sedimentary rock, aged mud, that used to be the bottom of a lake or ocean. Indian Creek is well known because the unique geology there caused the sandstone cliffs all along a wide basin to crack rather uniformly, making for hundreds of feet of rock wall that can be scaled by placing a hand or foot in the crack and torquing it until it sticks there and repeating over and over, occasionally placing a piece of climbing gear called a cam to clip your rope into in case you fall. We did get to spend a day climbing the rock and watching the rancher that runs beef cows in the whole basin between the cliffs round up cattle using a horse and cattle dogs. I guess the place is nicknamed beef basin. Makes sense seeing how many cows were in that oddly lush basin for a desert.

We are back in Minnesota, and the snow has melted. We can finish the last week or so of grazing we have grass for. Until next time, keep living the dream, and watch out for cows on the road. You never know when they might decide the grass is greener on the other side.

Tim Zweber farms with his wife, Emily, their three children and his parents, Jon and Lisa, near Elko, Minnesota.


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