Indian Days

Eve among the wildflowers. With all the rain this winter, there will be plenty of opportunities to come and photograph some of the most uniqe wildflowers in the world.

And so, guess what – news, news! As I sit here, it is raining! And you wet land rats, who probably grump at the sight of a cloud in the sky, don’t realize what a blessing it is, to us in the high desert, to get some rain! It has rained for a day and a bit now, and in that time we got over 3.30 inches of rain, and the tanks in the Flats, which were all empty but one, have filled up with just this one bonanza! Just as well, as if they hadn’t, we had every prospect of having to water the cattle out of our domestic well, not a very nice thought at all.

It is ironic that this year, as short of tank water as we were, we actually have an abundance of grass, to the point that, for about two weeks, we grazed the main herd in the pasture between Grapevine Canyon and the Noonan Canyon. This meant that those of us who live at the cattle ranch headquarters had to open and shut two gates on the way between the two canyons – and if you haven’t had to stagger out of a car in the middle of a dark night and shuffle your way across to fight the wind and the cows to open a gate, drive through and then do the same thing in reverse, twice over per trip, you won’t appreciate the joy with which all of us here greeted the news that the cattle were moved to the higher country. I was reminded almost nightly of the long ago television series “The Thornbirds”, in which the main character had to open not two, but thirteen gates, on his way to and from the homestead. I think I’d have quit my job.

Peering through what used to be a window in one of the abandoned adobe structures in Pearce. Come and visit today and let your imagination take you to a simpler time with a flavor of the real old west.

Talking of old homesteads, I had a visit from the local historical society some time back, and its president offered to get me some photos of the ranch in the 1940’s through the 1960’s, owned then by a family by the name of Hatley. True to his word, he brought a few very interesting old photos for me, and looking at them I was reminded of a story told me many years ago by a friend, who had been born in Pearce, and had ranched here all his life. He told me that when he was a kid, which would have been probably just before the Hatleys bought the ranch, he often used to ride his horse the 7 miles from his house, and poke around in what was then the ruins of the old Coronado Land and Cattle Company headquarters. The Coronados had bought the ranch from the sister of Mike Noonan, who had been killed by the Apaches here in the 1880’s. Mike Noonan’s cabin had been at the foot of the high red cliffs in what we call the South Cochise Pasture today, but the Coronados built their ranch house on the other side of the creek, on the south side of the canyon, where the present day ranch headquarters are situated. Bill was telling me about the days in the 1920’s, when he used to ride his horse up to the then deserted ranch, and fool around here, pretending it was still the Indian days. One day, he said, he was in the old Coronado house, which was of adobe, with narrow slits for windows, and he was pretending the Indians were on the attack. His imagination was so lively that, hearing a noise outside, he whipped out his gun and shot through the slit – only to graze his own horse, whom he had tied outside the door. Bill said he got one hell of a hiding when he got home!

All that is left today of the old Coronado house is a slight hump of melted down adobe bricks around a mesquite tree, between my house and the corrals. I wish it were still standing now – I would have liked to have seen it. However, another house, still standing today, which first appears on the county records in 1903, was almost certainly built by the Coronados – the small adobe building next to my house. One of the staff lives there now, and it’s a most delightful little reminder of the past. I realize that to Europeans, used to houses dating back to the 14th century or so, this is small potatoes indeed, but it’s our bit of history, and I treasure it.

Ah well – back to today! The reservations are coming in at a steady clip, and it looks as if we may have another television shoot here at the ranch. We have done so many of these over the years that it’s made us half pro’s at the business of knowing what filming crews want, and it’s been fun watching the different approaches of the varying directors.

I remember years ago we had a magazine photographer here to take some pictures of male models in cowboy gear. They spent most of the time in the Cochise Pasture, shooting against those fabulous rock cliffs, and all would have been well if Annie and I hadn’t just then ridden up out of the canyon. We were both on pretty young, inexperienced horses, and we tried to slide by the photographic circus as inconspicuously as we could, but – no such luck! The photographer saw us – sudden inspiration seized her – and it wouldn’t do but that the models should get on our horses for a “realistic” shot. Now you must understand that the “cowboy” models were fresh from New York City, and had never seen a horse in their lives – the nearest thing they came to being cowboys was being togged out in some fancy Hollywood version of cowboy clothes. Annie and I agreed very reluctantly, and, with quite an effort, hoisted the two guys aboard. Just to be on the safe side, though, we stood on either side of the two horses, with our hands hovering inches above the reins, just out of camera range, just in case. All went well, until the photographer, who was, for some reason best known to herself, lying on her stomach just ahead of the horses’ front feet, shooting upwards, suddenly signaled the grip to open some sort of devil’s contraption, the name of which I forget, which was supposed to diffuse the light. Unfortunately this looked like a huge white mop with lots of strings snaking out from it, all of which shook vigorously in the breeze, just under the noses of our two colts. Annie and I could see it coming – Comanche rolled his eyes and snorted through his nose, and I could see Coaly on the other side gathering himself up for an almighty leap forward. We knew too well what this would mean – a mashed photographer on the ground beneath their feet, and two torn up New York models hung out to dry on the barbed wire fence at the edge of the pasture. We both jumped for the reins, and disaster was averted at the last second – it’s good to make sure that your horses trust you and your judgment! That is one “shoot” I will never forget. And, needless to say, nowadays I exercise more control over what I let people talk me into!

The beautiful, unique Mexican poppy on display after the rains. This will be a great spring to view them in abundance at the ranch. Nature photographers will not be disappointed.

And so – as I said, the reservations are rolling in pretty steadily for the spring break months, and all this rain should bring us lots of early wild flowers and green grass – to say nothing of happy trees, which for years had had to struggle for 11 or 12 months without a drop of moisture! I can almost hear them rejoicing.

So give us a call, chat to Bonnie, the reservationist supreme, come and see us, and enjoy the fabulous spring that’s sure to follow this rainy bonanza!!

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