The west was tamed by cowboys—wranglers and ranchers who settled the land and adopted innovative livestock practices. They figure prominently in history for their resourcefulness, grit, and sticktoitiveness. In this sense, a thru-hiker shares qualities of a cowboy—a “horseless cowboy!” In the American era of westward expansion and in the tradition of the Spanish Vaqueros (Spain being the location from which horses were imported), the American cowboy has become an iconic and lasting image of the west. The frontiers of cowboy culture can be readily seen on the Arizona Trail (AZT); indeed, the footpath goes in and out of countless private ranches from yesteryear. Old wooden corral pins, cattle loading ramps, and spring-fed galvanized troughs are ubiquitous in the Arizona desert along with countless loafing sheds and windmill-type water pumps to supply water to the cows. The open range and barbed wire ranches tell a fascinating tale to the hiker.
The age of the rough-and-tumble cowboy made such a unique contribution to the west. These determined and calloused cowpunchers had insights on all of their daily happenings. Here are just some of the cattleman terms and nuggets of wisdom that I found worthy of sharing:
“Don’t squat with your spurs on.”
chew gravel (to be thrown off a horse)
“Don’t dig for water under the outhouse.”
“The quickest way to double your money is to fold it over and put it back in your pocket.”
“If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing you should do is stop digging.”
prairie coal (dehydrated cow pies used to build fires)
“Some cowboys have too much tumbleweed in their blood to settle down.”
“No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.”
hazing a tenderfoot (to give a city slicker a hard time)
“All you need is a cowboy hat and boots; you are on a new journey.”
yellow belly (a coward or one who lacks courage)
“Never slap a man who is chewing tobacco.”
“Never drive black cattle in the dark.”
And my personal favorite as it relates to my experience while hiking the trail—“Always drink upstream from the herd!”
These cowpokes and buckaroos hold a rich history dating back more than two centuries and the AZT illuminates some of their rugged traditions. Maybe these yee-haw types ate supper off a tin plate but their independent and hardworking spirit blazed a new way of life that brought pleasures of which we are recipients even to this day. The cowboy lives on!
Well, a stopover in Payson gave me a chance to recharge in the long stretch to Pine. A kind shuttle driver named Jerry—a retired police officer and well-known town figure—was kind enough to pick me up at the remote trailhead thirty miles away and drop me off at the hotel. I ate like a horse at the cafe and hydrated myself with a trucker-sized Dr. Pepper from the fueling station. Oh, and I got some trail magic when I got back on! (mostly Twinkies and orange Gatorade).
The hike from Payson to Pine was quite pleasant through the Mazatzal Wilderness in Tonto National Forest. I had the unique opportunity to try out a brand new section of trail that had recently opened. The section traversed extinct volcanoes and juniper forests. The trail crews did such an amazing job, particularly on the long-graded switchbacks. Arriving in Pine, I “neroed” at a trail angel’s house who opened up her home for me to do all the much-needed chores (laundry, charging, etc.). Shannon had picked me up at the Ponderosa Market where I had resupplied and she also showed me around town. At the Old County Inn, I ordered some exotic wood-fired pizza. I am taking my first “zero” (complete day off) staying at the Strawberry Chalet. Strawberry is a town just up the highway three miles from Pine. After some time off, I’ll get back on trail and start hightailing it to Flagstaff. Then it’s time to cowboy up and get back in the saddle!
460.6 down, 327.4 more to go.