From the 1890’s to as recently as 1975 Ranchers have run cattle in Canyonlands. This is not pasture grazing – this is high desert. I imagine the cattle only survived. The cattle and the cowboys that tended them were surely tough. The cowboys lived in open air “bunkhouses” under the overhanging rock for months at a time. The black is the smoke deposits from the stove behind the bush. (No, the white box in the center is not a beer cooler!)
Water is precious here. Next to the cowboy camp is a cave spring that is claimed to have water year round. You can see in the photo that the water seeps from a seam in the rock and collects in the small depression. This occurs because water works its way through the porous sandstone above, and when it meets the less permeable layer it runs horizontally until it seeps out at a seam between the two layers.
These caves or overhangs are only accessible by hiking a dirt path, climbing the rockface on a couple of wooden ladders, then across open rock mesas. I had left my water in the truck, and by the time I was back, I was truly thirsty. Maybe for this reason a cowboy song from my 50’s childhood came to mind – and I remembered some of the lyrics:
“All day I faced the barren waste without a taste of water,
Old Dan and I, with throats burned dry and souls that cry for water,
Keep a movin’ Dan, don’t you listen to him Dan,
He’s a devil not a man
And he spreads the burning sand with water
Dan can’t you see that big green tree
Where the water’s runnin’ free
And it’s waitin’ there for you and me,
My friend, cool water.”
The song is about a prospector and his mule, Dan, and describes the mirages you can see out here. Some think Dan had died, and the prospector is hallucinating. Others think he and Dan are telling their story to St. Peter.
However, I could not remember who sang the song even though I could hear it in my head. When I found a bit of internet I looked it up. It was Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers that first recorded it in the late 1940’s. It has been recorded by many country singers since. And the best surprise is that I remembered the lyrics accurately! What a marvel is the senile mind!
If you can find a Sons of the Pioneers version on YouTube, I promise you that you will be thirsty before it ends.
While we are considering the Sons of the Pioneers,… The group was founded by Leonard Slye. The group was quite successful and Leonard was approached about making moves. He became the “singing Cowboy” and changed his name to Roy Rogers. The Sons of the Pioneers appeared in his and many other western movies and TV shows into at least the 60’s.
Enough remembering for now!