67 Double E Ranch Road ~ Gila, NM ~ 575-535-2047
Bring Your Own Horse to Double E Ranch
Five Comfortably Furnished Cabins and Guesthouse at New Mexico Cabin Rentals
Ramblin's of a Cowboy Heart
This Cowgirl's Journey What an amazing journey this
whole trip was for me. Despite the fact that I knew far in advance we'd be
coming to see you, I was getting pretty nervous and fearful as the time
drew closer - would I remember how to ride, would I make an ass of myself,
would I fit in, would people like to be around me, would I hurt myself,
was I up to the physical demands that I would be challenged with, would
the wranglers sit around at night and say "holy cow, there's no hope
for this one" and on and on ad infinitum.
Imagine my surprise when in the arena first thing Thursday morning Kansas
began to trot and I remembered how to post during the trot! Imagine my
greater surprise when I remembered how to move my body with him when he
began to canter and then to gallop - and I didn't fall off! Imagine how
thrilled and flattered I was later that day (or the next day, I'm not
sure) when Eddy tells me that I'm a joy to be around because I'm laughing
and smiling all the time - although, the cynic in me thought for just a
moment that he was saying that just 'cause he's supposed to compliment the
guests, but I got past that pretty quick! Of course, the company I
was keeping had ALLOT to do with that laughing and smiling, too!
very biggest surprise came when we were team penning, and I forgot to be
self-conscious..... as soon as I began to concentrate on "messing
with cows" (thanks, Kate!) it all began to feel like I was born to
this, or certainly that I had an aptitude for it - I actually remember
thinking "wow, I'm pretty good at this!" So many changes
happened for me while I was there, I can't hardly remember them all! I
remember saying to Tracy at the first sit-down-at-the-table with all those
folks "this is just like having a new great big family!" and it
was - warmth, acceptance, great company - I felt as if you and the ranch
itself were standing there waiting for me with open arms and open hearts -
what a great feeling.
The day we went on the all-day, my back was pretty painful, but I really
wanted to do the ride. I wanted not to whine or complain about how
uncomfortable I really was - which is hard not to do! - I just wanted to
enjoy the day, the company, the ride and the experience. I guess either
Robin picked up on how uncomfortable I was, or my "pain face"
gave me away to Tracy, and we stopped for an impromptu "wrangler
yoga" session, which really saved the day for me. By the time we
actually found cows, I was pretty ready to come home and get off the
horse, but everyone else wanted to drive 'em in. I was not happy about
that democratic decision, but in the spirit of cooperation, decided to
make the best of it - and had such a good time, I forgot all about my back
hurting me!! Later that evening, Robin gave me the thumbs-up and said
"cowgirl up" to me. Now, despite the fact that I've seen those
stickers on cars (and of course, trucks!) here in San Diego, I really
didn't know what that meant. Imagine how pleased and happy with myself I
was when he and Kate explained to me that it was a form of "good
job", and Robin said something specifically about the fact that I
didn't whine, and that made him that much more ready to help me out - how
cool is that?!
I could go on and on about specific experiences for quite some time....
watching the sun come up w/ Mr. Gibson in my lap, purring and rubbing his
head on my chin, coming around the corner on one of the more harrowing
downhill portions of a trail ride and thinking "ok, this is where I
fall and break my neck" and then thinking "have faith in your
horse", letting go and letting Kansas bring me safely down, hanging
out on the screened in porch after dinner with my buddies, looking over at
the pregnant mare and the yearlings across the street and watching the
horses play and bug-tussle with each other like school kids.... it's just
almost too much. I found it very difficult to leave - it made me very sad,
it felt like I was leaving family behind, it felt like I needed to stay
for another 3 or 4 days 'cause my body was just really starting to get
into it, it felt like I was leaving a place where I was meant to stay for
a spell longer. It was especially difficult driving to work the next
morning - were I not such a mature adult, I might have beat my fists
against my steering wheel in sheer frustration, or perhaps shed a tear or
At any rate, the words "thank you" don't even come remotely
close to expressing to you how much this trip to your 30 thousand acre
home meant to me, how wonderful the acceptance from you, Eddy, Robin,
Preston and Josh - and everyone in the house - felt and how dear the
memories of this experience will be to me for the rest of my life. Tracy
and I are already figuring out how we're going to engineer returning, and
staying for a longer period of time the next time! I so appreciate your
warm, welcoming hospitality - thanks you so much for being there and doing
what you do. Please give my regards to the wrangler boys - particularly
Eddy :o) Kate tells me that you'd like a copy of the
"Eddy's Girls" rap - I intend to put it into a frame with one of
the photos of us girls with Eddy and send it along to you - I haven't
quite finished writing it yet, but as soon as I do - and find the perfect
picture and frame - you'll have it in your hands!
Crossroads and Question Marks? By Michael Quaintance
There are times when you ask questions, not
because you need the answer, but because they answer is so blindingly clear that
you'll do anything to tell yourself that it's not there. You find a tract
of land in your mind and you roll over it again and again until the ruts are so
deep they become a ravine and somehow you manage to get lost in the overgrowth
and the underbrush.
The who am I and where do I belong questions
loop into one another until they become the meaning of one's life and the
validation of one's existence. And for some reason all of that round and
round again works, or at least it keeps you occupied enough to go from
being too young to being too old without too many hiccups in life, or too many
moments of vivid clarity that unsettle the comfort of blindness.
I was born in Chicago, in 1953, on concrete,
beneath concrete and surrounded by concrete; went to college in 1970 and
discovered that my heart and soul were made of and resounded to wood and
wind. When I was five I discovered that the color of my skin excluded me
and defined me in the eyes of those who were and those
who were not (it doesn't really matter what) and I spent the
entirety of my days until this trying to or trying not to fit myself into one or
more of those definitions; and choice, choice was just the space of illusion
between one wall or the other.
Then in the midst of all that intellectual
certainty and habitual self-victimization I found myself sitting on a tall horse
looking out over a wide open country, terrified to tears and moved to
silence -- real silence, where even the little voices inside your head shut down
for a breath they didn't know they needed to take. Scared of the distance,
overwhelmed by the absence of walls and all the pictures of myself that had
filled the moments of my life. Wanting to ride off into the unknown (which
was no longer poetic) and find the strands of myself that weren't dependent on
those who were or were not, but were placed there by the Goddess or the God to
be slipped deeply into the earth until I was rooted and at home with the land.
A man doesn't often have the opportunity to
wonder, of finding a place that captures his first heart and makes him feel at
home. The question is, when he finds it what does he do? Does he back the
past and homestead morning, or does he vacation his dreams and slip them like a
dried rose between the pages of his life in the hopes of holding on to a little
of the color? There are times when you ask questions, not because you need
the answer, but because the answer is so blindingly clear; after all - I've got
A Tenderfoot’s Cowboy Song
By Michael Quaintance
I have run all my life
From the ghost of my fathers
Trying to lay myself to rest
In the garden of promise
And so many faces
Promises and lies
Lord I lost all those races.
She was lovelier by far
Than all the women that I knew
She held my hopes and my heart
Wasn’t nothing good she wouldn’t do
And I don’t know why
All I could do was break her
Leave the dust and her behind
For life’s sorrows to take her.
If you find me on the trail
And the dust and death have claimed me
Lay me shallow in my grave
And let a little child name me.
And if there is a blessing
That the good Lord has for me
Let it be that she finds me
At the gates of Calvary.
Mesteno by Dale Marcy
dry-bed glistens from the chance night rain.
I bring up the rear of the line of horses--
3 million years of history:
I ride a mesteno - mustang - the ownerless horse.
flick wet air into my face. Ears flatten.
Hooves dance on the dampened ground in wild staccato steps. Danger!
A flash flood thunders down the dry
Skittish horses flinch, sidestep, rise up
to a rear-leg stance.
I rein for control, then release to give footing.
The muddy water rises, drenching
thighs and flank;
my legs pushed free from the security of stirrups,
I hunker, and clasp his arching neck.
Our bodies lock together,
will-driven to survive.
A shrill, loud whinny; powerful ribs expand, and then
a last, loping leap:
We stand, both spent, in primal
communion and new-found respect.
A Hand - by Jeff Burkhart
So you want to be a Cowboy,
And a Hand's whatcha wanna make'
Well sit right down there little partner,
And let me tell you what it's gonna take.
First, don't ever shirk a duty,
And be cheerful in your every task;
And if there is something you don't know,
Don't be afraid to ask.
Never give a man your word,
With an idle breath;
And if you were to ever cheat,
Make sure you're cheatin' death.
What's that you say?
You thought we'd talk of hoolahans,
Or how to call the cattle;
Or about how I make my biscuits,
Or how to sit a saddle.
Well, son, these things you'll learn by doin',
And you will develop your own way'
And with these things you will earn respect,
Ant that's worth more than pay.
So, take these things I gave you,
And I'll promise that you'll learn;
Soon enough you'll be the teacher,
So be prepared to take your turn.
Now take the time to listen,
And someday soon you'll understand;
It takes a lot to be a Cowboy,
But it takes more to make a Hand.
Jeff Burkhart is a
Cowboy Poet living Tucson, AZ (and a good friend). Born and raised
in Texas, Jeff moved to Arizona in October of 1999 to work. He has
dedicated his life to being a Cowboy and bringing the Cowboy way of life
to the attention of "city slickers" through his poetry and his
work at guest ranches and other western events. Jeff has a
sure-'nuf entertainin' CD available. For more information
about Jeff or his poetry, you can contact Jeff at JandDBhart@aol.com
You know what I'll miss?
Alan's clanky rushing boots. You know - the sound his boots made, rushing
through the house. It was a clanky sound, different from every one
else's. You knew it was him, rushing around, getting everything
ready. And, Debbie's smile in the morning. It was so pretty and
clean, like you knew it wasn't fake or anything....struggling up the hill to the
house...Boot Hill. I call it Boot Hill cause you need good boots to make
it up without falling!
...and the tack room in the
morning. All the brushes and things. There were red brushes and
green brushes. Maybe they were the same? ...and I loved it at
night...you'd hear animals
plopping around out there...in the dark...and you'd wonder which ones it
was...and I loved getting the horses in the morning...and I liked that little
tool, the one you cleaned their hoofs with. That was a cool thing,.
His muscle, his strength. You had to trust yourself, just don't put your
face in front of his hoof! Then, you'd get him ready to saddle...You prepared the horse, You'd
adjust him yourself. We never got to do that before. It's like if
something happened, you'd know how to handle your horse. And, I liked
tying the horse to a post - when I finally figured out how to make that knot!
You know what I really liked??
Opening the gate on a horse! That was great! It's like, you can ride
all around, but opening a gate is like fine tuning. Satisfaction is
finally getting the gate open...
I liked the different places we
rode. The earth-towering walls, the canyons. Wondering all the time
what's around the corner. Ruins, scat, animal tracks - it was all so
adventurous. My favorite was the cattle "tagging". Alan
was there. He always made you feel like you should get things
done. You know, calling out the cattle in small groups from the tags on
their ears. It was like "let's go get some cattle"!
made it a fun journey. I was much obliged for that...and, the laughter we
all shared - that was cool...our hearts were in it...good friends...And all the
men were so cool. They'd have their hands in their pockets all the time,
when they were riding. I was watching Dan...he'd ride around, and Robin,
too, with their hands in their pockets. So, I tried it...but, that's just
not me...cold hand?? I'll use a glove...
I learned a lot of things with
horsemanship. I did get comfortable sitting in the saddle during the
week. In the past, I'd just be bouncing around in there. And, I
started using my feet to control the horse. You know, it also impressed me
just how well-footed a horse is. We took 'em down a mountain with loose
rocks. This was not a hill! And, breaking for lunch, always done at
at a nice time...then, another adventure after lunch. Coming home was
always pleasant. Unsaddle your horse and brush him at the end of the
day. The temperature was perfect. I couldn't believe how lucky we
were that first day with all those different types of weather: the
the snow, the rainbow...
And so, our plane is there waiting
for us to board. And, no, maybe this doesn't capture every moment that
made us laugh, or wonder or blink in surprise. Nor does it express our
gratitude for folks who still believe in goodness and honesty or how impressed
we were with the accuracy of the depiction of what we could expect visiting the
Double E. Keep that ol' trail-dust off yer chapstick, pardner!
Return of the
Cowgirl By Lauren Wilcox
The Double E guest Ranch in southwestern New Mexico is 30,000 acres
of scrub-covered hills and sandy creek-bottom land, broken here and
there by steep ridges from which the landscape unrolls to the horizon in
smoky vistas. But the scenery, at this particular moment, is lost on me,
as I scramble to stay on the back of a horse named Buster, who has just
shot several feet into the air.
Being on a bucking horse is profoundly disorienting. My field of
vision collapses; the horizon swings back and forth, like a stormy sea
seen through a porthole. The familiar polarity of head and tail
vanishes. Suddenly, at a slapping trot, Buster recovers the earth, like
a drummer emerging from a solo.
Preston Johnson, a 19-year-old ranch hand with a drooping mustache
and sad, sky-blue eyes, materializes at my elbow. "Have you ever been on
a bucking horse before?" he asks. He floats serenely in his saddle,
regarding Buster and me with benevolent concern. "If that happens
again," he says, "whatever you do, don't lean forward. Reach behind you
and grab the back of the saddle." I look at my hands, in which I am
clutching a snatch of Buster's auburn mane.
I have come to the Double E for a dose of the cowboy life. I first
ventured out West a decade ago, from North Carolina. On a whim, I
accepted a poorly paying job in Santa Fe, packed a suitcase and pointed
my truck toward the Pacific. On the high desert plains of northern New
Mexico, after four days of driving, I stopped on an incandescent stretch
of grassland, and stepped out into a silence so broad and deep my ears
rang. Beneath the atomic blue of the sky, my unfocused restlessness
intensified, like a pinprick of light under a magnifying glass. This was
And so I discovered Johnny Cash, rode around in pickup trucks, wore
big belt buckles and a red leather shirt. For a while, I lived in a
teepee. At roadhouse bars on Saturday nights, I stomped around the dance
floor with quiet men in tight jeans and pointy boots, unsure whether I
wanted to be with a cowboy or simply be one, scraping out a living in
exchange for the good loneliness and indisputable cachet of the cowboy
In the end, I went back East. I took a series of jobs in a series of
cities. I learned about subway systems, "business casual" and cubicle
etiquette. It wasn't boring, exactly. There was a soothing regimen to my
days that crowded out peskier impulses. Still, I missed the West, so
when I had a chance to spend a few days at a working cattle ranch, I
leapt at it. This, I thought, dreaming over the dusty, sun-dappled
trail-riders on the Double E's Web site, would deliver me to the true
heart of the cowboy life.
I doubt that at this moment I much resemble a cowboy. I have arrived
at the ranch during a rare rainy spell, and rather than risk getting us
soaked on the trail, Preston has been shepherding me and several other
guests around the ranch's big arena, which is sloppy with mud. Our
horses are soggy and our boots spattered, and there is not a steer in
Preston is a 2004 Silver City Team Roping Champion, as his belt
buckle, a gleaming rococo platter, declares. He is trying to teach us
the finer points of a sport called barrel-racing, a speed-and-agility
rodeo event in which riders weave around a triangle of barrels in a
loose cloverleaf, flogging their heaving steeds with the leathers,
leaning into the turns like motocross riders, knees almost touching the
But my nerves are rattled from the bucking, and Buster is twitching
peevishly at the bit and dancing in place. Better that I walk him along
the fence for a while, listening to Preston patiently explaining the
routine. I shift in the saddle, trying to find a comfortable bone to
perch on. Underneath me, Buster exhales wearily.
What kind of person takes a vacation on what is, essentially, a
glorified farm? We are a motley bunch -- the horse-obsessed, the
congenitally adventurous, the alpha athletes -- but we share a
Mitty-esque infatuation with the cowboy life. Jerry Heck, who is here
with his wife, Betty Anne, and has just returned from a stint as a
civilian contractor in Iraq, trots endlessly in circles wearing a look
of boyish delight. Through determined leg-flapping, he coaxes his horse
into a higher gear and jiggles gamely through the barrel course in a
pattern of his own devising. The man blistering by on a muscled palomino
is Konrad Cartini, a German, who often stays on the ranch for months at
a time. He is soft-spoken and bespectacled and rides like an outlaw: his
shoulders hunched and his reins held high in front of him, like Jesse
James overtaking a stagecoach.
After a while, Preston removes the barrels and sets up a line of
orange poles, through which Buster and I execute a halting slalom, like
a sot listing down a sidewalk. A woman from Illinois, through constant
cajoling, urges her mount through a nimble run. "You almost knocked down
that pole," her husband teases when she lopes up.
"Almost only counts in horseshoes," she retorts.
"And grenades," Betty Anne points out, from the fence. There is a
general murmur of agreement from the group.
I haven't ridden since I was a teenager, so it is nice to be on a
horse again, but there is a limit to the charms of riding around a ring.
When it is time for dinner, our entire company, horses included, seems
relieved to return to the barn. After putting away the horses, we drive,
in most uncowboy-like fashion, the 100 yards or so up to the house where
meals are served, on a rise overlooking the barns and the horse pens. I
catch a ride with the couple from Illinois in their extra-cab diesel
pickup, hoisting myself into the back seat and arranging my muddy boots
carefully on a newspaper.
A WORKING CATTLE RANCH since the 1920s, the Double E was, until
recently, Hooker Ranch, cobbled together from failed homesteads by a man
named Joseph Hooker. In 1996, Joseph's son Donald sold it to Alan and
Debbie Eggleston (the two E's), whose lifelong dream was to run a cattle
ranch in their retirement. The ranch came with the old Hooker homestead
and 100 Herefords, to which the Egglestons added 150 Texas longhorns.
But the beef market, then in precipitous decline, barely earned them
enough to pay the mortgage, and a lengthy drought made it tough to
expand the herd. In between branding and calving, Debbie and Alan fixed
up a few of the buildings as guesthouses and posted a Web site, and
people began to come.
Debbie and Alan are not ranchers by trade -- Alan was a commercial
airline pilot for years, and Debbie worked as an administrative
assistant -- but they are the kind of durable, resourceful people to
whom outdoor pursuits come easily, and with the Double E they have put
together a fairly realized vision of the cowboy life. "Some people
golf," Debbie told me. "Some people play tennis. We wanted to own a
ranch. We weren't planning on running a guest ranch, but we just decided
to do it like a place we would want to visit."
Meals are served, boardinghouse style, on two broad plank tables in
one of the ranch's newer structures, a brick ranch house. Like all the
ranch's buildings it is decorated in a charming Nouveau West style:
fringed leather pillows, lamps wrapped in what look like pieces of
lariats, and cowhides, the hair still on them, thrown over the sofas. A
bookshelf along one wall has several linear feet devoted to a
gilt-embossed set of Louis L'Amour books, a hardcover titled No Life for
a Lady and a scale model of a Lockheed P-3 Orion airplane.
It is pleasantly noisy and chaotic at the table. Two British couples,
who spent the day shopping in nearby Silver City, nod knowingly as we
describe our attempts at barrel-racing. "Yesterday," one woman says,
"Preston showed us how to rope cattle. We figured it out right away,
didn't we, Helen? We picked three that were lying on the ground and
began shuffling them down the fence. Everyone thought we were brilliant
for doing three."
"Poor things were almost asleep," says Helen.
"I roped four," says Helen's husband, Colin, beaming. He and Helen
raise cattle, as it turns out, and the other couple, Peter and Ann,
raise sheep. They have always, they tell me, wanted to try their hand at
being cowboys. (Helen and Colin also run a B&B. "This is a bit of a
busman's holiday for us," she acknowledges.) I ask Colin if he uses
ropes when he herds his cattle at home. "Oh, no," he says. "People would
think I'd gone mad if I started roping my cattle. I use four-wheelers
and a dog."
After dinner, I return to my cabin, which was one of the first
structures built on the ranch, a low clapboard house with creaking
floors and a wide porch. In its new life as a guesthouse it has
horseshoes nailed to the walls, the collected essays of Frederic
Remington on the shelf, and a bed with a fluffy meringue of a down
comforter. It is barely 8 o'clock, but a wind is whipping up, and the
bony places where I connected with the saddle are beginning to complain.
As I slip into bed, I give thanks that I did not choose to go on one of
the more authentic cattle drives, where guests sleep on the ground in
bedrolls. All night, the wind blows showers of little nuts onto my tin
roof. I dream of tiny cattle, stampeding in the distance.
SADDLING UP BEGINS at the barn at 7 a.m. At that hour, the sun has
yet to clear the ridge, and the ranch's low white buildings are bathed
in a bluish half-light, as though they were underwater. The day is clear
and chilly. Dressed and ready, the dried mud knocked off of my boots, I
see a light in the barn and head over a few minutes early, but it is
just the glow from the Mountain Dew machine. There is no one around.
After a minute or two, Preston's purple Ford F-250 motors over the
ridge, its diesel engine thrumming. In the pens beside me, the dark
shapes of horses prick their ears and snort softly.
After breakfast we scrape to our feet, stiff from yesterday's
exertions, and make our way down to the barn. Our group is sharply
turned out: felt Stetsons, crisp white hats, shirts with pearl snaps. A
young actress from California has on a battered straw hat and a faded
red bandana knotted charmingly around her neck, and a physician from
Albuquerque and his wife are wearing matching fringed chaps. I have on
an old pair of cowboy boots saved from my last tenure in the Southwest,
but I have been too self-conscious to affect any other cowboy gear, and
I am wearing a wool stocking cap and a sweater.
"Welcome to the Wild West," one of the ranch hands announces as we
mount up and jockey for position in the road. "Everybody got their
We take a trail that winds back through narrow canyons and shallow
washes, a landscape shaped by water but dry as a bone.
The horses pick their way placidly through sand and rock, sometimes
hitting a trot in the open stretches. Riding on the trail is a far cry
from riding in the ring. The ranch's vast acreage swallows us.
Cottonwood trees shiver over the creek beds, and the hills are a thatchy
expanse of what Preston tells me is cat's-claw -- a bush with hooked,
needle-sharp thorns. I have no idea where we are going or how far we
have come. There is nothing, down in the wash, that an urban person can
use to orient herself: no receding four-point perspective of streets and
buildings, no clear dichotomy of "here" and "there." Progress is made
imperceptibly, each scene replaced with one subtly different. This is
oddly soothing. You are at the center of the visible world; wherever you
are feels like your destination.
We see one cow today, in a stand of cottonwoods. It lumbers to its
feet and watches us as we pass. Our guide leans over to get a look at
it. "That's not one of ours," she calls.
"Where are ours?" I ask. She shrugs.
"There's 30,000 acres out here," she says. "They could be anywhere."
This is, I am beginning to think, a hell of a way to make a living.
The Egglestons run a cow-to-calf operation, which means that they
make money by producing calves. The number that matters the most in this
business is the number of cows that are retrieved in roundups with a
calf tagging at their heels.
Well-fed, healthy cattle breed better, of course. On this kind of
land -- rocky, largely barren, and dry -- each animal needs at least 100
grazing acres to get enough mesquite and grass to eat. This is a very
high number -- Colin's cattle, in the rich grasslands of northern
England, require only one acre apiece -- and during a drought, the
number can be even higher. In a good year, the Double E's grasslands
might support 350 cattle. This year, the Egglestons are running about
200 head. For a ranch the size of the Double E, with all its operating
expenses, the income from a herd that size no longer covers the cost of
At dinner, Alan Eggleston tells me that cattle ranching, unlike many
other animal-production businesses, has not been corporatized. This puts
ranchers at a disadvantage when dealing with monopolized industries such
as meat packing, he says; the selling price of beef has not kept pace
with packing costs and the expense of raising cattle. These days, Alan
says, almost the only successful ranches are run by families who own
their land outright.
Alan sits back in his chair. He has the sort of mug that belongs on a
cowboy: long and lined, with a wide Pace Picante-style mustache and
slightly jug-handled ears. He is tall and narrow, and as ranch boss
presides with a soft-spoken gravity. He rubs his cheeks with both hands.
"Used to be," he says, "ranching was a way to make a living."
The glory days of cattle ranching were the decades following the
Civil War, when some 40,000 young men were making their living on the
Western range. After the invention of barbed wire in 1873, farmers
gradually began fencing their wide-open spaces, and by the late 1800s,
the days of the huge cattle drives were over. In the dusty Southwest,
squatters and homesteaders competed with cowboys and Spanish families
for control of the grasslands.
In 1877 Donald Hooker's grandfather began homesteading on a pretty
parcel of farmland near what would become the town of Gila, N.M., in
what was still just a territory of the U.S. government. In the ranch's
heyday, in the mid-20th century, it was nearly 70,000 acres. Donald and
his father ran 1,000 head of cattle and branded 900 new calves a year
with the Hooker brand -- the gripsack, a square with a handle on top.
But times changed. Donald's father died, and it became harder for Donald
to run the ranch, much of which was accessible only on horseback. By the
mid-'90s. the beef market was in the gutter, southwestern New Mexico was
in the middle of an epic drought, and the market for picturesque ranch
land was booming. The idea of selling was too hard to resist.
Donald lives with his wife, Betty, in a sunny double-wide trailer on
the site of his grandfather's original homestead, on the 11,500 acres of
farmland he kept for himself when he sold the ranch to the Egglestons.
When I visit them one morning before a trail ride, there is a fire in
the wood stove, and we stretch our legs in front of it. Three versions
of James Fraser's iconic image "End of the Trail" -- an Indian slumped
over his drooping pony -- hang on the wall over the sofa. Donald, who
was a county commissioner and a state official for many years, is a
cowboy-statesman in his mid-seventies, snub-nosed, tall and rangy, with
a neat white pompadour. Dude ranching, he says, was something that never
interested them. "I used to take people hunting with me in the hills.
But I never took them for money, because then I'd have to wait on them."
Donald may be a rancher because he was born into ranching, but he is
a cowboy because it suited him to work nearly his whole life in the
saddle, shoot mountain lions when they were eating his herd and turn
thousands of acres of unfarmable scrub land into a long, independent
life. He is a cowboy because he is the same kind of man as his distant
ancestor, the Rev. Thomas Hooker, who was run out of England like Roger
Williams in the early 1600s and whose maverick individualism found, in
the rough, unrealized potential of the new world, its natural home.
Donald is a cowboy because, at 75, he still brands his cattle -- still
has cattle to brand -- and at 10:30 in the morning on his day off, he is
AT BREAKFAST the next morning, Alan announces over a plate of eggs
that he has gotten a call from a neighbor, who has penned 12 cows and a
bull of the Double E's, and that we will be driving the cattle back to
the ranch today. It is unclear to me at first if we are going to drive
them in vehicles or if we are going to drive them in the cowboy sense,
but then Preston comes around with our horse assignments, and I am saved
from having to ask.
As we assemble in the yard I realize that everyone besides me is
wearing a cowboy hat, and the sun is already strong. My face and the
backs of my hands are sunburned enough from the last two days. It is
time for me to get a hat. I dash over to the Mercantile -- the Hookers'
thick-walled old food cellar, now housing a collection of silk
neckerchiefs, chaps, some of those fringed leather pillows, and hats --
and pick out a stiff, wide-brimmed number.
"You're going to want a stampede cord with that," one of the ranch
hands says when I return, meaning the horsehair toggle that cinches the
hat securely under one's chin. A stampede cord! This sounds promising.
My stampede cord cinched, the hat's wide brim gives my head an
exaggerated equatorial wobble, as though I am at the center of a
hat-sized gyroscope. I have been told that Buster is taking the day off,
and I will be riding a horse named Gonzo, who I have been promised is
comparable to Buster. British farmer Peter also has been transferred --
to a stout little horse called Lefty, so named for a tendency to list to
the left, like a shopping cart with a stuck wheel. He is taking it hard.
He slouches up next to me, looking sour. "New hat, eh?" he inquires.
"Well, it suits you. Of course, it's hard to tell from down here."
"Peter's sulking because he couldn't have his horse," says his wife,
"This is a pony!" Peter cries. "My feet will get wet when we cross
We are headed to the HW Ranch, once owned by relatives of Donald's,
and a half a day's journey up Bear Creek. Almost immediately the going
turns laborious. In the absence of any clear path, we head straight
through the stripling willows that clog the creek bed, tucking our heads
and presenting the tops of our hats to the whipping branches. The patch
of waist-high shrubbery I take a shortcut through turns out to be
cat's-claw, and the hooked thorns embed themselves in my legs through my
After a few hours of fighting the underbrush, we reach a wire gate
that marks the beginning of the HW. A dirt road appears in the sand. Our
horses prick up their ears, and a moment later a chorus of agitated
bellows floats down the hill. Preston grins, and spurs his horse up the
road. By the time we reach the old ranch house, he has dismounted and is
standing in a cattle pen making notes on a pad, a slight figure in a sea
of heads and wide, shining horns. Standing motionless in the middle of
the bunch is a massive bull. Preston squints at its ear tag and
scribbles on his pad.
"We're going to sell you, you big son of a bitch," he says under his
The wire pen holding the Double E's cattle has a gate opening
directly into the wash, and we gather below it in jumpy anticipation. On
the other side of the fence, Alan and his horse are working to crowd the
cattle against the gate. The possibility of freedom broached, a state of
unease has filtered through the groups on both sides of the fence.
Alan appears at the gate. We regard him anxiously. I, at least, have
no idea what to expect. I tighten my stampede cord to the point of
near-asphyxiation. Perhaps herding cattle will be self-explanatory.
Perhaps he is about to give us some last-minute pointers.
"When I open this gate," Alan calls, "here they come."
The gate swings open. There is an electric pause, as the herd
considers its situation, and then, of a piece, it lumbers toward us,
swerves and heads down into the wash.
Herding cattle, I quickly find, is a little like herding marbles on a
hardwood floor: Each animal barrels along a trajectory, ricocheting off
obstacles and off of the others. The cattle crash through dense
underbrush, and get themselves hung up on rocks and logs. They bellow
Preston bounds ahead, providing someone to follow, and Alan hangs
back, guarding against stragglers. It is our job, Alan calls, to give
the herd some motivation up the middle, which we do, hesitantly at
first, and then boldly, lunging at the slightest show of malfeasance and
giving voice to an impressive range of ululations.
"Bully-bully-bully," shouts Colin, smacking the white bull on the
hindquarters with a sound like shoe leather.
"Gerrowt," snarls his sweet wife, Helen, fearsomely.
"Boo-yoo-yoo-yoo," warbles Peter, materializing from the woods.
"Gee-yah," I try, tentatively. The doctor from Albuquerque snickers.
The Brits, as it turns out, are fantastic herders. Colin, whooping
and hollering, takes the natural lead, flushing the bull out of a couple
of tight spots and maneuvering the whole herd through a bottleneck as we
near the end of the trail. Ann and Helen are eagle-eyed wingmen, dashing
after wanderers, and Peter and the low-riding Lefty pull a few surprise
ambushes from the rear. I manage to goad Gonzo into a couple of timely
blocks. Now and then, the herd coheres into a unified bunch. It even
kicks up a little dust.
We head into the final stretch, sweating and stiff, funneling the
herd through the creek and up the dirt road toward home.
At dinner, Alan estimates that we traveled a good 20 miles on our
ride. I am sitting next to Jerry, the contractor from Iraq, who took a
day trip with the beginning riders today. He shows me his handheld
Global Positioning System, into which he has programmed the barn and the
cabin. I have never seen one of these before, and he does a quick
circuit through the functions.
"This was our max speed today, 12.3 miles an hour," he says. "That
was a trot. This is the distance of the barn from the airport in
Germany, our stop in and out of Iraq. This is the dining room's latitude
We watch the screen, waiting for the satellite to deliver our
elevation above sea level.
MY FLIGHT LEAVES from Silver City in the evening. After taking us on
a last ride in the morning, Preston is heading into town to run errands,
and Debbie has arranged for him to drop me at the airport. He and I
drive around for a while, picking up a tire he was having repaired,
lifting a hand at each passing driver. This is the New Mexico I was once
intimately familiar with: the vast expanse of the flatlands, hemmed by
blue mountains, framed by a wraparound windshield and split by a
two-lane highway. "You and me and the lights down low," croons Gary
Allan from the stereo. "With nothing on but the radio." Two long rifles
and a few boxes of cartridges are lying on the bench seat behind us --
Preston has recently begun leading guided hunts at the Double E, for
deer, bighorn sheep and mountain lions.
We stop at Wal-Mart, where Preston picks up a roll of pictures. He
shows me one, a view of the wood-paneled interior of a mobile home. The
Egglestons have offered to let him live on the ranch, and he is shopping
around for trailers. Like Donald, Preston comes from several generations
of ranchers and farmers; his father now works for a local copper mine.
He recently graduated from high school with honors and a 4.3 GPA. "I had
options, you know?" he shrugs. "But I do this because I want to."
Preston went dancing last night, at a bar called the Blue Front Cafe,
an hour north of town. He is limping slightly, and as he eases back
behind the wheel, he shows me a hole in the toe of his boot, where he
stuck a pitchfork into his foot doing chores the day before. "I had to
take 1,800 milligrams of ibuprofen just to be able to dance," he says.
When he left, to catch a few hours of sleep before the morning feeding,
the bar was still hopping. It was a quarter to 2 in the morning.
I wish that I had gone dancing at the Blue Front. I wish that
tomorrow were not Monday, and that I did not have my entire year
planned, a tidy grid of pay periods and federal holidays, on a laminated
calendar push-pinned into the gray flannel of my cubicle wall.
The sun is setting, and from the parking lot of Wal-Mart the clouds
stand out like red flares over the darkening hills.
"You know," Preston says, "most people have Sunday off."
He steers out of the lot. The road arrows toward the horizon,
disappearing into the velvety twilight. He tugs on the brim of his hat,
which hasn't budged since breakfast.
"But not cowboys," he says.