I was back at Lizard Head Pass in the San Juan Mountain Range of southwest Colorado to check on the progress of the fall colors. Somebody’s got to do it.
I arrived at the Pass (elevation 10,222 feet) in the dark. Drove back across the meadows where I knew the camping is good. I saw what I thought were a couple of RVs parked down low. I went up the hill, pleased to find no one there.
But I was hearing some “baa, baa” animal noises in the night. At first I thought they were goats, I don’t know why. Anything is possible, I suppose. Especially when you’re tired and it’s dark. And you’re no farmer, either.
In the morning I saw what was going on. Spread out below me was a sheepherder’s corral, a travel trailer, and what seemed like a thousand sheep. Ah, I thought, whomever has the grazing permit here on the National Forest (or Forests, since the Pass sits on the boundary between the San Juan and the Uncompahgre) is taking the summer’s sheep down out of here.
The high mountain meadow was situated below Sheep Mountain, its 13,000-some foot peak showing its autumn tundra colors way up there above timberline.
Soon after sunrise a big semi truck with a quadruple-decker stock trailer arrived. A second one soon afterward. The loading began, the sheep dogs yelping and bouncing about. Eventually the two big trucks trundled off.
But in the afternoon I was surrounded by sheep. Me, up on my little hill on the edge of the forest. More sheep coming down from above, down to the corrals. Where they spent the night, too, and were loaded into the returning trucks the next morning.
On the third morning the operation reached its finale. The last visit of the stock trucks, the last sheep gone. A big pickup truck to haul the sheepherder’s camper trailer — his high country summer home — back to wherever.
It had been interesting watching the operation from afar. I tried to imagine what it would be like to be up there all summer, and then finally see your season’s work done. Real done. Gone way before winter. And where would winter be spent? So many questions.
I went down the corral. It seemed lonely. Everything gone but the wood and steel wire of the enclosures, of the chutes used to funnel the livestock onto the trucks.
Autumn. Harvest time. The best time of year.
Photo location: Lizard Head Pass, San Juan and Uncompahgre National Forests, Dolores County and San Miguel County, Colorado.
© Copyright 2015 Stephen J. Krieg