I have a longstanding affinity for cows. That may be due to growing up on a farm. As a child I would moo at the edge of a neighboring field until all of the cows gathered at the corner to watch me. Either I was good at impersonating a cow or cattle are seriously hurting for entertainment. Probably the latter. Spending afternoons summoning cows implies that I also lacked entertainment options. Also true. Little did I know that my predilection for communing with cattle would continue throughout my life.

New Mexico | More Cows Than Humans

New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum longhornsIf you like cows, New Mexico is a good place to be. Lots of open ranchland. Lots of cows. In fact, cows outnumber humans in many parts of the state. Ranching is a long-term pursuit in New Mexico so the cattle of ranchers and feral cattle can be found wandering in the most remote areas. If you get off the beaten path anywhere, it is normal to make some bovine buddies along the way.

Cows in New Mexico are scrappy. They work harder than cows in other areas, because other areas have herd amenities, like rain and grass. Cows in the Midwest stand end-to-end, grazing in one place all day, leisurely flicking flies off of one another. Cows in New Mexico don’t have that luxury. They become hiking Heifers, lean, traveling in small groups, because competition for limited food isn’t the way to travel. They cover large tracts of land looking for a mouthful of anything that isn’t prickly, while avoiding a variety of predators, from coyotes to cougars.

Communing with Cattle | Outside Roswell

On one adventure, many years ago, I was about halfway between Vaughan and Roswell when my car broke down. There isn’t much to do out there when your car comes to a stop. You can wait for another car to pass or start walking. Cell phone reception is spotty and unreliable at best. Anyway, I chose the latter.

As I started the trek towards Roswell, the cows grazing nearby noticed my predicament and decided to accompany me. What started as a couple of cows evolved into a growing throng of cattle companionship within less than a mile. Though cows are benign beasts; being surrounded by a herd, jostling you like overly friend puppies, is too intimate and slightly intimidating. Furthermore, cow snot is far worse, stickier, and more profuse, than dog slobber.

Unfortunately, as I picked up my pace, they walked faster, attracting more cows to the procession, like a roadside conga. Brisk walking evolved into jogging. As my entourage grew, I accelerated my pace, anticipating an imminent stampede.

Saved by Cheech & Chong

Fortunately, about the time the trot evolved into running, I was rescued by Cheech & Chong in an El Camino. I mean, it wasn’t really Cheech & Chong, but it might as well have been given the amount of smoke billowing out of the car when they opened the doors. Given the prospect of 17-18 more miles of loping with livestock, I gratefully accepted the ride.

They had passed my car stalled on the road, but it was the sight of a fool jogging with a herd of cattle that compelled them to pull over. The driver was laughing so hard that he couldn’t drive for several minutes after I got in the car. I was very appreciative of the ride. However, I arrived in Roswell, a town best known for aliens, with a contact high. It made for a memorable, albeit peculiar weekend.

Communing with Cattle | Mountain Roads and Mogollon

Another cattle confrontation occurred during a trip to Mogollon. The 9-mile journey to Mogollon involves less than ideal driving conditions. The road is curvy, on a steep 2-mile incline, hugging a cliff. There are no guard rails. There is no shoulder on either side. There is a sheer cliff up and a sheer cliff down. Whereas it can be easily traversed in a 2-wheel drive vehicle, it isn’t really a road that you want to stop on. 4-wheel drive is better for that route.

About ½ mile into a particularly harrowing stretch, where every curve is a blind curve, I encountered several cows blocking the road. I slowed down, but slowly crept forward. Stopping wasn’t a good idea and turning around wasn’t an option. Reverse was absolutely out of the question. The cows just stared at me, like “what do you expect us to do about this?” Cows aren’t built for mountaineering and they aren’t prone to jumping off cliffs like lemmings.

The road to Mogollon is not really 2 lanes, more like 1-1.5 lane(s), which is to say it wasn’t convenient to go around them. The cows occasionally jogged up the road, but the momentum was short lived. To be fair, I couldn’t jog up that road either. I considered getting out, but had concerns about whether an emergency break issue would compound the problem. The small herd managed to consistently position themselves like cattle cones, with no viable weaving route. Honking was ignored. They knew I wouldn’t hit them and/or they didn’t care.

Communing with Cattle at a Snail’s Pace

I inched up the road at the whim and pace of the cows…the cattle crawl, at roughly .1-2 mph. Two miles took about an hour. Fortunately, no one came down the mountain from the other direction. Not sure how that would have worked.

On the way back to the main road, I encountered them again. They had convened with additional cows, creating a barricade. Fortunately, there was an area with room for most of them to get off the road, other than one uncooperative, kamikaze calf that refused to join the herd, trotting in front of my car when I tried to pass. Eventually I hopped out to chase him back to his mother. The return trip only took an hour.

Cattle Guards & Cell Phone Bars

The prevalence of cattle has an little known perk. In a state with notoriously poor cell phone reception, it isn’t uncommon to find a sliver of a signal when you stand on a cattle guard. Not sure why, but it has worked for me on numerous occasions.

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