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 ranch land with lots of cows. In fact, cows outnumber humans in many parts of the state. Ranching is an integral part of New Mexico’s history, so cattle can be found wandering in the most remote areas. As a result, it is normal to make some bovine buddies on every back road excursion.

Cows in New Mexico are scrappy. They work harder than cows in more fertile areas. 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 become hiking Heifers. They are lean and fit, traveling in small groups. They roam large expanses 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 on the open plains when your car comes to a stop. Cell phone reception is spotty and unreliable at best. You can wait for another car to pass or start walking. There were no cars on the horizon, so 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 a half mile. Though cows are benign beasts; being surrounded by a herd jostling you like overly friendly puppies is slightly intimidating. Furthermore, cow snot and slobber is far stickier, and more profuse, than dog drool. Unfortunately, as I picked up my pace, they walked faster, attracting more cows to the procession, like a roadside conga line. As my entourage grew, I accelerated my pace, anticipating an imminent stampede. Brisk walking evolved into jogging.

Saved by Cheech & Chong

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 fragrant smoke billowing out of the car when they opened the doors. They had passed my car stalled on the road earlier, but it was the sight of a fool jogging with a herd of cattle that compelled them to pull over. Given the prospect of 17-18 more miles of loping with livestock, I gratefully accepted the ride. The driver was laughing so hard that he couldn’t drive for several minutes after I got in the car. I arrived in Roswell, a town best known for aliens, with a contact high and a stranded car. It made for a memorable, albeit peculiar, weekend.

Communing with Cattle | Mogollon

The 9-mile journey to Mogollon involves less than ideal driving conditions. The road is narrow and curvy, hugging a cliff, on a steep, 2-mile incline. There are no guard rails and no shoulder on either side. There is a sheer cliff up and a sheer cliff down. Though 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 continued creeping forward. Stopping didn’t seem like a good idea and turning around wasn’t an option. Reverse was 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 was not really 2 lanes, more like 1-1.5 lane(s). There wasn’t room to go around them. Herding cows with a car isn’t easy. The small herd managed to consistently position themselves like cattle cones, with no viable weaving route. They knew I wouldn’t hit them and/or they didn’t care. Honking was ignored. 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.

Communing with Cattle at a Snail’s Pace

I inched up the road at the whim and pace of the cows…a slow cattle crawl. Two miles took about an hour. Fortunately, no one came down the mountain from the other direction, because there wasn’t enough room on the road for more participants.

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 and bleating at me when I tried to pass. Eventually, I hopped out to chase him back to his mother. The return trip only took an hour. Technically, it is a 15-20 minute drive.

Cattle Guards & Cell Phone Bars

The prevalence of cattle has a 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, particularly if it is on a hill Not sure why it works, but it has been a godsend for me on numerous occasions.

Leave a Reply