I have a longstanding affinity for cows. That may be due to growing up on a farm. They like me. I like them. 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 at the time that my predilection for cow encounters would continue into adulthood. Foreshadowing.
More Cows than Humans
If you get off the beaten path in New Mexico it is inevitable that you will encounter more cows than humans. To be fair New Mexico cows have to work harder than other cows. Whereas cows in the midwest stand end to end, leisurely flicking flies off of one another, grazing in one place all day, cows in New Mexico don’t have the luxury of lush fields of grass. The cows here are endurance athletes, covering large tracts of land looking for a mouthful of anything that isn’t prickly. As a result, they can be found wandering all over the place, including extremely remote areas.
In New Mexico cows outnumber people. It’s a fact; one that I read recently with a distinct lack of surprise. Having grown up in New Mexico, I have noted the abundance of cows, often in inexplicable places, frequently making appearances at unexpected, and inconvenient, times.
Running with the Herd
On one adventure, many years ago, I was about halfway between Vaughan and Roswell when my car broke down. Cell phone reception is spotty at best. There isn’t much to do out there when your car comes to a stop, other than wait for another car to pass or start walking. 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 herd of cattle companionship within less than a mile. Cows are benign beasts; however, being surrounded by a herd, jostling you like overly friend puppies, is too intimate and slightly intimidating. Furthermore, cow snot is far worse, and more profuse, than dog slobber.
Saved by Cheech & Chong
As I walked faster, they walked faster. More cows joined the procession. Walking evolved into trotting. As my entourage grew, I accelerated my pace, anticipating an imminent stampede. Fortunately, about the time the trot evolved into running, I was rescued by Cheech & Chong in an El Camino. 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 down the highway 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, but arriving with a contact high in a town best known for aliens, after a 2-mile jog with cows, made for a memorable, albeit odd, weekend.
Cruising with the Cows
Another cattle confrontation occurred more recently 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 traversed in a 2-wheel drive vehicle, it isn’t really a road that you want to stop on. 4-wheel drive is definitely 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 kept creeping 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. They managed to consistently position themselves like cattle cones, with no viable weaving route. Honking was ignored. They knew I wouldn’t hit them or they didn’t care.
Moving at the Pace of Molasses
At a speed of 0.1-5 mph I inched up the road at the whim and pace of the cows…the cattle crawl. Two miles took about an hour. Fortunately, no one came down the mountain from the other direction. Not sure how that would have worked. With less than two lanes, I’m not sure how that works without cows.
On the way back to the main road, I encountered them again. My furry friends had convened with additional cows, creating a bovine barricade. Fortunately, it was near an area with room for most of them to get off the road; however, there was one uncooperative, kamikaze calf that refused to join the herd. He repeatedly trotted in front of my car when I tried to pass. Eventually I hopped out to chase him back to his mother so I could get down the mountain. The return trip only took an hour.
In a state where cows outnumber people, it isn’t unusual to find yourself on a back road communing with uncooperative cattle. However, their presence in every nook and cranny of the state is occasionally useful. Why? Cattle guards. 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.