20-Aug-2001 -- It was a good thing Chuck was raised on a ranch. Otherwise we probably would have been gored by the bull guarding the confluence.
We left Albuquerque around 8 AM, bound for the confluence, which lay out on the Zuni Nation off Highway 53. We had seen a satellite image of the confluence that showed what appeared to be desert shrubbery. We loaded up on fifty-eight-cent gallons of water from Ace Grocery, since it looked like we would be hiking through a few miles of said desert to make it to our destination.
As we entered the Zuni Reservation, it became apparent that this was HIGH desert and the temperature was about sixty-five degrees. Our fears of heat stroke assuaged, we stopped and asked a pedestrian if he thought it would be okay that we were running around the tribe’s land. He told us to ask the people at the history museum.
We poked around the museum and found the curator, who told us that we would be better off asking the people at the tribal government office. We drove up the highway to the Zuni Tribal Offices and stopped in the forestry department.
There the ranger said that we should talk to the people in fish and game. They said we should speak to the Governor, whose assistant then told us to speak to engineering. Luckily all of these offices were under the same roof, within steps of each other.
We told the head of engineering what we were up to and she seemed intrigued. She said that we should have a guide to take us where we needed to go, but we stole a glance at the topographical map on her wall and found a tiny road that would take us where we needed to go. She told us that we should be careful as the tribe had been in the middle of a rain celebration and that this was the day they were expecting the ceremony to bear fruit. On the way out we picked up a permit to take photos on the reservation.
After we left we looked skyward and, seeing nothing but blue sky, decided to take our chances. Three miles north of the confluence, we found the dirt road that we had seen on the map at the engineering office.
There was but one problem: the road was not a road. It was more like a path, the kind of dirt causeway better fit for horses than our Honda Civic. We thought that we had probably misread the map and that this was actually just a stream that hadn’t seen water since spring. Since we reasoned it didn’t stand to see water anytime soon, we rambled onto our dirt trail to the confluence.
Half a mile into the drive was when the clouds appeared. Big, gray, rain-filled clouds. We decided to go for broke and kept driving. Chuck had a lot of confidence in his Civic and it was contagious. Hundreds of sheep lined the sidelines of our path and seemed to be placing bets on whether or not we’d be making it back out.
A mile out, the road curved and only a smaller road went in the needed direction. Somehow this road was even worse than that which brought us there. It had two tire-worn paths with weeds about a foot high in between. We took that road, with knowledge that the car was clearing the center of the trail by only a whisker. At two-tenths of a mile out we began to walk (Picture 2) but then stopped as a new obstacle lay between the confluence and us.
A herd of around thirty cows was gathered right where our Etrex told us we needed to go. We got out of the car and the cows retreated a bit. But when we came within fifty yards the cows stopped retreating. They acted as if they didn’t want to move anymore, as if they now had some protection…
“There he is,” Chuck said. ‘He’ was the bull who stared back at us from the intersection of 35 degrees north and 109 degrees west. “Can we outrun a bull?” I asked. “No,” Chuck answered, “but if he charges, we need to run into one of these tall bushes and dodge his horns until he either gets tired or gets ‘em trapped in the branches.”
Meanwhile the menacing clouds were minutes away and had already started casting thunderbolts. As I began trying to think of a way to get the bull under a lightning blast, Chuck started making weird sounds. These were the kind of sounds you could only learn by being around livestock. Chuck began making hollow clapping noises with his hands and yelled his guttural sounds louder and louder. At first the cows were merely intrigued. Then they became terrified and ran way, the bull leading their exodus (Picture 3).
Our path to the confluence was now clear. We honed in on the coordinates and zeroed them out on the GPS unit (Picture 4). I must admit it looks really cool to have all those zeroes on the machine. We had to take about six photos of it, as my digital camera didn’t quite seem to have enough resolution to photograph the screen in order to prove that this happened.
We photographed the area (Pictures 1 and 5), and then sprinted back to the car. Lightning bearing down upon us, we high-tailed it back to the main road and waved at the sheep as we made it back to the highway. I started randomly shooting my camera, correctly figuring that it would be easy to capture a picture of lighting in the act (Picture 6).
The rain came down quite literally in buckets, leaving Chuck to navigate the open road and me to practice my whoops and handclaps.