Deep Sea Driver

| April 11, 2005

The five-day Montana Cattle Drive (montanacattledrive.com) happens twice a year, in June and August. Cattle are driven in June from pasture on the floor of the Missouri River valley up into grazing land in the Big Belt mountains. The drive’s trail boss John Flynn says the drives are essential work for the full-time wranglers and the guests. Four or five guests are teamed with a wrangler to work a certain part of the pasture, gathering the cattle into a herd.

“Then when we move, we want the herd to string out, so a team may start with 20-25 head, and then another team will follow a little later so that we create a string of cattle,” Flynn says.

“In June you’re working with cows and calves, so a lot is happening. The cows know they are going to new grazing, so they’re looking up the trail. The calves remember the last time they sucked their mothers was back down the trail. Then sometimes a cow will stop to try and find a calf, so there’s a lot of stuff going on.”

But the city slickers enjoy the hard work, Flynn says. “I think they especially like doing something they know has to be done, and if they didn’t do it someone else would,” he says. “It’s a feeling of being useful.”

The TX Ranch in Lovell, Wyo., (txranch.com) is another drive that’s not a vacation. “We’re all about moving the cattle along the base of the mountains,” says the ranch’s owner Loretta Tillet. “We’re not a dude ranch; we’re a no-frills working ranch. Evenings are spent around a campfire and nights in canvas-walled tents with a wood stove. We’re the real McCoy.

“We’ve thought of changing things, but guests keep coming back saying they want it to stay the same. They come and ride all day and work cattle. New guests find out they are working like old-fashioned cowboys, and they like that. It’s what they want.”

There’s also the 10-day Long Valley Cattle Drive (www.colorcountryoutfitting.com/cattledrives.html) in the fall. This is also the real deal, the annual move of cows from the high-country summer pastures near Bryce Canyon, Utah, to the winter range on the north rim of the Grand Canyon, run by the Heaton family, which has run cattle in this country since it was first settled.

“In the spring the cows have their calves so they are hauled up into Utah, but in the fall the cows are trail-driven back,” says Allida Heaton. “There’s usually about 800 cows and maybe eight to 10 people driving them. It’s roughing it, sleeping bags and tents, but we feed ‘em good, and our people get something special.

“It’s an experience of what cattle driving is really like.”

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