After walking around the sheep for more pictures my husband climbed over the fence and headed to our car. By this time, my friend Lila had gotten to the camp. We then proceeded to re-walk what my husband and I had just walked. The donkeys were still skittish, but we were able to touch a couple and Lila got her picture with one. Then it was time to go. We looked for another route back to our cars, but realized we would have many barbed wire fences to contend with if we did not return the same way my husband had come only in reverse; along the road and up over one barbed fence.
Leaving the sheep to graze and the herders to their siesta, Lila and I crawled under the fence, and we headed to our cars. It would be later this afternoon before the herders would proceed to move the sheep down the hill and under Highway 260. The herders would eat lunch and take a siesta. The sheep would continue to graze or sleep.
Mid-afternoon the warning went out via phone calls and texts that the herders may be about to move the sheep. A crowd began to form to watch part of the trailing of sheep, an event that has occurring for over a hundred years in Arizona. A shepherd came to open the locked gates and told the onlookers to move their cars as they were parked in the path that the sheep would take. Cars were moved from the field and parked down along the road. More people came and parking directions were given to those drivers. My husband stayed back to do the directing as he had seen this event before. A crowd of 15 or more people ventured down to view this trailing of the sheep that one day will be gone from our state. My husband waited until he could see dust being kicked up on the hill. He began to walk across the field staying out of the path he knew the donkeys and sheep would soon take.
The herders began to round up the donkeys and the boxes carrying camp supplies loaded onto them. Once the donkeys were loaded, they began to move down the hill into the gulley and through the underpass. The dogs were called to start the sheep behind the donkeys. Dust rose in the air and excitement of the onlookers began to grow as only a few of those present had seen this event last year. One last attendee parked her car in the path of the sheep and came running across the field not wanting to miss this historic event.
The donkeys came through the underpass and made their way to the top of the hill, but then stopped. A man, thinking he had found a great photographic location, had hidden behind bushes right next to the trail to film the progress of the sheep up the trail, but the donkeys were having none of it. They waited a moment and then turned around and went back down the hill. The sheep were trying to move through the underpass and now had to contend with the donkeys moving against them. The sheep proceeded to reverse course. Shouts were heard from the herders as they realized the donkeys were coming back toward them and bringing the sheep. The sheep became the first to move cautiously up the hill. My husband and I told those hiding in the bushes they were impeding the animal’s movement and needed to move away.
Still many of the onlookers stayed as close as they could. Once the sheep began their run across the field, forward momentum kept the sheep all running across the field and toward the next incline that they would climb. Donkeys were now intermixed with the sheep, but soon they were ahead of all the sheep as the herders directed the sheep to keep moving forward and telling the crowd to stay back.
Cars speeding along Highway 260 could now see the flock of sheep and the most curious of them stopped to photograph this rare event. A Great Pyrenees and the some of the collies were running with the sheep. As the last of the dogs came up the hill, one being carried by a shepherd, the gate was locked. The puppies in training ran to catch up with the flock, but not before most of the dogs peed on the lady’s car that was parked in the wrong location! I don’t think one of the dogs missed doing this.
The next gate had been opened and with the final passing of the sheep through it, it was fastened. Several of us began to walk with the sheep as they made their way up the limestone hill or around its side. There was a quickness to their gait as if they knew greener pastures were on the other side of the hill. Most of the other onlookers now left and there were just three of us to follow, Lila, my husband and myself. We stayed behind the sheep and watched as they would be in a gully and then had to make their way up. Some found the path of least resistance while others kept trying to find their footing right where they were. Some gave up and found an easier path. Others were determined to climb right where they were. By watching their progress, us three hikers could also determine our route to follow.
Out ahead, the donkeys were seen with the camp tender. One herder was slightly ahead but off to the right of the sheep keeping them moving forward with the aid of the dogs. The last herder was in the rear checking for any stragglers. He turned and waved and shouted he would see us tomorrow.
We watched them climb one more limestone bluff and then we turned around to head to our cars. By the time we had returned to our cars and drove toward Cottonwood, the sheep were in the green pasture munching on the green foliage. The herders were standing off to the side with a dog or two. The camp tender must have gone ahead to get the evening meal ready as he and the donkeys could not be seen.
Tomorrow, the sheep entrance into and through Thousand Trails and the river crossing.