The Run to the River

Knowing the sheep were heading our way, a crowd grew to watch at different advantage points along their route. At 7 AM, the donkeys and sheep were on the move.  A few residents were watching high up on the hill facing eastward and were the first to see as the donkeys appeared and made their way into the canyon and continued down the wash onto the floodplain of the Verde River. Then, all eyes were focused on being the first to catch a glimpse of the sheep. First to spot the sheep were the people on the hill facing eastward as the sheep came around the foot of the hill before descending all the way into the canyon following in the footpaths of the donkeys.

On the opposite side of the canyon, the east side, Lila Wright, and I were watching from a path that climbed up to an overlook where we could see southward into the canyon. Once again, Lila and I had picked a good place to watch most of the action and could still descend the hill quickly enough to see the sheep as they came out of the wash and headed to the river. Bells were heard and the donkeys came into view. Lila had not seen this aspect of moving the sheep and even though I had, I never get tired of watching the herders with the aid of their dogs moving 2,000 sheep!  A herder followed behind the donkeys keeping them moving in the wash and heading toward the river. Then he made his way back up into the canyon to help the other two herders. The donkeys got short changed here as no pictures were taken of them! I don’t know why I didn’t take any pictures of the donkeys as they are very important to the operation of the outfit, carrying everything needed for man, dog, and sheep.

The first sheep are sighted.

It was several minutes before the sheep could be seen at our location. At first, it looked like rocks were just moving until more of the sheep made their appearance. Sheep bells could be heard as well as their bleating as they moved. The sheep dogs were hard at work moving around the sheep flanks trying to keep them moving forward. One herder was on the east side and another herder was slightly behind the sheep. The first few sheep stopped to graze on the trees and shrubs in the wash and a bottle neck was formed. With so many sheep moving at once, dust rose from the wash. The first sheep were in no hurry to move with such good food offered for them to partake of. The sheep behind tried to move around them, but in the narrow space only two options were available – go up the steep embankment on one side or the other or just stay were they were. Some of the sheep climbed on the backs of those in front of them not moving, but the sheep in the front were to busy eating to care to move. The herder in the back moved along the west side of the wash and signaled for the dogs to move the sheep. Slowly forward progress was made. One herder was now just slightly in front and off to one side of the sheep.

A bottle neck occurs as the front sheep stop to nibble on the trees and shrubs!

All this time while trying to observe the operation and to photograph the sheep movement through the canyon I was trying to direct my husband and our friend, Margaret Hangan, who joined us this morning to head up the hill to where Lila and I were. But before they got far up the hill, they had seen the donkeys and decided to go back to the road to watch from there.

But the next hurdle was now upon the sheep as they moved further down the wash toward the river – people. I hurried down the trail to get to the road crossing within the park. Lila was behind me a short distance. Those who had watched this active many times who lived in the park, said the sheep would just go around them, the people could “pet” the sheep and the sheep would not be affected by the crowd. Even with warnings from my husband and I telling people to move, they would not listen and the sheep were now impeded to move across the road and down into the floodplain. Sheep were now going every which way, but the way the herders needed them to go. Some sheep became confused as campers came out of the campsite and flanked their right side. The sheep began to move on the road to their left instead of heading straight.

Moving away from the crowd along the road.

My husband got caught in their path and stayed where he was. A herder observing the sheep heading away from the path to the river, moved in to flank them and push them to the floodplain and then down the river to the crossing area. People were told to move back, but they would not; their pictures was more important. It is easy to understand the people wanting to see a part of this historic event that has been a part of Arizona’s history for over a hundred years. But it was also obvious that the people were keeping the flock from moving in the direction that the herders needed them to move and they became frustrated with the crowd. Finally, the herder with the help of his trusted sheep dogs, got the sheep moving to the river. As more sheep came out onto the road, the sheep in front had paved the way for those behind and a smooth flow finally occurred as they crossed the road and headed toward the river.

Some of us, who knew the next procedure, directed people to watch out of the way for the sheep to run along the floodplain and to their goal for the morning, a place that they could feed by the river until the crossing later in the afternoon. But too many people would not stay out of the way and the sheep once again were running on the wrong side of a fence that separated the park from the floodplain. Margaret and I stood in an area to force the sheep back to around the fence and to the path they should have naturally taken. We watched for a time as all the sheep passed in front of the camp area and then were out of sight.  It would be after lunch before the next event would take place, the crossing of the river.

To their resting place for the day.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s