Today we concluded the final stage of my husband and I following the sheep. While I have been on the trail many times I never regret the time I get to spend watching a part of the Arizona history that has taken place over the last one hundred years. The Auza’s have been part of this history since the mid 1910s with Frank Auza came to the United States as a young boy and went into the sheep business during the Spanish flu pandemic. I have written about the Auza’s history in an earlier blog so I will not repeat it here.
The Auza’s, other family members and friends begin to arrive at the park about noon. An area on the grass under the trees was hastily made into a picnic area. Tables were set up, tablecloths graced the tables and food: fried chicken, cooked beans, a variety of salads, vegetables, potato chips, and dessert. Water and soft drinks were already chilling in coolers. The herders arrived with three donkeys and removed the boxes that they carried. Supplies for the next few days was unloaded from the owners’ trucks and piled on the ground. Eggs, potatoes, fruit, ramen noodles, etc., were then loaded in the boxes and fastened back on the donkeys once again. Any supplies that could not be put in these boxes was carried down to the river by the men and would be loaded on the other donkeys. The herders were not gone long as they were the guest of honor at the picnic and went through first to be feed. Then everyone else helped themselves. It was during this time that I gave Jose the pictures from Friday’s adventures and he seemed pleased that I remembered to make copies for him. I promise that when I saw them the next time, I would have more pictures for them.
After eating, two of the herders left and headed back to the river along with some of the family members and friends. Jose stayed and grabbed chicken and other items that they could take with them on the trail. Tonight, the camp tender would not have to cook! The family worked together and picked up food that needed to be kept cold. Then the rest of us headed to the river. Margaret accompanied Carmen and me.
Other onlookers had started to gather at the designated time of 1 PM and were watching for the family to head to the river. Others had already gone down to where the sheep were. One family had two small children, one in a stroller! The men headed to help the herders as two donkeys were not cooperative and did not want to stand still while the boxes were loaded on them. With the donkeys loaded, a herder set out with them to take them across the river.
I am sure that anyone who was watching from above in a plane or flew a drone over the scene would think pandemonium had set in. But there is a process to move the sheep and the herders and those who have done this before knew what needed to be accomplished to get the sheep across the river. The family and friends began to move around the flank of the sheep.
The herders moved toward the water pushing the sheep that direction. Dust began to be kicked up by the hooves of the sheep. The sound of sheep bells and bleating were heard. Onlookers were everywhere. Joseph Auza held some onlookers back as herders, the family and dogs began to push the sheep more and more to the river. The path to the river now went through wet gullies. The sheep were wet from crossing these gullies. It was now time for the onlookers to cross these. Some of us helped each other. After one obstacle was crossed there was the second to cross; it was much wider. Everyone was in a hurry to get to the river’s edge to see the sheep crossing. I moved around to the right flank when I could not penetrate through the sheep or the onlookers to get my pictures on the left flank. Even as the official photographer for the Auza’s, I tried to be courteous and let others get to the front and take pictures. Being short usually means I can be in the front and others take their pictures over me!
Margaret, who had been near me as we started down to the river, was soon caught up in the action of the day and moved mostly where she could get a good glimpse of the crossing. Lila had known to flank to the right to be down river of the crossing. Herders and some of the young family members were in the water keeping the sheep moving. In about fifteen minutes the sheep were across the river. It was now just to get the last of the dogs to cross over with a little help from a herder. And this portion of the trailing was in the history books!
Barbara Jaquay and I hurried up the ridge trail, even though it was only 7:00 a.m. The lead sheep herder told us the sheep were coming at 7:00 a.m. Amazing that he was so precise in timing. Two spectators across the deep canyon were waiting. We paused to listen for the bells: hearing none, we climbed higher.
All was quiet, beautiful morning, slight breeze. Then we heard the pack animals’ bells before we saw them. One herdsman came with 5 donkeys, laden with all the camp supplies needed for the 3 herdsmen, 5 herd dogs and 2 Pyrenees guardian dogs. They briskly walked on down the canyon to the Verde River to set up the midday rest spot. This would be a highlight for them; a meal with the owner’s family and a visit.
After a quiet space of time, we heard a gentler chorus of tinkly bells. I learned that about one out of one hundred sheep have a bell. The flock of 2,000 flowed down the sandy bottom, some spilling out over the sides of the canyon. Catching a few sprigs here and there, the sheep kept moving with the herd dogs holding the fringes from straying too far. Occasionally, we could hear the whistle signals to the dogs from the herdsmen at the rear. From this distance, the white Pyrenees blended in with the flock and limestone rocks. A little haze of dust rose over them.
As the first sheep came even with us, we descended the ridge so we would be able to observe them going to their resting spot by the river. A few other spectators were there. One of the Pyrenees came between the flock and the people, calmly marked a boundary spot and then moved on with the sheep. Later we would watch the family, friends, herdsmen and dogs herd the sheep across the river and on their way to the mountain meadows for the summer.