Sheep in the Canyon by Lila Wright

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.

The sheep begin their trek to the Verde River.