Sierrita Mining and Ranching – Sahuarita, AZ

When the driver asks you to get off and walk, do it without grumbling. He will not request it unless absolutely necessary.

—from “Hints for Plains Travelers” Omaha Herald, published 1877 .

No grumbling, Bernie

“My ancestors were on the way to California when they broke a wagon wheel in these mountains” Norman said as he handed me a photo copied map of the McGee family ranch.

“While the wheel was being fixed in Tucson, they discovered water and began looking for gold. That’s how we got into the ranching and mining business”.

I wondered if an errant Amish mule had destroyed their locomotion but refocused quickly on the map he thrust into my hand. “Just go back down the road, turn left and go until you get to the dirt tank. You can get to Three Points that way”.

In search of Norman’s dirt tank

Map in hand, I set off in search of the dirt tank, took a wrong turn and spent the rest of the day retracing Woody’s hoof prints.

If only I’d had a working compass.

In my original preparations, I’d bought a three-dollar Chinese compass for navigation. When I dug it from my saddle bag, I discovered it had developed a bubble. It was a really healthy, annoying burp that gurgled and bulged around the compass card. Now the needle just spun gaily in circles, pointing in all directions but Polaris and that dirt tank.

Swallowing my pride, I followed my hoof prints almost back to Norman’s office, keeping enough mesquite between me and embarrassment.

I set out a second time. This time I followed a tortured dirt road through the mesquite and prickly pear cactus, getting off to push Maggie’s cart uphill when the going got too steep.

Waiting for a push

Oh how the spokes squealed and screamed. I thought of Norman’s ancestors waiting for their busted wheel to get back from Tucson. How they found the water. How they started looking for gold. How they never left. How they formed such a strong identity with their land that they came to call the family that settled it “our people”.

But each time we crested a gully, I climbed back onto Woody for a few more dusty desert steps.

In the end, it took us two lovely days to travel the route that spanned six inches on Norman’s photocopied map.

I just kept the sun to my left.

(Thanks Norman, Gary, Heather and everyone else at Sierrita Mining and Ranching for helping us along the way. Boy we sure enjoyed our ride across McGee Ranch! And Ray, I hope you got lion number 39. Bernie )


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