Down a long
winding trail from the rim was the only way to visit Winter
Cabin from the Ponderosa pine forest above. It was a pleasant
ride on a trail made safe by our constant repair work. Before
the government deemed this a Wilderness Area, thereby
prohibiting all mechanized tools and implements, we made many
improvements to this trail and the cabin two miles below. Once
titled and protected not even a chainsaw is now allowed. Nothing
with any sort of motor can be brought into the entire Sycamore
Canyon Wilderness Area. Not that any vehicle ‘ceptin maybe a
bulldozer could possibly make the trip here. It is a miniature,
wild, colorful, Grand Canyon,
below the Mogollon Rim, and fifteen miles west of Sedona,
A place made by God for cowcamps and cowpunchers.
We were not
daunted in the least making trips into it’s depths because we
always used our ranch's strongest horses to make these trips.
Heavy muscled Quarter Horses bred on the ranch specifically for
these jobs of strength, endurance, rough trails, cowsense, and
cooperation. Twenty brood mares, and one, sometimes two,
carefully chosen stallions provided the ranch annually with
foals of superior bloodlines. Every summer we packed in for a
week or two, at different times, to improve all the line camps,
the fenced lots, different corrals, and the springs that ran
there. Making those springs dependable was a high priority. They
were the only sources of water within our allotted 25 miles of
that canyon. Years ago a cement water trough, slightly larger
than a bathtub, was constructed to hold a large constant supply
of very cold spring water. It made a very refreshing summertime
bath when camping at Winter Cabin . . . .once you overcame your
initial shock. Brrrrrr!Everything for miles around got a drink here. Elk, deer,
antelope, even bears. One night a cougar came for a drink and
our saddle horses broke down their corral and stampeded madly
away! - - - - until it was time for their morning oats. Then
carefully, and sheepishly they returned about
camped alone at these beautiful places of solitude. My pleasant
companions were horses, dogs, and wildlife visitors. One
mid-summer, I was plagued nightly with rats running across my
bedroll. Before turning in I spent a lot of time shootin’ them
critters off the log walls of this SycamoreCanyon
cowpunchers retreat. My bedroll was enclosed in a waterproof
canvas cover which I placed on one of the two wire cots at the
center of the cabin. Only a foot above the hard packed dirt
floor I then assumed the rats were scrambling up the four slim
slippery angle iron legs at each corner.
I decided to
hang the entire bed from the log ceiling using balin’ wire. One
thin wire from each corner made me now two feet above the floor.
Still, I was plagued by their nightly visits. I then stayed up
even later each evening to lessen the population with my
six-shooter. I became quite the candlelight marksman but they
played and galloped across my bed each night anyhow. How they
could still climb up on the cot was a mystery to me!
when back at ranch headquarters I tried to get a solution to
this problem from my boss Duane Miller who also camped there
often..I asked, “How could they still get on the bed?"He just sorta smiled and said, “They were just slidin’
down them balin’ wires, like little circus acrobats, from where
you was attached to the ceiling."His teasing advice was, “Keep shootin’ George, and don’t
run out of bullets, matches, and candles!”
advice from my boss reminds me of the time four of us rode into
Winter Cabin late one summer afternoon. Equalizing Karma was
about to be invoked!We hurriedly unsaddled, and worked to set up a good camp
before dark. The cabin had been unoccupied all that
spring-summer. First item was to water and care for our horses.
They now waited eagerly out in the corral for some supper.The cabin had an ample supply of hay from last year in
the back half. At the front entrance to the left, behind the
door, was a sturdily built wooden grain bin. Strongly built to
be almost always rat proof. Crowded back into that dark corner,
it was about five foot long, four foot high, and four foot wide.
Its hinged lid swung down to cover the entire top of this grain
bin. Stored in there for indefinite periods were usually about
four sacks of oats plus the leftover burlap oat sacks. We made
nice morrals (feed-bags) out of them to feed our horses with.
Just hang ‘em on your horses head containing a large coffee
can’s measure of oats.
The wide open
door darkened that corner behind it, as Duane, the chief honcho,
lifted the lid to feel around in the bin for the coffee can and
begin filling the morrals.Things started to rapidly transpire now all at once.
Bumping the grain bin, as he leaned over to dip a can of oats,
he woke up a sleeping rattlesnake. At the same time a rat ran
across his hand and the rattler sounded off! Duane’s violent
attempt to rear up, and leap back caused the lid to slip from
it’s overhead attachment and fall down on his head. His startled
retreat was blocked by us, behind him, waiting for the morrals
we needed for the saddle and pack horses outside.
played a lot of college football so we were no match for his
touchdown end-run back around the open door, altho, we were
clambering close on his tail. Later, after our initial stampede,
and much uncontrollable laughter (at Duane’s expense) we
returned and carefully poked the rattler out of the cabin corner
and dispatched him. Next we patched the rat hole in the grain
evened the score for Duane's teasing me about rats on my bed!
Winter Cabin’s dirt floor there continually was a
daddy-long-legged spider convention. It was bad enough sharin’
the place with the resident skunk and rats. But I sure hated all
them spiders and other bugs. We only stayed there maybe four
times each year and besides a few overnight hikers it belonged
to ... “them”... the other 300 days.
The cabin had
two doors. I constantly used the front door which I usually left
wide open when I was there. I also left the back door open a
crack because the skunk preferred that one. You might say we
both had a mutual, cautious agreement. There was no way to evict
him without causing him to stink up the cabin for days! So the
front half of the camp was mine and that skunk lived in the back
half of this twenty foot long, home away from home. He liked it
there living among all the bales of hay, open bales, and dust.
of this I got an inspiration!I picked a day that I would be riding far from the cabin.
That morning after breakfast, I raked up all the refuse on the
floor. Left over old hay, blown in leaves, and little sticks,
etc., etc.. It made a big pile in the center of the cabin. After
saddling my horse I went back in, and put a match to that brush
pile. The center peak of the roof was about twelve foot high and
the flames would not reach it.All looked safe when I closed the doors, leaving just a
little escape crack at the back door. As I rode away a short
distance I looked back and was pleased with my efforts.Thick smoke was rolling out of every open chink in all
those log walls. Under the eaves of the roof smoke was curlin’
up into the sky everywhere. No flames now, as it was slowly
choking down. I knew in about thirty minutes it would subside
and it was too far down the canyon side to attract the vigilant
interest of fire lookouts fifteen miles from here. It would just
puff and smolder all day until it smothered itself out. I had
visions while riding all that day of a procession of bugs and
varmints all scattering out of that shack headed for better air!
When I returned about ,
I knew I now owned the entire place. Only ashes remained at the
center of the floor when the doors were thrown open. The night
breezes blew pleasantly throughout as the bad air left the
cabin. No spendin’ time on shoot-outs with the rats tonight …
but in only a day …Mr. Skunk came back in by his rear door. Oh,
well, a little company is nice now and then, anyway.
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