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, Arizona. 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 six a.m.
I usually 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 Sycamore Canyon 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!
Weeks later 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!”
That macho 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.
Duane had 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 box.
Karma just evened the score for Duane's teasing me about rats on my bed!
Also, on 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.
After awhile 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 six p.m, 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.
THE LAST DK COWBOY