21-Oct-2003 -- October 21, 2003 – When I wrote up my first confluence (33N 117W) in March 2003, I mentioned that I saw some challenges in Arizona, the state where I grew up. So I got in touch with my friend Bill Fee, who still lives there, and explained the DCP to him. After much discussion, planning and the help of some great people, we visited both this one and one degree north on the Hualapai Reservation on the same day.
This confluence lies on the ORO Ranch about 45 miles NW of Prescott, Arizona. While there are larger ranches in the state, they all incorporate leased land; the ORO (verbalized as initials) stands alone as the largest privately held ranch in the state. The ranch is comprised of two contiguous parts: a 100,000 acre parcel historically referred to as the Luis María Baca Float #5; and 157,000 acres west of that formerly called the Mahon Ranch. An excellent history of this Baca Float has been prepared by the Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott; see http://sharlot.org/archives/history/dayspast/days_show.pl?name=2009_08_01&h=%3Ebaca%20float%3E. If you are interested in the history of ranching in this area, the ranch manager recommended Big Outfit by Robert Sharp. This book is out of print and can only be found in used book stores. Alternatively, it has been republished as a part of Bob Sharp’s Cattle Country - Rawhide Ranching on Both Sides of the Border which is still available from the University of Arizona Press.
I began by calling the ranch manager. He remembered the DCP from Richard Smith’s call but was still not interested in allowing visitors. However, I got his mailing address and sent him a letter that included several things: the project’s goal statement; the DCP “Letter to Landowner”; a copy of the DCP Arizona map showing the few unvisited confluences; a sample posting from a New Mexico ranch; and the very cool DCP map of the world showing all the sites that had been visited.
After a few more phone calls, the ranch manager agreed to our visit. We arranged to meet at the ORO’s locked gate on Anvil Rock Road (photo #2). We drove southeast across the ranch and then east towards Turkey Flat. We stopped on the road at an elevation of 6400 ft; the topo shows the confluence at the same elevation. As we began our search, the view (photo #3) of the ORO’s expansive valley was beyond breathtaking. My plan was to contour around the mountain to cover the mere 0.51 miles showing on the GPS when we left the road. How foolish I was. Two obstacles turned what looked like an easy walk into the most difficult bushwhacking I’ve ever done. First, the hillsides were not dirt but primarily scree which varied from 3 to 18 inches in diameter, so every step required careful placement to avoid slipping/falling and a twisted ankle. Second, brush, cacti and century plants grew tightly together to make straight line travel impossible. The resulting zigzag course buffaloed my GPS; the “Go To” arrow would do a 180 so often that I lost faith in it. We eventually ignored it, looked at the coordinates and did our own go to. By the time we got there we were too tired to go for all zeros (photo #4). We took the essential photos (see #5, #6, #1, and #7) and got out of there.
The ranch manager invited us back to his residence for some rest, rehydration and conversation. The ORO is operated pretty much like cattle ranching was done in the 19th century. They employ cowboys who ride the range for weeks at a time, sleep in simple tents, shoe their own horses, eat out of chuck wagons, roundup cattle and drive them to where the water and grazing is. And they do it over 400 square miles. This land is so hard on cattle and horses that they breed their own; imported animals are not tough enough to make it on the ORO. This ranch is an anachronism, but it’s kept that way on purpose to preserve a fundamental American icon. Both Bill and I were very impressed with what they do here.
When it came time to go, the ranch manager (who requested that he not be named or photographed for this posting) asked me to add that the ORO Ranch will not accept future visitors for this purpose. We thanked him for his hospitality and left via the ranch’s east gate, driving to Prescott on dirt roads in the dark.
Thanks to the DCP for creating a venture that has caused me to go places I otherwise would have never seen. More importantly, it allowed me to meet the ranch manager and the folks on the Hualapai Reservation; I’m better for knowing them.