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December 31, 2009

A December to Remember

December was a busy month. Many of the sheep were hard at work in our landscape reclamation business. We use hoof action to reclaim land disturbed by energy development. Our motto is "Reclaiming the West. one hoof at a time."

Sheep hard at work reclaiming a well pad
Powder Wash
photo by Pat O'Toole

Mid-December is the time when we put the bucks in with the ewes, so that we may have lambs in May. They spend most of the year living a relaxed life. This time of year, it's time for them to get to work!

Bucks, ready to go to work
Red Desert
photo by Pat O'Toole

Bucks and ewes on Cyclone Rim
Red Desert
photo by Pat O'Toole

Christmas was a flurry of family members and friends traveling in various directions to share the love and good cheer of the season.

Don Ogg, George and May Emma Ogg
Christmas dinner
photo by Sharon O'Toole

Maeve on Rody

not worrred about Santa

Siobhan, Bridget and Seamus

December 29, 2009

Meghan wins recognition from True West!

We were surprised to learn that Meghan has been selected by True West Magazine for one of its Best in the West 2010 honors. True West each year chooses a top representative in each of 100 categories.


Meghan Lally

Meghan Lally runs cattle, sheep and a few tourists on the Ladder Ranch in Savery, Wyoming, which straddles the Wyoming-Colorado border and has been in her family’s ownership since 1881. Working the land beside Meghan and husband Brian are her parents Pat and Sharon O’Toole, and her grandfather George Salisbury. Her own young children are learning the life as well (if she has work to do, she puts the baby in the backpack and the two toddlers on their own horse). Ladder Ranch has been involved in Wyoming’s Coordinated Resource Management project since 1993, and some of its ranch land has been placed in conservation easements held by Wyoming’s Nature Conservancy and the Colorado Cattleman’s Land Trust. Such programs ensure that the land will remain in agricultural production and be a wildlife habitat for future generations.

READERS’ CHOICE: Wyatt McCrea of McCrea Ranch • Moorpark, CA

We, of course, sent it out to everyone for whom we have an e-mail address, but just in case we missed you, here is the link. Way to go, Meghan!


December 13, 2009

Saddling South--mule trekking with Trudi Angell in Baja

Pat and Sharon
Baja Sur, Mexico

Last spring, our friends Rick and Heather Knight called us with an offer of adventure. They are long time mule aficionados, and they proposed that we join them on a mule packing trip in Mexico’s Baja Sur. It so happened that when Pat and I were at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko last winter, Pat picked up a video at the trade show, entitled “Vaqueros Corazon” (Cowboys of the Heart). It turned out that the trip they were proposing was to visit the very ranches and ranchers featured in the video. It seemed like fate, and what the heck—we usually aren’t SO busy at Thanksgiving time.

Pat with dos mulas

Sharon, nose to nose with Queen Latifa

Heather with Ratoncito

Bule and Rick saddling Alissana

Our daughter and son (and their families) would be doing most of the work in our absence, and they urged us to go. All summer we shared our plans with, actually, almost anyone who would listen to us. A number of people asked us if we were worried about the narcotraficantes who are disrupting Mexico. I had to admit to some concern, having just read “God’s Middle Finger” about a gringo’s travels in the central Mexican mountains. Rick had recently visited Sonora, where he said he had stumbled into an abandoned drug encampment, and he assured us that it is perfectly safe. With that reassurance, we said sure. I added “Travels with a Baja Burro” to my reading list.

Of course as the date approached, we found ourselves buried under more and more work and responsibility. We have been working for seven or so years to place conservation easements on our mountain ranchlands. It was really looking like the closing date would likely be set for the time we were to be gone. The closing date was iffy, however and our daughter Meghan told us, “Go, before your heads explode!” We signed multiple powers of attorney to Meghan, (Rick’s comment: “Good choice”) and boarded the plane.

We met up with Rick and Heather at LAX in Los Angeles. Since there are only two weekly flights to Loreto, our destination, Rick pointed out that four of the other gringos who were planning to mule trek had to be on our flight (two others were ex-pats who winter in the Baja). “See if you can pick them out,” he challenged me. One of the items on our equipment list was “brimmed hat” so I looked around, and sure enough, there were some folks wearing brimmed hats.

I approached them and said, “Are you with ‘Saddling South’?” They allowed as how they were and soon we were exchanging our bona fides. They were great people, which was fortunate, since we were about to spend eight days and six nights with them.

In Loreto, we met up with our outfitter, Trudi Angell—an American who has been guiding tourists in her “Paddling South,” (kayaking), “Peddling South,” (bicycling) and “Saddling South” (mule trekking) business for over 20 years. She is a well-known and popular person in Loreto and other parts of Baja. Her business brings employment of one sort or the other to many local people, and it was clear that her personal friendships with Mexican families is key to her successful business and to helping bring outside income into the community.

Pat and I are experience riders, but our time with mules is limited. Rick and Heather have mules, which they frequently use for riding and packing. The other six gringos were not riders, but were experienced outdoors recreationists, and were game for the trip.

Our guides were four Mexican cowboys who work with Trudi. Chema is her right hand. Our lead guide was Bule, 73 years old, and the packers were Che and his son, Jorge. They tended and saddled and unsaddled the mules and made sure the cinches were tight whenever we approached a steep ascent or descent, which was several times a day. We were fifteen riders, 18 mules and two burros.

We set out west from a ranch near Mission San Javier, one of the early Spanish missions in the area. As we approached our first climb up a really rocky ascent to a mesa, I was astonished that the mules were expected to climb what looked to me like a vertical rock face.

Baja California is a long peninsula on Mexico’s west coast. Its coastlines are famous for kayaking, sport fishing, whale watching and water sports such as snorkeling. Its rugged dry interior is largely uninhabited and mostly wild country. I live in Wyoming, where I am used to wide open spaces with little interaction with people. In the Sierra Gigante mountain range, where we rode, we never encountered another human being, aside from the ranches we were visiting with Trudi. We also didn’t see an electric line, roads (except close to the coast) or even jet contrails overhead. Cell phones didn’t work and we learned that the radio tower that some of the ranches depended upon had been taken out by the recent hurricane. We were truly in another world.

Trudi's dog Lucky, with Trudi

Greg, Trudi, Steve, Claudia & Karen
Pila (water reservoir) near Mission San Javier

Fighting roosters readying for the festival at San Javier

Heather, Pat, Rick and Tom
first morning at dry camp

Cattle grazing free range
(the only ones we saw)

Che and Jorge packing the mules

Memo, Luis, Dora, Chuy, Dario, Luis Carlos, Sipriana
Our hosts at El Jarillal

Sipriana's outdoor kitchen

Altar in Sipriana's home

Chema playing the guitar

Dario showing his horsehair braiding to Trudi and Rick

Most of us

leaving El Jarillal

Greg encountered the local vegetation

Tom with pack burro
Chema made the sawbuck

Descending into San Andres

Jesus, rancher at San Andres
He has two dogs named Chama

Silvestre welcoming Trudi (and us) to Los Pilares

Silvestre leads us through hurricane damage to the lower ranch

Hurricane damage

sunrise at Los Pilares

Ancient petroglyphs near Los Pilares

Mule reflections

Pat napping

Day's end

Las Palmieres

Andrea, Western cowgirl

Karen at rock corrals
Rancho Viejo

Vineyard at Santa Isabel

Traditional water jug
Rancho El Horno

Pilar's granddaughter
Rancho El Horno

Sierra Gigantes

Lucky, Che and Trudi in Trudi's office

Mule at sunset
photos by Pat and Sharon O'Toole

December 7, 2009

Preg testing 2009

Warner, hard at work

Each fall, after the calves are shipped, we have our friend and veterinarian, Warner MacFarland, come to the ranch and pregnancy test the cows. Warner preg tests all over the county, and it constitutes much of his fall work. This year, we put it off until after Pat and I returned from a mule packing trip to Baja Sur, in Mexico (more on this in a future posting). Upon our return, we found that fall had become winter, but preg testing remained. Today, Warner braved snowy roads--100 miles each way--and showed up bright and early. Dark was hard upon us when we finished, but it is a good job done.

Pat & Meghan
Hydraulic chute, Home Ranch

Frosty cow

Pregnant cows in front of winter haystack

Princessa, wanting to help
photos by Sharon O'Toole

December 6, 2009

Patrick Eamon O'Toole, B.A., University of Wyoming

December 2009 is truly a month to remember. Our family began the month by traveling to Laramie to celebrate the graduation from the University of Wyoming of our son, Eamon. On December 4th, he walked across the stage to receive his Bachelor of Arts degree in Geography, Environment and Natural Resources. Most of our immediate family, from his 88-year-year grandfather, George Salisbury, to his youngest niece, Maeve Lally, were there to cheer him on. I think we gave the loudest cheers that any graduate received. (Well, there was that family with the air horn, but that's cheating!)

Eamon receiving his diploma
University of Wyoming
Laramie, Wyoming

Seamus, Sharon, Chris (back row)
Meghan, Maeve, Megan (middle row)
George, Brian, Bridget, Siobhan, Eamon, Pat (front row)
December 5, 2009

The opinions expressed in the Western Folklife Center's Deep West online journals are those of the online journal participants and not the Western Folklife Center. The Western Folklife Center does not moderate these journals and as such does not guarantee the veracity, reliability or completeness of any information provided in the journals or in any hyperlink appearing within them.

About Pat & Sharon O'Toole

Sharon O'Toole
Pat and Sharon O’Toole are ranchers in the Little Snake River Valley near Savery, Wyoming, right on the Colorado-Wyoming border. They raise cattle, sheep, horses, dogs and children. Pat “immigrated” from Florida in 1970. He attended Colorado State University, where he met Sharon when both worked for the campus newspaper. Sharon grew up on their ranch, where they live and work with her father, their daughter, son and granddaughter (soon to be grandchildren!). Pat is a “water buffalo” and has served in the Wyoming House of Representatives (1986-1992), on the President’s Western Water Policy Review Advisory Commission, and is the current President of the Family Farm Alliance, which advocates for farmers, ranchers and irrigators. Sharon is an author, poet and journalist. She writes extensively on Western issues and is a columnist for “The Shepherd” magazine. Pat and Sharon are the parents of three children: Meghan, 27; Bridget, 26; and Eamon, 20.
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