Tandem, An American Love Story

This Cowgirl Has No Blues

The side-road sign says 60 miles to the Havasupai reservation and Supai Falls. Rich warm colored long grasses carpet between junipers rolling off to blue horizons with just a glimpse of rim, red rim of Grand Canyon, for us several days away in another direction. It is one of many side-roads that have tugged at us on this trip, and left us wanting more.. Someday we’ll take that road.

But, we continue along Old Route 66 through the new beauty, and toward a meeting that was not to be missed; vagabond serendipity at it’s best.

A woman, strong woman, beautiful woman, amazing woman of today living the life of yesterday and tomorrow; ranch wife, grandmother, artist, cowgirl.

This woman cuts and flanks calves and castrates them too, sleeps in a teepee for 60 days at a time, twice a year, somewhere at a watering-hole in the middle of 10 townships of ranch with 3,000 head of cattle and six cowboys.

In February, she got back on the horse that last year threw her and punctured her lung with one of her ribs. She has three children and 11 grand-children, takes beautiful photographs, writes poetry and cooks a mean breakfast.

She keeps an original Colt single action 45 by her bed and knows how to use it. Cowgirl. A real one, not some created image of the American icon of days gone by. Karen Landis is a real cowgirl, full-time, year round.

First of May, she and her husband Mike will hitch the chuck-wagon to the mules, gather up the six cowboys and 60 horses and head out for two months of castrating and branding new calves. In the fall they’ll go out again to round up the calves to sell.

Karen is 51, her husband Mike is 67 and they’ve been married 14 years. Mike ran away from home at 14 to become a cowboy and he’s never wanted to do anything else.

Karen had never ridden a horse when she met Mike. “He told me if I’d marry him and come to live on the ranch he’d teach me all there was to know about ranching and that I’d be happy every day the rest of my life. He didn’t lie.”

The man knows how to treat a woman. For instance, last year Karen had to have some elective surgery, and when she awoke afterward, did she find roses by her bedside from Mike? Nope. She found a sterling-silver inlaid bit for her horse. It’s a beautiful thing, she loves it, and so does her horse.

As if Karen didn’t have enough to do, she just started a tent-and-breakfast at their place. We heard about it, and Karen, just up the road a bit, while asking about a place to camp. Serendipity brought us to her. The world is full of bed-and-breakfasts, but a tent-and-breakfast in the middle of a working ranch is going to do real well.

As soon as we had the tent set up, she invited us in to share her dinner. She had a salad with fresh ripe tomatoes from her “winter garden room” and we brought some good twelve-grain bread we’d hauled from Kingman. Karen had a million questions about our trip, and we had a million questions about ranch life. She and Claire developed a quick mutual-admiration-society, each thinking the other was one heck of a woman for doing what they do. I agree with both of them.

After dinner, Karen showed us around the house she and Mike built from recycled lumber. They salvaged it from a ranch bunkhouse that once was an early Santa Fe railroad station, and before that, a stage-coach stop from the last century. The walls are filled with memorabilia of family, and beautiful artwork done by some of the cowboys they’ve known. A warm ranch home.

She also showed us her photographs of last year’s spring roundup. She has a good eye for composition and the subject matter is amazing. I didn’t think there were any real cowboys left, but the pictures proved otherwise. No all-terrain vehicles or pickups, or helicopters, just horses and a chuck wagon, cooking in iron pots over an open fire, dust and heat and hard working cowboys.

One of the problems Karen has with getting set up for the roundup is getting, and keeping, a cook. Seems they all quit before the two months is up, and working cowboys get mighty hungry. I told Karen to write us next winter if she still needs a cook(s) for roundup. Two for the price of one. Claire and I’d do it in a minute.

The day we left Karen, we rode to Ash Fork, camped next to Interstate 40 and then climbed a couple of more thousand feet to over 7,000 feet the next day at Flagstaff.

We’re noticing the altitude, tired. It seems strange that we were at 400 feet on the Colorado river just a few days ago, and hot. It is unseasonably warm today here, low 60’s, (brrrrrr) and will go down to the high 20’s tonight. We just rode from summer to early spring. Why did we do that? To see Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef…

I for one will miss the warm. I really, really got into warm this winter. Warm is good. I’m going to miss it until it warms up in the Intermountain West sometime in May, I hope.

We have gone from high desert/grasslands with a smattering of juniper dotting the beige grasses, to pinion and even tall ponderosa pines more closely spaced and running up the sides of tall mountains to timberline. The scents are all new. Pine needles mostly, no more creosote bush and no more dust smells.

Our second day in Flagstaff, we picked up mail and we’re ready to roll to Grand Canyon; now, if that sleet that will just quit.


Tandem, An American Love Story — 3 Comments

  1. Thanks for the memories, and the update on your own adventures. That last few days back to Sequim was bitter-sweet after more than a year on the road. We’ve never been the same; a good thing.

  2. What a marvelous and beautifully descriptive article about a simply amazing woman – Karen Landis. I’ve had had the serendipitous experience to create and nurture a friendship with Karen after I underwent a hip replacement and three hip fractures and realized I needed to request the local “Meals on Wheels” service. And of course, if she didn’t have enough on her plate, Karen serves the Chino Valley community two days a week by delivering meals to people in my circumstance.
    I loved Karen the first moment I met her. And when we started chatting I knew I had met a soul mate. I’ve been looking all my life for a role model, a hero, an amazing example of humankind. I don’t know if she realizes what an outstanding example she is of a strong, independent, intelligent, talented woman. Sometimes as women, we have a dentency to undervalue ourselves. But Karen, I want you to know you are the real deal. You are just so beautiful in your authenticity. And I a so appreciative of the value you have added to our environment by caring for the land and the animals under your watchful care. Your abilities and strength simply boggle my mind. And thank you for your loving service to me these past four months. You rock girl!

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