Old, New

Throughout the desert West, the backcountry hiker finds “sheepherders’ monuments”: cairns or slabs of stone raised by turn-of-the-century herdsmen while their sheep grazed, day after day, in the wide silence.

On a hillside of small-grain, gray, dissolving shale we came upon a slab of white sandstone, set on end like a tombstone and blocked up all around with dark rocks. Prickly pear had grown in among the stones.

We’d hiked there a dozen times and never seen it. The desert is like that: bare and open, yet turn your head and there’ll be something that’s been looking at the sun for a hundred, or a hundred million, years.


2 thoughts on “Old, New”

  1. There is a name, Peter Monet, inscribed along the Colorado River above Cataract Canyon. Monet was from Italy. In the late 1800s he applied for a job as a sheepherder in the United States. He spoke no English. He got on a boat, arrived in New York, and a company rep. put him on a train to Utah. Two weeks after leaving Italy, Monet found himself alone, except for his sheep, in the Land of Standing Rocks, an amazing sandstone wilderness in southeast Utah, a hundred miles from the nearest settlement and 5,000 miles from Italy. I can’t even imagine what he felt about this experience. He lived in Utah for the next 70 years.

    1. There’s a photo essay titled Sheepherders: Men Alone, by Methers. Mostly eastern Oregon. Excellent. As kids in the 50s and 60s, camping with the family in southern Utah, we often saw the sheepherders’ characteristic round-topped trailers, their shape a bit like a Quonset hut.

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