Traffic, Idaho Style: Cattle Drive

Maybe you’ve heard about how atrocious traffic is, in and around Seattle. It’s been bad for decades. I was born and raised in a nearby suburb, and from the time I started driving in 1972, I hated driving into downtown Seattle. Traffic and noise in the Puget Sound region were the primary reasons I left the Seattle area in 2005 and relocated to bucolic, peaceful central Idaho. I wanted to spend my time running on forest trails, not driving to and from them.

INRIX Research released its 2018 “Global Traffic Scorecard” rankings in early 2019. Seattle ranked sixth worst among US cities, with drivers losing 138 hours per year stuck in traffic.

That seems like an underestimate to me.

After moving here, friends back in Seattle would ask what life was like. Was there any traffic? I’d laugh and respond by saying, “Only if getting stuck behind a slow-moving logging truck for three miles in a steep, twisty canyon counts as traffic.”

Although locally we do have another occasional obstacle to vehicle travel: a cattle drive.

vehicles on road
Uh oh, traffic ahead, with cowgirl on foot and cowboy on ATV. No horses or ranch dogs moving these cattle. There’s just no romance left in cattle driving.

That’s what I encountered on my way home this foggy morning after my dogs and I had gone for a run in the sun and snow higher up in the mountains. Back down in the valley, I had turned off of the two-lane highway onto a four-mile country road, my own road three miles in.

ATV, truck on road
The cowgirl accepts a ride. Not sure the ATV’s suspension appreciated it.

Many of the valley roads near my home have large pastures on one or both sides. Mostly, cattle are brought up in the spring and returned to lower elevations in the winter. While here, they occasionally get moved from one pasture to another. (One rancher keeps cattle on one of his pastures through the winter, using a tractor to throw down hay for them to eat each morning. It seems a miserable existence to me, for both the cattle and the ranch hands who feed them with two-to-four feet of snow on the ground and temperatures rarely above freezing for several months.

Our progress was reduced to a crawl when we came up on the back end of this short cattle drive. They were using the road to get to another pasture about a quarter mile away.

No sense turning around. By the time I drove several miles to come in from the other direction, the cattle would be off the road. Might as well enjoy the show.

My dogs voted enthusiastically for that option. They were intrigued to watch this play out.

cattle, truck, people on road
The cattle in the pasture to the left were getting quite excited by the movement of the cattle on the road. They started running to catch up, which got my dogs excited. Conall started “talking” as Malamutes do when excited. Everyone’s excited now.
I changed to video to record Conall’s talking, only to realize the reason he was so vocal wasn’t the running cattle but that a woman, running on the road with her dog when surprised by the cattle drive, had gotten smooshed between the cattle on the road and the barbed wire fence. Conall saw them way before I did and was talking because he loves meeting runners with dogs.

After pulling herself off the fence, the woman and her dog started running again, so I think – I hope – they were unharmed. Bet she had a story to tell when she got home, something like, “I felt like a salmon swimming upstream!” or “I think I’m ready for to go to Pamplona and run with the bulls!”

cattle, truck on road
Cattle clot! Those inside the pasture are pressing against the fences in an effort to join those being herded into a left turn onto another road. More cattle in the pasture on the far side of that other road are crowding their fences as well. Herd mentality at work!
cattle on road
Left turn accomplished, I and others stuck behind this short cattle drive can now continue on our way, our tires and undercarriages covered in cow shit and urine. Country life!

Featured image: a group of cattle lining the fence to watch as my dogs and I walked a country road on October 19, 2016, just around the corner from where the last photo was taken.

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