More mules

16 03 2017


We do have water in the desert, in spite of our very dry late-winter conditions.


The Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Regional Specialty Packstring is Glenn Ryan’s baby; he has been the head honcho and mule packer since 2004.

This link and this one to the crew will give you more information, and if you Google it, you’ll find all kinds of articles about the amazing work this outfit does throughout the West, including this one last fall in The Durango Herald.


Katy Bartzokis is a permanent seasonal employee with BLM, based in and around the Steens Mountain Wilderness Area of Oregon. She’s the only BLM packer she or we know about. She’s definitely the best one we know. 🙂

If you’re packing in and out of wilderness areas, these are the folks, and these are the mules, you want on your trail (if you even have a trail; we flagged one through the greasewood and over and through and down into and up out of arroyos).


Here’s the full string, led by Katy, who led three mules, and Glenn, who led the last two. Our BLM range tech Justin Hunt is visible at the back. This was shortly after we left the trailer – loading site – and you can see Disappointment Road in the background. The big Forest Service rig may have drawn a few curious glances from the few travelers who passed by during our work days. 🙂


To highlight a couple of the mules, this is sweet Karla. Katy and Glenn had folded the now-empty “mantis” and bundled the ropes and then manti’d them and were tying them on Karla’s pack saddle for the trip back to the trailer (we’re at the drop site in this photo). A “manti” is what you or I would call a tarp or square of canvas. Packers like Glenn and Katy use them to wrap bundles of taped-together staves and T-posts. Very neat – and I don’t just mean “keen.” 🙂 Usually, the folded mantis went back in the emptied panniers (which carried wrapped wire rolls), but on this particular trip, we had just staves, which were packed and roped and tied like you see in the photos above. So even bundles of mantis and ropes were themselves manti’d and tied on for the return trip.


And this is big Skid – the only mule with a forelock and one of only two boys (johns?) in the string. Sweet boy!

All the mules have their personalities, of course, and all marched right along – this was their first job out of winter pasture – to carry a LOT of pounds worth of fencing supplies into McKenna Peak Wilderness Study Area to help with our fence-maintenance projects. We love them all. 🙂

Mucho big thanks again to Glenn and Katy, Joey, Karla, Lena, Roz and Skid, Karmel and Sly, for all your work and patience with us! We’re so incredibly grateful for your skilled, amazing work – here and elsewhere on America’s public lands!

Thank you also to our BLM range folks Mike Jensen, Justin Hunt and Garth Nelson; our Spring Creek Basin mustang herd management is so good thanks to you all. Thank you to BLM’s Mike Schmidt and Keith Fox, who took time away from their regular duties to help us one day. Thank you to SJMA’s volunteer coordinator Kathe Hayes, who keeps us rolling on these projects. And thank you to advocate and volunteer Kat Wilder, who does it all when it comes to working for mustangs. 🙂

Mules helping mustangs, part 2

14 03 2017


And who wouldn’t smile, to be on a good horse, packing good mules in Spring Creek Basin, Southwest Colorado, on a gorgeous spring day?!

Katy Bartzokis (above) and Glenn Ryan and their horses and mules were back to haul more fencing supplies into the basin for future work, and we had more help in the form of Mike Schmidt and Keith Fox, who came to help Kathe Hayes and Kat Wilder.

So many photo opportunities … so little time to actually peruse the images and select ones for publication! And we welcome Glenn and Katy, Sly and Karmel, and Joey, Karla, Lena, Roz and Skid back tomorrow for another few trips into the wilderness (McKenna Peak Wilderness Study Area, that is). (So someone has to get to bed!)

Locals: Glenn (and Katy?) will be at the Ag Expo at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds this weekend with the mules and horses that made this project happen. If you go, please stop by and heap thanks upon them for helping our beloved Spring Creek Basin mustangs. Their work will enable us to rebuild fence sections without having to carry in hundreds of pounds (1,000 or more? we should add it all up!) of materials. Just one wooden post for an H-brace weighs 50-some pounds.

Many, many thanks!!




Mules helping mustangs

13 03 2017


Spring Creek Basin herd manager Mike Jensen leads Katy Bartzokis (BLM) and Glenn Ryan (Forest Service) and their mules to a drop site with fence materials for some upcoming projects – including alternative spring break!

We are so stoked to work with the Rocky Mountain Regional Specialty Packstring to get these supplies hauled into the basin by mule power!

This project is completely possible because of some big “horse” power, so BIG thanks to awesome mules Joey, Karla, Lena, Roz and Skid, and saddle horses Karmel and Sly. 🙂

And extended thanks to San Juan Mountains Association’s volunteer coordinator Kathe Hayes, who heads alternative spring break each year; Justin Hunt, BLM range tech; and tireless advocate Kat Wilder.








Partnering for mustangs

18 10 2016


Yep, once again, volunteers showed up to support Spring Creek Basin’s mustangs! This is the apron project to provide a second source of clean water for our mustangs – now fenced to protect the apron from the horses walking on it. They’ve sure enough found the water in the trough below the tank, which is below this apron.

This crew has a lot to smile about because in just a few short hours, these awesome folks built a four-strand smooth-twisted-wire fence around the apron! Our BLM guys snuck out of the office last week and dug holes for almost all the heavy wooden posts – which serve as H-braces and the nifty new gate – and that was most of the hard work.

In the photo above, left to right: Laura and Bob Volger (Four Corners Back Country Horsemen), Kat Wilder, yours truly giving the thumbs’-up, Frank Amthor (4CBCH), Mike Jensen and Garth Nelson (range specialists; Mike is the herd manager), and Kat’s son Ken Lausten, fence-builder extraordinaire. Always-present Pat Amthor relieved me of my camera to take this pic of our hard-working crew. 🙂

Some more pix below before I got caught up in the efficient assembly line of pounding posts, wire stringing and stretching, and clipping wire strands to posts:


Garth (left) and Frank work together to set the horizontal braces in the, you know, H-braces. Luckily for us, Garth and Mike Jensen already had done most of the hard work, digging holes and setting most of the wooden posts during a jail break, err, an escape from the office last week. In the background, Mike (left) and Bob Volger are digging a hole for another post to complete that H-brace.


Here’s a closer look at Mike and Bob setting their post.


As soon as Garth and Frank had finished this H-brace, Ken and Kat got right to work stringing wire. Mike’s running a T-post through the wire to unroll the next strand down to the next brace.


Comin’ through! (The apron is to the left.)


Ken stretches the end of the lower strand of wire, helped by his mom, Kat. At a diagonal, you can see the wire already tensioned into place by Mike and Garth. (That’s probably not really a word, but the diagonally-wrapped wire holds tension on the two vertical posts, so the one posts helps the other hold the horizontal wires stretched between H-braces.)


And this is a good view of the apron, which we laid out in June – the object that we’re protecting from sharp mustang hooves. Why yes, it IS already working to funnel what little rainwater we’ve received down the newly laid pipe to the catchment tank AND to the trough, which is up-to-the brim full of water for the mustangs (held level by a float ball). 🙂


Garth pounds a T-post between H-braces while (in the background) Bob and Frank dig a hole for another post to serve as an anchor in a slight depression between H-braces so it will hold the wire tight without pulling the T-posts out of the ground.


Laura Volger (4CBCH) helps Mike hold a wire strand in place so he can staple it to the post. We set our wires at consistent heights all the way around.

And things continued in just such a manner until the apron was all fenced in and protected.

This was another fabulous project in Spring Creek Basin with BLM employees and volunteers, all working together for the benefit of our beloved mustangs!

Just in case you thought it was all work and no good food, Pat Amthor brought homemade apple cake made with home-grown (Durango area) apples. You better believe we all polished that off and sent Pat home with an empty cake pan! (Sorry – no pix. It went from pan to bellies too fast!)

Thank you, thank you, once again to our committed BLM range specialists and our dedicated volunteers. With your help, our Spring Creek Basin mustangs continue to thrive on their home range!

Sand Wash Basin advocates get ’er done

20 09 2016


This handsome hunky stallion is Star, and he lives with his family in Sand Wash Basin, in northwestern Colorado. He posed extremely considerately Sunday morning with the setting full moon.

This past weekend, Michelle Sander, Aleta Wolf, Stella Trueblood and others with Great Escape Mustang Sanctuary and Sand Wash Advocate Team, along with Gina Robison with BLM’s Little Snake Field Office in Craig, hosted about 50 people who came from near and far (including Texas, Missouri and Toronto, Canada) to help with work projects that directly and indirectly benefit those gorgeous mustangs.

SWAT members are directly responsible for the successful PZP program in Sand Wash Basin. In place for just about three years now, it’s having a direct impact on slowing the population growth of this popular herd. BLM plans a bait-trapping operation there later this fall, with which SWAT and GEMS will be intimately involved. BLM plans to remove 50 horses. They’ll go to Cañon City for “processing” (brands, vaccinations, gelding, etc.), then to GEMS, in northeastern Colorado, to be gentled and offered for adoption through GEMS’ partnership with BLM as a TIP storefront.

Read more about the great weekend of camaraderie, work projects and MUSTANGS in this Craig Daily Press article.

SWAT and GEMS and all the folks associated with these groups are doing phenomenal work for this beautiful herd. Any chance you get, please send out your thanks to these ladies and gents. They are compassionate and passionate, considerate, caring and vastly knowledgeable.

In short: They rock. 🙂

Alternatively …

31 03 2016

Once upon a time in a place far, far away from civilization – better known as Spring Creek Basin – it snowed during alternative spring break. And then we had many, many years of pretty excellent weather, during which we completed many projects for the benefit of our mustangs that call this faraway place their home on the range.

Brumley Point forms part of Spring Creek Basin's southeastern boundary.

Tuesday would have been the first day of the annual two-day work project for alternative-spring-break partiers in Spring Creek Basin. However, Ma Nature had other plans, and she sent howling winds and blowing snow to this southwestern corner of Colorado.


Yesterday was the second day of our Spring Creek Basin project. Despite a light skiff of snow on the ground in the morning, we got a fairly decent start, and students carried several loads of materials and tools to the work site – which now is about mile from the road up the southeastern fence line.


BLM range tech Justin Hunt gives a safety talk before Mizzou students carry tools and supplies to the work site.


University of Missouri students pick up materials to carry to the work site from BLM range specialist Garth Nelson.


Libby and Nina carry staves up the big hill.


Nina (left) walks back to the truck for more supplies while SJMA’s Kathe Hayes leads Jenna and Bailey to the work site  with a second load of tools. SJMA’s MK Gunn is at far right.

And then it snowed again.

At first, they were lovely little flakes floating on the breeze.

Then those flakes got bigger and heavier, and they started sticking to the ground, and the dirt started getting damp and started sticking to the bottoms of our hiking boots.


Mizzou’s Chalen helps Southwest Conservation Corps-BLM GIS intern Josh Ryan carry wire to the work site along Spring Creek Basin’s southeastern boundary during alternative spring break. BLM’s Sean Waggoner follows with the chainsaw and T-posts.


University of Missouri students Luke and Jessica carry staves about a mile to the work site while snowflakes start to fall.

About noon, we made the decision to call it a day. By the time we got back to the road, the snow had stopped … but the next wave was on its way.

Between the waves of snow, students carried armloads of T-posts and staves, buckets of tools and handfuls of tools, stretched a string to straighten the next section of fence, built an H-brace, pounded T-posts and cut wood away from the path of the new fence line (actually done by our BLM range tech). A couple of them even got as far as dropping posts and staves along the line. But we didn’t have time to take down old wire and string and stretch new wire.


Garth pounds a spike into a cross brace held by Chalen in the H-brace built before the snow really came down.


Garth helps Chalen and Luke tighten the wire holding an H-brace together.


Justin cuts a tree away from the fence. Sean and Mizzou’s Megan serve as safety spotters. We learned that while we can’t cut even dead trees to use as posts in McKenna Peak Wilderness Study Area, we can use chainsaws to clear such trees from a fence line.


Sean holds wire while Nina and Megan attach strands to a T-post when the snowfall got heavy.

We’ll continue this project on other (sunny) days. 🙂

We sincerely thank this year’s Mizzou crew for being hearty and willing to brave the elements to tackle this ongoing project! It was great to meet you all … and there’s always next year! We also thank SJMA’s Kathe Hayes for her ever-cheerful organizational skills and taking care of the students, as well as members of the Colorado chapter of the National Mustang Association and Disappointment Wild Bunch Partners (who represent NMA/CO, Four Corners Back Country Horsemen and Mesa Verde Back Country Horsemen) for helping with funding.


University of Missouri students gather with BLM and SJMA employees in front of Temple Butte, just outside Spring Creek Basin in McKenna Peak Wilderness Study Area, during alternative spring break. From left to right: Justin Hunt, Bailey, MK Gunn, Josh Ryan, Jenna, Nina, Jessica, Megan, Luke, Libby, Kathe Hayes, Garth Nelson, Chalen and Sean Waggoner.


Steep work, great views

31 10 2015

Caution: Scenery- and work-project-heavy post ahead.

Thursday was the last day of work for the SCC crew – a short amount of time for a big – steep – job.

The day started with some clouds, cleared to sunshine, then returned to clouds. (More) Rain started Thursday night. (Have we been blessed by rain the last couple of weeks or what?!) So the crew had good conditions for their final day of work on Spring Creek Basin’s southeastern boundary fence.

Southwest Conservation Corps crew members build H-braces on a steep hill along Spring Creek Basin's southeastern boundary. From this vantage, one looks across the last drainage in the basin toward Disappointment Road.

Let’s start with a scenic overview. There we were, on the basin’s far southeastern boundary looking southwestish over the basin’s “last” drainage toward Disappointment Road, the cottonwoods along Disappointment Creek and to more pinon-juniper covered BLM land beyond the basin to San Juan National Forest Service land to the horizon. Note the two groups, both working on H-braces on the near ridge – aka “the steep hill.” If you click to make the photo larger, you may be able to see the silver fence at the left; that’s the part of the fence that the crew already had rebuilt. It runs into the fence rebuilt by Mizzou students (we left a section for the students to work on in the spring).

Southwest Conservation Corps members are replacing this fence along Spring Creek Basin's southeastern boundary.

Next, let’s take a look at the sad old fence that serves as an example of what the Mizzou students and the SCC crew have rebuilt and are rebuilding. We figure that fence has been around for 40 or more years.

Southwest Conservation Corps crew members Toby and Zoe finish an H-brace at the base of the steep hill to along Spring Creek Basin's southeastern boundary.

Toby and Zoe tighten another wire strand to a corner H-brace. Their rebuilt fence comes in from straight ahead, up from the arroyo shown in the previous post; the steep hill starts steps to the left.

Southwest Conservation Corps members Eric and Aaron dig a hole while building an H-brace on the steep hill on Spring Creek Basin's southeastern boundary.

Meanwhile, up the steep hill (hey, it really IS steep), Aaron and Eric dug holes for another H-brace. If you look closely, you can see the H-brace Toby and Zoe were working on below the hill at right.

Southwest Conservation Corps member Aaron watches Sarah carry an H-brace post up the steep hill on Spring Creek Basin's southeastern boundary.

Photographic proof of the steepness (in a two-dimensional photo, it’s hard to convey just how steep this hill is): Sarah carries a post up the hill to the site of the next H-brace.

Southwest Conservation Corps members Eric and Aaron check the cross post while building an H-brace on the steep hill on Spring Creek Basin's southeastern boundary.

This photo does double duty: Partners Eric and Aaron measure the setting of an H-brace post with the cross post, AND you get another dose of scenery.

Southwest Conservation Corps members Toby, Sarah and Abby take turns digging a hole for an H-brace post on the steep hill on Spring Creek Basin's southeastern boundary.

Toby and Sarah stand ready as Abby uses the post-hole digger to dig yet another hole for yet another H-brace on their journey to the top of the steep hill. Eric and Aaron in the photos above are below on the hill. The scenery here is part of McKenna Peak Wilderness Study Area – which overlaps into Spring Creek Basin Herd Management Area; in this view, it’s all wilderness study area.

BLM range tech Justin Hunt helps dig a post hole for an H-brace on the steep hill with SCC crew members Toby and Abby on Spring Creek Basin's southeastern boundary.

Another view of the same H-brace site, this time with BLM range tech Justin Hunt helping to dig the second post hole. How steep is the hill? The H-brace Eric and Aaron are working on is 100 yards or less below this site – and completely out of view of this little knob in the hill.

The fence the Southwest Conservation Corps built. Up the hill in the foreground and across the small drainage in the lower background, beyond the photo, the crew left a section for the Mizzou students on alternative spring break next year.

From the side, here’s a view of Eric’s and Aaron’s H-brace. Abby and group are up the hill to the right. In the very first photo in this post, you can see both groups. Their rebuilt fence as it crosses the arroyo is very visible in this photo.

Southwest Conservation Corps members rebuild the fence up a steep hill on Spring Creek Basin's southeastern boundary.

Another gratuitous scenery shot – ain’t it grand?

Southwest Conservation Corps crew members Sarah, Aaron and Eric help co-crew leader Dillon complete an H-brace they built on a steep hill on Spring Creek Basin's southeastern boundary.

Returning to Eric’s and Aaron’s H-brace, now they have help from Sarah and co-crew leader Dillon to mark the first cross post. We had some debate about the levelness of these cross posts because the ground is so steep. Keeping the cross pieces strictly level would have had the post normal height on the downhill side of the brace but only about mid-thigh high on the uphill side! So crew members mirrored the slope a bit and cut their notches to reflect the angles of the posts’ ends.

Southwest Conservation Corps co-crew leader Dillon lends weight to the manual drill wielded by Eric as he drills a hole for a spike in the H-brace pictured. Aaron and Sarah, who dug the post holes, thread wire to anchor the braces on Spring Creek Basin's southeastern fence line.

It’s easy to ramble on about the partnerships we enjoy for the benefit of the basin’s mustangs, but here it is in living color: Dillon lends weight to Eric’s drill while he drills a hole in the H-brace into which he’ll later pound a spike. Ain’t it grand?! 🙂 Wrapping wires to create the “X” to further bind the brace posts together are Aaron and Sarah.

Southwest Conservation Corps crew member Sarah uses a chisel to create a notch for a cross bar in an H-brace in Spring Creek Basin's southeastern fence line.

Sarah chips out the notch that will hold the cross posts even steadier in the vertical H-brace posts.

In case the steepness of “the steep hill” hasn’t been mentioned or illustrated clearly, these next photos should do the trick:

Southwest Conservation Corps co-crew leader Sarah carries a post up the steep hill to build an H-brace in Spring Creek Basin's southeastern fence line. All smiles on Day 4!

Co-crew leader Sarah carries an H-brace post up the steep hill. She’s passing the first H-brace, and she’ll pass the next H-brace before getting to her destination – and they had at least one more H-brace to build after that. Still all-smiles on Day 4!

BLM range tech Justin Hunt carries a post up the steep hill behind SCC co-crew leader Sarah on the way to build a new H-brace above the one pictured, with co-crew leader Dillon, on Spring Creek Basin's southeastern boundary.

Justin follows Sarah on the way to the second H-brace up the steep hill, where Dillon is making cuts to start the notching process.

Southwest Conservation Corps crew member Zoe carries a post up the steep hill to use as part of an H-brace along Spring Creek Basin's southeastern fence line.

And here’s Zoe carrying another post from basically the base of the steep hill (scroll back up to the beginning of this post and the H-brace where she and Toby were tightening a strand of wire).

Southwest Conservation Corps crew members construct H-braces in the new fence along Spring Creek Basin's southeastern boundary. That steep hill is why they were hired!

From the bottom looking up.

Southwest Conservation Corps crew members construct a new fence along Spring Creek Basin's southeastern boundary. That steep hill is why they were hired!

And from down toward the arroyo looking up at the steep hill. Um, wowowow?! The wilderness study area’s namesake McKenna Peak shows its point at far right.

Sarah, Dillon, Eric, Aaron, Sarah, Zoe, Abby and Toby, we thank you, thank you, thank you for your service on behalf of our mustangs! We hope your last hitch of the season was your best. Thankfully, you saw some mustangs along the way between camp site and work site, and if you can, please come back soon to see more of the mustangs protected and kept safe by your work!

Beyond Spring Creek Basin in McKenna Peak Wilderness Study Area: McKenna Peak at far left and Temple Butte toward the right. Outside Spring Creek Basin, they are two of the basin's most recognizable landmarks.

View from the top. 🙂