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.








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.


SCC working for our mustangs

27 10 2015

Here in Spring Creek Basin, we are incredibly lucky to have the benefit of multiple partnerships that work for the well-being of our mustangs. Our newest partnership is with Southwest Conservation Corps, based in Durango. Thanks to the diligence of San Juan Mountains Association‘s Kathe Hayes and Tres Rios Field Office range specialist Mike Jensen, we have an SCC crew tackling an especially difficult section of fence: across an arroyo and up a steep, shaley hill.

Long-time readers know about our wonderful alternative spring break program with University of Missouri students and that, for the last four years, students have been rebuilding the basin’s southeastern fence line. The SCC crew, which has spent the summer building trails, building fences and planting trees, is jumping ahead a bit to the steep section.

As we are with every bit of help that comes our way for the benefit of the mustangs, we are hugely grateful for their work!

Southwest Conservation Corps' Jordan explains previous fence building by University of Missouri students to SCC crew members along Spring Creek Basin's southeastern fence line. The SCC crew is on site to replace a difficult section of the fence that goes up a steep hill.

Jordan explains previous fence building by Mizzou students to SCC crew members, starting the first day of their hitch in Spring Creek Basin. Mizzou students and BLM employees and volunteers have set the bar high with the new fence! From left: Sarah, Eric, Jordan, Abby, Aaron, Toby behind Dillon, Dillon and Zoe.

Southwest Conservation Corps' Jordan stands by with a shovel whie Eric takes his turn at digging a post hole for an H-brace in Spring Creek Basin's southeastern fence line.

Jordan stands by with a shovel while Eric digs a post hole for their first H-brace.

Southwest Conservation Corps crew members Dillon, Jordan and Zoe place protective staves around a tree that will serve as half of an H-brace in Spring Creek Basin's southeastern fence line.

Co-crew leader Dillon helps Jordan and Zoe protect a tree with staves around which to wrap wire. The Mizzou students this spring ended their two days of work with an H-brace on the other side of this tree.

Southwest Conservation Corps crew members Abby and Aaron use the post puller to remove a rotted post in Spring Creek Basin's southeastern fence line.

Crew members Sarah and Aaron work together to pull out an old fence post that had a rotten bottom from being in the ground for who knows how many decades.

Southwest Conservation Corps co-crew leader Dillon checks the level of the cross post on an H-brace installed by crew members including Abby and Eric (shown) in an H-brace they installed in Spring Creek Basin's southeastern fence line.

Crew members Abby and Eric, who helped dig the hole for the H-brace post, watch as Dillon checks the level of the cross post.

Southwest Conservation Corps crew members Sarah, Zoe, Aaron and Eric watch Jordan as he shows them how to twist staves in crossed wires to pull together an H-brace they installed in Spring Creek Basin's southeastern fence line.

Co-crew leader Sarah (there are two Sarahs on this crew) and crew members Toby, Aaron and Eric watch Jordan show them the twisting technique of the staves in the cross wires that bind the H-brace together.

The crew finished the H-brace and strung strands of wire on their first day of work … which started with about a quarter of an inch of rain! As you can see, the day ended with beautiful sunshine.

One of the coolest part of the day? Seeing the pintos as we drove to the work site and again as we returned to the camp site. 🙂 The horses are the reason for the work, the partnerships … the tramping through mud carrying heavy posts and fencing tools. They’re absolutely the reason we do all that with smiles!

Partners for mustangs

3 10 2015

Wednesday, I partnered with folks from BLM, the Forest Service, San Juan Mountains Association and Southwest Conservation Corps to haul fence materials into Spring Creek Basin. Long-time readers of this blog are familiar with the outstanding alternative spring break program that brings a group of enthusiastic University of Missouri students to Southwest Colorado each year (look under the March links in the blog roll). In addition to working in Spring Creek Basin, students work on other areas of San Juan public lands for a week before heading back to class in Columbia, Mo. After four years, students have rebuilt quite a long stretch of our southeastern boundary fence – carrying materials in by manual labor because of its location in McKenna Peak Wilderness Study Area (no motor vehicles allowed).

Now that we’re pretty far in, and a steep bit of shale hill is coming up (literally), SJMA’s Kathe Hayes and BLM’s range specialist/herd manager Mike Jensen got the attention of the SCC (based in Durango) to give us a hand. While we want to give the Mizzou students a spring break they won’t soon forget, we don’t want to get too crazy. 🙂 Next spring, they’ll continue to rebuild fence from where the last group left off this past spring toward the base of the hill. This fall, the SCC crew will leapfrog where this spring’s students finished to start rebuilding a section from close to the base of the hill UP the hill.

To ease the workload of both crews, our little group hauled fence supplies this week: wooden posts (for H-braces), T-posts (to replace worn/bent/warped ones), lots and lots of staves (to stabilize the wires between T-posts), and rolls of smooth-twisted and barbed wire (to create wild-horse/life-friendly fencing that cattle won’t want to mess with from the outside) – to a site convenient for both the SCC crew this fall and Mizzou students in the spring.

Many, many thanks to BLM’s Mike Jensen, Justin Hunt and Garth Nelson, SJMA’s Kathe Hayes, the Forest Service’s Harold Park, SCC’s Jordan and BLM/SCC’s Lauren for providing the human labor (including hours of scheduling and logistics!).

Huge, huge thanks to our four-legged crew: Traveler (who packed posts), Trapper (who packed staves and T-posts), Pinch (who packed wire and spikes and Lauren :)) and Zip (who packed staves), as well as Jammer (who packed Harold) and Sneakers (who packed Kathe). These seasoned Forest Service veterans made our job much easier – and they worked for apples!*

BLM range tech Justin Hunt leads Forest Service pack horse Trapper with a load of T-posts while Lauren leads Pinch toward the dropoff point along the southeastern boundary fence of Spring Creek Basin Herd Management Area. A Southwest Conservation Corps crew will be in the basin in October to replace a steep section of the fence, which has been worked on for four years by University of Missouri students during alternative spring break.

Here’s a teaser pic of Justin leading Trapper after Lauren and Pinch on the way to the cache site, following Kathe and Harold, who led the other two pack horses. For more pix of a great day of work that benefits Spring Creek Basin’s beloved mustangs, check out SJMA’s photostream on Flicker.

* Jammer and Pinch are Harold’s personal horses, and Sneakers belongs to Kathe.

Putting the fun in alternative spring break

25 03 2015

It is alternative spring break time again in Missouri and Colorado! This is the awesome time of year when the weather is fabulous and the University of Missouri sends us several of their marvelous students to do good work on San Juan public lands. This includes Spring Creek Basin Herd Management Area, managed out of Tres Rios Field Office in Dolores.

This is the fourth year students have helped us rebuild the basin’s southeastern boundary fence. Here are some more stats: This is the third straight year for student leader Chalen (who got married right before coming to Colorado – congrats!). It’s the 19th year of the alternative spring break program here; that means next year will be the 20th year! Wow. Kathe Hayes, leader extraordinaire and volunteer coordinator with San Juan Mountains Association, has been organizing this program for “16 or 17 years.” She may have said 17 years last year, so she may be underestimating her dedication to this super program.

Chalen said Mizzou sent 138 crews out of Missouri this school year for projects in the USA and abroad. Wow again!

As always, we are incredibly appreciative and wonderfully humbled by the students’ enthusiasm and get-‘er-done attitudes. Most come with little or no fence-building experience, but as Kathe noted at the start of the day, they all came equipped with excellent footwear!

Let’s take a look at their progress Tuesday:


Zach and Evan were two of three boys (including Chalen) on the crew this year. Here, they’re carrying a roll of wire and a tamp bar to the start of the to-be-worked-on fence (we should measure this – probably half a mile from the road? – and it ain’t flat). Jessi follows them with buckets of tools. Check out the awesome fence beside them, built by last year’s crew.


Putting their muscles to work right off the bat. It is NOT easy to carry those wire rolls.


BLM herd manager Mike Jensen demonstrates the use of fencing pliers to the girls: Miranda, Sarah, Mary, Lauren, Jordyn and Aloe.


SJMA’s Kathe Hayes and BLM’s Dave Sanders walk along the fence where Sarah, Miranda, Mary and Aloe are undoing the wire pieces that hold old barbed wire strands to fence posts.


After they removed the wire, they had to roll the wire – again, NOT easy. Sarah, Aloe, Jordyn and Jessi keep their strands untangled.


It’s hard to tell what’s going on here, but Mike and Chalen are moving an old tree away from the fence line. It fell in such a way that previous fencers used one spike of a root to stabilize wires. It was cool! But ultimately not very appropriate. Sigh. If you must …!


Kathe demonstrates the start of the wire roll to Mary.


On any fence-building project, there’s a little bit of this – carrying rolls from brace to brace. Chalen and Zach carry the wire while Mike follows to keep it smooth.


Before the new wire gets strung, the old wire must be rolled. Lauren shows off a perfect roll!


Do these girls know how to have fun or what? Lauren (right) and MK rolled one strand of wire from either end and met in the middle, where Miranda stepped in to separate the two.


Sarah shows off her wire roll while Miranda prepares to photobomb!


Kathe heckles the photographer …


… then shows off her mad fence-post-pounding skills!


It’s not ALL about work. We do allow a few minutes for lunch, during which, we got to know a little more about the students and what they’re studying at Mizzou. This year, students span all classes – from freshmen to seniors – and have a variety of majors: accounting, photography, journalism, forestry, exercise science, health science, anthropology/international studies. Most are from Missouri, but others are from Illinois and Texas (interestingly enough, a town in the same county as yours truly’s parents call home).


After lunch, it was right back to work. Sarah, Miranda and Zach (and others) took turns pounding through shale to dig a hole for a new brace post. Talk about sweat equity!


Students coined a new term this year: fox-holing. Instead of using what was decided to be the most inefficient tool of all time – the post-hole digger – students shoveled dirt and shale out by hand.


Hole-digging is an arduous process, especially through rock. Justin Hunt (BLM range tech) and MK Thompson (SJMA) double their digging.


Mike drills a hole for a spike to be pounded to attach the brace post to the tree while Chalen steadies the post. Readers may remember that the southeastern fence line is wholly within McKenna Peak Wilderness Study Area, where no mechanized or motorized tools are allowed.


After the hole is drilled, Jessi pounds the spike. The drilled hole eases the way, but it still requires some muscle!


Tightening the wires on the braces is fascinating stuff! Go, Mike! Jessi, Kathe, MK, Chalen and Jordyn appreciate the effort. Note the fancy duct-tape circling Jordyn’s jeans-clad leg, which fell prey to a barbed-wire barb – a hazard of working with the stuff.


Yep, there was more of this with Zach and Evan doing the heavy lifting and Mary keeping the wire flowing free.


The students built two braces yesterday. Jordyn, Kathe and Aloe help Mike (out of sight behind the tree) while Justin and Miranda (background) feed the wire from the roll.


Kathe pounds a staple to attach wire around a tree at a brace (out of sight to the right). She soon switched from fencing pliers to a bigger mallet.


This post was pretty wobbly with a rotten bottom. MK rocked it out of the ground, and Dave sawed the rotten bottom off with help from Evan. When they flipped it (the former top went bottom-down in the new hole), they wanted it to look pretty for the mustangs! Always thinking about the horses – love it!


Old wire out (and rolled) – check. Braces built – check. New wire strung – check. Clips attaching wire strands to T-posts (and staples to wood posts) – check. More new wire strung – check!


Sore arms are a given after a day on the fence line (and they’re coming back today!). Sore cheeks from smiling? Yep, those, too. MK and Justin attach wire to the tree to run to the next brace.


Jordyn and Mary use a measuring stick to attach the top wire of the new fence. Students are following wildlife-friendly fence-building concepts; the top and bottom strands are smooth-twisted wire (for wildlife), and the middle two strands are barbed (to deter cattle). The bottom strand is 16 inches off the ground to allow fawn and (elk) calf movement, and the top and second-from-top strands are wider spaced to prevent legs from getting twisted in the wire when jumping the fence. Note the helpful “UP” note on the measuring stick.


Note the great smiles! In the background, Mike and Kathe admire the students’ handiwork.


Kathe, Mary and Sarah carry old-wire rolls back to the trucks at the end of the day.


By the time we got organized enough to take a group pic with the wire proof of their labors, Evan, Aloe and Jordyn already had headed for the trucks. We’ll get a group pic today with everyone! Front row from left: Kathe, Sarah, Lauren and Mary. Back row from left: Justin, Chalen, Miranda, Dave, Zach, Jessi, Mike and MK.

THANK YOU, Mizzou students! Every year, you impress us with your energy and ability to make a mundane, labor-intensive job a whole lot of fun. This year is no exception, and we so appreciate that you chose to come to Southwest Colorado for your spring break, to work instead of party – though we hope you have a lot of fun!

SCC crew cutting tamarisk

1 06 2014

Last week, a Southwest Conservation Corps crew spent four days in Spring Creek Basin cutting and spraying tamarisk. Kathe Hayes with San Juan Mountains Association played a big part in getting the crew here for this project, which – I think – was funded out of the Director’s Challenge grant our Tres Rios Field Office was awarded a couple of years ago.

Crew members are from Fort Defiance, Ariz. Several of them have been together since March, and a couple of them volunteered to join the crew for this project in the basin. Crew leader Lance Hubbard said this is his fourth or fifth season with SCC. Most of those have been spent doing irrigation, wash restoration and trail work; this was his first season to do chainsaw work. From here, they’ll head back to Ganado, Ariz., for all of the above.

Tamarisk eradication has been done off and on for many years in the basin. Some of our University of Missouri students have worked on it during alternative spring breaks with Kathe. Also working in the basin last week was a Forest Service sprayer, Gary, working in some of the main arroyos.


Five guys and one woman, ranging in age from 20 to 25, were on the crew (I couldn’t get them all in one frame until I made them pose for me at the end because they were all constantly in motion). Two wielded chain saws, cutting tamarisk as close to the ground as possible so the stumps would pose as little hazard as possible to the horses. Three cleared the branches and carried them to slash piles for later burning. And one sprayed the stumps with “Habitat” to prevent the tamarisk from growing back. Crew members traded spraying, carrying and cutting duties each day.


Shoanyah Halwood wielded one of the chainsaws. My back ached just watching her!


Matthew Begay wielded the other chainsaw. Adrian Benally was his partner to clear and carry branches to the slash piles.


Another one of Adrian and Matthew working together. Sprayed stumps are visible in the foreground.

Alonzo Moses, 23, carries cut tamarisk branches to a pile to be burned later.

Alonzo Moses carries branches that Shoanyah cut to a slash pile.


Crew leader Lance Hubbard also carried branches to slash piles.


Rolando Billie handled spraying duties on the crew’s last day in the basin. It was pretty warm during their week, but they had a little bit of cloud cover toward the end that helped.


From left: Adrian, Matthew, Rolando, Lance, Shoanyah and Alonzo. They’re standing where a big clump (grove?) of tamarisk once grew.

Getting rid of moisture-leaching, salt-depositing tamarisk is a big, worthwhile project in Spring Creek Basin, and we appreciate their work on behalf of our mustangs! They did see a couple of bands during the week and thought the horses were pretty cool. 🙂 Thanks to this hard-working crew!