Seventh annual Hassey “Goat Vacation” Day 5: Exploring Taos

Day 5 was kind of a dud–cold, windy, rainy, and spitting snow. We tethered the goats in the yard to graze for a couple of hours in the morning and then I bedded their trailer down deep in clean straw and gave them fresh hay so we could get them under shelter just in time for the nasty weather to blow in around 10:30. Phil and I took off to explore the area without goats. We drove up to Tres Piedres and saw the Earthship visitors center where we paid too much to see a model Earthship home. But we bought a book about harvesting rainwater which might come in handy for us one of these days.

Then we went to the Rio Grande Gorge bridge and walked across so we could spit off it. It was a very high bridge. The gorge was beautiful. But we were puzzled by the lack of parking. You could park on the limited shoulder on either side of the bridge. Or you could park at the visitors center. But there was no access from the visitors center to the bridge without hiking cross-country and climbing over a guardrail. It was very strange because the bridge had wide walking paths and observation balconies on both sides. And we didn’t understand this sign on the visitors center bathroom at all!

After lunch we visited a couple of museums and a wonderful rock shop. The rock shop was the highlight of the day. They had many beautiful mineral specimens, and Phil bought a bag of mineral spheres to add to his marble collection.

We let the goats out in the yard when we got back and they amused themselves at the apple tree.

Seventh annual Hassey “Goat Vacation” Day 4: Of Thrones and Fountains

Day 4 dawned clear and cold. It would be our last day of sunshine on this trip, and the temperature was predicted to stay cold. We originally planned to hike up to Williams Lake at the base of Wheeler Peak–New Mexico’s highest mountain. But that would have required a fairly long drive with the goats in the cold, open truck bed. There was a chance of warmer temperatures on Wednesday, so we put off the Williams Lake hike and I did a little research to find a better cold weather trail closer to Taos. I discovered Devisadero Loop Trail on the south side of Taos (where the sunshine was happening that day), and reviews said most of the trail was on the sunny side of the mountain. This sounded like a win to me! I love loop trails, and this one was about 6 miles long–perfect for two people still recovering from Friday’s hike to Wheeler, and from the previous day’s steep terrain.

The trail skirted the peak of a mountain overlooking Taos and offered stunning views of the city and surrounding mountains along most of the way. The reviews had been correct about the sunshine. Despite the cold temperatures, the sun hit this mountainside hard enough in the morning that I was able to hike in a T-shirt for the first part of the day.

Sputnik’s fluffy, warm hindquarters made a great resting spot. There was even a good pad of fat on that broad back of his!

Sometimes a bit of vandalism adds character to a place.

We were greeted by a series of three stone thrones at the top of the mountain. It was a perfect place to eat lunch, but I had to tie up the goats because people with dogs kept coming over the crest and we didn’t want any accidents or surprises.

According to the man who took this photo for us, the thrones were much bigger and more impressive until the Forest Service decided to intervene. In the name of “Leave No Trace”, the government decided to tear down the thrones, monuments, and other rock art at the top of the mountain. Naturally, the citizens came and put it back up, but apparently it does not live up to its former glory. The local who took the photo didn’t think much of the Forest Service any more.

We had equally good views on the hike back down.

I just love the shape of Finn’s horns.

We still had daylight left after the Devisadero Loop, and several trails started from the same parking area. So we explored the river bottom across the road from the Devisadero Loop for a while. We didn’t go far because we only wanted to see the leaves. The cottonwoods and willows were at peak color and their leaves carpeted the trail. Unfortunately the light was a little off and none of my photos came out very well, but it was a particularly relaxing and enjoyable little jaunt through golden, sun-dappled woods.

We finished hiking in mid-afternoon and there was one more thing I wanted to see. I’d read about the broken-down Ponce de Leon hot springs south of Taos and I wanted to see them. Reviews were mixed. One said the trail to it was closed. Another said the springs were silted in and choked with cattails and probably hadn’t been used in years. But other reviews said it was a wonderful, secluded little spot and showed photos of beautiful, clear pools–the remains of what once was a small resort built in the 1920’s and abandoned in the 1960’s.

It took a bit of looking, but we found a rough parking lot at the top of a narrow dirt road. It was full of broken glass and the road across the way was barred with a metal gate. Signs next to the gate indicated that the trail and springs were closed to vehicle traffic and were being managed by the Taos Pueblo Indian tribe. The signs were all shot up. It was an easy mile hike down to the springs and we had to go through a couple of gates.

When we got there we were greeted by a large silted-in pool filled with cattails just like the one-star review stated. No swimming to be done here! Too bad. It looked like a really nice pool at one time.

But a short hike up the hill and around some willows revealed the hidden spring. Apparently our one-star reviewer was not a very ambitious explorer. I dipped a finger in the water, expecting it to be too cool to tempt us in on such a cold day.

But I was pleasantly surprised! The water was not hot, but it felt wonderfully warm compared to the chilly air. The sun came from behind a cloud, showing wisps of steam hovering over the surface. Phil and I changed into our swimsuits and jumped in. It was not deep–only about 3 feet–but it was a delicious temperature on a 50-degree afternoon.

The goats had carried our swimsuits and towels down for us, but they had no desire to try the water for themselves (and it would have been bad manners to allow goats in the pool even if they wanted a dip). I tied them to a willow tree along the bank and they kept themselves very amused by trimming the foliage.

The water was some of the clearest I have ever seen. There was no sulfur smell–only pure, delicious, crystal-clear spring water running over a sand and gravel bottom through which you could feel the heat radiating up between your toes. It was good enough to drink, and Phil and I both had a sip from the cataract that tumbled into the pool.

Getting in was wonderful, but getting out was cold! We waited until the sun peeked from behind the clouds for a few minutes, and then hurried over to our towels and into our dry clothes. Finn got to carry my wet swimsuit back to the truck. I’m glad no one else was at the springs because I really didn’t want to hike back in my wet bathing suit, and there was nowhere convenient to change clothes except right by the side of the pool. I’m just not one of those “clothing optional” people even though this is a “clothing optional” pool.

I hope Ponce de Leon Springs is never “rediscovered” because it’s a gorgeous little gem just as it is. It provided the perfect end to a wonderful day.

Seventh annual Hassey “Goat Vacation” Day 3: The Cave and the Overlook

The ultimate destination for our goat vacation was Taos, NM. We rented a nice cabin through AirBnB which turned out to be perfect for bringing our goats. It was in a farming area with cows in the pasture next door, and there was enough area in our yard to tether the goats out when we weren’t hiking. The cottonwood trees were shedding their leaves and had lost some branches in the wind, so Finn and Sputnik were very pleased with their surroundings. It turned out there were also several different hiking trails within walking distance of our cabin!

Phil and I were still sore and tired from our long trek to Wheeler and back, so we decided to take it easy on our first day in Taos. We chose one of the trails up the road from our cabin which was described as having a waterfall and a cave. Well, the waterfall had dried up but the shallow cave was still there.

Finn the showoff decided to do some exploring higher up where the rest of us were afraid to go.

Sputnik says, “What are you doing up there? Are you crazy??”

He got pretty high!

Both goats enjoyed watching me crawl clumsily back down the rock. “She’s an idiot. Why doesn’t she just jump?”

Meanwhile, Finn somehow got himself turned around on that narrow ledge and climbed catlike down the face of the cliff. That boy is going to give me a heart attack one of these days!

Sputnik says, “Are you done showing us how awesome you are, Finn?”

The “waterfall” hike was so short that we decided to explore another trail. We ended up on the old Lucero Peak trail, which looks like it is barely used any more and hasn’t been maintained in a couple of decades. So much for our plan to “take it easy”! This was a very steep trail and it never relented! It appeared to be well-worn at one time, but logs have fallen across it in many places now. Luckily that does not stop goats!

We had a nice view of Taos on our way up.

The trail eventually petered out and we scrambled up a very steep, rocky slope with slippery dirt footing toward a rock outcropping where I thought we might have a good lookout. Here’s me looking out very nobly with my miniature packgoat looking out in the background. How did he suddenly get so small?

Phil looks out at a thunderstorm brewing over a distant mountain peak.

Finn looks out and then looks back.

And Sputnik says, “I’m tired of looking out. I want something to eat.”

Seventh annual Hassey “Goat Vacation” Day 2: Getting There is Half the Fun

The morning after our big hike to Wheeler, we finally got a good view of the place we were staying. I’d driven through Cottonwood Cove many times over the years when traveling to and from my hometown of Lake City, but I’d never stopped. It’s a beautiful little spot nestled down in a narrow notch between big cliffs known as “Wagon Wheel Gap”. I love staying in places like this with our goats because there are nice places to walk and for them to browse.

We had a leisurely drive from Wagon Wheel Gap to Taos. We took the longer scenic route through Chama, NM and stopped in Carson NF between Chama and Tres Piedras to do a little exploring.

I’ve never seen an aspen tree like this before. Its trunk was burnt black and knobbly and it split into several trees further up–common in evergreens, but not so much in aspens. It obviously had been struck by lightning but lived.

Not more than 25 feet away there was another lightning-struck aspen. This one was not so lucky.

We discovered a weather station back in the woods. It had obviously gone through several technological generations. This thing was fascinating. I’m sure it has something to do with measuring wind, but have no idea how it works.

Love the color of these aspens.

Seventh annual Hassey “Goat Vacation” Day 1: Wheeler

We left home late Thursday afternoon October 4th because our first stop was not very far–only about a 3 1/2 hour drive. Our destination was Wagon Wheel Gap, situated between South Fork and Creede, CO. Our cabins were only a mile from Pool Table Road, which would take us to our trailhead next morning. I was on a quest. Not only did I want to see Wheeler Geologic Area again (I hadn’t been there since 2004), but I was scouting for a potential spot for a future North American Packgoat Association Rendezvous. In that sense, I was disappointed. The area was not as ideal as I’d remembered, and pine beetles have made it temporarily even less suitable until the dead trees fall and the new ones can attain some height. But it was a perfect day for a hike.

The morning was clear but cold. We started off at 8:00 in the morning, and that was almost too early because our road was still in shadow at that hour. It was 12 miles from our cabin to the trailhead and the goats had to ride in the open truck bed with no sun to warm them. Luckily the 11-mile Pool Table Road had recently been graded. When I was there fourteen years before, it was a very slow, bumpy ride because of the terrible washboards. We parked where the 2-wheel-drive road ended. From there, you can 4-wheel to Wheeler, but it’s a very slow, very rough 14-mile drive. The hiking trail is only 7 miles by comparison, and by all accounts it’s easier and takes less time to walk.

Phil and I had a lot of miles to cover, so we kept up a pretty brisk pace. It was seven miles to the Wheeler area, but another mile to actually get to the formation, and more distance still if we wanted to walk around on it. The first few miles of our hike were frosty. We were mostly in the trees and the sun was also mostly blocked by a high ridge. It’s around 10:00 in this photo but there’s still frost on the ground.

Around noon, we came in sight of Wheeler Geologic Area. This was Colorado’s first National Monument, declared by Teddy Roosevelt himself in 1908. Wheeler was a far more popular tourist destination 100 years ago than it is today. It was known as the “Bryce Canyon of Colorado” and was the most popular tourist attraction in the state after Pike’s Peak. Now a century later, very few people have heard of it and even fewer have ever seen it.

And here we are on this bizarre formation of petrified and eroded volcanic ash. It’s very difficult to describe because it rises out of the trees like an incongruous scar. In Utah, the land changes gradually to the point where you almost of expect this kind of thing around any corner. But not here, emerging out of a spruce forest in Colorado. Like Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, you look at Wheeler and think to yourself that it just shouldn’t be there. And it certainly shouldn’t be that big.

I love this giant stone torch.

Phil and I had just enough time to climb to the top of the formation, but not enough time to walk the 2-mile trail around it.

I loved this hollowed-out stump on the way up.

It looks like a moonscape on top. I’d love to see this in the moonlight someday.

Balanced rock!

And before we wrap up this adventure, I must insert this blast from the past. Cuzco accompanied us on our trip to Wheeler in 2004. This was back when he still had two horns.

I was a lot skinnier and my hat was not yet faded.

I loved the colors in the woods. Dead trees are eerily fascinating with their weird, twisted bare branches. And then there are the new ones bursting up all around with their thick foliage and rich, green color. It’s as if they’re trying their best to make up for the ones that died.

Although it was long, the trail was not steep. A good stretch of it ran through an alpine meadow. We saw lots of elk tracks, and for an hour we heard so much bugling from the surrounding woods we thought maybe there was a national elk convention happening that day. But we never saw an actual elk.

There was one last golden aspen that caught the fading light at the end of day and turned it to fire. Had we been there a week earlier, the entire hillside would have been aflame.

Our trek ended right about sunset, and we arrived at our cabin close to dark. We were exhausted and our legs ached, but it was a wonderful day. We’d hiked a round trip of at least 16 miles with enough time in there to take some photos, eat lunch, and enjoy the scenery. What a wonderful place!

Goat-O-Rama at the 2018 Colorado State Fair

The Colorado State Fair was a great success this year! Phil and I were in charge of setting up the goat obstacle course, so instead of bringing dairy goats we decided this time to bring just Finn and Sputnik so we could concentrate on fewer things. There were entries in every division from Pee-Wee to adult, and the adult division actually had the biggest turnout. The stands around the arena were filled to capacity. This made it a really fun time with lots of laughs and energy. We had a nice variety of colorful obstacles to make the course interesting.

Phil was the master course designer and he did a great job giving the course a nice flow.

There wasn’t an overall Grand Champion, but if there had been I think this little gal and her Nigie would have won on cuteness alone.

All of our competitors were dairy goats and got to run the course without equipment. But Finn and Sputnik got duded up in saddles for the occasion. The announcer did a great job building us up as professional obstacle course competitors who spend hours practicing at home and touring the country. The audience was fully prepared to be wowed by our supergoats’ stellar performances.

But Finn and Sputnik had other ideas. Sputnik is perfectly capable of clearing this jump on the topmost rung, but the minute we came in the gate, he planted his feet and absolutely refused to budge. He didn’t care how low the jump was–he wasn’t going to attempt it. Treats held no interest for him. He’d decided he didn’t want to do the obstacle course and that was that. He was the only goat in the entire competition who would not clear the jump in any way and had to go around. One disadvantage to using a full-grown packgoat is that if he decides not to do something, there’s no way you can drag him, lift him, or push him over!

We struggled through the most of the obstacles with Sputnik dragging stubbornly at the end of the leash, his face fixed in a permanent sulk. However, he picked up his pace once we turned back toward the gate (and toward Finn waiting at the other side of it), and I thought perhaps we would finish well.

But a few seconds later, all forward motion ceased when Sputnik balked at the water and refused to budge another step. How many times have Sputnik and I practiced this exact obstacle? “For shame, Sputnik!” After circling it 2-3 times, he did eventually tip-toe through, but I was a little red-faced from my goat’s apparent lack of training, and from my efforts at trying to haul him through by main force (see previous statement)

Finn did a little better than Sputnik. He balked at first but eventually decided to clear the jump. He went over the teeter-totter like a champ and I thought the rest would go well.

Although Finn was fairly willing, Phil had difficulty guiding him through the narrow weave poles and Finn got his saddle caught a couple of times. This obstacle cost Phil and Finn a lot of time.

The water was a sticking point for Finn too.

But Finn’s run ended on a high note. Finn loves to jump up on a stanchion, and he stood poised at the end with his head cocked proudly toward the audience so they could take photos. He didn’t want to get down.

I believe Sputnik ended up placing dead last in the obstacle competition, and Finn didn’t do much better. But it was hilarious and everyone had a great time. I can’t wait to go again next year!

After the obstacle competition came the much-anticipated annual goat costume contest. Unfortunately, it seems that most years the only people who really anticipate the costume event are Phil and I. But this year quite a few kids dressed up, which sure made the event a lot more fun!

Some lovely entries in the junior class.

This little gal was the lone contestant in the pee-wee division. Wait–I think the goat’s dress was on the girl during the obstacle class!

Although the judges awarded these two second place, Phil and I would have placed them first. This is Dorothy and the goat is Toto in a picnic basket.

Phil and I had complimentary costumes. Our goats were ships and their “costumes” were limited to flags. We rigged our crossbucks with bungee cords and used them as sling shots to lob mini tennis balls at each other in a great sea battle.

Phil was the British naval captain, Lord Ramage.

I was Captain Goatbeard the pirate. You can’t see it in the photo, but Sputnik was wearing an eye patch! I named my ship the “Baa-aarnacle”. That name works in goat language AND pirate speech!

There was another adult besides Phil and I in the costume class this year! Last year was the first time this happened, so perhaps we’re seeing the start of a trend (fingers crossed!). This was Dr. Ellie from Jurassic Park with her little triceratops.

What a fun event! I hope we see an even bigger turnout next State Fair!

Why goats make the best pack animals…

Gayle recently sent me her photos from our pack trip a few weeks ago. I love this one. This is why I love goats. Finn laid down right behind me and Sputnik curled up near my feet. I leaned back and used Finn for a pillow so I could have a comfy little nap, and Finn curled his head around and rested it on my shoulder so he could have a comfy nap too. It was such a sweet moment.

Goat-O-Rama at the State Fair Parade

Phil and I drove our team and carriage in the Colorado State Fair parade this morning. And just for a little added fun, we brought Max and Sadie with us as passengers and to help us advertise Goat-O-Rama.

I had some custom car magnets made up so we could add them to our carriage. I figured this might be a good way to sell some goats.

Sadie was awesome. This was her first time away from home and she never made a peep or got fractious. We had Max in the wagon bed with her at first, but he kept hogging all the space and pushing her off the side, so we removed Max and let Sadie ride by herself. We made Max walk on a leash beside the carriage during the parade and Sadie went straight to relaxing once he was gone. She laid right down and stayed there quite contentedly during the entire parade. It was funny to hear the kids squeal with delight when they spotted her laying down in the carriage. They’d squeal at the goat cart first, and then the volume would go up considerably when they spied Sadie. They’d jump up and down screaming, “Look! Look! There’s a baby goat riding in the back!”

We were entry #88, which meant we didn’t really get started until after 11:00, but we had to be at our place in line by 9:30. This meant we had a long, tiring wait. It was fun for Phil and I because we enjoyed watching the parade go by in front of us (our lineup position was on an intersecting side road), but Finn and Sputnik weren’t interested in the parade so they just had to be patient. Luckily we found a shady spot under a tree. The parade seemed to be largely made up of huge, noisy marching bands. Luckily the goats didn’t mind the noise at all and weren’t nervous. The only thing that upset the boys was when a young kid ran up and hit Finn in the face with a balloon during lineup. His mother grabbed the kid and scolded him pretty soundly and apologized to us. Finn and Sputnik spooked and jumped backwards, probably not so much out of fear but from surprise that someone would do something so rude. I don’t think they’d ever seen a balloon up close before, and they’re certainly not used to someone walking up and bopping them in the face! I’m glad the kid’s mother took charge right away.

Sadie was a picture of contented relaxation the entire time–first while we waited in line and then while we marched in the parade. But Max was something else altogether. He’s not particularly rowdy or mischievous, but I’ve never seen a goat so “on the move”. He has to be doing something all the time. And he’s extremely enthusiastic about whatever it is he happens to be doing, so he’s a wonderfully fun goat to be with. He ended up walking the parade route on a leash because he wouldn’t share the wagon nicely with Sadie. Today was his first time wearing a halter, and he led very well in it. Phil didn’t once have to get out of the carriage and encourage him on foot.

Finn and Sputnik were eager to get back to the staging area after the parade and head home. They were wonderfully good during the parade, but it was a long, long wait before we started and the weather was hot and humid. They earned their break today! And I’m really proud of Max and Sadie. They were little troopers.

Multi-species pack trip: Day 4

I awoke next morning to a heavy feeling in the air and the smell of rain. The sky was low and dark. We packed up camp before breakfast so we could beat a hasty retreat in case it started raining. But the rain held off and Gayle cooked egg and bean burritos for us.

It drizzled on and off as we headed back to the trailhead. The thick brush on this part of the trail soaked us from the waist down and drenched the panniers from the bottom so that when I got back to my truck, stuff in the top of Finn’s panniers was dry while the stuff in the bottom was damp.

Finn was a little sore starting out. He never objected to being saddled–in fact, he seemed quite eager to the task–but when he started walking I could tell that his back was sore. He was hollowing his back and walking with his hind end crouched low to the ground as if trying to walk out from under his load. I readjusted the saddle and tightened the cinch another notch to keep the load from swaying. It helped, but I could tell Finn was mostly just sore from yesterday’s steep descent. I need to find a saddle that fits him better. This one is ok, but it’s a little too narrow for Finn’s wide frame and it bridges a bit in the middle.

Sputnik was a champ. He loves having a job and it really showed on this trip.

The last creek crossing.

Gayle, me, Alexa.

We got back to the trailhead and our day’s adventures had only just begun. Gayle had driven a huge rig into the parking area and it took us around two hours to figure out how she could get it back out. It wasn’t as straightforward as backing onto the highway they way she’d come in and then driving up the road to find a turnaround. No, the highway was closed to vehicles over 35′ because of the sharp hairpin turns that started immediately above the trail parking area, and there was no turnaround. Suffice to say, it was extremely fortunate that several cars left the parking area during the two hours we spent trying to figure out how to get her rig out of there.

By the time we finally got going, all of us were sopping wet and very tired, but it had been a wonderful outing. This was a great first experience at multi-day goat packing for me. The goats seemed to love it too. They never once shied off or walked away when I got out the saddles in the morning–even Finn with his sore back. They stood for saddling and loading without being tied or held. The boys’ training is pretty solid and it showed, but Petunia was my little wild card. She’s never been a trail goat and knew nothing of trail manners or of her place in line. She would cut in front of the boys, then cut in front of me, then go off-trail for a snack, and she liked to cut switchbacks. Her bad manners tended to make Finn and especially Sputnik forget their training, so I had to do a lot of reminding on this trip. But I feel like if Petunia hadn’t been there to lead them astray, Finn and Sputnik’s manners would have been pretty impeccable. They were never really bad even with the distraction, and there were only one or two times when I had to remind the boys about staying on-trail for switchbacks regardless of Petunia’s antics. It makes me feel good to know that the time spent working on trail manners has paid off so well. I can’t wait for our next trip!

Multi-species pack trip: Day 3

I turned the goats loose after breakfast and Sputnik soon settled himself on a sunny little perch on a mossy rock.

This morning I waited until the llama saddling was well underway before I began packing up my goats.

But it didn’t matter. Soon my goats and I settled back down while Alexa and Gayle wrestled with Tuvoc and Spot. Tuvoc kept kicking while Spot turned saddling into a full-fledged rodeo. When she wasn’t bucking, charging, and spinning, she was laying down in protest.

Even hyper-active Petunia took the opportunity to nap a little longer.

Things went much better once we got underway. Spot realized we were headed back the way we came and she stopped dragging on the rope.

Gayle was even able to tie Spot to Tuvoc without wearing the 18-year-old llama out.

The trip out ended up being much easier than the trip down, despite the uphill climb. We stopped wasting time searching for a trail and instead we stuck to the creek bank. We crossed and re-crossed the creek many times to stay on firm footing. I imagine this valley is pretty tedious during a wet year. In fact, I wonder if the trail was obliterated last summer when we had so much rain.

It was a beautiful hike now that the sun was out and we weren’t in a hurry.

Sputnik’s pack was a good deal lighter after last night’s feast!

We enjoyed sunshine on our hike back up the valley. The scenery was so beautiful I couldn’t stop taking pictures.

Once we started up the steep part, the goats made the rest of us look bad.

Gayle and Tuvoc: Mountain conquerors!

Waiting for llamas… again.

Finn is dwarfed by that pack!

Here comes the first llama!

We picked up the trail at the base of the boulder field, but it branched off in several different directions near the top. Gayle and Tuvoc took the high road, Alexa and Spot took the low road, and my goats and I took the one in the middle. Alexa and Spot met some hikers going the other way. Finn and Sputnik studied them with interest from above.

We crested the saddle and stopped at the pond on top for an hour or so. Alexa wanted to fish. The sun was warm and the grass was soft. It was the perfect place for a picnic. I unloaded Finn and Sputnik so they could have a proper break. If I hadn’t left their brightly-colored saddles on, you’d have a hard time spotting my goats among all the gray and white rocks!

Sputnik always manages to find a little nook to lie in.

A bearded dragon goat!

I haven’t seen Gayle’s photos yet, so I hope she got a good one of me and Finn. Finn plopped down behind me on the grass, so I leaned back and used his warm, soft belly for a pillow. That’s when he curled his head around me, rested his chin on my shoulder, and promptly went to sleep with his cheek against mine.

After our rest at the pond, Gayle and I headed down the mountain to start setting up camp while Alexa finished fishing. The llamas were going well because they were headed back, so Gayle was able to string them together and lead them by herself. It was the goats that had problems on the steep descent! Sputnik uses a Sopris saddle with a flexible tree, and it isn’t always the best at staying put. The steepness of the hillside caused it to inch forward until the cinch worked its way up to a narrower part of his chest. Once that happened, the saddle promptly slid off to one side. Sputnik stopped and waited for me to come back and fix it. I did my best, but the hill was so steep I couldn’t find a good spot to readjust the saddle. I would have liked to remove the panniers and start from scratch, but I was afraid if I took them off they would go rolling down the mountainside. So I had to fix the saddle as best I could with the panniers attached, which meant I couldn’t tighten the cinch properly. Naturally it happened again… and again… and probably one more time after that… before we reached the bottom. Sputnik was very patient. Every time the saddle slid off, he just stopped and waited for me to go back and fix it. I think many animals would have run off with the turned-over panniers flapping and spilling their contents all over the mountain.

Finn’s wooden John Mionczynski saddle stayed centered, but the front edge of the saddle slid up against his shoulder blades and made him a bit sore. This is where I wish goat saddles were made with an upturned front edge like horse saddles. That straight edge can really dig into their shoulders when they’re carrying a heavy load down steep terrain.

All this fiasco meant that Gayle and her llamas got well ahead of me before I reached the valley floor. This was a novel experience and I had the opportunity to stop and take some beautiful photos of her in this breathtaking green valley. I love the creek meandering through it.

Gayle and I reunited in the valley and Gayle had me lead Tuvoc down the next steep section. It had some tricky spots on it that required more maneuvering than she she thought she should do with the llamas strung together. The goats had no difficulty crossing a large, steep boulder the size of a dump truck, and they went on ahead of us down the trail. Little did they know that I planned to take Tuvoc around the far side of the boulder. When the goats looked back and didn’t see me following them down the rock, they panicked and ran back up to look for me. They came bursting around the boulder just as Tuvoc and I were about to carefully negotiate a series of smaller boulders. Tuvoc spooked and leaped off the rocky hillside, smacking me square between the shoulder blades with his right pannier in the process. I almost lost my balance on the rocks and started to fall as Tuvoc pulled the rope out of my hands. I know I should have held onto him, but I was afraid he was going to pull me right off the edge, so I let go. By some miracle I managed to stay upright, but Tuvoc was trotting down the mountain as fast has his old legs would go and the goats were chasing after him. I called the goats back while Gayle jogged down the trail after Tuvoc. Thankfully it was the old, highly trained llama that had escaped and not the wild, unhandled one. Tuvoc eventually stopped in some thick brush near a creek crossing so he could wait for Spot and that’s when Gayle managed to catch hold of his rope.

We set up camp in the same spot we had used on our way out. I unloaded the goats and Finn and Sputnik immediately crashed while Petunia went straight to eating.

Finn fell asleep almost at once.

Then it was Sputnik’s turn to fall over. The goats never laid out on their sides at the same time. One always waited for the other to pop up before he flopped over.

The sun was hot on the hilltop but Petunia found some relief under the rain fly of our tent.

What a view!

Spot was tired too.

Sputnik laid down near Spot. By the third day, Spot was accustomed to the goats and didn’t mind them at all. The goats enjoyed hanging out in Spot’s picket area that evening and the next morning.

I don’t know how they sleep like this. It looks uncomfortable to lay balanced on a single horn tip.