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Pin The Tale On The Donkey
This tale begins in Durango, Colorado a beautiful and rugged state. The year is 1998 and on everyone's mind is the year 2000 and Y2K. My partner and I had been discussing getting donkeys and traveling without a car, in the united states. We were living on some communal land outside of Durango, Colorado. At this time we owned a Subaru GL Wagon 4x4. It was a time in our lives to make a change for many reasons. We left the Durango area and headed south by car to escape the deep snow of Colorado's winters. South of Durango, is the town of Farmington, New Mexico where in a restaurant we were reading the classifieds in the local paper. The classified add read "Two female donkeys for sale $400 for the pair." And a phone number to call in Aztec, New Mexico. Aztec is a little north of Farmington so we called and made arrangements to see the two Jenny Burros for $200 each. Now keep in mind we had paid $800 for the Subaru Wagon. These asses were priced right for us. We sold the car for the low price of $300 to a friend. As arranged we met the owner of the donkeys in Aztec. The donkeys were beautiful, one was all white, and the other was burgundy with a dapple underbelly. The donkeys were about 7 or 8 years old. I named my new white donkey Jenny Jo Jo, after the Beatles song that goes like this "get back Jo Jo to the place where you once belonged". My partner named her new donkey Jasper. After a few weeks had passed of visiting and getting acquainted with our new to us pack animals. We fed them snacks and got to know them better and they us. Then we arranged a truck and trailer ride from the previous owner of the donkeys. He took us some miles south to Blue Water Lake and there we were two donkeys, two dogs and two humans plus 200 pounds of gear and packing tack. Well you could not get any greener than my partner and I that first day. The donkeys themselves had not been worked with in many years. They did not know us very well either. We were in the middle of nowhere New Mexico and there were no longer any corrals or fences to contain the Donkeys. Free of a car we were and at the first days of an epic journey. We were very green and afraid to let the donkeys graze like they wanted too. The first walk in the Blue Water Lake area was intense, because the donkey Jasper being lead by her new owner, my partner, broke away from her grip. Yes, after flying through the air an losing a shoe she had to let go and from this point on we used grain and treats to bring the donkeys back to us after they grazed. Donkeys like to eat grasses, weeds, and bushes. They really like thistle weeds, hay, and grains. Well we used a high line tied as high as we could reach between two trees, to secure the donkeys. We were using a rope connected to the high line and the donkeys necks this way they could walk in small circles and lay down too. As for the two dogs I will discuss them latter. As for the 200 pounds of gear and tack we realized we could not pack all of it with us on just two donkeys. So we paired it down too what we really needed. We gave away some of our heavier food and some camping gear. Oh, what a mess the tack we had was, two cross bucks and some webbing a couple of breach straps and but straps and belly straps. The first time we tried to fit the donkeys with their tack it kept getting tangled in the high line and neck leash we had configured. As fate would have it we got the donkeys tacked up and loaded at about their max weight allowance. The donkeys weigh about 1,200 pounds and stand about twelve hands high. A donkey can carry about 200 pounds. But maxing them out initially was not a good idea. The donkeys through their loads all over the ground the first couple of times we loaded them up. It is quite the balancing act to get the weight of the panniers right. Each side of the donkey has to be of equal load weight. If anyone would have been watching they would have been laughing for sure. However their wasn't anybody to see for miles and miles at Blue Water Lake. Finally after using water as ballast we were able to balance our loads and we were ready to move. We walked south along Blue Water Creek a route we had never traveled before. To the south lay the greater part of a huge state of New Mexico. Our planned destination of the San Francisco River in the Southwest corner of the state and Bubbles Hot Springs was 400 miles away. New Mexico is a very diverse state with mountains and desserts rivers and lakes. Our itinerary was to hike leading the jennies eight to ten miles per day in a southwesterly direction.
In the state of New Mexico livestock has the right of way in all situations. Much of the time we hiked on a vast network of roads and trails through central New Mexico. On or near the fifth day of our journey I got this wild hair up my ass, to ride a donkey so I jumped on Jasper in the evening after packing her all day that day. I was so eager to ride, I was bareback and had no headgear for riding. I was a fool, green like the grass, Jasper bucked and I thought I might get off of her. My first dismount off my partners Jenny, Jasper was off of her rump and into mid air. Life taught me a great lesson that evening for as I dismounted, Jasper kicked back she caught me in mid air, spread eagle, right in my crotch. I landed on my ass and immediately curled into the fetal position my partner ran over to me and she said I was a Dumb Ass for riding her Jenny. I laid there moaning and repeating anywhere but there, referring to me swelling crotch. Yes, my right testicle swelled to the size of a tennis ball, a hard fuzzy tennis ball. I crawled into Blue Water creek it was very cold coming out of Blue Water lake. I spent two days in the creek to try to bring down the swelling of my manhood. I have been hurt in my life in many ways, I have broken bones and I would say that my encounter with a hoof of a donkey was the worst pain ever. Overall it took about one year to heal. it was still spring and the weather in Northern New Mexico was mostly nice. The days were getting longer each day. My partner thought that I would just quit and not go on after being injured from riding her ass. I hung onto Jo Jo Jenny for support and we walked on. I took pain reliever often to ease the pain of my swollen nut. We walked about eight to twelve miles per day. We had many maps of New Mexico some of which showed where there was springs or other water sources we could use to water the donkey's and dogs and ourselves. It did not take long for us to find a order to our pack string. Gila Monster a fifty pound mutt mix dog liked to pull and keeping the the donkey's moving forward was her job. There was lots of weeds to eat along the way and we carried some grains the donkey's were fed well as we went. Jasper's lead rope was tied into Gila Monsters harness she was pulled forward this way. Then came Jo Jo Jenny Who was all white and quickly picked up the nickname Marshmallow Moon Beam. The two Jenny's would fallow each other straight through the fires of hell if they had too. Bringing up the rear was Artemis a wolf collie cross who weighed about one hundred pounds. She was bonded to me because I raised her from a pup and would fallow me anywhere. Gila Monster was black and white and Artemis was blonde and white. We hiked in single file mile after mile, we counted each mile maker as a milestone of our progress through this rugged country. We followed Blue Water creek on forest roads, flanked by juniper trees and pinon pine. We reached the town of Milan, New Mexico and our first major interstate crossing. I-40 lay ahead of us like a nightmare. The donkeys were still very green and we were at our wits end less than two weeks into our journey. Then we had to make choice to go under or over I-40. We choose over the freeway on a bridge. It was quickly evident that the donkeys had never crossed a bridge over a Hi-way with trucks and cars zooming underneath. It took a-lot of frustrating work to get over this challenge. We crossed I-40 however near Milan, where the frontage road was on the south side of the freeway we walked some more. There was an old abandoned ranch house near the frontage road and we had to stop for the night. Totally wiped out we made a camp like we had done over the last two weeks with a tent. There was nothing for the donkey's to eat and we were all thirsty. We were so green and the donkey's were not happy where we chose to camp. That evening we let the donkey's loose my partner nearly freaked out completely there we were with all our gear and no way to move it. In the morning when we woke up the donkey's were nowhere to be found. Hell, was looking inviting at this point. No grass, no water and no shade we broke camp. My partner was crying and and I told her it would be alright. I could see the gas station on the interstate from our camp and I walked to it. I got to the gas station and filled up six gallons of water in our plastic jug. Then I went to the public phone and found the phone book, looking up outfitters I found about three in the area. I called one of the numbers. I got a hold of an outfitter who was not terribly busy he agreed to meet me where I was. He showed up in a light truck and we drove around to the camp. My partner was still upset but I told her this is only the first time we lost our asses. The outfitter and I went driving around the area for about half the day until we found the lost donkey's. Fortunately there are many fences in this area and the donkeys were only able to back track our course in a northerly direction about three miles. I was very relieved when we found them safe and the donkey's had found some water and a grassy area to graze. The outfitter told us he would take us by truck to Quemado Lake about sixty miles south of Milan. Between Milan and Quemado Lake was the Malpais National Monument a volcanic lava bed of razor sharp obsidian. Like jagged glass in all directions for fifty square miles. Plus the outfitter told us that there was a prison in the area and every time an inmate escaped from the Prison they fled into the Malpais. A no mans land with no water. It was at this time that I could see that letting the donkeys lose was the best choice we could have made. As we drove through the Malpais we could see that the road through the National Monument had tightly strung barbwire on both sides of the road. We would have had no place to walk and no water. It was truly a blessing to get this ride through the Monument. Quemado Lake, O.K. so we cheated a bit hitchhiking with two dogs, two donkeys, and two greenhorns. My partner was proud of me for getting us this far, and I was glad I did not quit. Three days passed roughly uneventfully at Quemado Lake, we had plenty of food and some money left after paying for our wrangler and the ride. Much hitchhiking and backtracking were in our future. Most of the people we met while we were hiking along the forest roads were very friendly and offered us drinks like a cold soda or beer. Everyone we met were like hey where is your truck and trailer. We would explain that we were getting back to it back to the old ways as best we could. Neither my partner or I missed working the daily grind of the nine to five. Our work was twenty-four-seven-three-sixty-five all day all year. We survived and overcame many challenges on our journey through the great state of New Mexico. Roughly at this point in our trek we were parallel with the New Mexico section of the (CDT) Continental Divide Trail. Roughly a jagged line of high mountains and mesas make up the CDT. Water on the west side generally in most cases flows to the west and the eventual Pacific Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico. Likewise on the east side the water generally and in most cases flows to the east and the eventual Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico. Thus dividing the nation and the continent in half. The elevation we were near was roughly 3,500 feet. This was a pretty temperate altitude to be at this time of year in the state of New Mexico. We hiked along route 32 generally between Quemado Lake and Apache Creek. Camping by night and packing by day. We met some outfitters along the way that offered us some sanctuary at their camp and a hot meal. When we arrived in Apache Creek we went to the gas station instead of buying a tank of gas we asked for a bale of alfalfa hay. It costs us six dollars and was well worth it. The donkeys loved the hay and ate most of the bale. It was so interesting to us to buy hay at the gas station instead of gas.
Right Of Way
Right of way is given to the pack animals and pedestrian combinations, over all other uses in the state of New Mexico. Even backpackers have to yield to livestock. Also New Mexico is a fence out state, meaning if you do not want animals on your land you have to fence them out. These two laws were paramount to packing donkeys in New Mexico. We were steadfast in our effort to stay on forest roads and on National Forests, however the only way to cross a bridge was on the Hi-Way.
Getting Back to It
My partner and I wanted to get back to the old ways, while living in modern times.