Friday, February 7, 2014

Traffic Jam on a Seventy-Mile Stretch of Road without Services

 When you're driving on a seventy-mile stretch of road with no services, no stoplights, no stop signs, and only one house, you don't expect to slam on the brakes. But that's exactly what I had to do when I saw that the road was blocked by traffic. It wasn't exactly the traffic you see most places. This was a huge flock of sheep.

Open-range laws are in effect here, where the sheep have the right-of-way. The open range goes back in history. Until barbed wire was invented in the 1870s, it was much easier to fence places where you wanted to keep livestock out, rather than to keep them in. Gradually practices changed, but there are still a few places in the American West where you can find open range.

 I didn't mind stopping and watching the sheep pass by. I think sheep are kind of cute!

 It was a steady stream of sheep crossing the road.

 Occasionally a brown sheep passed by. The sheep owner usually puts in one brown sheep for every 25 or 50 white sheep so they can be counted more easily. Also, an occasional sheep has on a sheep bell, ringing loudly as the sheep moves so that the sheepherder can follow the sheep by sound.

 One sheepherder, along with a couple dogs, can easily move a couple thousand sheep. Many of the sheepherders these days come from Peru and Mexico. About a hundred years ago, many of them came from Basque country in northern Spain, which accounts for the large number of Basque restaurants in places like Elko, Nevada.

After all the sheep had crossed the road, a large sheep dog followed casually. The sheep dogs help protect the sheep and are often a little scary, but this one was friendlier than usual. Still, I wouldn't want to get out of the vehicle.

Well, our little traffic jam only lasted about five minutes. I could easily live with that. Our quick stop also reinforced that you shouldn't go anywhere without your camera!

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