I have a real luck with animals on this trip…
Just after posting about the ghost pig-like creatures haunting my campsite in Valley of the Gods, I had a run in with aggressive cows at a fantastic campsite at the base of the Isle of Ewe crags in the Cochise West Stronghold of the Dragoon Mountains in Southern Arizona.
My second day there, I found a great campsite with lots of shade in the daytime, a big fire ring, and a 30-second walk to a crag with bolted slab routes a la Joshua Tree. Although there were more fresh cow patties than the campsite my first night, I didn’t think much of it. There were only 2 cows off in the distance in the trees that first morning, and they shooed away easily.
As the sun sunk quickly past the Westward mountains across the Tombstone, AZ valley, the cows’ moos were heard more loudly than ever before. Slowly but surely, a much larger heard than expected ambled up the slope towards my campsite, munching grass and eating low tree branches along the way.
They were curious about me, trying to figure out why a human creature was in their evening grazing patch. A friend told me cows wouldn’t come close to the campfire, if I made one. He also suggested throwing a fist-full of gravel at a cow if one came too close. He said cows were generally wary of humans and easily skittish. Apparently these cows never got that memo…
The campfire blazed yellow, but the cows kept coming. As nightfall deepened into a moonless black, I heard the cows shuffling in the grass and snapping twigs closer and closer to the campsite. When I turned my headlight on and looked up, two shiny wide-set eyes would peer back at me, a hulking dark nothingness extending beyond them.
Suddenly, I heard a booming sound which seemed to come from the front of the pickup. I paused. Then another one – this time the sound of metal! I ran to the front of the pickup, and a large black heifer ambled just out of reach. Looking down, my headlamp lighting up the front grill, Priscilla’s tail was gone!
Priscilla is the pink stuffed cat tied on to my grill. She’s been on my pickup since I left the Bay Area in 2011. Now grey and covered in bug goo, she’s also tailless. I yelled at the cow, “That’s not food! You’re going to get indigestion!”. She just stared back at me, tail swishing, then lumbered away slowly, chewing her stuffed animal tail cud. What was she thinking?!? How could the tail of a stuffed animal three years on my grill be tasty and appealing? My frustration didn’t last long as the ridiculous hilarity of the whole situation took over. I’m just grateful the cow didn’t destroy the truck’s grill.
Worn out from the day’s climbing, I finally packed up the cooking area, washed up, and crawled into the campershell for sleep. That’s when the cow antics _really_ started.
The cows had an uncanny sense to know when I had just fallen asleep. Maybe I really do snore? I don’t know. Within minutes of dozing off, I heard a crashing boom. Fumbling for my headlamp, I turned it on, pointed it outside towards the fire pit, and opened the hatch.
The box of firewood was turned on its’ side, food wrappers and cardboard strewn on the ground. One cow scampered away when I opened the hatch. The other one just stood there, taking my tongue lashing. I kept telling them, “I eat you! Go away! Leave my stuff alone! I was here first! There’s plenty of grass around!”, but they just stared back at me.
I shut the hatch and tried to go back to sleep. Two more times, JUST as sleep graced itself into my consciousness, more catastrophic booms. The last time, there were FIVE cows huddling by the fire pit! I opened the hatch once more, and off they went. I really hollered this time. Then, gave up. By now it was close to 10PM, way past my camping bedtime, and I was simply exhausted. All the food was in the truck’s cab, per usual, so the cows could root in the firewood box all they wanted. There was nothing that would interest them outside, or so I thought…
Morning came entirely too early. The wind was quite blustery, and I slept in. When my bladder threatened suicide, I finally got up, but vowed to return to my sleeping bag for a nap.
The campsite scene was unreal. No item escaped the cows’ carnage. For whatever reason, these cows thought every one of my items was edible. Honestly, they were worse than goats!
The little velcro pillow on my folding barcalounger actually had leftover grass cud on it & chew markings from some ding dong cow! Every single item: extra gas container, Coleman two-burner stove, hula hoop, even the side of my pickup, had muddy cuddy slop on it from the cows sniffing and snortling.
I don’t mind dirt. I wouldn’t be on a month-long camping trip if I did. But, I DO mind muddy saliva from an animal on my stuff. They even mouth-groped the 2 gallon water jug spout. Ai, chihuahua!
I did my best to wipe everything off, but it’s all been cowed. My biggest concern is what to do tonight. Things like the barcalounger don’t have a spot inside the cab, it’s too small and the chair is too cumbersome. I’ll have to find a way to get everything tucked away and outside of the reach of a cow. It’s worse than child-proofing a home.
Yes, unfortunately, there’s more. This afternoon the cows planned a stealth sneak attack. They came earlier and unannounced, read: no mooing. As I was wrapping up a climb I once more heard a loud “boom” from the campsite vicinity, where my trusty steed Geena the pickup lay waiting. I looked down the path, and saw a black cow in the bush, 40 yards away. Crap!
With my climbing shoes still on, harness & gear jingling, and climbing helmet on my head, I raced down the path as fast as possible. A large momma cow sauntered away chewing the Chicago Blackhawks license plate holder from the front of the pickup! What!?!? She ripped the whole front plate off, the screws and plate lying feebly in the dirt under the bumper. Even the corner of the license plate had bovine saliva on it!
It just didn’t make any sense! Cows don’t normally do this! When I checked the rest of the campsite, a cow had gummed the handle of my trekking pole, and re-chewed the folding chair pillow. Dirty plates of leftover foodstuffs were out in the open, untouched. I was utterly dumbstruck. How could gnawing on plastic be tasty to a cow?
I packed up as much as I could, putting the folding chair on the roof of the cab, the only place I could think of. At least it was out of reach. I scolded the cows once more, and shooed them away as best as I could. The amazing thing was, they weren’t afraid of me, and barely walked away from the pickup. They clearly wanted something from me, but I couldn’t figure out what. Either way, I couldn’t help them.
The sun was really beginning to set now, and I wanted to finish my last climb. I raced back to the crag, and hustled up the slab face as fast as I could. As I got higher on the route, I could see the cows milling about the campsite. I kept yelling out to them, “I see you cows! I know what you’re up to! Shoo! Go away!” It did no good.
After the final rappel, I packed up my gear as quickly as I could, knowing the cow marauders were still on the loose. Suddenly…
Boom! Boom! Boom!
Oh, no. I dropped everything, still in my climbing shoes & harness, and hauled butt to the campsite. The same momma cow ambled away from the front of the pickup. This time, she had Priscilla the Cat’s head in her mouth!
My precious kitty Guardian Angel, the one who prevented further damage to the front grill with that same big fluffy head, was no more. It was a sad, terrible moment. Only a faintly pink kitty body, no tail, with stuffing billowing out of the torn neck, remained. It was gruesome carnage.
Now I was steamed. I waved the trekking pole at the cows, really yelling & shooing them away. Big Momma Cow dropped the slobbery stuffed head into the dirt, and sauntered on. I bent down to examine Priscilla, and the momma cow began to sneak up from behind! I yelled and waved at her again. This time, she stamped her foot and snorted. Whoa.
A little startled, a little more cautious, I glared at her in return, and went back to my business. This time she veered to the left of me, going after Priscilla’s head in the dirt.
No dice, Ms. Cow! I shooed Big Momma off, and used the trekking pole to roll the decapitated kitty’s head far under the truck, so she couldn’t get at it. That’ll show her. I began to notice the younger adolescent cows and younger momma cows were not doing the same behavior. It really seemed like only the older one, the Big Pack Momma, was chewing on stuff.
After more scolding, the cows finally lumbered off around the bend. I raced back to the crag, the sun had just dunked under the mountains across the valley. I hastily packed up as much as I could, running back to the campsite. When the cows remained gone, I phoned the same friend for support.
After the initial frustration wore off and the ridiculous insanity of the situation hit me, my pal & I discussed what could’ve motivated such strange cow behavior. Being a City Kid, I had no idea, since I’ve only come this close to cows at petting zoos as a child.
My friend suggested the Big Momma, and maybe the others, too, were salt deprived. It explained the gnawing on the items on the pickup’s front. The license plate holder & Priscilla Cat have been on my pickup through many Winters in locations where salt is used on the road. There must’ve been salty residue on the front of the pickup. This is why the food dishes remained untouched.
I felt a little guilty at being so mad & harshly shooing the cows away. They were just trying to meet their needs. However, not being their caretakers, I had no way to serve them. And, I needed to protect my belongings from further slobbery cow maulings.
I counted my blessings. It could have been worse. They could have actually _eaten_ the chair cushion, or the chair, or the poles. Instead, those items just got slobbered on. Although the Big Momma DID eat the license plate holder and Priscilla, at least no windows were smashed, no tires punctured, or worse: coyotes.
Needless to say, my pal encouraged me to find a new campsite the next day. I hated to give up my primo spot, but couldn’t stand the thought of another sleepless Angry Cow night. Thankfully, the cows didn’t return until early morning. I heard them snuffling out the campershell window, and yelled & banged around the tailgate.
Oddly, there were no fresh cow tracks around the pickup this morning. Maybe my snoring IS waking me up? Maybe it’s the Ghost Pigs? Hmmmm….