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  • J.F. Rowan

Bob, Paint and I

Caprock Canyon looking north.

Note-I understand that some folks would rather look at photos and not do a lot of reading. I guess I'm that way too. Put certain things just need to be written, and this is one of them. It's a pretty safe bet that once you're about half way through this, you'll stay with it to the end.

As we round out our visit to Texas, we finish by making a repeat visit to Caprock Canyons State Park. There are just so many things about this park that we both like, it really wasn’t a difficult decision. Yvette really loves seeing the Bison herd, as do I. We both love hiking through the canyons and seeing the colors change on the majestic canyon walls as the sun sets or rises. For me, I get more of an almost spiritual feel for this place. There is just something within these canyon walls that really pulls against my souls' compass. In that regard, that means sometimes I need to be by myself while I hike. Just me, my thoughts and that red earth and gypsum under my feet. This place pulls me in more than any place we’ve been to in a long time. And as it would turn out this time, there was a reason.

On the second day of our 10-day stay I had told Yvette that I was heading off on a hike around the canyon rim. We talked about where I would be and went over my alternate plan if I couldn’t find water that I would surely need after about three hours. Just after breakfast, I set out on a trail that isn’t used much because, after about three miles or so, it melds into a horse trail that comes up from the equestrian section of the park. Not being used much is what I’m attracted to so it was a perfect start to what I had planned to be a 6-9 mile hike. It was hot, more so than had been forecast. I had plenty of water, I had planned to refresh my water supply in the equestrian camp which was almost the halfway point, though I wasn’t quite sure if the water there was for human consumption, or just for livestock. Either way, I had an exit strategy if water wasn’t available.

After about two hours, I reached a junction in the trail as planned. As hot as it was, I decided to take a break under a fairly large Juniper tree about 30 yards from the trail. I took my pack off, dug out my water bottle and made my self as comfortable as one could on the hard barren ground. After a bit, I thought I might take a bite out of the sandwich I had packed when I thought I had heard something behind me. I sat still for a moment and heard the same sound again, the sound of a breath, a deep snort, an exhale. I turned slowly looking over my shoulder and around that back side of the Juniper most certain to see what I thought would be a Bison. To my surprise, not 30 feet away stood the most gorgeous painted horse. We looked at each other for a bit. “Well now,” I said, “You’re not what I expected.” With his coat of large patches of dark brown and white, he bobbed his head a few times and slowly made his way over to where I was sitting. I’m not quite sure how big he was but sitting on the ground looking up at him, he seemed the tallest horse I had ever seen. A bit closer now, and “he” gently sniffed my water bottle, rolling it back and forth a bit. “Thirsty?” I said out loud. I opened the bottle and poured some water into a cupped hand which he lapped at it. That area of the park did have water but it was fenced off with access only through a gate. Only those in the equestrian area had access to. Which made me wonder how and why he was even here, alone with not even a saddle or halter.

After limited success with him drinking water out of my hand, more was going on the dirt then in his mouth, I dug a hole in the ground and lined it with a mylar space (survival) blanket that I had in my pack. I took the rest of the water I had and poured it into the make-shift water bowl. After using up all of the water, I looked at the map and noticed I was about a mile away from the equestrian area where I thought I could get more water and maybe find the owner of this handsome fellow. I left my pack under the tree, took what I had for containers and headed to where I had hoped I could find water. He didn’t follow me but instead, was still getting the last of any moisture from his new bowl even as I was rounding the first bend. I made good time to the horse camp. The gate was chained but not locked and as luck would have it, the horse camp was empty. The first spigot I came across, I checked to see if the water was running. It was clear, cold and fit for both man and beast. I filled both bottles I had, plus an old milk jug that I had found while I was poking around. I took some relief from the heat and washed my face, soaked my head and hat before starting back to where I had left my four-legged friend. When I returned, he was there alright, he must have liked the shade I was sitting in because he had laid down in the very spot where I had been sitting, pretty as you please with most of the weight of his shoulder right on top of my pack. The rest of my sandwich was sure to be wafer thin I thought, but I didn’t care. He raised his head briefly gave me a slight "mumble" and laid his head down again when I supposed, he was satisfied it was me. I filled the make-shift bowl once again, this time almost to the top, with a little left over for me.

He had little interest in the water as before though I’m sure he was still thirsty, yet he seemed too tired. I took advantage of his exhaustion and looked at his the wound on his leg I had noticed earlier. Barbwire or maybe an animal had opened his skin fairly deep just above his right knee. I scratched my head trying to remember if, in fact, it was a knee or some other word of equine terminology that had long been forgotten. I got him to raise his head just enough to pull my pack out so that I could retrieve what I had hoped was some antiseptic ointment from a small first aid kit that I usually carried. It was there and though it was slightly expired, I figured it was better the not, and after cleaning the area as best I could, applied the entire tube to the gash on his leg and covered it with a red bandana I had forgotten I had buried in my pack I sat there for a while, I think he felt as long as I was there, he could finally take a nap and figured I would too, trying to take advantage of whatever shade was leftover. It was probably 2 hours later when I awoke to find him standing over me nuzzling my forehead. When I was fully awake, he shook his head, gave me a few whinnies and trotted off. I sat there watching as he crested the hill heading for parts unknown. And yes, as one would hope I suppose, he did stop at one point to turn and look over his shoulder and like the ham that I am, I gave him a wave and he turned and galloped away. It was then I named him “Paint.”

I couldn’t finish the hike as I had planned and being so late in the day, I headed back again to the horse camp, this time for water for me. When I walked the service road back to our campsite. Yvette looked at me twitching her nose. “You smell like…horse?” she said. I told her about my encounter with my new four-legged friend and what had happened. I’m pretty sure at first, she thought I was pulling her leg. I tried to find a ranger or staff member to tell them what I had seen, but it was too late in the day. I just figured I would see someone the next day. Yvette and I didn’t talk much more about it, but I had already made up my mind that I was going back the next day to figure out if this new friend of mine would return, and what I should do if he did. I would bring more water and some proper bandages that had practically been overflowing in our larger RV first aid kit. I didn’t sleep a wink that night and the next morning I didn’t even wait for coffee but kissed my wife on the cheek and told her where I was going. She looked at me as if I was half crazy and offered to help but I told her it was something I had to do on my own.

I made it to the same spot more tired than the day before, but for good reason. I was carrying about twice the amount of water this day. I sat down under the same tree and sure enough not ten minutes later “Paint”, came meandering from behind a small grove of cottonwoods next to a dried up wash about 100 yards away. I filled the makeshift water bowl with water that I brought and offered up some sugar cubes I had and he seemed appreciative. I gently stroked his mane, picking through some of his larger snarls. His eyes seemed brighter today and his spirit seemed better as well. When he finished, he walked to the shade of the Juniper, leaned on his good leg and looked like he might take a nap. I took out the bandages, tape and some more ointment from my pack and redressed his leg wound. He never moved an inch or complained. When I was done dressing his leg, like the day before, I made the trek again to the horse camp to get more water. When I opened the horse camp gate, there was a ranger just pulling into the parking lot.

He pulled up to a small maintenance shed and got out of his truck. He saw me carrying my larger water bottles. “Everything okay,” he asked. I walked over to where he was parked, introduced myself, he said his name was Bob, and I told him what had happened. “I’ll be damned.” was all he could say, took his straw cowboy hat off and sat on an old bench just outside the shed. For a moment, I thought the man was going to break down right in front of me but his pride fought back whatever pain he was obviously facing. “Why’d you call him Paint?” he asked looking at me a bit side-eyed. I shrugged, “Seemed to fit him I guess.” I said. The man shook his head and put his head in his hands for a moment. Through his hands he slowly began to speak, “My brother passed away about 8 months ago from Cancer. He’d been fighting it for years. The horse you saw, I think just might be his.” he said. “Whenever the two of us had any time off, we would ride up here together. That horse of his… those two were inseparable.” he said. “The day my brother died, that damn horse jumped the fence and high tailed it into the hills and only one or two people have seen him since, and no one's been able to get near him.” The two of us stood there for a time and neither one of us said a word. Then a thought crossed my mind. “Will you come with me?” I asked. I explained that maybe if he walked with me back to where I had left him, he might be able to get him back. Bob agreed, got a halter and a rope from the shed and the two of us hiked back to where Paint was hopefully was waiting. When we got there, Paint was in the general area but he was a bit more nervous than I had last seen him. I walked out to him, gave him the last lump of sugar from my pocket and talked to him for a while. As long I talked to him and walked, he would follow, all but slowly. Bob sat crouched under the Juniper where my pack was and stayed that way as we walked up to him.

The last thirty feet Paint seemed to recognize Bob and walked right past me, right up to Bob and with his nose, knocked Bob's hat off the top of his head. “Does that every time he sees me,” Bob said with a smile. When Bob stood up, Paint leaned into him and rubbed his head up and down into Bob’s chest. After a few minutes, Bob easily slipped the Halter over Paint’s head and the three of us walked back to the gate and put Paint into one of the small corals in the equestrian area. I promised Bob I would stay and keep an eye on Paint while Bob drove back to his home to get his trailer. When he returned, we loaded Paint up and gave him a bit of hay. I turned to Bob, “What is his name anyway?” I asked as I stroked the horse's neck through the side of the trailer. Bob didn’t say anything to me at first, then I noticed his eyes begin to well up. He stopped what he was doing and turned toward me.“Paint,” he said. “His name is Paint.” I suppose I must have looked like I had seen a ghost. “I know, strange right?”, he said squeezing his eyes with his fingers. “My brother always said this place was magical, I guess he was right.” He shook his head and stuck out his hand. “I’m forever grateful for this John, I can’t begin to tell you,” he said. I nodded, not being able to speak. Truth be told, I was bit choked up myself.

Bob offered to give me a lift back to the campground, but I declined as I needed some time. I suppose “Paint” might be a popular name for a horse, but it seemed to me that perhaps I alone hadn't made that decision, something greater had happened that day.

Paint taking a break in one of the corals within the equestrian area.

In Other News...

Location Update:

We are currently in the town of Alamogordo, NM. I have not been able to work on the blog as much as I'd like due to lack of internet access. Perhaps I'll catch up on a few while we're here. We left Caprock Canyon SP (TX) on April 23rd and overnighted at two parks in NM. Not much to write about, but I'm sure I'll think of something :).

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