Settlement Canyon is where we sometimes will run our cows for summer pasture. It is also the source of great stories since we’ve been doing it for several years, and it has quite the adventurous atmosphere. We’ve gotten to know the different areas of the Canyon pretty well, and conversations about it include the interesting names of the different locations; such as Left Hand Fork, Right Hand Fork, Kennecott Road, Bear Trapp, Ski Hill, the Kelsies, and Center Ridge, to name a few. Settlement Canyon is both beautiful and haunting. It is full of all types of flora and fauna, but the most devilish is a tree commonly called scrub oak. The actual name of the tree is called Gambel Oak, which is a native species to the Oquirrh Mountains to which Settlement Canyon belongs. Scrub oak is the source of nightmares to anyone who wants to round up cows when it is nearby. It matures in height anywhere from 3-10 feet tall and grows in large clumps so close together that it could almost be called a bush. The branches are twisted and deformed, growing poky twigs in every direction. Riding a horse through it is next to impossible unless armed with a hacksaw or chainsaw. Or a machete. Or a fire torch. Just kidding. Often times, the rider will start down a cow trail, thinking that things will open up only to realize he is now stuck in a labyrinth of haunted trees and has to turn around. For all the reasons cowboys hate scrub oak, cows love it. They can easily get away from anything that is chasing them since they are lower to the ground and are made of 100% rawhide. Once the cows know they are being told to come off the mountain, they will simply run into their favorite scrub oak patch and hide until everyone has left.
The other adventurous thing about Settlement Canyon is the steepness. Frequently, the cows can be found on top or near the dividing mountain that runs through Settlement Canyon called Center Ridge. Center Ridge is very steep and very rocky, and you guessed it, full of scrub oak. Again, the cows love it because they have become accustomed to running up and down the mountains all summer. They hold an advantage over us because they don’t have extra weight riding on their back like a horse & rider does. There have been times when I know that the cows do things to me just to play jokes. They’ll run up and down the hills, tiring my horse out, and then run into the scrub oak and laugh amongst themselves.
You’d think it wouldn’t be terribly hard to gather cows out of the canyon and herd them down to the corrals at the bottom, but you’d be surprised. Not only is there scrub oak to hide in, but the only fences that are up are the ones to prevent the cows from exiting the bottom of the canyon and heading down into the city of Tooele. Not that these fences have always stopped the cows, but they usually do their job for the most part. With no fences, the cows can go anywhere they please in the large, expansive canyon. So if those are the only fences, then what’s to stop the cows from traveling over the mountains and, say, head north east to Middle Canyon? Or head south west and cross over into Stockton? Absolutely nothing. Just a cowboy’s frail hope that the cows will stay in Settlement Canyon where they belong. Needless to say, by the end of the season, there have been times when we’ll get a phone call from someone who has spotted our cows in random locations. “You saw them where? How in the world did they get there?!” Even if the cows stay in the Canyon, there are lots of ravines, gullies, valleys, hills, and of course, scrub oak for them to hide in.
Gathering the cows in the fall usually takes several Saturdays throughout October and sometimes into November. The other cattlemen who run their cows in the canyon are very helpful; if while bringing down their own cattle they come across somebody else's, they will generally bring them down to the corrals and notify the owners. The best way to gather them is on horseback since you are covering such a large area (ATVs are not allowed in the canyon), but there are times when only someone on foot can scurry into the brush and flush the cows out of their hiding spots. We've had lots of adventures in Settlement Canyon. Stay tuned for some fun canyon cow-gathering stories!