The Cow in the Trail

Even in mid-September you cannot go comfortably by day into the deserts of southeastern Utah. Together the late Edward Abbey and I rented horses and rode into the La Sal mountains, following what began as a dirt road and ended as a trail at an elevation of approximately 10,500 feet. From the mountain pass, we looked northwest between triangled peaks of pinkish-gray talus across the fantastically elaborate redness of the Colorado Plateau, at whose red heart the Green and Colorado Rivers achieve conflux. Twenty miles to the northwest, the old uranium town of Moab, now a mecca for river rats and mountain bikers, glittered like a tin-can dump in the haze below the purple sandstone tumuli of Arches National Monument. This is—will always be—to the literate (as well as the not-so-literate) Abbey's Country: locus of his experience and of his work, geological embodiment of his life's concern.

The cow lay on her back in the road, her belly grossly distended between the boundary stakes of her rigid upturned legs, the hind ones spread away from a porridge of writhing maggots. Ed worked his horse with difficulty around the carcass while my own, a well-grained mare called Beefy, tried to bolt away up the cutbank where she would be splendidly positioned to lose her footing and roll her twelve or thirteen hundred pounds over me. I got her safely past finally and rode up beside Ed, whose face expressed a disgust incommensurate...

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