Chasing the Snow on the PX Ranch

Springtime is a welcome sight at this majestic Nevada cow outfit.

That veil of indifference often accompanying endless miles of travel begins to dissolve the moment I arrive at the north end of Nevada's Independence Mountains and spot the sign indicating the winding road to the PX Ranch Headquarters. I stop the vehicle and step out into the early evening chill, my senses awakened by the sight stretching out before me.

Snow on distant ridges seems to come directly from a child's imagination, as if he put crayon to paper to illustrate what he thought perfect mountains should look like. Silver water rushes across the ranch's hay meadows. Sandhill cranes squawk their anticipation of another migration north, and Canadian geese paddle along the irrigation reservoir's marshy shores. This amazing scene culminates in flowering sage at my feet, its fresh scent carrying with it a million cowboy memories.

A 30-Year Dream Realized

Cal Worthington, the PX owner, made his fortune by selling cars back in the good old days. Raised in Oklahoma and Texas, Cal never lost his passion for ranching. Through the years he's built a sizeable base of operations scattered all over the West.

I wanted to acquire this particular outfit for close to 30 years,"he recalls, sweeping his big hand across everything visible, and it's easy to understand why. Finally, in 1998, his dream became a reality. Cal uses every chance to spend time with his family on the ranch, appreciating what it took to achieve his goal.

The PX, as so many ranches do, enjoys a quilted history, each colorful patch representing an entirely different story. The most universally recognized previous owner, Bing Crosby, spent much of his time soaking up the seclusion there. He figured it'd be a great place to raise his kids,"says Cal, but that was never meant to be.

By the time Cal gained title to the stately old property, each previous caretaker through the years had improved it, unlike some outfits, which sadly have deteriorated to the point that rebuilding is the only option.

Let's Go Cowboyin'

Dave Picanso is an all-purpose ranch manager. Put an irrigation shovel in his hand, and he's good to go. Need an extra buckaroo? He's already saddling his horse. On the flip-side, in front of a video-sale screen or a computer, he's a ranch manager who understands the business from the front gate to the back fence.

The deep winter snow is receding. Turnout takes place on the PX as the sun warms the grass that's slept under winter's blanket for many months. A range-land grazing tactic referred to as chasing the snow"sometimes is used by those managing fragile native grasslands. Cattle are turned out on spring ground when there's still enough melting snow in the upper draws to water stock. This technique keeps the cattle spread out on hills that might not be utilized in the hot, dry summer. Cattle are pulled off the spring ground early, and the remaining grass is allowed to recover and grow through the summer. The mature plants collect more nourishing snow the following winter, and the cycle repeats.

We'll attempt to gather this low chunk of country and trap these cows for a little branding tomorrow,"Dave sort of whispers to me, as the horses lick up the last of their grain in the early-morning light. For some reason he's not thoroughly convinced that the cows will cooperate. Hanes Holman, Dave's buckaroo boss, grins. Hanes knows the drill, having worn out the seats of his share of britches during his cowboy tour, which included time at Wyoming's Padlock Ranch.

The PX has a little cavvy, about 45 head, scattered between its holdings, but some of the crew hired on with their own horses. Hanes rides one of Dave's horses this morning and, while the crew looks on, climbs aboard the young mare and settles in for the action.

The moment he snags the offside stirrup, she bounces across the irrigation ditch in front of the barn and heads for an outbuilding. There's no sense hazing the mare; she's too fast, and Hanes doesn't need the help. Eventually he comes back, just as the crew knew he would, wearing a much wider grin. With everyone aboard and ready to go, Hanes lines out in the lead. We'll soon test our luck and skill against the PX cows.

The complete story can be found in the February, 2005 edition of Western Horseman