Shepherds of the Sierras

One day last fall while traveling a back road, out of the corner of my eye I saw boulders rolling down the mountain toward my car. You can imagine how my mind flashed on “it’s an earthquake”. What I saw when I did my double take was sheep being herded down the side of the mountain. (Silly smile: Whew!)

Yesterday, while driving home from a hike, I saw what was probably the same sheep herd, as it was the same area I was in last fall.

Sheep and boulders are the same color.
Sheep and boulders are the same color.

There were no fences here, only the shepherd and two dogs keeping the sheep in the meadow.

Sheep (1 of 4)

Can you see the orange spikes near the top right of the photo? These mark the road I’m on. When I passed behind the herder (the photo below), you could hear the bellwether sheep. I’ve searched and searched at large magnification and can’t find the sheep with the bells, they must have had their heads down when I snapped the photo. It was a lovely low sounding bell, I heard at least a couple.

Sheep (4 of 4)

This particular shepherd may have been Peruvian or Chilean, he was dark complected with very high cheekbones. Originally, in the 1800’s Basque herders (from Spain and France) were the only sheep herders in California. Now the South Americans and Mexicans have taken over what is a very lonely existence and the Basques are the owners of the herds. They live in somewhat primitive conditions (although it’s a lot better than 100 years ago). Mostly just a cot, a Coleman stove, either a tent or dilapidated travel trailer, his dogs and the sheep. They put in 12-16 hour days during lambing season, 7 days a week for roughly $1,200 a month.


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