In the mountains of the Western United States high-altitude meadows can make rich summer pastures. These are open, unfenced rangelands, so flocks must be constantly watched and herded.
A water hole in an arid basin of Nevada. It's too dry and hot in summer, but there's adequate forage in winter when snow closes the mountains. Flocks are moved weekly to prevent overgrazing.
In June 1965, Martin Escurdia with 2000 ewes and 2-month-old lambs leave the Camino Ranch near Buffalo, Wyoming to graze on meadows in the Bighorn Mountains: a 30-mile, 3-day trek.
In Nevada flocks move much longer distances—up to 400 miles. In 1965, the Goicoecheas' sheep summered in the distant Independence Mountains. A sheepherder's camp wagon waits by the trail.
Some grazings can't be reached by vehicles, so the sheepherder's camp is a tent.
Camptenders pick up groceries from M. Archabal, a Basque rancher in the Owyhee Mountains of southwest Idaho. They visit each herder once a week to move camp and replenish supplies.
Wherever possible, the sheepherder's home on the range is a snug camp wagon, moved by the camptender to fresh pastures each week.
A cookstove in the well-equipped camp wagon provides meals and warmth. Like most herders, Martin Escurdia even made his own bread, large loaves that he baked in a Dutch oven.
Peeling potatoes for stew, Martin Escurdia sits in front of his camp bed. The suitcase above the window was all he brought when he came from Spain to Wyoming on a three-year contract.
After 3 years in the West Martin Escurdia hopes to return with enough money to buy a farm in his Spanish village and marry his fiancée. Until then, two dogs are good friends and essential helpers.
With his two well-trained sheep dogs, Jean Bermeosolo watches his flock bed down for the night in the Owyhee Mountains of southwest Idaho.
Signs of a lonely life far from home: these aspen grew in Bohler Canyon on the east slope of the Sierra Nevada [Inyo National Forest, California]. Today's sheepherders have cell-phones!
On the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada, a sheepherder pauses to chat. Most Basque herders spoke no English. Some hid as I approached, only emerging when I called out in Spanish.
These Rambouillet-crossbred sheep have a strong flocking instinct, but keeping track of a band of 2000 sheep is made much easier by including one black sheep for every hundred white ones.
These flocks spent the winter in the central valley of California and summer in the Sierra Nevada. In August, sheepherders bring the lambs, now six months old, down to a meadow near the Donner Pass.
Mr. Mills, a California rancher, separates his ewes and lambs near Donner Pass. The lambs are sold and the "dry" ewes move down to pastures near Truckee, where rams are let in during September.
The meat buyer has arrived early in the morning with his trucks, and the lambs, born in February on the rolling hills east of Sacramento, now weigh as much as the ewes.