Cows share the Colorado 149 with commuters on the way to summer pastures


The annual cattle drive from a ranch to seasonal grazing lands crossed paths with Memorial Day travelers during U.S. 50 closure

GUNNISON – About 1,500 head of cattle, led by dozens of wranglers on horseback, commuted alongside the traffic on Colorado 149 this week before reaching open pastures where they will spend the summer grazing south of Blue Mesa Reservoir.

Ranchers guide their cattle 9 miles each year to get to public land from a private ranch west of Gunnison, said Torrie Blackwell, whose father has managed Moncreif Ranches for 33 years. On Monday, cattle reached a 10,000-acre pasture, owned by the Bureau of Land Management, before they will move to another part of the state to graze, she said.

“That honestly is short. We consider that a very short drive,” said Blackwell, whose husband  travels by horseback 20 miles a day to guide the cattle across open fields, leased from BLM and the U.S. Forest Service, making sure they have enough water and don’t overgraze.


Cattlemen and their horses drive the cattle down the rocky bluffs from the ranch’s winter pastures to the summer grazing lands Monday, south of the Blue Mesa Reservoir in Gunnison County.


“We run them over into Saguache County. That’s what we do all summer. We just move them from pasture to pasture,” she said. “A lot of extremely beautiful country. It’s very rewarding.”


At least 1,500 head of cattle used the highway for 3 miles.

This year, the cattle drive saw more spectators than usual and may have caught some drivers off guard as they shared 3 miles of Colorado 149, which has been part of the detour to get from Montrose and Gunnison since the sudden shutdown of the Blue Mesa bridge last month.


About 30 people on horseback, ranging from 5 to 70 years old, helped with this year’s cattle drive, Blackwell said.

“We were trying very, very hard to make it quick on account of the road and the closure and not wanting to screw people up too badly,” Blackwell said.


Dean Blackwell, 8, left, and Jett Hildreth, 8, replace the bridles on their horses following the cattle drive of 1,500 head of cattle to summer grazing pastures. Law enforcement, cowboys and cowgirls, cattle and travelers share Colorado 149 for a few moments.

“Weather plays a huge role in it. If it’s too hot, they drag on and on and on. They’re slow and they’re tired, and they’re hot,” she said of the cattle. “So it takes longer and it takes much more horsepower to get them moving.” Saturday’s temperatures were perfect and the cattle moved “effortlessly,” she said.

The broken bridge left agricultural producers scrambling for solutions to get their cattle to summer pastures. A relief fund, hosted by the Gunnison Ranchland Conservation Legacy and Colorado State University Extension, was set up to support producers facing extra expenses because of the Blue Mesa bridge closure, including travel expenses and increased costs for fertilizer and feed. Producers interested in applying must show their receipts to prove their added expenses and donations will go directly to the affected producers.

“The cattle drive went smooth as butter,” Anne Reid, a public information officer for the incident management team for the Blue Mesa Reservoir closure.

“Of course cattle cannot tell time — we thought they were going to hit the road around 8:30 or 9:30 and they didn’t make it to the road until 10:30,” Reid said. “But they were able to clear the road by 12.”

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Article by Olivia Prentzel/Colorado Sun and photos by Hugh Carey/Colorado Sun


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