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Round 'Em Up!

City slickers brave brambles and beasts to explore their inner cowpokes.

By Louie Bond

Perched on a boulder, Earl Nottingham silently surveys the arid vista spread before him. Devoid of all but a few wispy clouds and unsullied by smog, the cerulean sky paints a vivid backdrop to the earth tones of volcanic mountainsides and the muted greens of scattered cacti. An empty path winds across the sparse landscape, but the photographer has anticipated the scene that will appear in the moments ahead. He tilts his head as he frames the photos in his mind, checks his equipment one more time, then relaxes a bit and waits for the moment when subject, composition and light come together.

Across the ridge, the first of his Horsemen Silhouettes subjects ambles into view. In this land of thorn and fang, the longhorn paces with a slow determination, others of its herd following the rump of their leader. Just behind and to the sides, what appears to be a company of seasoned ranch hands gives their horses a nudge to skirt along the sides of the herd, making sure no longhorn strays.

Nottingham knows that these are no ordinary wranglers. He watched them struggle into borrowed chaps before dawn, flexing blistered toes before easing them into cowboy boots that weren't yet broken in, sleepily downing the strong coffee offered to fight off exhaustion. Reporters, business owners, stylists, grandmothers – this motley crew struggling not to appear totally out of their element are on the adventure of a lifetime.

Each spring and fall, two dozen ordinary folks from all walks of life gather in Big Bend Ranch State Park to drive a historic herd of longhorns from pasture to holding pen, branding, vaccinating and tagging the animals. For about the cost of a weeklong cruise, these city slickers travel not only to the furthest reaches of West Texas but also back in time to the days of caballeros and vaqueros. They leave behind cell phones and e-mail, ruin their manicures and find muscles they never knew they had.

TP&W magazine art director Andres Carrasco and photographers Nottingham and Chase Fountain made the trek out west to document the event in the fall of 2007 and spring 2008. From cowboy breakfast to campfire singing, they chronicle this timeless tale of man and beast in an untamed landscape.

To find out more or to reserve a spot on the cattle drive, visit www.tpwd.state.tx.us/bigbendranch, call Big Bend Ranch State Park at (432) 358-4444 or go to www.lajitasstables.com/cattle.htm.

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