Sneak Peek: Chapter 2

When Elliott, Lizard, and Buzzy were passing through Torrey, Utah, Julian Reichert drove his Dodge Ram truck under the one-hundred-year-old rock arch that marked the entrance to the headquarters of the Diamond T ranch. The rays of the rising sun turned the thousand peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains into gold as Julian and his right-hand man, Max Murphy, started the dusty drive onto the south quarter of the Diamond T. It was time to pull his breeding herd from the winter range and move them into the high country. The therapeutic trip to the south quarter of the Diamond T would take them the better part of ninety minutes, and then there would be the ride on horseback across high-rise plateaus and into remote canyons. Julian relaxed and settled into the drive, knowing that Duke, his favorite gelding, and Max’s horse, Conner, would be ready to hit the open range after the seventy-mile ride in the trailer.

Julian loved traveling to most anywhere on the wide expanse of the land that was his heritage, but he especially liked the trip to the south quarter. From beginning to end, the road passed through every ecological zone that characterized the grandeur of the West. From the flat meadows of the ranch headquarters, the road traversed up and above the quaking aspen/spruce forest and then passed below the towering crags of the Rockies to almost ten thousand feet in full view of magnificent hanging valleys suspended among the high escarpments. Traversing across the great divide and then down through Kellogg Pass, the road made a winding descent through the piñon/juniper foothills that were interspersed with stands of mesquite and then into the rolling hills, marked by scattered stands of oak and sage, a deer and elk hunter’s paradise. The oak gave way to miles of open grasslands, which served as a fertile buffer to the broken plateaus, ravines, and shallow, red-rock canyons that were sparse with vegetation but rich in splendor. This was the rugged beauty that molded the character that was Julian Reichert, and it was here that Angeline Reichert would learn the truth about the brother she never knew.

Julian pulled the truck into a turnout along Black Canyon Road, made a wide, 180-degree sweep, and parked the truck facing north. He stepped out of the truck and stretched the stiffness away. There was a time he didn’t need to give his muscles time to loosen up, and he was grateful that he could remember when. The fifty-seven years of the rancher’s life had taken their toll on his muscles’ ability to spring into action. He walked to the rear of the trailer and helped Max unlatch the steel gate and drop it to the ground. Julian spoke as he entered the trailer. He never forgot his father’s warning to never sneak up on a bear or a horse.

“Good boy,” he said as he patted Duke on the rear. “You survived another wild ride in the country. Let’s get you out of here and on the trail.” He backed the horse out of the trailer.

Duke, whom Julian’s son, Tanner, had given the John Wayne nickname, knew the routine. The halter was traded for a bridle, and then came the blanket and the saddle. Duke’s trickery taught Julian early in their relationship to wait for the gelding to exhale before tightening the cinch, always amazed at how long the horse could hold his breath.

“I know,” Julian spoke to the horse. “You’re not happy with a tight cinch, but you’ll just have to scratch your sad place and get happy.”

Max followed the same ritual with Conner, climbed atop the sorrel, and sat waiting for his boss. Julian put his foot into the stirrup, grasped the saddle horn with his left hand, the back of the saddle with his right hand, and lifted himself atop the steady gelding. He relaxed as he settled his 210-pound frame into the cushioned, custom Cordura saddle. He pulled on the reins, turned Duke south, and rode directly to the trail that led to the top of the Palomar Plateau. The powerful thrusts from Duke’s massive quads carried them up the 150-foot slope to the top of the grass-covered plateau. Here Julian had a vantage point that gave him a panoramic view for fifty miles in any direction. He and Max rode and stopped every few hundred yards to scan the distant draws and ravines with their binoculars, searching for wandering cows.

Off to the south was the postcard scene that Julian had seen before, and it was one that stirred him. Long grayish-black streamers of rain fell like a floating veil from the black thunderclouds high in the morning sky. An occasional desert breeze carried the smell of the rain mixed with wet sage, filling his senses, consuming him, soothing his innermost passions. There was nothing . . . nothing that stirred feelings of tranquility like the connection he felt to this time and place. Julian had seen it before: the dramatic forces of nature changing the landscape as summer thunder showers sent powerful flashfloods crashing through dry ravines. His memory of the thick, brown water that rolled more than flowed, coupled with the fragrance of the wet desert, served to open a vision in Julian’s mind of the forces of nature, through eons of time, sculpting the splendor of the West. He knew that below the dark clouds, twenty miles away, the earth was changing.

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