Jun 9, 2006

MYSTIC COWBOY
TAOS, New Mexico –  My horse surges up the rain-dampened trail.
I perfect my cowgirl slouch: one hand on the saddlehorn, the other gripping the reins (no English pertness in the Sangre de Cristos Mountains, thank you very much).

As a city slicker, I have been loaned a magnificent slicker – roughly the size and color of a school bus. Honestly, I've owned smaller tents. Two-person tents, even.

But it's the outfitter's boots I covet. No amount of mud could dim their cherry-red glory.

"What's the story?" I tease. "Did you take those off a dead man?"

Al Johnson, owner of AA Taos Ski Valley Wilderness Adventures, chuckles. He's a yarn-spinner, all right, and delivers true to form.

"One year, I hired a good-looking hand, a college boy, with red boots," he explains. "Almost every female client rode right behind him, saying, 'those sure are pretty red boots!'

"The next year, I hired another young man with red boots. Wouldn't you know? Same thing happened.

"So I decided to get myself a pair – handmade with my initials. I showed up, walking tall, at the start of the season. But durned if every woman didn't ride close to the handsome new guide, saying, 'hey, there, those sure are pretty yellow boots!'"

***

When not musing on mountain couture, Al guides dudes – riding, hunting or snowmobiling. Beyond a job, it's an avocation.

"It's like this," he exaggerates his drawl. "I get to ride a pretty horse on a pretty day with pretty people in a pretty place for a pretty nickel ... well, that's a pretty good way of life.

"Basically, I just want to help people touch the hand of God in the wilderness."

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