By David Velk —
Petrified Forest National Park rangers labored May 16 to free a neighboring rancher’s cow after she be-came mired in the clay of the Puerco River. When wet, the Bentonite clays of the Painted Desert can func-tion much like quicksand. Patience, stock-savvy, and some hard pulling by a combined team of law en-forcement and maintenance rangers at last retrieved the exhausted animal from the mire. Back on firmer ground, the Hereford eventually regained first her strength and then her feet. With a final bawl of disap-proval, she trotted off downstream and out of the park to rejoin her herd.
Seven rangers assisted in the rescue, including Richard Lynch, Calvin Chee, Shilene Tsosie, Robert Pogue, Lyndsey Pruett, Marc Schlauch and Mark Fye.
Formed by the decomposition of volcanic ash, Bentonite clay can absorb eight times its volume in mois-ture. As ash, it arrived here over 200 million years ago, drifting in on the wind from a range of volcanoes located in the vicinity of present-day Yuma. Apart from giving park rangers lessons in teamwork and stock handling, Bentonite has a more benevolent side. It is used in mine tunnels, around building foundations and as pond liner. In powdered form, it is often added to frozen ice cream treats, where it thickens tex-ture and slows melting. It also is the main component in most commercial cat litters.