“I spent years at 40,000 feet, looking down and thinking 'That would be a great place to ride a horse.'”

These days, Joe is a trail guide for the National Parks Service. When the airline industry “went to the shitter,” he got out. He traded jazz guitar for cowboy songs (he carries a ukulele when he rides), and sleeps in the back of an old pickup . He worked at Grand Canyon National Park for a few years, but now leads groups on horseback in Big Bend, along the border with Mexico.

He dresses the part: a leather vest, canvas jacket and boots. A purple kerchief around his neck. He has thinning hair and small glasses, and looks a bit like a high school band director who finally decided to check out. He uses a saddle for a chair, and though everything fits in the back of the truck he's still paring back.

“There's so much stuff I have but don't use,” he said.

Joe said he was raised in the Northeast, but always felt the pull of the West. He flew for a small airline out of Las Vegas, and would talk about his dreams. “My coworkers had no idea what I was talking about,” he said.

When I met him, he was heading back to Austin for the holidays.

I'd forgotten Christmas is only three weeks away.

Posted on December 4, 2013 .