Hiking with the Bighorns

June 13, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Bighorn_ram_86Bighorn_ram_86A bighorn ram (Ovis canadensis) stands on a rocky ridge in the high country of Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming Just returned from a lengthy trip through Colorado, Wyoming and Montana to photograph spring aspens, wildlife babies and meadows of wildflowers. I found it very interesting that I ran into more people that I know on my travels in Colorado and in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks - including my roommate from my trip to Churchill last fall!! - than I do in the town where I live in Colorado. That to me was very eyeopening that I am finally following a professional career that I love and in the places that I love the most. It felt great to be working outdoors, seeing friends, and meeting new people who share the same passions as me.

A friend asked me this week what was the most memorable moment from the trip. I thought that would be hard to answer as it was a trip filled with many wonderful sights and experiences, but one experience popped into my head right away.

I was working on a shot list for a magazine while traveling. On that list from the editor was a request for photos of bighorn sheep. No problem. I know of lots of places to photograph bighorns - but in the fall when they hang out in lower elevations. So I was on a mission to find them at higher elevations.

Bighorn sheep like several places in Yellowstone National Park. I was having some pretty good luck with these locations but only ewes and lambs from last year were using the areas. I was in search of rams.

While watching some wolves one morning, someone pointed out that a large herd of rams were resting on the nearby ridge - about 2000 feet up.

Now I do most of my traveling by myself. That usually means I don't venture too far from the road on hikes. In Yellowstone especially, the terrain can be rough and the bears can have some fun with you. But over the years I have yearned to venture into the backcountry of Yellowstone - to see what is over that next ridge and what wildlife might be just out of view of the road. So I decided that seeing those rams high up on the ridge was goal enough to get me past my fears of hiking alone.

So I bought my bear spray, loaded up on Cliff bars, memory cards and camera batteries, and off I went. Of course the day I decide to Bighorn_ram_94Bighorn_ram_94Two bighorn sheep rams (Ovis canadensis) fight with each other as two other rams join in the fun on a snowy slope in the high country of Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. hike up to see the rams they were no where to be seen on the ridge. Oh well, I wanted to see what was on the ridge anyway.

It was a burner of a hike - in the calves on the way up and the knees on the way down. Although it wasn't a long hike, it was steep. And there were several spots where there were false ridges - points where you think you have reached the top only to discover that another ridge lies ahead of you.

But it was worth it because when I neared the peak, I discovered what was occupying the rams' attention - a field of snow!

There were about 20 bighorn sheep. Five of the group were ewes and lambs from last year, and where hanging out to the side. There was a group of about five three to four-year-old rams who were still showing signs of their young age by bouncing through the snow like kids on the first snow day of the school year. But the rest of the group were older rams with huge curls and massive muscles.

At first I thought only the younger rams were enjoying the snow, but as I watched I realized that the young rams would charge towards the older group, who would then charge back and chase the younger rams. The snow went flying, heads went butting and horns were cracking. They were having a grand old time!

This went on for about an hour. And I was the only one to witness it. The time spent with those sheep was so peaceful, rewarding and entertaining. For those who have been to Yellowstone, you know how the crowds can get very, well crowded, along the roads. I avoid the park in July and August, and am seriously considering adding June to that list, but discovering the rams has taught me that Yellowstone is a very big place beyond those miles of roadway along the Grand Loop Road. I will get out there more frequently into the backcountry to experience those unique moments with the wildlife and the landscape.

Bighorn_sheep_106Bighorn_sheep_106A group of bighorn sheep rams (Ovis canadensis) chase two instigating young rams on a snowy slope in the high country of Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

 


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