Sykes Ridge, April 16, 2012

I thought I would take a break from posting another on the Dryhead and take you for a trip up Sykes Ridge.   I have never been up Sykes. Well, not far anyway.  In March we went up it a little ways until we ran into a lot of snow.   There were not tracks to follow and I was a little unsure of the way, so I happily turned around.

I have heard things about Sykes Ridge Road,  most of them were not good.  I had heard that this road was the worst of all and to be honest I was not excited to go up it.  But I really wanted to see it.  It was one part of the mountain I was not familiar with and I wanted to change that.

I am afraid of heights.  Mostly it is when I am driving up a mountain road with a steep drop off.  Like Crooked Creek for example.  I did not know what Skyes would hold, but I feared I would be in several uncomfortable situations.  I was right.  Even in the ATV I was in several uncomfortable spots.  I honestly don’t know how anyone could drive a vehicle up this road.  It seems impossible to me.  I have a lot of respect for thoses that are able to do it.

But I was determined.   So after spending a little while up the Dryhead we parked at the bottom of Sykes, unloaded the ATV and headed up.  I wondered what horses I might see.  The ones I saw were all new faces to me and quite a surprise!  It was confusing at times on who they were, because I never expected to see them there.

We came to the spot in the road where we had turned around in March.  There was no snow today, so I had no excuse not to go on.  The next part of the road looked like it went off the end of the earth.  So I parked and we walked over and looked down it.  My heart was in my throat, I felt a little dizzy.  Maybe we should just go back up Burnt Timber and look for that new foal.  Sounded like a good plan.  Anything to keep from having to continue on this road.  But no, I really needed to do this.  So after a couple of minutes we climb back on the ATV and headed down the road.  Singing seems to help me relax in very stressful situations (like this), so I began to sing and continued down the steep section of the road.  We made it and we were alive to tell about it.

We were at the bottom now.  There were two choices.  I had talked to Matt the night before about the road and he gave me some pointers.  We were to take the road to the right, not the left.  There was  a sign laying down that said “detour”, but I was unclear if it meant to take that way or the other.  Doesn’t “detour” usually mean that you are supposed to go that way?  Well, I was glad that I had talked to Matt and he told me which way to go.  We headed up the steep road.  We had not gone far when I saw a dun horse not too far down to the left.

At first I thought it was Horizon (thinking only about Mountain horses, not Dryhead horses).  But he looked different.  It was Johan the 2009 son of Greta and Bristol!  A Dryhead horse.  He did not really want to stay by us, so he moved on and so did we.  Matt had told me the night before, that we probably would not see any horses before the water guzzler.  This was before the water guzzler, so I was excited.  We were going to see a lot of horses, I just knew it!

Johan, April 16, 2011

The landscape started to really open up, this wasn’t so bad, I thought.

Looking towards Burnt Timber going up Sykes. Can you find the water guzzler?

A little farther up the road we saw the water guzzler to our right.  We decided to walk down to it and see if there were any horses there.  There were not, but we spent some time there, just in case some might be coming.

We continued back up the road.  There were some spots that were steep, but for the most part it was not much different from Burnt Timber Road.   I was feeling more confident and glad I had made myself take this road.  Then, just as I was feeling relaxed, we came to a part of the road that entered into a very dark and narrow canyon.  The walls of the canyon were high on both sides of us.  It was cloudy at the time, so it made it even seem more dark.  This was called Cougar Canyon.  I could see why.  My imagination started picturing several mountain lions watching us from above.  Maybe even a bear would be standing in the road on the next turn. I felt eyes on me.  It seemed to go on forever.  I vowed right then that I would never drive this road again.  I started to sing…

I had forgotten to check the odometer at the bottom, but it seemed like we went for miles through that canyon.  When we did come out, we began to climb.  No more open landscape.  It seemed we would never get to where we would be able to see anything.  It had been a while since we had seen Johan.  We talked about turning around.

Then it began to open up again .  We could finally see around.  We spotted 2 horses way off in the distance!  I could not make out who they were.  My lens was giving me some problems and I was having a hard time getting it to focus.

Two faraway horses.

We decided to continue up the road once more.  At one point Brigitte thought it would be wise for her to get off while I navigated a steep and rocky section.  I thought that sounded like a good idea, so I parked and got off too!  After hiking up the road a bit I decided that I would try the road again.  Lining it up just so, and giving it some gas, I made it up the steep and rocky section.  We saw it snowing up here yesterday and we got far enough up the road to see some of the snow on the trees.

Snow on the trees, way up Sykes.

We glassed for horses, none.  We drove up the road a little further, none.  It looked like it was starting to snow up higher.  We wanted to go up Burnt Timber again, so we decided to head back down.  I looked at the odometer this time.

We saw those distance horses again on the way down.  As we continued down we were able to see them better.  I would later learn (from Alex) that it was Fools Crow and Belle Star.  More Dryhead horses!

Bell Star and Fools Crow, April 16, 2012

Continuing down the road,  I began to realize that those two horses were way above the canyon that we had come through.  They were just at the end of it, high above.  I wondered if those were the eyes I had felt on me!

Belle Star
Fools Crow

I took this last photo just as we were about to enter into the canyon.  My lens was acting up (again!!), so I missed the shot of them looking down at us.  I decided to include this one so you can see just how steep it was and also, the blue sky was just incredible!  I was on my knees with my camera pointing straight up.

We entered the long canyon.  The sun was out now, so it did not seem as dark or as scary.  We came around a bend in the road and there on the hill to my right was a horse!  It was Johanston, another Dryhead Horse. He is the son of Cascade and Seattle.  I did not know who he was, I had never seen him before.   He refused to look at me.  Well directly anyway.

Johanston, April 16, 2012

Then he turned his head in the direction of the road.  At the same time I heard the sound of hoofs running down the road.


We were right in the middle of the narrow road.  There was another bend in the road right in front of us.   I was not sure that whoever it was, was going to be able to stop, so I grabbed my camera and stood behind the ATV.  AND then, I fell in love.

Who was this horse?  I had never seen him before.  He was surprised to see us there and slammed on the brakes.  He debated about where to go.  He looked up the hill towards Johanston.  Johanston had turned his head back around away from him and did not seem at all concerned for this boy’s safety.  This was Jalisco, I later learned from Matt.  Another Dryhead horse, the 2009 son of Buffalo Girl and Durango. He was Valerosa’s cousin!

I decided to talk softly to him.  He responded well to my voice.  So well in fact, he decided to take a nap, right there.  His eyes started to close.

Jalisco, April 16, 2012

I could have stayed there forever.  It was a really special time.  It is hard to describe.  I am not sure how long we stayed, maybe 45 minutes, maybe more.  I never looked at my watch.

We had to go past him to continue down the road.  He was inches from the road.  I did not want to startle him.  The wind began to blow and he woke up a little.


I inched the ATV slowly toward him, still talking to him.  He very calmly moved away from the road and began to graze.   I reluctantly continued down the road. I already missed him.  I later learned from my odometer that these two Dryhead horses were 8 miles up Sykes Ridge Road.  I estimated Belle Star and Fools Crow at around 9 miles up.

As we headed back through that scary Cougar Canyon, I swear, it had gotten much shorter.  So short in fact I thought maybe there was another canyon coming up.  There wasn’t.

We continued down, past the water guzzler. Not too far past the water guzzler, we saw Medicine Bow. He is the 1999 son of Twiggy  and Cortez.  I had never seen him before.  He was alone.   It was not too far from where I had seen Johan in the morning on our way up,  so maybe they were together.

Medicine Bow, April 16, 2012
Medicine Bow, April 16, 2012
Medicine Bow

He did not seem thrilled that we were there, so we moved on after only a few minutes.

We stopped to take a few photos of the view.

Looking towards Bighorn Canyon

As I continued down the road I looked up.  There on a very high cliff was a long narrow red road.  Oh no!  Was that the road we would have to take to get out of here?  Was that the first part of the road that made my heart stop.  The answer is: “Why yes it was”!

I did not want to waste any time taking my time going up that road.  I decided the quicker the better, so I got a safe speed going and headed up.  I think I may have held my breath the entire way.  From there I knew it was “all down hill”, the worst was over now.  We got to the truck loaded the ATV up and headed down the road for an evening up Burnt Timber.

As I drove the truck towards Burnt Timber road, I vowed I would never NOT drive Sykes Ridge Road again.  I couldn’t wait to go back!  I had met new horses, and I liked them.  A lot.


I will also take more photos of the road on the way up.

10 thoughts on “Sykes Ridge, April 16, 2012

  • I have been up Sykes twice in my FJ, and didn’t get all the way to the top either time. It is a rough road, but I do want to try it again this summer. Some of the draws and canyon driving feel so different than the ridge-top highway of Burnt Timber. There are some scary sections that are a little spooky, though.
    I know you mentioned in a comment, I think, that you saw Jemez. He wasn’t with Johnston and Jalisco? When I saw him in the snow, it was Jalisco that he was sparring with.
    Thank you for giving us all the updates from your trip. Now I’m really wishing I could get back soon.

    • Thanks Shawn. No it was not Jemez I saw. It ended up being Medicine Bow. It was pretty confusing to me. I had not ever seen these horses before. I really enjoyed getting to know them. Never thought I would say it, but I can’t wait to go up Sykes again! 🙂 It was just Jalisco and Johanston that were together further up.

  • I was wondering about Fools Crow, and Medicine Bow. Medicine Bow can be kind of elusive. I’m so very glad he is looking in good shape. I had seen Fools Crow, Medicine Bow, Belle Starr and Hickok together in the vicinity of the springs in the red dirt hills just before you start up the mountain in ’09, and only saw Fools Crow from a long way off over there in ’11. Those guys are both very “neat”.

    I’m not at all surprised by your reaction to Jalisco. He is beautiful, and seems to be very comfortable with we 2-legged creatures who appear in his neighborhood. He stayed very near me when we encountered one another early one morning when he had gotten seperated from Hidalgo during the night. He was whinnying and scanning the Flats for sight of him, and he seemed so forlorn. But, later on in the day I found him back with all the guys—Hidalgo, Hidatsa, Hawk, Issaquah and Joseph. There really is something special about him. And he looks at you like he’d consider letting you be his friend. Gosh I envy you getting to see them.

    I can’t help but chuckle when I read your reactions to the “roads”, and that’s using the term loosely, isn’t it? Brings back vivd memories of my own feelings. I really had to control my urge to get out of the vehicle and walk on the road along the ridge of Crooked Creek Canyon across from Commissary ridge the first time I went that way with Matt. “Holy crap” is all I can say about that stretch! I do think that they were widening that when I was out there last, tho. Anyway, I’m glad you toughed it out and found your way OK. There are beautiful places and horses over there.

  • Can’t see enough of these horses 🙂
    It’s a good job you’re doing telling us all about them, it’s so important to show the world how wonderful wild horses are and that we must give them a fair chance to live in their right environment. Our traditional Nokota horses are very close to the Priors so it’s really warming to see them “running free” like i your photos, thanks a lot!

  • Wow, Sandy what a great trip this was for you and to see Jalisco and softly talking to him and then resting his eyes as you were so close, oh that is so neat. Sounds like a tricky trail but glad that your going again….The horses are all amazingly beautiful….The pictures are breath taking but am sure to see it in person must be magical.

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