A Day Hiking Lower Sykes

We were only able to go up Burnt Timber Road about a mile past the range entrance  in the ATV the day before , but I was hopeful that we would be able to at least drive to the big Red Hills on Lower Sykes before we had to start hiking.  It would not happen.

There were not vehicle tracks at the turn off to the Lower Sykes entrance.   I turned and drove the truck in and parked.  No tracks, human or animal.  We unloaded the ATV and I decided that we should go to the Bad Pass Spring area and see if we could see any horses over there before we tried to head up Sykes.

I was able to drive to the spring with little trouble.  We got off and hiked to the first big hill.  The wind was cold and the snow was blowing sideways.  Despite the strong wind, we climbed up the hill for a better view.

Sandy searching for Horses
Sandy searching for Horses
Bad Pass Springs area.
Bad Pass Springs area.
Bad Pass Springs Area
Bad Pass Springs Area

We did not see any horses or even hoof prints, so we returned to the ATV and tried to head up the road.

I had only gone about 20 feet when I realized the snow was too deep for even my high clearance ATV.  The wind had drifted the snow about 2 feet deep in places.

Snow depth at bottom of Sykes Ridge Road, 2-18-13
Snow depth at bottom of Sykes Ridge Road, 2-18-13 (taken in the late afternoon after our hike).

I backed up the ATV and we unloaded are backpacks.  Our only option was to hike.  We considered going back to Burnt Timber, but that also involved a lot of hiking.  We wanted to try and locate some different horses, so we started up the road.

I was glad that three months ago, I had started running again.  Walking through 4 inches up to 2 feet of snow was hard work.  Then add the extra weight of the camera, backpack, boots, coveralls and heavy coat, it made for a really good work out.  Especially when you do it for 6 straight hours.  The only plus was that we were no longer cold, unless we stopped for more than 5 minutes. Next time I vowed I would remember my snow shoes.

Starting to hike up Sykes.
Starting to hike up Sykes.
Anh hiking on Lower Sykes.
Anh hiking on Lower Sykes.

There were no tracks ahead of us for a long while.  Finally we saw one set of horse prints.  It encouraged us to continue.

I would veer off the road and head up a hill every few hundred feet, just to make sure we were not missing horses.  If you have never been to the Lower Sykes area (or any area on the lower range) you need to realize that there are MANY dips in the land.  What looks like it a flat area from far away, turns out to be land where animals the size of draft horses could disappear in seconds, swallowed up by the terrain.

Lower Sykes1 Lower Sykes2 Lower Sykes Sandy 5

Red Hills 1 Red Hills2

Finally we arrived at the Red Hills, found some protection from the wind behind a bush and had lunch.  We had only seen the one set of tracks.

Red Hills 3

Our Lunch View
Our Lunch View

Lower Sykes View 2

After lunch we continued hiking.  I always felt if I just got beyond one more hill I would see horses.  So we continued.

Sandy heads up yet another hill to have a look.
Sandy heads up yet another hill to have a look.

We started to realize that this may be a day of no horses.  The wind was blowing strong and there were no horses or even tracks at this point.  The sun was starting to come out, so we stopped and had a little fun with the shadows on the snow!

Sandy Shadow

After a few minutes we continued.

Lower Sykes 6 Lower Sykes 7 Lower Sykes 8 Lower Sykes 9 Lower Sykes 10

We finally had to realize that we could not continue hiking any further, we needed to start back.  It was a discouraging feeling.

Desert Snow

Just as I was coming around a hill, something caught my eye.  I just don’t look for horses, but what I really do, is look for something that is out of place, something that breaks the pattern of the land.  It was more than a 1/4 mile  away, but I was positive I saw a horse.  I picked up my binoculars to confirm it.

Can you find the horses?
Can you find the horses?

It only took me a second looking through the binoculars to recognize Sitting Bull, Cecelia and their August born colt, Mojave (Mato).

Cecelia, Mojave and Sitting Bull.
Cecelia, Mojave and Sitting Bull.

AND it only took Sitting Bull a second to spot us.

They see us.
They see us.

I did not want to get too close to them.  On a good day, this band does not like people very much.  Oh sure, there may be the occasional lazy hot summer day when they don’t seem to care.  But for the most part, they would rather not have us around.

I felt we could get a little closer without disturbing them.  We had to go by this spot on on way out anyway, so we made our way to a set of bushes we thought would be far enough away from them to give them space, but closer enough that we could get a better look.  When we got to that spot, they were gone.  Well, it appeared that way, but I quickly realized that tricky range terrain had showed itself again.  I spoted just the top of Sitting Bulls head and a pair of ears.  It took me a few minutes to be able to show Anh exactly where they were.

Too much time for Sitting Bull however.  He must have thought us to be a pair of predators stalking them.  He stepped out from behind the bush.  We were still at least a 1,000 feet or more from them.  Sitting Bull made a run straight for us.  I instantly thought that I needed to let him know that I was human and hope that he would not continue toward us.  I raised my arms up in the air, waved them and shouted, “It is okay, it is just us”.  At least that is what I think I said, but I know I spoke words.  It worked and he stopped.

Sitting Bull, 2-18-13
Sitting Bull, 2-18-13

Then after a few seconds watching, he lowered his head and started grazing.  Still keeping an eye out for us.

We turned to leave.  I continued to worry that he might still think us a threat and wanted to him to see us retreating.

Sitting Bull 4 Sitting Bull 5

We got back on the road and continued walking.  Looking back, we had a very good view of this little band.

Mojave and Cecelia
Mojave and Cecelia
Sitting Bull and Mojave
Sitting Bull and Mojave

Just a little way up the road, I again spotted something out of place.  It was Bristol, alone way up on a hillside.

Bristol, 2-18-13
Bristol, 2-18-13

We continued heading down the way we had came, still searching for horses.

Heading back

Anh had never made a snow angel, so we stopped and I showed her how.  We left them there to watch over the horses.

Snow Angel 1 Snow Angel 2 Snow Angel 3

We arrived back at the ATV and loaded it back unto the truck.


Next we would head up the Dryhead and not see one horse.  The next morning, we made one last trip to the Dryhead.  The ever faithful Greeters were along the road to say goodbye.  They looked good,  they seemed in much better condition then the horses I saw on Burnt Timber two days ago.

I remember my first winter trip to the Pryors last March.  I was so excited and happy to find the horses I had.  A total of about 30 that trip.  We were 31 this trip.  I had hoped for more, but happy to see who I had.  Someone asked me before I left who I hoped to see.  I wanted to find Jasmine.  I did that.  I wanted to see Moenkopi.  I did that.

I will be back next month to look again.

I did not hike the fence line of the closed Administrative Pasture(s).  I spent my days looking for horses instead.

But what really hit me was how much snow is down low this year.  I am worried for the horses.  Many of the mares looked thin, the stallions not much better.  This is only mid-February and there are still many months before spring comes to the Pryors.

I have been made to understand that this Administrative Pasture(s), which consists of over 3,500 acres of land, will most likely remained closed until the fall of 2014.  It has to be done “by the book” I am told so that when it is opened, it is opened  for good.

This will be addressed in the RMP which is according to Jim Sparks:  “The RMP is a comprehensive plan for ALL the land and uses managed by the Billings Field Office, not just the wild horse range (the 2009 HMAP is specific to the horse range). . We also manage a national monument, many developed recreation areas, wilderness study areas, areas of critical environmental concern, and the natural resources and activities on about 400,000 surface acres and a million acres of mineral estate that are not associated with the PMWHR. The PMWHR comprises less than 10 percent of the lands we manage.”.

Also from Jim:  “The document is about 2000 pages long at this point, and there is actually very little in it regarding wild horses.  Most wild horse management stuff is in the HMAP.”

Let’s hope that because this is addressed in this very huge RMP and that there is very little regarding the wild horses, that it does not get over looked.  When the comment period comes out, we must all remember to make are feelings known.

I want to do it “by the book”.  But at what cost?  The death of more horses?  Can they wait until the fall of 2014?  I hope that Jared will keep a close eye on this situation, I know I will be.


Sunset over the Pryors, 2-18-13
Sunset over the Pryors, 2-18-13

42 thoughts on “A Day Hiking Lower Sykes

  • Another great update! Thanks to you Sandy, for keeping us informed. Praying for more snow so that the spring is lush with wonderful forage for the horses. I hope they can wait that long. Can’t wait to meet you in person and get up on that mountain.

  • Great blog Sandy! Thank you, and you too Anh, so much for this very informative post and all of the fantastic pictures. I do love the snow angel pictures! I am glad that I did not try to take my vehicle out there as I would have gotten stuck for sure. I will just have to wait until some of the snow melts away! The weather channel is calling for more snow here in Lovell for this weekend.
    I do love the picture’s of Sitting Bull, Cecelia & “Mojave”.
    I also hope that Jared keeps his eye on the horses and what shape that they are in, and if it is
    necessary to open the lower “administrative pasture”. I do believe that it would benefit the horses to do this SOONER and not later. I agree that the Dryhead horses (Greeters) are in better shape than the mountain horses right now.
    I also will be watching.
    Thanks again Sandy, and it was so good to see you and Anh! Maybe next time the snow will not be as deep and I can join you on lower Sykes!
    I appreciate all of your effort for this blog posting!!!

  • Thanks for updating us on your trip! I’m glad you got to see Jasmine and Moenkopi too. I wasn’t overly worried about Jasmine, but I was hoping you would find her back with Jackson. They’re a cute little couple and she seems to have bonded with the rest of the band too. I look forward to hopefully seeing Jasmine x Jackson babies in the future 🙂 That picture you got of Sitting Bull is so gorgeous. I’m glad Mojave seems to be doing good. Him, SB, and Cecelia make a cute little family. I was hoping you would find Moenkopi back with her band, but I’m glad she has been taken in by another good band. I couldn’t decide if she looked a little thin in that picture you posted or if it was just her coming into some of that yearling awkwardness. What did you think? I also hope that if needed this winter the pastures can be opened. Even just temporarily if this winter gets bad. I know they want to go by the book, but they could even just open it for now if the horses start getting into bad shape. They could then close it this summer and continue from there going by the book. Thanks for keeping us posted about everything and I look forward to your next trip!

    • Thanks Sarah. I thought Moenkopi looked okay. Maelstrom looked thinner to me. I don’t believe either one of these mares (Galena and Firestorm) were nursing them anymore. At least I never saw Maelstrom nurse while I was there for several hours. I did see Moorcroft nurse Brumby. So other than the fact that Moenkopi is not with her mom, she seems to be doing just fine. Jasmine was showing some surprising actions. She actually bossed Firestorm around a bit. I was surprised, but I think judging by the way Firestorm looked, she probably does not have the extra energy to really care that much.

      • Yes, I’m sure she’s focusing on conserving energy, especially with the snow so deep, and attending to Maelstrom and Jackson. She’s a good and experienced mom so that’s good for Maelstrom. I’m hoping it will continue to snow up top, but let up on the horses down below. I have a feeling a lot of the pregnant mares are going to be coming out of winter thinner than last year. Hopefully it won’t be too bad though. How did Heritage look to you pregnancy wise? I’m wondering now if Aztec had more to do with Jasmine continually coming back to Cloud’s band. I’m sure she’s not happy about losing both Breeze and Jasmine. And I wonder if Jasmine realizes she was bossing around her older sister haha 🙂

  • Thanks Sandy and Anh for the great photos. If I every get to the Pryors, it will be in summer. Hope the horses all make it to spring.

  • What is the official name for SB’s and Cecilia’s foal? Mato or Mojave? I vote Mojave since TCF calls Mica ‘Mato Ska’; and that I live on the edge of the Mojave Desert. 🙂

    • Well, Matt called him Mato, but Lori and I had been calling him Mojave for a while before we heard that, so we decided to call him Mojave. 🙂 We felt like it was more fitting! 🙂

      • Yes Sandy, Mojave is more fitting and I don’t see any reason that we cannot name these horses more fitting names if we want to.
        I like your vote Clarissa!!!! Mojave it is!!!!!

      • I’m sure we can all call any of the horses anything we want to, but reference-wise, I will go by whatever their name will be on the Center’s official list, if there is one this year. It’s complicated enough for me with TCF’s unofficial names floating around. 🙂

  • So much snow up there right now! How do the horses deal with the extreme temperatures? I’m guessing they are used to it. I don’t envy them, but then I loathe snow!

  • Thanks for sharing all the pics, and your observations and fun memories. I’m sure you had a GREAT time and workout. 🙂 Glad you at least got to see the horses you did. It’s going to be an exciting spring this year, whenever it gets here.

    Now I understand better why the RMP does not have a lot of reference to the horses, but like you say, if it deals with this issue at all, it won’t hurt to ask them to please don’t forget to deal with it for sure at the first opportunity and not let it go unresolved for another 5 years. 2014 is late enough. We’ll need to pay attention to the HMAP, too, since it is more specific. I will certainly appreciate any info you come across and share.

    Thanks again for everything. 🙂

  • Thanks for the update Sandy! I am so happy to see little Mato doing well. I really hope they get going on opening the land up to the horses though.

    • Yes, Mato, Mojave is really looking good. I was happy to see that. He looks to be a good size, even though he was born in mid August. He has two great parents to watch after him.

  • Thank you for two great updates, Sandy!! And for several very interesting posts lately. I don’t really know enough on the subjects to make comments of any worth, but I read it all and try to learn as much as I can:) I have a lot of respect for all that you do for these horses! They need it!
    It’s worrying to see how thin they are looking already, and everything that’s beeing done to allow them into areas with more forage seems more and more important every day. Do you have any thoughts as to why the dryhead horses are looking healthier than the mountain horses? And do you know what could cause Innocentes swayed back?
    I just saw the comments on facebook about Cloud, Jackson and Santa Fe as well. I wish we knew more about what happened there and how Jackson is doing. I can’t really imagine Brumby leaving Jackson of her own free will, so hopefully she will be back with him soon.

    • Thank you Anne! I know Brumby doesn’t like many mares and I doubt she will stay long with Cloud. I am glad that Moorcroft and Brumby are together. She was still letting him nurse, so if they had been separated, it would have been very hard on him.

    • I forgot to answer about Innocentes. If you go back to Matts post in March 2011 you can see a photo of her there. She is pregnant with Lynx then and her back looks just like it does now. I am not sure why, she is so young to have it look like that. But, I am pretty certain she is pregnant.

      • I agree, Brumby is set in her ways. I’m glad her and Moorcroft are together too. I had forgotten to ask you about whether or not you thought Ingrid might be pregnant. I hope you’re right and she is! How did Heritage look to you? I loved the head shots of her, but didn’t really get a look at her belly.

    • Anne, the Dry Head horses always look “fatter” and healthier than the mountain horses, especially this time of year. I don’t know the exact reason myself, but this is always the case in February & March. I believe that Linda stated this in one of her comments, there is a lot of forage for the Dry Head horses to eat, and to the naked eye it does not look that way, but there are places in that area far away from the road that are very lush and the horses know that! These horses are smart and will survive.

      • I wonder if it also has anything to do with that the Dryhead horses are used to having to work harder at getting food because they’re not always in those lush areas. And they dig for some plants too. Where the mountain horses have a lot of lush meadows to graze up top and then winter comes and they have to put more effort and energy into getting food.

      • Sarah, there are no lush meadows on top, anytime of the year. The Dryhead horses often go up Sykes where there is better forage. Still, no “lush meadows”, but much better than the top on a good day. Everyone needs to realize that because of the type of soil, there are no lush meadows, ever, anywhere. I am not trying to be negative here, just realistic. The Dryhead horses are used to moving around more, where they mountain top horses are habituated to doing the same thing over and over, even though there is better forage just down the mountain a bit. That is why the water catchments were install, to try and get them to move around where there is better forage and still provide the water.

  • What a great trip and I felt like I was there the way you tell it. So glad you saw some of the Pryor Mt beauty’s, has to be amazing, each time. Love the snow angel you left too….. Gee I hope the snow lessens for them and that spring comes early to the mountains. You certainly got a good work out and what better way then doing that, doing what you love…..Would be nice if they opened that land now for sure, thanks Sandy for another great blog

  • Hi Sandy. My other love besides wild horses and burros happens to be wolves. I work with a 501(c)3 in Montana and we have started a FB page called Montana Wildlife Watchers. It is strictly a page where people can post wildlife pic and the stories that go along with them. We are working hard to get the governor and other legislators how important Montana’s wildlife is and what a tourist draw it is. I think it would be a great way to get some traffic to your blog as so many people are just not aware Montana has wild horses. I hope you will post some pics there, again along with the story of the horse. In the meantime though can I post one or two of your pics if I put a link back to your blog. Thanks Rhonda Lanier


    • Hi Rhonda! Yes, you can post any photos from this blog to your to your FB page. Just please don’t cut off my watermark. I will post some too. I am going to go check out your page right now! 🙂

      • That’s great Sandy!! We are working to try and get more “non-conumptive” people contacting and supporting and having a say in Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks vs. the “consumptive” ones. That would be the hunters 🙁 They don’t want wolves, wild horses, or anything else that isn’t an ungulate!!

    • Awesome Rhonda! I love all wildlife and I was wondering, since I am not a FB fan, do you have a webpage. Your Photo’s that I saw on the site that you typed in above are great.
      Some of us have to speak up for the wildlife or there would not be any. I admire what you do.

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