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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After lunch we continued hiking. I always felt if I just got beyond one more hill I would see horses. So we continued.
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!
After a few minutes we continued.
We finally had to realize that we could not continue hiking any further, we needed to start back. It was a discouraging feeling.
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.
It only took me a second looking through the binoculars to recognize Sitting Bull, Cecelia and their August born colt, Mojave (Mato).
AND it only took Sitting Bull a second to spot 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.
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.
We got back on the road and continued walking. Looking back, we had a very good view of this little band.
Just a little way up the road, I again spotted something out of place. It was Bristol, alone way up on a hillside.
We continued heading down the way we had came, still searching for horses.
Anh had never made a snow angel, so we stopped and I showed her how. We left them there to watch over the horses.
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.