I picked up Amber in Missoula at 7:00 am. We were on the mountain top by 2:00 pm. This trip would be our “dry run” for our camping tours that will begin in a couple of weeks. It was also the first day that the Sage Creek road to the top of the mountain would be open. I have made it a tradition to come up on opening day each year. I love the quiet the mountain offers then. There are day trip people then, but almost every night we are sharing the mountain with only the horses and other wild life that call the mountain their home.
The wildflowers are incredible this year. The carpet of color was much thicker this year than last. The spring rains and snow have added much-needed moisture to the mountains this year.
I have some of the same wild flowers on our land in Potomc, Montana. I could tell by the ones in bloom here, that the mountain was about a month behind us in growth. The Pasque flowers are the first to bloom, followed by the Shooting Stars and then the Lupine. Many of the Lupine were beginning to bloom on the last day we were there, so I know when I return in two weeks they will be in full bloom. I have not seen this many since blooms since the summer of 2010. It will be beautiful. The Lupine stays in bloom for a full month or more. There were many other flowers that I recognized, but do not know the name of.
About a mile from the range, we encountered Don and Tim from the BLM. They were assisting some younger men who had driven their “dun buggy” off the road and had been rewarded by high centering on a huge rock. Their “buggy” was trashed.
We stopped for a few minutes to talk with Tim and Don and then continued to the range. I really like both Tim and Don. Don works really hard to keep people in line on the range. He is a retired gentleman from Tennessee. For many years ( I don’t know how many, but many), he has made the trip to Montana to volunteer for the summer months. Last year he was busy with the care taking of the horses that were removed, so his time on the mountain was limited. This year he will be up on top more and I look forward to his visits to my campsite. He always has a great story or two of things that have happened on the mountain in the past. I usually try to reward his story telling and kindness with some fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. He stopped by on his way down and I gave him a couple of my homemade cinnamon rolls this time instead. Don’t worry Don, there will be many cookies for you in the next few months!
As we entered the range, Amber and I made a quick stop to see if anyone was at Krueger Pond. Don had said he had not seen a horse all day, but I was still hopeful my luck would be different. The only thing we encountered were some HUGE snow drifts. There is still a lot of snow up here on top. I was pleased to see it. Krueger Pond was so full that it was even with the banks on the other side. There was still a huge snow field up above it. There will be plenty of water this year.
We continued on to my campsite. I call it “mine” because there has never been a time when I have gone up that I have had to look for another. This will be my 4th year camping on the mountain top and there has never been another person camping in this spot. I hope my luck continues, but on this trip, I casually begin to scope out a few other choices if my luck doesn’t hold.
I consider my camping spot to be like a good fishing hole. I don’t share its location with anyone unless they are with me and see it for themselves.
As we finished unloading and setting up camp, we began to see several horses emerging from the woods way past Penns Cabin. We hurried with our chores and went down to see who it was. I like to set up camp right away. Once I begin looking at the horses, all time stands still and I knew I did not want to come back at dark and have to set up our camp.
Just over the hill less than 1/2 mile from camp, we encountered Jupiter, Hernando and Irial. I had learned that Irial (who very briefly had Audubon and her filly) had lost them back to Morning Star (where they were before she foaled), so I was not surprised to see him hanging with the boys again. I had last seen Jupiter the end of April. At that time he was intently watching Cloud and his mares. You can read about that by clicking on Jupiter. I had not seen Hernando since last fall, so it was especially great to see him. I really like the “Forest Service Boys”, and Hernando is one of them. All three looked good.
The next band we saw was Galaxy and his girls. Galaxy is by far Amber’s favorite Stallion. So we spent a lot of time with them. I could see Morning Star and his band along with Baja and his band not too far from us. Just below Galaxy was four more bachelor boys. Knight, London, Hamlet and Inali. There were some others, I could not quite make out, but I knew I would have an opportunity to identify them soon. There were more than 30 horses and it seemed like more were popping out of the trees.
Galaxy has had this band, whom he stole from Prince, for over a year now. He is an extremely wise and very good band stallion for such a young stallion (he is 7 this year). Amber and both enjoyed watching him carefully this time. We were impressed with his wisdom. Galaxy likes to keep his band slightly away from the other bands. He won’t back down from conflict, but he won’t go looking for it either. It is obvious that his father raised him well. (Lakota).
This time of year, there is a lot of action going on here on the mountain. This is prime breeding season. Stallions are looking to breed and the mares are accepting willingly. This is also the most combative time of year, because of it. Amber and I would have to stay on our toes and keep our distance so we did not get in the line for fire. What seems like a peaceful scene can quickly turn in to a stallion battle.
But for now, it seemed peaceful. After a while I convinced Amber to leave her stallion and come with me to see the other horses. I was looking forward to seeing Audubon’s filly Niyaha. When I was here in April, Anh and I had seen Morning Star’s band, minus Audobon. I was hoping she was off foaling, and I had been right. Ginger discovered the following week with Irial and her new filly. Now Audubon was back with Morning Star.
Along with Morning Star’s band we also saw Gringo’s (with Tecumseh), Baja, Mescalero and the odd couples, Horizon, Fiesta and Juniper.
Tecumseh was very close to Gringo and his band. They all seemed to be eating peacefully together. Had they reached some kind of an agreement?
Tecumseh had lost his band to Gringo a year ago. He was still following them. By the looks of him, it looked like all was not peaceful. He had many wounds on his face and body. But Gringo also had several. I was very interested in studying this band and I would have several opportunities to do that over the next several days.
Right now, all seemed peaceful.
Baja and his band were near, The Odd couples (Fiesta, Juniper and Horizon) along with Mescalero and his band. Mescalero and his band (Rosarita and Polaris) headed over the hill before I could get some good photos of them.
Baja kept a close eye on Fiesta and Horizon, and Gringo’s band. Charging at them if he felt they came too close.
Topper Too is now with Baja. She seems happy with this situation. She was close to Baja many times and Washakie really seemed to like her. It was the first time she had ever stayed put, not her normal “glare and leave” stance that I had witnessed many times when she was with her mother Topper and the band stallion Chino. It was good to see her so relaxed.
Painfully missing from this band was the young filly Meadowlark. I had heard that she was missing, but hoped she would turn up. It was not to be so this trip. Washakie looked pregnant to me and I hoped she was. Last year was very hard on Baja offspring, he lost 3 of them to the removal, Jicarlla, his 2009 mare that he had with Bacardi, his 2012 colt he had with Juneau and his 2011 filly, Lukachukai, that he had with Washakie. And now Meadowlark was most likely gone too.
I still don’t know what to think of this odd threesome, consisting of Horizon, Juniper and Fiesta. There seemed to be more tension this time between the two stallions, but not unlike what I had witnessed last summer. But perhaps this time their disagreements seemed to be a bit more often and the sparing last a bit longer. I wondered how much longer it would last. I wondered that same thing last summer.
As I studied these 3, I witnessed many times over the next several days, the system they had worked out. Whenever conflict came their way, Fiesta was the one who was quick to step in and spar with whomever challenged this band. He actually seemed to enjoy that role.
Several people thought Juniper was pregnant, when I saw her last over on Sykes ridge in April. I wasn’t sure. But she doesn’t appear to be now, and maybe never was. Or was she still? Some of these young mares make it very hard to tell for sure.
I looked down at my watch. It was after 7:00 pm. We had been watching these bands for more than 4 hours! We decided to leave them and make our way back to our camp.
On our way down the road, I saw Custer and his band to the left. Nodin was really getting big. I am so happy that this band has another foal with them this year.
Further down the road we saw Bolder and his band. Killian is getting so large and he seems to be very interested in the mares. I wonder how long Bolder will allow him to remain. One of the things that I noticed about Killian, was his coloring was changing. His coated seemed to be a darker yellow this year.
I ended my first day with a visit to Lakota’s memorial. His remains had been scattered several feet away. Amber and I carefully collected the ones we could find and stacked them in the exact place he had died last July. I was hoping to see the leg that had the break, so I could exam it better, but it was gone. It was just hard to believe that it had almost been a year since his death.
This was only our first afternoon on the mountain! We had already seen so many horses. There were 4 horses I really wanted to see this trip. Four that have not been seen for a while. Kindra, Meadowlark, Jasper and Grijala. I was looking forward to another day.
At almost dark (around 9:30 pm). We saw 4 bachelors working their way down towards us. Amber and I were the only campers on the mountain this first night. Just the way I like it.