I know, it is only September 26, and technically Fall just officially arrived a few days ago. But snow fell last night in the Pryors and they are calling for more tonight. They are calling it a “Winter Storm”. That comes from the weather service, so even though we are in Fall, Winter has arrived. You can read about it by clicking on WINTER STORM.
I live in mountains of Western Montana. I have for over 22 years. It is not unusual for “winter” with cold temperatures and snow to arrive at our house by early November (much earlier this year) and stay well into April. Snow in June is not an uncommon occurrence. So because of that, it has been difficult for me to realized that many people do not understand the weather of the mountains and how quickly things can change.
My tours that I gave this summer and some recent comments on my blog, alerted me to this fact. Just because the calendar says it is Fall or Spring or even Summer, doesn’t mean that Winter will not come to the mountains at any time of the year and it is not selective on the victims it takes.
On my list I supplied to my guests of “things to bring” for the camping trips, I included: “Warm jacket, hat and gloves. Warm clothes for sleeping in.” Very few of my summer guests brought these. Luckily I had extra with me, including extra blankets for sleeping.
Several nights this summer the temperature on top of the mountain dipped to the low to mid 40’s (with wind). During the day a few times, it was only in the 40’s. I asked why they did not follow the list provided to them and got these responses: “I thought you were kidding” or “it is summer, I did not think I needed those things”. Hopefully after reading this post, people will be more prepared and respectful of the mountain weather.
I am sure that warmer weather will come again this Fall to the Pryors, but to have this early Winter storm, makes me realize that this winter may be tough. And long.
I enjoy sharing my information and stories, and being able to go to the Pryors as often as I do. But by doing that, I also expose a very vulnerable piece of my heart. These horses have become a part of me, I can not help the feelings that I have for them. Or how my thoughts think. Or how my words come out. That is who I am. With that being said, my heart is heavy thinking of the young colt that was just born to Washakie less than two weeks ago. But these horses are wild and tough. The strongest will survive. I just hope that little Nahwa is one of them.
Shawn made the trip to the Pryors late last week. Here is his update!
It is really good to see that Jackson’s wound is healing. If you compare Shawn’s photos of Jackson to mine in my post I made a couple weeks ago (Click HERE to go there) you can see that the swelling has gone down a lot.
Thanks Shawn for making the trip!
I finally had a weekend without a teacher day on Friday or a school activity Saturday, so I decided to run over to the range. Cass had reported that Jackson had been seen with his band, but I still wanted to see how everyone was doing since it had been a few months since I had visited.
I woke up early Friday and left the campground for Burnt Timber. I knew it was going to be a long hike so I wanted to get right to it and figured I could hit the dryhead and sykes on Saturday. The furthest I thought I would be able to drive is the kiosk, but unfortunately I didn’t even make it that far and had to park right at the turnoff from Crooked Creek. My original plan was to hike the road to the first guzzler on the right, but before I even reached the range I could see a lone black horse to the left on a ridge.
Once inside the range, I cut over to find Two Boots. He glanced at me across the canyon and went back to browsing. I did not want to disturb him, so I watched him a little across the canyon and then decided to just cut up the ridge I was on until I reached the big ridge that would allow me to catch the road.
As I worked my way there I found tracks cutting to and fro in the snow. Sometimes I would look and think one way was the “best” way to go, but the horse tracks would follow a different path. Guess which way was usually the best to go? I’ll give you a hint: it was not the biped’s first instinct that would have been right.
I followed the tracks, ridges and canyons until I got to the long, tall ridge. I could finally get on the road. A least that is what I thought, but then I noticed another dark horse by itself on the top of a knob. I scanned and saw 3 more horses on a ridge to the left. Not wanting to miss any horses, the best way to go seemed to be down canyon and then up a ridge to the horse on the right, and then move to the ones on the left. As Malaki and I made our way down through some deeper snow, I saw another horse with the one that I thought was alone and was glad I had chosen that route.
Coming around the back of the ridge the 2 horses were on, I ran right into Jackson, Galena and Aztec. Jackson was moving well, and his swelling did not seem too bad. Beyond them was the rest of Jackson’s current harem: Heritage, Jasmine, Moorcroft and Maelstrom in the brush, and up by herself was Brumby. I am not sure if she just happened to be eating there or if she wasn’t the happiest about Jasmine and Aztec. I seem to remember that last spring she was a little disgruntled when Jackson had some of Cloud’s.
I did not stay too long because I did not want to bother Jackson as he healed.
The next band I had viewed was Blue Moon’s. I was a little surprised to see him here, because last Spring I had to hike down the side of Burnt Timber and up an arm on Sykes to see him when Miocene was born. This is the first I think I have seen him on the BT side except up toward the top where they all cross back and forth to various water holes. At one point Isadora and Miocene must have felt that the others had moved too far from their side and they ran across the snow to “catch up” to Amethyst, who is currently back with Blue Moon. The last time I had visited the range, Malaki had been afraid of the horses and would stay right by my side as he watched them. He has lost that fear, and I was glad I put him on his leash whenever we got near horses because I have a feeling he would have joined in with them if he could.
Blue moon ignored them and kept eating in the direction they had just left, giving me my first clear view of him without shrubs in the way. There weren’t and cuts or scars, but the lines and nicks in his coat make me think that he has been active recently.
I continued over the hill to above the guzzler. From the top, I could see tracks going over ridges in all directions, but no horses. I finally spotted some horses across a canyon on a steeper side and though that one was either Cloud or Mariah. As I tried to determine the 2 horses with them I saw Teton and War Bonnet peaking over a ridge on my side of the canyon at me. For a little while I thought that maybe it was Phoenix and Half Moon on the other side, but when I finally hiked over to where Teton was I found his whole band with him and the others were still on the other side. I never got a good picture of it, but with the way the light was hitting it there were times where Missoula’s mane looked really blue in the middle with the red tips.
As Teton’s band made their way toward the guzzler, I went around them to the canyon edge to get a better view of the horses on the other side. I was fooled by the front one, because I thought I saw a thin blaze and that it was Dove. The rest of the time I watched that horse mostly had its side or butt to me as it ate. Thinking it had been Dove, I started thinking it was Coronado and wondered where everyone else was.
When I finally looked at my pictures later I found that I did have one good shot of the blaze and it was not thin and Dove, but that it was Feldspar. This really makes me think that I can’t go 2 months away from the range or my skills of i.d. start to go down; but it also makes me realize how weird it is for me to see Cloud with only 2 horses. I knew Mica was not with him now, but this is the first I have seen him with just Feldspar and Inocentes.
Another pair had left the area where Cloud was when I first got on the top to look over at him. They had moved off quickly up the canyon bottom and then up top closer to the guzzler. This was a change that I had not noticed in blogs, but seeing how quickly the horses moved away from camera range it made perfect sense to me when Sandy let me know that Chino only had 1 Topper with him now.
On my way out, I checked on Jackson’s group from up high one last time, made my way by Blue Moon and then hiked back out on the road in the ATV tracks from the park service. It was much easier hiking out than in, but by the time I got to the FJ I had decided I wasn’t going all the way back in on Saturday.
I made a horseless pass through the park. Having not seen any horses out in Turkey Flats from up top, I didn’t think it would be worth making a hike out there on Saturday, either. I stopped in to see Liesl and Kaibab, and was fortunate again this time to get there about 3 minutes before Lori came to feed them. I was able to talk to her for a while before heading to Cody to see some bighorn rams. I should be able to visit the horses again soon over spring break before hitting a track season that will keep me away longer than I wish.
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.