Saturday, January 20, 2018

All Kinds Of Beautiful

Just over a week ago we drove 25 miles outside of Cody and onto BLM land.
McCullough Peaks is a very well known area around Cody because it is home to several herds of wild horses.
During the summer small buses filled with tourists from around the world venture out to this area, with everyone eager to see the horses.
We ventured out there very often the last time we were in Cody because these horses are wonderful to see.
They are hardy creatures - able to survive the hottest and driest summers as well the the snowiest and coldest of winters.
Somehow these beautiful animals manage to survive and even thrive solely on minimal water and various types of desert grasses and bushes.
Disappointingly we have not had a lot of luck finding them since we came back to Cody.
We have caught occasional sight of stallions traveling together (that have been pushed out of the herd by younger and stronger males).
A couple of times we found the herd but did not want to venture too far off the main trails in winter, so couldn't get close to them.
But so far (more times than not) we have not been able to find them.
On this day we again could not find the horses but we DID find a huge herd of antelope not far from the highway and only a few minutes after we eagerly turned onto snow-covered BLM land.
They are difficult to see in some of the pictures so click on any picture and it will enlarge..................
There has been a couple of times out the Northfork when we have seen wild animals and pulled over, only to be greeted by other nature lovers who have also stopped to enjoy the sight before them.
These people always have amazing cameras - the kind with extraordinarily large lenses.  
The kind of cameras that take 10 pictures every second with one push of the button.
The kind that I covet when I see them (knowing how wonderful the pictures must turn out) but also the kind that I know I would destroy within weeks or months.
LC has asked me a few times over the years if I want a big, fancy schmancy camera and I always tell him no.
Too expensive. 
Too big to carelessly shove into the side pocket of a pair of shorts or long pants.  Too high maintenance for a woman with no patience for high maintenance ANYTHING....................
We found the antelope so quickly and I power snapped pictures so quickly that I didn't even notice until I downloaded these pictures just how great the light was...................
Zooming in and zooming out, trying to keep track of the herd as they ran in one direction and then changed direction, and then crossed over the snow-covered trail.
They ran from right side to left side of the road, ran 100 yards onto BLM land and then finally came to a halt...................
Tracks in the snow made by some small desert critter...............
By the time we had driven from Cody, driven on BLM land, watched a large herd of antelope running to and fro and across from one side of the road to the other, it was time for a puppy to run.
Parking in the middle of the snowy trail I reached for the back door, opened it and watched as an overeager pup jumped gleefully down to the ground.
Within seconds she was running with joy in the snow...............
The desert in winter.....................
More little tracks from one more little creature................
This picture was taken after LC and I climbed up a small hill so that we could overlook the mountains.
From our elevated position I looked back in the direction from which we had come, and unexpectedly saw the antelope herd one more time..............
Puppy running to catch up with us..................
We had planned on going only as far as the fence in the pictures above, but on the spur of the moment decided that we would stay on this same road all the way to Willwood (only a couple of miles from Powell).
It would be a long and slow drive, but the day was beautiful, the scenery was beautiful and we were alone out there.
In the quiet and isolation of a winter day we make the quick decision that we would wander further and further into the solitary landscape of BLM.............

Vast emptiness.....................
I had forgotten about this place.
The first time we were here was five years ago.
It was the middle of summer and the sweeping badlands in front of us were brown and beige and barren.
We reached this point on the trail, stopped the vehicle in the middle of the narrow trail and climbed out.
It was a recon stop - at the top of the trail and we had no idea what was over the other side, so we stopped and walked to the edge of what looked like a drop off, just so we could scope out what lay ahead of us.
On the back side of the drop off was more trail - steep for a short way but doable, and the steep drop off quickly evened out to more flat and winding trail that appeared to go on forever.................
We stopped at this same spot five years later.
Only this time it was to walk and wander again before "going further and seeing more".............
She is a sled dog.
She doesn't love to chase balls or fetch sticks or jump into the water over and over again.
Her greatest joy is to run......................
Four hours after we turned off the Greybull Highway and pulled onto BLM land we found ourselves back in the "civilization" of the small community of Willwood (4 miles from Powell).
It was the long and slow way to get to Powell, but the time was worth it.
It wasn't about the destination.
It was all about the journey.
In all that time we only saw antelope on the Greybull Highway end, and cows on the Willwood end.
Not one person in all that time.
But all kinds of beautiful..............

In January in Northern Russia, everything vanishes beneath a deep blanket of whiteness. Rivers, fields, trees, roads, and houses disappear, and the landscape becomes a white sea of mounds and hollows. On days when the sky is gray, it is hard to see where earth merges with air. On brilliant days when the sky is a rich blue, the sunlight is blinding, as if millions of diamonds were scattered on the snow, refracting light.............Rober K Massie, Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman

Friday, January 19, 2018

Northfork On New Years Day - Part 2

About 15 miles before reaching the road block (that would prevent us from continuing by vehicle to the now-closed East Gate to the park), we were surprised to see a handful of vehicles stopped along both sides of the highway.
Some people were still in their vehicles and some were standing along the side of the road, and all were looking in the same direction.
Looking to our left we immediately saw what had their attention.
Driving past them we quickly turned around, but before LC could drive back the way we had come I asked him to stop for a moment so that I could take a picture of this lone elk from our slightly elevated position.
After snapping a couple of quick pictures of him I lowered my camera and regarded him for a moment.
Why was he standing on a section of frozen river?
Why was he alone?
How long had he been there?
People had obviously been watching him for a while.  Why was he just standing there and not going about the normal business of an elk in the winter - namely - eating?
Something was wrong................
We drove back down the shallow hill and slowly pulled over to the side of the road before finding a place to park in between two other vehicles.
He didn't move.
He just stood there.
Looking at us and not moving..............
We sat watching him for almost 10 minutes and in that time he never took a step.
He just stood motionless.
Was he ill? 
Possibly but we would have thought that this beautiful animal would have just sat down underneath a bush somewhere to die if that was the case.
These pictures are all zoomed-in pictures.
In real life this elk was 100 yards or so away from us.
But even from this distance we wondered if one or both of his back legs was injured.
His hide on his hip looked different from the rest of the fur we could see.  Was he injured?
We thought that there may be a very good possibility that he was injured. 
But why was he standing motionless in the middle of a half frozen river if he was injured??
We didn't know, but something was bad wrong................
Five more minutes and we pulled out from our parking spot alongside the winding two-lane highway, turned the truck around one more time, and continued on our way.
We would check in on our elk on the way back................
One last picture to show how far he was away from us.
Click on the picture and it will enlarge.............
We had sat watching the elk for almost fifteen minutes.
The elk was not the only animal that never moved throughout that encounter.
What does a New Hampshire sled dog, who we adopted from Florida and then moved to Idaho and then Wyoming, make of such a sight?
I don't know, but Kory was silent and completely mesmerized for the duration................
Throughout our drive I had been disappointed that there wasn't more snow in the Northfork.
That all changed as we continued driving towards Pahaska:
There was more snow during the last few miles of our drive.  
Much more snow.
As there always is this close to the East Gate...................
Our turn-around point was Pahaska and by that time in the early afternoon I climbed out of the truck, looked around me and was immediately and absolutely enamored with where we were.
Mountains, river, snow, pine trees, endless blue sky.
The magical combination to end all magical combinations.
There is nothing more beautiful than this...........

There were a few people x-country skiing and snow shoeing, and I watched them for a  moment, immediately missing both of those things.
I don't care that I've been wearing the same three or four clothing combinations without interruption for the past few months.
Not really.
But I miss my snow shoes.
I miss my skis.
I miss my mountain bike.
I miss my spin bike.
Those things I miss a lot, but those things were all in storage back in Idaho while I was here in Wyoming.
Smiling through the truck window at my restless and pacing dog, I opened the back door, reached for her leash and hopped out of the way so that she could ecstatically jump down into the snow.
Looking over at LC I told him that Kory and I were going to walk back to the bridge and then asked him to meet us there when he was ready to head back.
But not TOO soon, OK?
We had only been back on the road for a few minutes when we saw them.
Two bison quietly grazing just off to the side of the road.
They hadn't been there on the way up, so the sight of them caught both me and LC by surprise.
Breaking.........pretty hard...........LC pulled the truck off the road and I slid down the window while at the same time quietly reaching for my camera.
One bison was directly in front of me and only about 50 yards away.
The second was about 25 yards from the first.
I snapped a few quick pictures of both and while one had all of my attention I heard LC say "I think that one's hurt".
Surprised I turned to look at him.
"Which one?"
He pointed to the huge, prehistoric and completely beautiful animal that was furtherest away.
"What's wrong with him?"
"His back leg"......................
LC inched the truck closer to the second bison and I watched him closely, waiting to see evidence of the injury that LC had seen.
This wonderful animal used his huge head and neck to easily sweep snow away, so that he could gain access to the dormant grasses below.
He looked a little thin, but generally healthy and strong.
Was he really injured?....................
When he slowly began to walk I had my answer.
He was injured.
One of his back legs - the lowest joint in his leg closest to his hoof was not bending the way it was supposed to.
As I watched him limping and watched the malformed joint (a severe tendon or ligament injury or maybe even a break) I was overwhelmed with empathy that was unexpected in its intensity.
He was moving.
He was surviving.
But he was going to struggle mightily to continue to survive through many more months of winter.
Slowly and methodically he hobbled across the snow-covered grass, wandered along the side of the road for a minute, and then we watched at this wonderful creature hobbled across the road and disappeared into the trees.
I hope that he can recover from his injury.
I hope that this continues to be an easier winter than last years winter.
I hope that he makes it.................
We passed so many small and large herds of big horn sheep on this trip.
This herd we decided to stop for.
We never get tired of this place.
An adventure around every bend in the road for almost 50 miles.................
We stopped again on the way back to Cody to check on the elk and he was still there.
Still in the same place - standing motionless on the half frozen Shoshone River.
A couple of minutes after we stopped a Fish and Game vehicle pulled up and the driver also looked across the field at this apparently ailing creature.
We told him about the bison with the injured rear leg.
He hadn't known about him and thanked us for the information.
We also told him what we knew of the elk and that he had been standing in the same position for well over an hour that we knew of.
The F&G guy told us that this was the third time he had checked on the elk.
That elk had been standing in the same position all morning and now into mid afternoon...............

I hope that he can recover from his injury.
I hope that this continues to be an easier winter than last years winter.
I hope that he makes it.................
The bison may make it.
I doubt that the elk made it through the next couple of days.
Not every nature story has a happy ending.................